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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

Verizon’s recent announcement of a new BlackBerry peaked our interest. Verizon fans have been clamoring for a new BlackBerry with a keyboard as an alternative to the touch screen BlackBerry Storm. While the BlackBerry Storm left us wanting a little more, the Tour looked great at first glance. We dug a little deeper to see how it stacked up against other BlackBerry’s as well as against the current competition.

The BlackBerry Tour 9630 comes in a typical black BlackBerry box, but as shown in Figure 1, it is encased in a white sleeve with a picture of the phone on the front. Figure 2 shows the content of the box which includes the Tour itself, the removable battery, a charging cable, several interchangeable electrical plugs for the charger, a USB cable, a 2 GB microSD card, ear buds with an inline control, and soft covers for the ear buds. Also included is a very nice case that comes with a magnetic closure and a rotatable belt clip.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 1: The box

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 2: The contents.

The Tour itself is shown in Figure 3. This may be one of BlackBerry’s best looking cell phones. The combination of shiny and dull black surfaces, the slightly curved top and bottom and the smooth surface front all combine to be good-looking as well as to be comfortable in the hand. The entire curved surface is surrounded by a shiny black curved bezel that gives the Tour a smooth look that is not as gaudy as the silver bezel on some other BlackBerry devices like the Bold. The entire device is solid and sturdy. Although you may find more modern-looking cell phones, the design of the Tour does not disappoint.

The Tour is 4.4 inches (112 mm) high, 2.4 inches (62 mm) wide, 0.6 inches (14.2 mm) deep. It weights 4.58 ounces (130 grams), making it a nice comfortable size. Those used to BlackBerry’s will find the Tour slightly larger than the Curve 8900 and slightly smaller than the Bold. This will have many Goldilock-type comfort seekers declaring it “just right.”

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure3: The Tour.

[nextpage title=”The Device”]

The Tour uses a high resolution 480 x 360 screen which is one of the clearest BlackBerry screens that we’ve seen.

The keys on the 35-key QWERTY keyboard, shown in Figure 4, are close together, but very useable. They are nicely backlit. The keys have an excellent feel allowing you to know that they are pressed without slowing you down. The number keypad is marked in red making  the keys easier to find for those with normal vision. However, as with other keyboards of this type, the red markings may be problematic for those plagued by color blindness.

The more emailing and web surfing that we do on mobile phones, the more we appreciate it when the keyboard has dedicated keys for the period key and the @key. The Tour has neither. On the Tour, you must hold down the Alt key to access the period or the at-sign, while the $ gets a dedicated key of its own. We found that impractical and something that we would like to see changed.

Above the keyboard are four function keys with a trackball in the center. The four keys are, from left to right, Send, Menu, Back (Escape), and End/Power. The trackball seems a little more recessed than some other BlackBerry’s we’ve tried, but it was still quite workable.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 4: The keyboard.

As shown in Figure 5, on the back of the Tour you will see the battery cover as well as the 3.2 megapixel camera and its flash. The back and sides of the Tour are a matt finish, which resist fingerprints. In Figure 5 you can also see that the battery cover has a different texture. It has a small checkerboard pattern. The 7 silver slivers near the top of the battery cover are simply a decorative touch. You will also see 3 silver bars at the bottom of the battery cover. The center bar can be moved upward to release the cover.  As seen in Figure 6, under the battery cover you can see the removable battery, the SIM card, and the place to insert a micro SD card.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 5: The back of the Tour.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 6: The back with the battery cover removed.

The left side of the Tour, shown in Figure 7, has only one control, an elongated silver button that is used for the voice control.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 7: The left side of the Tour.

On the right side of the Tour, shown in Figure 8, you will find the micro-USB port, a camera shortcut key, the up and down volume keys, and a standard 3.5 mm headphone socket.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 8: The right side of the Tour.

The bottom of the Tour does not have any buttons or ports. While the top, shown in Figure 9, looks to be button-less, both the left and right sides of the top are pressable. If you look carefully you will see icons on the top that indicate that you can press one side to lock the phone and the other to mute it.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 9: The top of the Tour.

[nextpage title=”Software & Functionality”]

The BlackBerry Tour is a 3G World Edition smart phone which gives you the option to make phone calls in 220 countries and to access email and the Internet in any of the 175 countries where Verizon Wireless provides data roaming services. The Tour comes with a nice col
lection of plug ends that can, as shown in Figure 10, be slid into the end of the charging cable. This will be very useful to world travelers. Calling in the US was pretty seamless with good connections and good audio.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 10: Interchangeable plugs.

If you have used a BlackBerry in the past, you will be comfortable with the Tour as it keeps the same basic button layout and organization, and happily, you will find the new BlackBerry interface a slight improvement. However, the BlackBerry operating system is showing signs of age. While the iPhone, the Pre, and others have simplified and organized their operating systems, BlackBerry still has many confusing settings and menus that require successive clicks. Also, it seems that as functionality like the camera and multimedia player has been added, the screens that control menu choices for these may not follow the same menu patterns as other more basic functionality. So often a user might expect a certain choice to be available on a certain screen, but will find that it is not available.

Another place that the BlackBerry OS shows signs of age is in its web browser. Browsing on an iPhone, the Pre, or even a Windows Mobile device is a much more pleasing experience. If you have not seen browsing on one of these other phones, you might think that browsing on the BlackBerry is adequate. But once you have surfed the web from a better smart phone browser, you will be aggravated by the BlackBerry browser.

