What's hot: New software and styling. Excellent messaging experience and strong application selection.
What's not: Camera takes mediocre pictures. Battery life could be better.
Reviewed September 2, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Those who are on Verizon and Sprint typing away on their BlackBerry 8830 or Curve 8330 now have something to pine for: the BlackBerry Tour 9630. Smaller than the BlackBerry Bold but classier than the Curve 8900, the BlackBerry Tour is the flagship CDMA BlackBerry smartphone. It has a 528MHz processor, and 256 MB RAM and 256 MB internal flash ROM. It's running BlackBerry OS 4.7 and desktop software 4.7, and has built-in GPS with BlackBerry Maps, built-in Bluetooth v2.0 with A2DP stereo support, a media player that supports more codecs, and a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and video capturing capability. Users of the older BlackBerry Curve smartphones will appreciate the higher resolution screen, the same excellent push email and IM experience and improved web browser that's better but has not yet reached the level of the iPhone, Nokia S60, Palm Pre or Google Android browser. Above all the enhancements, the real star accompanying the BlackBerry Tour is the BlackBerry App World. BlackBerry Tour users get over the air download links to popular applications in multimedia, social networks and productivity categories on both Sprint and Verizon versions. What's glaringly missing from the BlackBerry Tour however is built-in Wi-Fi.
The Sprint and Verizon versions are nearly identical apart from carrier services, so we'll cover both phones in this review and make note when a feature is available only on one carrier's version.
The BlackBerry Tour 9630 is a digital dual band CDMA phone that's available in Sprint and Verizon versions in the U.S., and it's also a quad band GSM phone that will work anywhere GSM networks are available outside of the U.S. Both Sprint and Verizon lock the GSM radio in the U.S., as they want you to use their CDMA networks. The BlackBerry Tour 9630 also has 3G for fast data and works on EV-DO Rev. A networks. Outside of the U.S., the phone works on 2100MHz UMTS/HSPA 3G networks.
The BlackBerry Tour 9630 is a great looking BlackBerry. It has the Curve's curvy lines but the Bold's build quality and classier looks. Measuring 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches, the BlackBerry Tour is a hair bigger than the Curve 8900 and just a bit shorter and narrower than the Bold. The 2.4" display has 480 x 360 pixel resolution and 65K colors, and it looks bright and color saturated. The QWERTY keyboard is very easy to use and the trackball provides an excellent navigation experience as with other trackball-equipped BlackBerries. The menu keys, call send and call end keys flank the trackball and are quite flat though not hard to use as they are large. Music fans should be happy to know that the BlackBerry Tour has a 3.5mm stereo audio jack and it comes witha wired stereo headset. Along with the audio jack, the BlackBerry Tour has volume controls, and two convenience keys, one on each side of the phone. You can assign these keys to launch any applications including voice command, camera, music and more.
Verizon BlackBerry Tour back.
The 3.2 megapixel camera lives on the back with flash and the battery door has a latch that allows you to take the door off very easily. The battery doors vary a little bit between the Sprint and Verizon versions: the Sprint Tour has a smooth plastic back while the Verizon Tour has a soft touch battery door with a textured plastic strip in the middle. The SIM card lives under the battery door and you will need to take the battery out to access it when you travel overseas, and the microSD card slot also lives under the battery door but it doesn't require removal of the battery.
Phone, Web and Messaging
The BlackBerry Tour 9630 gets mediocre signal strength in areas that have average to good coverage. Near a cell tower though the phone does get full bars or nearly full bars. The smartphone has never dropped a call on either Sprint or Verizon networks, but the voice quality can't compete with the BlackBerry Bold on AT&T. The voice isn't super clear like the Bold, but the Tour has a good DSP for wind and noise filtering. The BlackBerry Tour comes with Nuance voice command software that works very well for voice dialing and checking the coverage level and battery level. The smartphone also has smart dialing and speed dial. Call management features include call waiting, conference call and call forwarding.
Price (no rebate required)
For BlackBerry traditionalists who want excellent push email and IM, the BlackBerry Tour doesn't disappoint. The push email is super fast and allows signatures, attachments and a multitude of message management features and settings. The BlackBerry PIN-based messaging and IM are expedient and easy to use. The Tour also supports SMS, MMS and popular messenger applications.
GPS and Navigation
The BlackBerry Tour 9630 has built-in GPS. It comes with BlackBerry Maps and also works with Sprint Navigation and Verizon VZ Navigator. The GPS gets fast fixes and accurate positions. BlackBerry Maps is a free download over the air and offers maps, turn-by-turn on-screen directions and POI searches. The maps load a bit slower than the carrier hosted navigation services, and it doesn't have voice guidance. While not free, both carriers' navigation services offer route calculations, turn-by-turn directions and voice guidance for driving. We tested the GPS with both services and found the GPS worked smoothly for real time routing and re-routing, traffic reports and POI searches. The voice guidance was on target and the turn-by-turn direction and maps followed driving perfectly. The voice was loud through the phone's built-in speaker and we had no trouble hearing it over highway noise. Sprint Navigation and Verizon VZ Navigator both cost $9.99 per month.
While the BlackBerry Tour doesn't have the hardware music controls found on the BlackBerry Curve 8520, it's a very decent music player. The media player on the Tour doesn't look fancy but it can play MP3, AAC, AAC+ eAAC+, WMA and WMA ProPlus audio files. The built-in mono speakerphone is very loud and has clear sound for music playback but it can sound blown out when the volume is turned too high. Using the included wired stereo headset, the music sounds very clear and loud with much stronger bass. The Tour also works with Bluetooth stereo headsets via A2DP. The Sprint BlackBerry works with Sprint's Music Store and Verzion's version works with V CAST Music with Rhapsody for buying and downloading music over the air. The BlackBerry Tour also has a microSD card slot that works with high capacity cards and plays music stored on the card. The Sprint version includes a 1GB microSD card with the Tour, and Verizon gives you a 2GB card with the phone. You can of course sync music using the included USB cable.
