RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 Review

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Introduction and Design
This phone is offered with Verizon Wireless,
but there is also a variant for Sprint - check it out here.

Introduction:


The Bold took BlackBerry devices to a new design level, and CDMA users have been wanton for their own version since it was first announced.  RIM did one better and gave them the BlackBerry Tour 9630.  A beautiful blend of the Bold and Storm, the Tour packs some goodies under the hood too such as worldwide connectivity thanks to the quad-band GSM radio.  Other amenities include a gorgeous HVGA (480x360) display, 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus, microSDHC expansion and EVDO Rev. A connectivity.  The Tour is the first non-touchscreen BlackBerry with OS 4.7, a version previously reserved for the Storm.  Included in the box you’ll find:

•    AC charger with international adapter
•    microUSB cable
•    Leather holster with swivel clip
•    Stereo headphones
•    2GB microSD card

Design:

The RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 looks and feels great, there are no two ways about it.  It borrows heavily from the Curve 8900, which itself borrows from the Bold and Storm.  The materials are better than the Curve though, as we would expect from a higher end device.  From the front they look very similar, but there are definite differences.  For starters, the keypad is styled like the Bold, with the keys butting up against each other and the arching flare to the left or right.  The trim around the Tour is less pronounced at the bottom as well.




You can compare the RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The Tour is 1-3mm bigger in every dimension too, but remains significantly smaller than the Bold.  While a few millimeters may not sound like much, the added size is noticeable and we prefer the feel of the 8900 still.  That said, the keyboard may not be as good if you shave those 2mm off the Tour.  As always, RIM has to play with form versus function, and we can’t blame them for anything on this design.

The keyboard is the best we’ve ever used.  It is soft without being mushy, the spacing is near perfect and the key size should please even those with fat fingers.  RIM keeps setting the bar higher and higher with every new device they release (as long as they keep “Sure-” out of the name.)  The black trackball is a nice design touch; it fits with the black housing and dark chrome trim much better than a white one would have.  The navigation keys are just as pleasant to use as the QWERTY.



The HVGA display, as it was on the Curve 8900, is gorgeous.  Bright, crisp and easy to read even in direct sunlight, we love it.  We’re sure many will load their own themes on their device, but the stock theme just pops on this display.  Videos and colors were amazing, and if they could ever get their software in line RIM might have a true multimedia powerhouse device up their sleeves.

Along the sides you’ll find the traditional RIM ports and keys.  The left simply houses the convenience key and speaker, whereas the right has its own key to go along with the volume rocker, microUSB port and 3.5mm headset jack.   The sides are coated in soft touch paint, which wraps around and partially covers the back as well…we think.  As you’ll read later we got a second unit, and on this one the entire battery door was hard, shiny plastic.  We much prefer the soft touch version.  Like the Storm and Curve 8900 before it, the display housing extends to the top of the Tour 9630, housing a flush mute and lock key.



The battery door was a bit tricky to remove the first time since- unlike other RIM devices- it extends all the way down to the bottom of the phone.  It is simply a familiarity issue, and once you figure it out its easy as pie.  Behind it you’ll find the battery, SIM and microSD card, which takes an act of God to get out.  The door design is much nicer than the faux-brushed aluminum found on the 8900.  The middle has a deep black carbon fiber-esque pattern to it, which meets the unpatterned black camera housing at the top.  The 3.2 megapixel camera is accompanied by an LED flash above it.



By feel alone if it weren’t for the Curve 8900 this might be our favorite BlackBerry design.  We prefer the back of the 9630 and it’s toned down trim, but the 8900 just fits better in our hands.  If it comes down to form or function though, we’ll choose function every time.  The phenomenal keyboard makes up for the added size, and right now this is the standard.  We have to admit, we wish the rumors of a touchscreen would have been true though, as it would have put the RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 on a new plateau.

RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 360 Degrees View:




User Interface:

This is where all that beautiful hardware ends, and the boring begins.  The RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 runs OS 4.7 (.1.40 on ours,) which is the same software that the Storm runs.  It is virtually identical to 4.6 found on the Bold, Curve 8900 and Curve 8350i.  There are a few visual tweaks, such as in dropdown menus, but otherwise it remains similar.  It is very quick, and very stable, and there is something to be said for that, especially for enterprise users.  It is not, however, innovative, eye-catching or very user friendly.  We feel that RIM is backing themselves into a corner much like Palm did; they had a good base and kept adding to it, but eventually the times passed them by and they were left with an old, antiquated system that couldn’t keep up.  The revolutionary and from-scratch webOS was needed for Palm, RIM should look to them for inspiration.



Phonebook:

There isn’t anything new with the phonebook.  It’s as simple and straightforward as ever, and you can store virtually an unlimited amount of contacts.  Each contact can hold three email addresses, two work phone numbers, two home numbers, a mobile, pager, fax and “other” number as well as a space for a BlackBerry PIN number.  There is a slot for both a home and work address, as well as dates for anniversary and birthdays. Contacts can be sorted by user definable categories, each entry can have a custom ringer and picture ID, and there is a section for a webpage and notes.

Users can search directly from the main screen by typing in either the first or last name, and as you start to type a number in the phone application the Curve matches it with the contact list. When an entry is highlighted from the main contacts view the user can hit the send button to initiate a call. If the entry has multiple numbers it will bring up a popup window where you can select which one you want to call.  As always, Nuance is included for voice dialing.



Organizer:

Like the phonebook, the calendar function is very robust. It can be managed either on your phone or on your PC, and when paired to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) it can be remotely managed and synced over the air. Creating an appointment is simple, and options such as reminders and recurrence are present. Appointments can also be marked as private for added security.

Other basic PIM functions are available, such as Tasks and a Memo Pad. Tasks is very basic, but reminders can be set and they can also be grouped into categories. The Memo Pad is a basic notepad, no bells and whistles. A Voice Note Recorder is present for taking notes on the go, and a basic calculator is also available.



Messaging:

Like any BlackBerry, the Tour 9630 supports a whole slew of messaging options. Standards like SMS and MMS are onboard, as is support for multiple email accounts and BlackBerry PIN messaging.  Other preloaded IM clients are AIM, GTalk, ICQ, Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger allowing you to keep in touch with virtually anyone.

Email setup on the RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 is about as perfect as it gets, we simply put in our email and password and that was it. Even with our uncommon work email we didn’t have to enter any server information. The push email arrived nearly instantaneously in our testing. With the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) the user can have up to 10 email addresses on one device.

As we stated earlier, the QWERTY keyboard is the best we’ve ever used.  The keys are easy to press yet offer good tactile feedback.  Unlike the Curve family, the keys run next to each other and there is a separator between each of the four rows.  Our only concern is that, while perfect now, as the keyboard breaks in it may be too soft for some users.





Connectivity and Data:

The Blackberry Tour 9630 is a true world phone, with a dual-band CDMA radio for here in the States and quad-band GSM for traveling abroad. The EVDO Rev. A radio gives high speed data in the U.S. and UMTS on the 2100MHz band allows for 3G roaming abroad. Wi-Fi is unfortunately lacking, but GPS is on board. Also unfortunate, the GPS seems to be locked on our Verizon Tour as Google Maps was not able to pinpoint us. *Update* We were informed to perform a *228 option 1 and 2 on the phone. After we did that, we were able to get both VZ Navigator and Google Maps to work without problem. Based upon this, we can now conclude that GPS is indeed unlocked, which is great. It has Bluetooth 2.0 (but no EDR) and supports the mono/stereo headset, hands-free, Phone Book Access Profile (PBAP), and serial port, A2DP, AVCRP and DUN profiles.

