Review: Verizon’s BlackBerry Tour 9630

The Tech Herald reviews Verizon’s BlackBerry Tour 9630. (IMG: Stock/S.Ragan)

The Tech Herald recently got to spend a few days playing with the newest BlackBerry, the Tour (9630). The standout performance, from the intensive drill that we put it through, leads us to call this the most rounded BlackBerry in the entire Verizon offering.

The Tour joins the BlackBerry Storm (9530), the Curve 8330, Perl Flip (8230), and the 8830 World Edition in Verizon’s collective BlackBerry offering. However, the interesting aspect of the Tour is that it takes things from other devices and collectively merges them into a new phone.

 

 

The trackball is back, one of the aspects to the Storm that many people missed, and overall the Tour is lighter when compared to the 8830. It's slick looking, with a polished black finish that borrows some aspects from the Storm, yet it holds the classic BlackBerry look that everyone knows and is comfortable with.

 

 

The back of the Tour has a textured design, which offers an added grip when using the camera. At the same time however, this new backing is what we considered as the only flaw in the Tour’s design. The backing was loose, and while secured, as in it wasn’t going to fall off, the looseness stands out and is noticeable. The keyboard just felt right and offered room as well as comfort. 

 

 

  

A BlackBerry user myself, I was quickly able to dive into the Tour and start working with it, thanks to my previous knowledge from my 8830. Yet, an eight year-old was able to snap off pictures and navigate the device and the Internet without asking a single question. The menus, thanks to a clear and vivid screen and excellent lighting, performed well on sunny days and in the dead of night.

[Note: At times, the Tour would freeze if you went to access menus or applications in rapid order. While this isn’t a serious fault, it might be an easy fix in a future software update. We were not able to determine the cause of the freezing. We only know that it happened when we were blasting through menus, options, and applications. To prevent this, we took our time and made sure the Tour was “caught up” to what we were doing.]

In all, this is a sexy BlackBerry, easily the sexiest BlackBerry Verizon offers, and that’s saying something as we loved the Storm’s look and feel. Yet, the Tour just takes the cake when it comes to that department, and we’re suckers for the classics.

Now, a phone has to be more than sexy, so we pushed it as hard as we could during the three days Verizon allowed us to keep it. So the question is, can the BlackBerry Tour work and function as well as it looks?
 
The Tour uses a 480 x 360-pixel screen, and the display itself is clean, but in all honesty, clean isn’t a good word for it. You have to really hold one and see how clear and vivid the text and colors are. The finish of the screen is a high gloss, but in direct sunlight it displays just as well as any other BlackBerry. One hitch, if you could call it that, was touching the screen, it looked like a plasma screen when pressed and can obscure the display a bit. A little caution when using it will avoid this issue though.

When it comes to applications, there is no shortage of social media on the Tour. AIM, MSN, Flickr, MySpace, complement the built-in camera, as it supports geo-tagging, as well as video. SMS, MMS, and document editing will meet both business and non-business needs, but the document editing (Excel, Word, and PowerPoint) will require a separate purchase.

 

 

The camera is a 3.2-mega pixel, which offered up some interesting features, including auto-focus and zoom. The images were what you would expect from a phone. Perfect for casual use, but it is unlikely that you will see professional photographers using the Tour’s camera for assignments any time soon. The same can be said for video as well. There is slight delay from the time you press the trackball to snap an image to when the shutter actually snaps. This delay will put some people off, but it is minor at best.

The image below was taken not two minutes after the Tour was unboxed and switched on. As you can see, Ray’s face is decent, but the dresser in the bedroom is a little grainy. However, this image was also downloaded from an email account instead of taken from the phone. (We emailed the image during the email test.) Because we did not have the phone as long as we would have preferred, we plan to ask for it again and give the various options a stronger set of tests.

Music-wise, Tour supports Rhapsody as well as VCast, and comes with headphones. If you have the headset, then music quality is great. Playing music from the internal speaker was mediocre at best. When used, the headphones offered rich sound and a comfortable fit. Other features include the ability to sync iTunes and Windows Media files, as well as support for most popular file formats.

Browsing was an interesting experience. The browser worked great and the keyboard shortcuts (‘I’ for zoom in and ‘O’ for zoom out as an example), made navigating the web simple enough. The nifty browsing feature that stood out was the mouse pointer you control with the trackball. The mouse pointer is what sold the browser to us, with the pointer we were able to control forms and hyperlinks easier than previous phones tested, and that cut surfing time down considerably. Full browsing, as well as the option to enable or disable JavaScript, only gave us serious problems when the site wasn’t mobile ready. However, even then the mouse pointer made things easier.

 

 

[Note: The Tour does not support Wi-Fi, so you will need to purchase the data service from Verizon to take advantage of the features on the Web, including GPS (the GPS is unlocked so third party GPS applications should work fine on the Tour), music and other value-added services.]

When it comes to battery usage, we didn’t have enough time to test it from a full charge till death. However, during the three days we used the Tour, from a full charge, we never allowed it to charge, simply used it. In that timeframe, we managed to lose one bar of battery life. The Tour is rated at five hours of talk time and 14-days of standby time.

Call quality was crisp and clear, with no real issues at all. The speakerphone wasn’t as loud as we would have expected, but the clarity was decent, and during several calls there were no drops or signal errors. However, call features are something that deserve a special mention. This is because, you would be hard pressed to travel anywhere in the world and not find network support for the Tour.

It supports GSM, GPRS, EDGE, 850/900/1800/1900 MHz Quad-band networks, as well as 2100 MHz UMTS/HSPA Single-band networks. Dual-band is supported on 800 and 1900 MHz for CDMA and EVDO Rev A. networks. If that wasn’t enough, Verizon includes the SIM card for the Tour by default; you will just need to call a number sent with the package to activate global roaming and usage.

As we said, the Tour is sexy, but more than good looks, it’s a great rounded device and works like a champ. Aside from the loose back cover, minor freezes when hammering out rapid-fire commands, and touch sensitive screen, there wasn’t much to complain about during our tests.

If you are new to the BlackBerry, but afraid to try the Storm because of people who were frustrated by the touch screen, then this is the phone to start with. If you use an 8830, as I do, then this is my recommendation for an easy and quick upgrade.

The BlackBerry Tour is available now for $199.99 USD after a $70.00 USD mail-in rebate and a two-year contract. Data services, required for almost all of the main features, will start at $29.99 USD.

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