The BlackBerry Tour 9630 can best be thought of as the long-awaited next generation of the 8830 World Edition. The Tour offers an impressive feature set and sleek design, and of course supports CDMA and high-speed EVDO networks at home and 3G networks abroad so you can stay connected while you tour the world. If you weren’t a big fan of the Storm and its touch screen, this may well be the Verizon BlackBerry you have been waiting for.
The Tour gets its good looks from a combination of the most attractive design elements of the lean BlackBerry Curve 8900 and the big and brawny Blackberry Bold. In both size and weight, the Tour falls in between the two popular AT&T devices for a build that is arguably just right. At 4.4 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, 0.5 inches thick, and weighing in at about 4.6 ounces, the Tour is nicely pocket-able.
The Tour 9630 feels great in the palm of the hand. While some early images of the Tour made the device’s back side look substandard to some, the slightly rubberized backing and carbon fiber inlay actually look quite chic. The curvature of the Tour is very reminiscent of that of the 8900, and the phone features a similar chrome frame around the front.
The Tour features a crisp and vibrant 2.44 inch, 480×360 pixel screen with support for 65k colors. While the screen certainly isn’t as big as most of the touch screen smartphones on the market, the Tour’s display still impresses. Email and web browsing was a good experience on the Tour’s screen, and even movie watching wasn’t a bad experience thanks to the high-resolution display.
On the left of the Tour is a programmable application launcher button that is defaulted to voice commands. A key lock button and mute/standby button can be found atop the Tour. On the right of the phone is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack (also supports Stereo Bluetooth), a volume rocker, a microUSB port for synching and charging, and another application launch key defaulted to camera. On the back of the Tour is a 3.2 megapixel camera/camcorder with flash.
In my humble opinion, the Tour’s QWERTY keyboard is the best on any BlackBerry yet. The keyboard is effectively a slightly smaller version of the keyboard originally featured on the Bold, with the same characteristic angled grooving on the individual keys. The size and spacing of the keys are perfect for ‘thumbing’ out epic emails, and key presses offer a satisfying feedback and slight click.
The BlackBerry operating system on the Tour is in most ways identical to the operating systems on the device’s AT&T brethren, the Curve 8900 and Bold. Just like those BlackBerrys before it (with the obvious exception of the touch screen Storm), the Tour relies on its trackball for navigation.
As part of BlackBerry OS 4.7, the Tour does feature some nice usability upgrades. With OS 4.7, the Tour users have the ability to hold down the BlackBerry menu button to access the application switcher menu, freeing up an application launcher button. It’s surprising that this intuitive access to multitasking is just now appearing was RIM’s latest OS update, but it’s here nevertheless. Another notable addition is the ability to use the trackball to flick back and forth between images or jump to the next song in a playlist.
The icons on the Tour are simple and elegant, and made for an aesthetically pleasing and seamless user experience. My one qualm with the interface is that many of the icons look similar to one another, making differentiating between applications difficult at times. While applications launched quickly and I could switch between applications without delay the vast majority of the time, the Tour was oddly sluggish at times. A task may lag for a second or two at one point, and then if I try the same task a couple minutes later, it would work without delay.
One of my most frequent complaints about BlackBerrys is that quickly dialing a number with one hand is usually a slow process because of the lack of an on-screen dial pad and small keys. The Tour’s keypad is a perfect size, however, and the number keys are nicely differentiated in orange so I had no problems quickly dialing a number with just one thumb.
The device’s built-in speakerphone was nice and loud, and callers reported that they could hear me well, although some could tell that they were on speakerphone. The Tour also has voice command functionality, allowing you to call any name in your phonebook (without any training) or dial a telephone noise, it’ll get the job done right more often than not.
