There's a lot to like about the new BlackBerry Tour 9630 smartphone. It has a gorgeous display, a sleek design, excellent e-mail handling, and offers voice and data service both inside the U.S. and outside the country. In fact, the BlackBerry Tour really has just one major flaw: a lack of Wi-Fi support.
The BlackBerry Tour is available for both Verizon Wireless and Sprint. Both carriers are charging $199.99 for the phone when you sign a new two-year contract, but Sprint's price is after a $100 mail-in rebate.
Appearance-wise, the BlackBerry Tour is a blend of the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Curve 8900. It's a bit thicker than the ultra-slim Curve, and a bit smaller overall than the Bold. Of the three, I like the Tour's design the best. It has a bit more heft than the 8900, making it more comfortable to hold. It also has a pleasing soft-touch backing, which I preferred over the faux-leather backing on the BlackBerry Bold.
The Tour's screen measures 2.4 inches diagonally, which feels a bit small compared to some of the displays on today's best phones, which often measure 3 inches or larger. But it has a resolution of 480 by 360 pixels, which makes for an absolutely stunning display. It's comparable to the top-notch screen on the Bold.
The keyboard is a bit smaller than the roomy one found on the Bold, but it's excellent, nonetheless. The keys have slightly raised ridges, which make them easy to differentiate.
Call quality was very good in my test calls. (My Tour review unit was a Verizon Wireless model.) My callers sounded loud and clear, and they said the same thing about me.
One of the Tour's strongest selling features is that it's a world phone, so you can use it to make calls and access data in many countries around the world. In North America, it runs on the Verizon's and Sprint's CDMA and EvDO networks; in other areas, it offers support for 3G UMTS/HSPA networks, as well as all four GSM bands (850/900/1800/1900) and both the GPRS and EDGE networks.
Browsing the Web
The included BlackBerry browser is excellent: It displays Web pages just as you would see them on a computer screen, and lets you zoom in and out easily. Some pages feel slightly cramped on the Tour's relatively small screen, though.
You get support for Verizon's and Sprint's 3G EvDO networks for speedy browsing. But the Tour unforgivably lacks support for Wi-Fi wireless networks, so you'll have to rely on the availability of a 3G cellular network to speed things up. It's been rumored that all future BlackBerry smartphones will support Wi-Fi, so let's hope the Tour is the last one without it.
Like all BlackBerry phones, the Tour is a messaging champ. It will support 10 personal or business e-mail accounts, and setting them up is a breeze. You also get access to several instant messaging applications, including AOL's AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger, plus support for text and multimedia messaging.
The BlackBerry OS is mixed when it comes to software, but it does have some attributes. First, you get access to BlackBerry App World, RIM's application store which is growing nicely. It lacks the enormous (and often overwhelming) selection of apps that you'll find in the iPhone App Store, but you will find a decent selection of titles in there.
The Tour also has the DataViz Docs To Go editing suite preinstalled, but you only get the Standard Edition of the suite, which doesn't allow you to create new Microsoft Office documents. For that capability, you'll have to upgrade to the $70 Premium Edition.
Overall, though I find the BlackBerry OS just a bit unorganized and harder to navigate than it should be. For example, you'll find two folders on the Tour: one is labeled Applications Center and one is labeled Applications. In the Applications Center, you'll find links to apps you can download -- including a link to download BlackBerry App World. The difference between the two isn’t immediately apparent, though, so I often found myself opening the wrong folder.
The included 3.2-megapixel camera has auto-focus, a flash and digital zoom, and it captured some very good snapshots -- as long as my subjects were sitting still. When a subject moved at all, the result was a very blurred photo. The camera also captures decent video clips, though some of my movies looked slightly blurry and choppy.
Music and More
The Verizon Wireless Tour I tested included access to Verizon's very good V Cast with Rhapsody mobile music service. You can download tunes over-the-air to your phone.
You also get support for stereo Bluetooth and built-in GPS, as well as a decent--though basic--audio and video player.
The BlackBerry Tour boasts a very fair price, a top-notch design, and some of the best e-mail features around. If it only supported Wi-Fi, the Tour would likely earn my vote for the best BlackBerry smartphone yet. As it stands though, that honor still belongs to the BlackBerry Bold, which manages to offer support for both Wi-Fi and 3G networks.