The browser is the same one found on devices after the Bold, and it’s still passable but not great. Opera Mini should be an immediate download. BlackBerry Desktop Manager handles desktop sync as always. It is used to manage calendar, tasks, contacts and email synchronization with your desktop. You can also use the data cable to load media onto the memory card, and Media Sync will allow for iTunes syncing of non-DRM files, like we’ve seen with other recent BlackBerry devices.



Multimedia:


The media player is laid out well and simple to use, but not overly loaded with features. It supports folders, and will sort your music by Artist, Album and Genres. It also supports album art and playlists, which the user can create on the go, and the other options are Repeat and Shuffle. Audio formats supported are MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA and WMA ProPlus , while the video formats are MPEG4 H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, H.264 and WMV. Unfortunately there is no XviD or DivX support like the Bold or Curve 8900. As we stated earlier videos look wonderful on the high resolution screen. The included stereo headphones are pretty poor, but the 3.5mm jack means you can use any headphones you want. With our higher quality headphones music sounded very good.




The camera was very average. Pictures were good but not great, colors were a bit subdued and pictures lacked detail and were sometimes grainy. It features image stabilization and geotagging, and the user can customize the white balance, but the controls are fairly pedestrian. It took about four seconds to launch the camera and snap a picture, and another five to capture another one. The flash is ok at short distances, as you would expect from a single LED. Videos can be recorded in MMS (176x144) or Normal (480x352) modes, neither of which are fantastic but they get the job done. There will be a no camera version of the Tour as well for business people who deal with sensitive information.




Software:

RIM has not announced what processor the BlackBerry Tour 9630 runs on, but we’d expect it to be the same 512MHz processor that powers the Curve 8900. It has a bump in memory, now up to 256MB of RAM and ROM. There is not much in terms of software beyond what we have come to expect from BlackBerry devices. The most notable of which is the DataViz Documents to Go package, and of course Brick Breaker. On the social networking front, Flickr, Facebook and MySpace are all preloaded.



Performance:

Call performance was not so good on the 9630.  On our end callers sounded a bit distant and hollow, much as they did on the 8350i.  Still, we could hear callers fine and had no problems making out what they were saying.  They, however, were not as fortunate.  They told us it was the worst phone we have ever tested, and that we sounded like we were talking though wax paper and were very hard to hear.  There was no static on their end, it was just very poor sound quality.  We tried the Sprint HTC Snap and Verizon Pearl Flip at the same time, to eliminate network issues on either end, and the results were the same.  We requested another unit, and had better but still poor results.  The wax paper effect went away, but callers still complained that we sounded poor and they had a hard time understanding us.  Suffice it to say that sound quality is a potential issue.

The 1400mAh battery is rated at a very respectable 5 hours of talk time and two weeks of standby, but that talk time is down from the nearly 6 on the 8330.  Of course RIM has underrated the battery’s performance, and in our testing we were able to achieve 5:48 of talk time which is quite acceptable for a smartphone.

Conclusion:

There is no doubt that the Tour is the finest hardware ever to come out of Canada.  It is simply gorgeous, with an amazing display and the finest keyboard on the market.  The global radios means it has no boundaries, and the camera-less version will ensure that.  It is fast and stable, with a very polished UI.  There remains that problem with call quality, however.  Furthermore, we can’t help but feel a bit bored by it.  Yeah, the hardware is great, but does it really offer much more than the Curve it replaces?  If international travel is a factor then certainly, but otherwise we tend to think not.  In terms of function it just doesn’t do anything that the 8330 doesn’t.  If you’re rocking a Pearl or looking to become a new BlackBerry owner then the Tour is an excellent choice, but otherwise holding on to what you have won’t do you any harm.

RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 Video Review:



Pros

  • Near flawless QWERTY
  • Vibrant, rich display
  • Stable, quick OS

Cons

  • Call quality is a major issue
  • Beyond international traveling, it doesn’t offer Curve owners a compelling reason to upgrade
  • OS has become stale

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

User Rating:

8.7
39 Reviews

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