BlackBerry Tour Is a Solid Device, but It Makes a Frustrating Trade-off

Available for both the Sprint and Verizon networks, the BlackBerry Tour does not break new smartphone ground. However, it packs many of the modern features and capabilities users have come to expect from a smartphone, and all the management and e-mail prowess mobile administrators expect from a BlackBerry. The device can be used internationally, but at the expense of Wi-Fi capabilities--a frustrating trade-off.

With the BlackBerry Tour 9630, Research In Motion breaks no new ground in terms of its core device software or end-user usability, introduces no revolutionary or even particularly noteworthy new hardware features to the mobile device landscape, and does little to distinguish the look or feel of the device from other recent BlackBerry devices.

Nonetheless, the Tour packs many of the modern features and capabilities users have come to expect from a smartphone, and all the management and e-mail prowess mobile administrators expect from a BlackBerry, creating a fine overall experience for both sides.

For images of the BlackBerry Tour 9630, click here.

Available for both Sprint and Verizon networks (I tested the Verizon iteration), the Tour aims for international usability. As with the Storm last year, RIM has added a GSM radio family (GSM/EDGE/HSPA) for data and voice connectivity abroad, in addition to the CDMA/EVDO Rev A technology for use in the United States.

On the Verizon network, the Tour is available for $489 with a month-to-month contract, or $199 with a two-year contract. For Sprint, the prices are $499 month-to-month or $199 with a two-year contract.

Also like the Storm, the Tour sacrifices Wi-Fi for international operation, forgoing wireless LAN technology. Given the strength and competency that RIM has shown with Wi-Fi in the comparatively few models it has shipped with the technology (particularly when it comes to security, management and tools), I find RIM's continuing lack of dedication to the technology frustrating. I imagine that IT and network administrators who are increasing the pervasiveness of Wi-Fi as a primary mode of communications within the office share this frustration.

The Tour finds the small middle ground between the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Curve 8900. Measuring in at 4.4 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches and 4.58 ounces, the Tour is noticeably smaller and lighter than the Bold, and ever so slightly longer and wider than the Curve. In terms of design, the Tour looks more like the Curve, with sharper corners and a slimmer profile. However, the Tour's backlit keyboard-with its flattened profile-is more similar to the Bold's rather than the Curve 8900's individually raised keys. Like both the Bold and the Curve, the Tour features a trackball and four action keys just below the screen.

Call quality on the Tour was surprisingly good. Smartphones frequently have muddy sound quality when pressing the phone to the ear, leaving many to resort to wired or wireless headsets for most conversations. I found the Tour's sound quality much cleaner than expected against the ear.

For headset lovers, the Tour has a 3.5mm headset jack on the top right side of the phone. The Tour also features support for Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP, so I was able to easily connect the phone to my Motorola S9 headset for stereo sound (with media applications).

The Tour comes with a 1,400-mAhr lithium cell battery and is rated for 5 hours talk time or 14 days of standby time. Battery charging can be done via the Tour's microUSB connector, either from the included power adapter or when connected to a Windows PC running the BlackBerry Desktop software (and the associated drivers). RIM also recently announced that BlackBerry Desktop software for Mac computers will be available in September.