That said, the screen and icon placement on the Tour is very good. As shown in Figure 11, the main screen has six icons that include Messages, Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Browser, and Media.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 11: The Tour main screen.

Pressing the Menu button at the main screen will take you to the Application screen, seen in Figure 12, where you will have many additional choices for controlling settings, media, the camera, SMS and MMS, games, and more.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 12: The Tour menu screen.

From the Application Center you can also access additional applications including Flick3r, Facebook, MySpace, Google Talk, AOL AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, and more, as shown in Figure 12.

BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon) Cell Phone ReviewFigure 13: The application center.

Because it was developed as a business operating system, the BlackBerry OS, performs well with a company BlackBerry Enterprise Server, but you can also sync your contacts and calendar manually with Outlook. With the Facebook app, you can also grab contact information on your Facebook friends.

Business functionality such as email is very good. There is support for POP, IMAP, and Microsoft Exchange. As expected the BlackBerry excels at messaging. We again found the interface a bit dated, but SMS conversations are threaded and IM advocates will find that the Tour supports many IM clients including AOL, GoogleTalk, AIM, and Yahoo.

The Tour has Visual Voicemail that lets you listen to messages in any order and delete any messages you like. There is also a good voice dialing application which is activated by a voice dialing button on the side of the phone. The speaker has a slightly muddy quality, but is loud enough for most circumstances.

Using the calendar on the Tour is not visually appealing, but it is very functional.

The BlackBerry Tour User Guide is available online at the BlackBerry website. Even if you have used a BlackBerry before, you will want to check it out. The shortcut guides are especially useful and they include shortcuts for typing, phoning, photography, creating attachments, browsing, searching, and other functionality.

[nextpage title=”Additional Functionality”]

The Tour has a built-in 3.2 megapixel camera with an LED flash and geo-tagging.  We found the flash a little weak, but in good lighting, the Tour took adequate photos. It did a better job than most camera phones at taking close-ups. The Tour can also take video. While adequate for most situations where you need a short video, the 15 frames per second video is not well-suited to fast moving video situations.

The BlackBerry Tour has an excellent video player. It played every video we tried. It even resized the videos that were too large. While watching long videos on the small 2.5” display may be a bit trying on the eyes, the sharpness and great colors of the screen make video watching a little easier.

Thanks to the support for a microSD card, the Tour can also be used as a media player. Music can be loaded directly on the card, transferred over the USB or Bluetooth connection or synchronized using the BlackBerry Desktop Manager. There is a Verizon V Cast Music Store. The tour is also compatible with Rhapsody. Although the included hard ear buds are uncomfortable and not terribly good, when you add a better set of ear buds, we found the audio quality to be very good.

The Verizon Tour can use the VerizonVZ Navigator software to allow for turn-by-turn navigation with the built-in GPS. This service is excellent, but carries an additional charge from Verizon.

Battery life of the Tour is good. Research in Motion asserts that the Tour has 5 hours of talk time and 14 days of standby. We had no trouble getting through the day on a charge, even when running applications in the background.

However, we must state that the Tour does not have WiFi. This actually gives the phone longer battery life, it is an omission that is hard to overlook. Wi-Fi access is a wonderful feature for smart phones and it has had universal appeal. Some BlackBerry shoppers will take a pass on the Tour just because of this lack of Wi-Fi functionality.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

BlackBerry Tour 9630 cell phone main specifications are: 

  • Dimensions: 4.4" x 2.4" x 0.6" (11.2 x 6.2 x 1.42 cm)
  • Weight: 4.58 oz (130 grams)
  • Display: 480×360 pixel screen with 65,000 colors
  • Camera: 3.2 megapixels
  • 256 MB Built-in Memory
  • Supports microSD cards
  • Battery: 1400 mAHr removable/rechargeable cryptographic lithium cell
  • Talk Time: 5 hours
  • Standby Time: 14 days
  • Bluetooth v2.0
  • Assisted, Autonomous and Simultaneous GPS
  • Video format support: MPEG4 H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, H.264 (encoding and decoding 30 FPS), WMV
  • Audio format support: MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WMA ProPlus
  • Quad-Band: 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks
  • Single-Band: 2100 MHz UMTS/HSPA networks
  • Dual-Band: 800/1900 MHz CDMA/EVDO Rev A networks
  • More information: https://www.blackberry.com
  • MSRP: USD 500. Verizon offers this phone starting at USD 200.00, but you need to read the fine print: this price is after a USD 100 mail-in rebate and with a two-year contract.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The BlackBerry Tour is the best CDMA BlackBerry that we’ve tested. Even with an ageing operating system, it is quite functional as either a personal or business smart phone. The poor browser is offset by applications like Facebook, Flick3r and MySpace that allow you to access much-used web applications without actually using the browser. Phoning, e-mailing, messaging, and other functions work well as does the visual voicemail. The Tour is an excellent choice and all of the things we found wrong with it are minor, except for the lack of Wi-Fi, which will be a deal-breaker for some.

Pros

  • Excellent screen
  • Good keyboard
  • Very Good Design
  • Great feel in hand
  • Good selection of apps for social networking, instant messaging
  • MicroSD Card
  • Good IM and social networking applications
  • Good camera and video
  • Accessories include a variety of plugs and a 2 GB MicroSD card

Cons

  • No Wi-Fi
  • Small screen
  • Aggravating nested menus
  • Inconsistencies in menu choices across the platform
  • Poor web browser
  • Keyboard needs dedicated @ and period keys