The BlackBerry Tour can also play video, and on the entertainment front, the BlackBerry Tour for Sprint offers more unique content. Sprint TV works reasonably well on the Tour. The on-demand videos play smoothly most of the time but there are some noticeable frame drops and refresh delays. Other sports and entertainment content on the Sprint version include NFL Mobile Live and NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile which offer team info, player info, news and much more. The news and interview videos from the two sports channels are sharp and play mostly smoothly, but the resolution is so small that you can barely make out who is on the screen. Both NASCAR mobile and NFL mobile content is set up for devices with lower resolutions, and as result, the text looks really small on the Tour. Sadly the Verizon version of the Tour doesn't offer V CAST Video services.
BlackBerry App World and Applications
What if you want to listen to streaming audio, update your Facebook or upload photos to your favorite sites? How about games or checking the weather? BlackBerry App World has you covered. Be it Pandora radio, or apps for Facebook, MySpace and Flickr, or WeatherEye and free games, all you need to do is just download it over the air and install them on your BlackBerry, and many of them are free. RIM has just added a catalogue feature to the App World and now when you look at an application you can see more info about it. App World has top paid app lists, a newly released app list, a top free app list and it also allows you to archive downloaded apps to microSD cards.
The BlackBerry Tour 9630 has a 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera with a flash. The camera takes OK pictures but not impressive compared with other camera phones in this class. The still images have inconsistent exposure, but colors look saturated and balanced. The pictures could be sharper in both indoor and outdoor shots. The autofocus lens is quite fast and the flash lamp is bright and works well for shots in dark environments. The camera can also take video with audio. The camera software offers white balance settings, effects, shooting modes and geo-tagging as well as image quality and resolution settings.
The BlackBerry Tour has a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery that's 1400mAh in capacity. That's the same battery capacity as the BlackBerry Bold and the Curve 8900 but the Tour doesn't last as long on a charge. The claimed talk time is 5 hours and claimed standby time is 14 days. Both the Sprint version and Verizon version of the Tour lasted no more than 4-5 days on standby with only push email turned on. When we accessed EVDO data for more intensive tasks such as shopping for music, watching on-demand video and navigation and driving with voice guidance, the phone lasted about 1.5 days. If you talk a lot on the phone and access data frequently as well as getting messages pushed to you, expect to charge the Tour every day to 2 days. Playing music drains very little battery.
For the BlackBerry 8830 or the Curve 8330 users, the BlackBerry Tour 9630 is the logical upgrade. The processor is twice as fast and memory more than doubled from the BlackBerry Curve 8330. The Tour gets the new styling and looks great for a BlackBerry. It has a fresher OS, newer web browser and a media player that supports more codecs. You get the same excellent push email and IM experience, and for the business users, the Tour offers many levels of security. Office To Go suite is onboard to view and edit MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, and PIM tools include calculator, Password Keeper, Memo, Tasks and Voice notes. Though not flashy, the BlackBerry Tour offers a good music experience and works with carriers' over the air music stores. Kudos to Sprint for offering Sprint TV, NFL and NASCAR content on the Tour, and most of all you can download and install more apps from BlackBerry App World over the air. We don't dig the camera quality and wish the phone had a better battery life. Users who seek built-in Wi-Fi are out of luck with the Tour.
Pro: Faster processor and more memory, new OS including a new version of the web browser and media player, outstanding email and IM experience, good selection of bundled software and available downloads from BlackBerry App World. Very good looking.
Con: Call quality isn't as good as the Bold, camera takes so-so pictures, and no Wi-Fi.
Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract; $499.99 without a contract.
Display: 2.4" 65K color TFT LCD. Resolution: 480 x 360.
Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1400 mAh. Claimed talk time: up to 5 hours. Claimed standby: up to 14 days.
Performance: 528 MHz processor. 256MB built-in RAM and 256MB internal flash memory and more than half of that is available for program installation.
Size: 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches. Weight: 4.58 ounces.
Audio: Built-in speakerphone, mic and 3.5mm stereo headset jack. Media Player included for your MP3 pleasure. Can play music in MP3, AAC, AAC+ eAAC+, WMA and WMA ProPlus formats, has vibration mode and voice note recorder.
Phone: Dual-Band 800/1900 MHz CDMA/EVDO Rev. A networks in the U.S.; Quad-Band 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE overseas unlocked, single-Band: 2100 MHz UMTS/HSPA networks.
Networking: Bluetooth v2.0. Supported profiles: Hands-free, mono Headset, phonebook access, Serial and Dial-up Networking (DUN) and A2DP/AVRCP.
Software: BlackBerry v4.7. BlackBerry push email client. BlackBerry Messaging, SMS and MMS. BlackBerry Maps (free service), Sprint Navigation or Verizon VZ Navigator application (requires subscription), Documents to Go standard edition (view and edit but not create MS Office documents), BlackBerry web browser, media player for MP3 pleasure and video playback. PIM apps include address book, calendar, tasks and memo. Also Alarm, clock, voice notes, calculator, Password Keeper. Games: BrickBreaker, Word Mole, Texas Hold'Em King 2, Sudoku and Klondike. BlackBerry Desktop software for PC included for syncing and software installation (PocketMac for BlackBerry Mac software can be downloaded for free from RIM's site). Nuance VSuite 2.1 for voice dialing and voice command.
Expansion: 1 SDHC microSD card slot. 1GB card included with the Sprint Tour; 2GB card included with the Verizon Tour.