Aaron's BlackBerry Tour review

Aaron Baker
member from Dallas, TX
Published: July 16, 2009

Introduction

It's a well-known fact in BlackBerry land: CDMA users tend to get the shaft when it comes to new devices (with the exception of the Storm). While the GSM side was enjoying the Curve 8900, Bold, and OS 4.6, CDMA users were stuck with the Curve 8330, the ancient 8830 World Edition device, and an antiquated OS 4.5. Sure, the Pearl Flip 8230 landed on the scene last month, but despite the new design and OS 4.6, many overlooked it in hopes of a new QWERTY device.

Enter the BlackBerry Tour 9630, a much-needed update to an aging CDMA lineup of BlackBerry devices, and one that's exciting to boot. Verizon BlackBerry users will inevitably enjoy being able to catch up to their Bold and Curve 8900 toting friends with OS 4.7, a gorgeous screen, a comfortable keyboard, updated camera, and a refreshed design. But does the device deliver? As the official replacement to the BlackBerry 8830, is it a worthy addition to the lineup?

Design & Features

The Tour is a product of the design shift that, while seen on most of the new GSM devices, is new to the CDMA side (sans Storm). At first glance, the device looks like the offspring of the BlackBerry Bold and Curve 8900. With the keyboard and bottom lip resembling the Bold and the overall design resembling the Curve, it's clear that RIM wanted to take the best of both worlds and combine it into one device.
BlackBerry Tour
The back of the device is a design shift for RIM, and it came out well. The carbon fiber looks professional without being overly gaudy, and the rubberized shell provides traction while sitting on a table. A common complaint concerning the Tour centers around a potential wobble in the battery door; while we did experience a bit of play in our door, it wasn't any more than previous BlackBerry models we've tested.

The Tour measures in at 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick and weighs 4.5 ounces. Though it weighs slightly more than the Curve (3.8 ounces), the added weight gives the phone a solid, more durable feel. The screen on the device is, in a word, gorgeous. Measuring in at 2.4-inches in size, it offers 65,536 colors at a 480x360-pixel resolution.

In unboxing the Tour, one can see that Verizon and RIM were generous in regards to included accessories. In the box, a USB cable, international travel charger with three included plugs, earbuds, and a leather holster. Additionally, the Tour comes with a 2 GB microSD card pre-installed in the device. We wish that RIM would include the premium in-ear headphones that come with the Bold (and only the Bold at this time), but the basic pair will suffice. Additionally, the Tour offers a SIM card slot with a pre-installed SIM card for international roaming.
BB Tour keypad
The left side of the device houses the speaker and a customizable button, while the right side sports the 3.5mm headphone jack, volume rocker, another customizable button, and the microUSB charging port. The mute and lock buttons can be found on top of the device. One of our favorite things on the device was, without a doubt, the keyboard. The Tour's keyboard is a direct descendant of the BlackBerry Bold, and in short, we were very pleased. Though the Bold's keyboard is a bit easier to type on thanks to the device's wide size, the Tour comes in as a close second. The individual keys retain the tactile nature of the Curve, while the keyboard design is almost identical to the Bold. The curved nature of the keys made typing on the device relatively easy. We preferred the keys on the Tour over the separated keys of other BlackBerry devices, but the choice of separated versus non-separated keys are a personal choice, so we would recommend testing the keyboard prior to purchase.

Usability & Performance

The Tour is running a variant of OS 4.7, which is the same OS found on the BlackBerry Storm. A vast upgrade from OS 4.5 and other past builds; it offers the same polished appearance as seen on the Storm and sports minor design updates in various applications. As the replacement to the BlackBerry 8830, the Tour is a dual-mode device, meaning it supports CDMA in the United States and offers a SIM card slot for quad-band GSM roaming when traveling abroad. With the included Verizon SIM card, the Tour allows for the same number to be used around the world. According to Verizon, the device will allow for voice coverage in 220 countries and 3G data coverage in 175 countries, thanks to the Tour supporting the 2100MHz UMTS/HSDPA band. Individual rates vary depending on the country, and can be found on Verizon's website.

The Tour offers A-GPS and comes preloaded with BlackBerry Maps and VZ Navigator - though it costs $9.99 per month. Through the Application Center, users can also download V CAST Music with Rhapsody, V CAST Song ID, and VZW Tones. The Tour is also compatible with RIM's BlackBerry App World, offering numerous programs available for download.

The Tour's music player doesn't differ a great deal from BlackBerry's of the past. Offering a progress bar along with the option to shuffle, repeat, or add to playlist, it's relatively run of the mill. The speaker sounded great, though the actual speaker placement was a bit frustrating at times. When typing on the device, our natural way of holding the Tour placed the index finger over the speaker, resulting in a bit of training in order to break the habit. On the topic of the built-in speaker, speakerphone was decent; callers could hear us well, and we had no problems either.

Similar to the Storm and other devices churning out of the RIM factories at the moment, the Tour offers a 3.2 megapixel camera with 2x zoom. A noticeable improvement from the 2-megapixel camera found on the Curve, pictures taken came out well. There is a bit of a shutter lag, making it frustrating to take pictures of moving objects. The Tour can also record video, though they came out a bit grainy during testing.

We tested the Tour in the Charlotte area, and reception was very good. Callers couldn't tell that we were on a cell phone, and we were able to hear them well. We went to a fringe area, and were successful in making several test calls. The area that we were in is a typical dead spot for Verizon, and the Tour was able to maintain a signal, making it one of the better signal performers in the carrier's lineup.

For a CDMA device, the Tour's battery life is quite strong. Though estimated talk time is 5 hours, we were able to use the device continuously for just over 4 hours before it shut down. With moderate use, the device lasted about a day and a half, far short of the estimated (and often inflated) 14 hours promised by the manufacturer.

Conclusion

The Tour 9630 is a fantastic device, and is the best CDMA BlackBerry to date. Verizon and Sprint users will no doubt be pleased to own a device in the same league as their GSM friends. Strong signal strength, combined with good battery life and world capabilities will make this device a must-have for any business individual that travels on a regular basis. For those that text message or e-mail on a regular basis, be sure to check out the keyboard in the store, as it will be a love or hate item, depending on personal preference. For those that have always enjoyed the reliability and productivity accomplished while on a BlackBerry, the Tour certainly won't disappoint.

Products mentioned