A strong messaging experience has always been the hallmark of BlackBerry devices, and of course the BlackBerry Tour 9630 is no exception to the rule. The Tour’s roomy keyboard will satisfy those sending the occasional quick email, or those travelling light, relying on the Tour in place of a laptop. As usual, I had no problems synching the Tour with my Exchange account or adding my personal Gmail account. For Gmail, I just entered in my username and password, and after the requisite 20 minute wait, the phone was pushing me email from my Gmail account. Attachments from the Microsoft Office Suite, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel can also be viewed on the device. There’s also support for all popular instant messaging programs, including AIM, Google, Yahoo and Windows Live.
The Tour is armed with a full HTML web browser, allowing pages to viewed as they would be seen on a desktop computer. Except for the most complicated web pages, pages rendered accurately and were easily navigable using the Tour’s track ball to move around an on-screen cursor that could be used to zoom in and select links.
The browser also features a ‘find on page’ function, built in search functionality for Google, Wikipedia, and Dictionary.com, and of course bookmarks. Page loads were extremely snappy over Verizon’s EVDO network (usually about 5-10 seconds for full pages, and just a couple seconds for mobile versions such as CNN’s Mobile Edition), which helped ease the pain of the phone’s lack of WiFi just a bit.
BlackBerry has come a very long way in the realm of its media experience. The media interface is simple yet effective, and nicely integrated in the Os. When a song is playing, you can easily jump back to the media player by selecting ‘Now Playing’ from the menu in any application. Expect the usual functionality, including playlists, shuffle mode, and album art. The Tour syncs nicely with iTunes, enabling music and playlists to be downloaded to the device.
The Tour supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA and WMA ProPlus audio formats, as well as MPEG4 and WMV video formats. The phone has 256MB of memory built-in, and is expandable with support for up to a 32GB microSD card.
The Tour features a 3.2 megapixel camera with flash, auto focus, image stabilization, 2x digital zoom and the ability to capture video. Using the phone’s GPS functionality, you can also ‘geo-tag’ a photo so you know exactly where on the planet you took it. The flash is decently bright, and does a good job with close-ups such as self portraits or small groups a few feet away.
Photo quality was pretty good, but not great. Colors did tend bled and wash out slightly particularly in bright light. The Tour will certainly do a fine job with human subjects (particularly indoors) for a quality memory, but isn’t likely to replace your digital camera. Video quality was unimpressive, and paled in comparison to the likes of the LG enV Touch or Apple iPhone 3GS.
The phone is also available without a camera at the same price if you’re an international man of mystery or a highly privileged business executive with access to super secret blueprints or formulas.
Unfortunately, the Tour is not equipped with WiFi. Particularly for a world phone, this is a significant omission. Overseas travelers are likely to be disappointed when forced to pay international data roaming charges, even when in range of a WiFi hotspot. The BlackBerry Tour 9630 has Bluetooth v2.0, with support for Stereo Audio (A2DP/AVCRP), Dial Up Networking, Serial Port, Hands-free, and Phone Book Access.
The Tour is equipped with GPS functionality and comes with BlackBerry maps. The device also supports Verizon Visual Voicemail ($2.99/mo). Games pre-installed include BrickBreaker, Word mole, Texas Hold’Em King 2, Sudoku, and Klondike. V CAST Music with Rhapsody can be downloaded for the Tour for music download on the go. BlackBerry App World offers access hundreds more paid and free applications supported by the Tour including software for popular instant messaging platforms such as AIM and Google Talk, and social networking apps for sites including Facebook and MySpace. Other notable applications include a memo pad and voice memo application.
If you’re a Verizon subscriber who patiently said ‘no thanks’ to the Storm, awaiting the release of the next generation of a non-touch screen CDMA BlackBerry, your day may have finally arrived. The BlackBerry Tour 9630 packs an impressive list of features and an advanced BlackBerry operating system – all in a sleek and alluring package that the worldly traveler would feel right at home with. The device’s lack of WiFi, however, is a big disappointment, particularly for overseas travelers in frequent range of a WiFi hotspot.