BlackBerry Tour 9630: Is This the Phone for You

Research In Motion (RIM) has released its latest addition to the BlackBerry family: the BlackBerry Tour 9630 from Verizon Wireless and Sprint. Though the Tour's nothing revolutionary, it's sure to put countless smiles on the faces of CDMA-BlackBerry users across North America. Here's how to tell if the new BlackBerry Tour should be your next smartphone.

First off, the most important factor of all: Do you live, work or spend most of your time in a "good" Sprint or Verizon wireless coverage zone? After all, no device on the planet is going to get the job done without sufficient wireless coverage--especially with no Wi-Fi, but I'll get to that shortly.

The best way to determine if you reside or work in an area with strong Sprint or Verizon coverage is to speak with a friend, colleague, neighbor, etc., who uses Sprint or Verizon on a daily basis. Get general impressions of each carrier's coverage in your areas. Then check out the appropriate online coverage maps. (Verizon here and Sprint here.) And visit a Sprint or Verizon store to speak with company representatives. In other words, do a bit of research.

If you find that Sprint or Verizon coverage isn't up to snuff where you roam most often, you'll probably want to avoid the Tour--at least for now.

Next, the device itself and some quick technical specifications from RIM:

* 528-MHz next-generation processor

* Dual-band CDMA/EV-DO Rev A (800/1900MHz); World Phone, Quad-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz); UMTS/HSPA (2100MHz)

* Built-in GPS

* High-resolution (HVGA+ / 480x360), light-sensing display

* Enhanced Web browser

* DataViz Documents To Go

* Advanced multimedia player with support for streaming video

* Support for BlackBerry Media Sync (iTunes playlist sync)

* BlackBerry OS v4.7

* Expandable memory slot for up to 16GB of storage

* 3.2 MP camera with auto focus, digital zoom, flash, image stabilization and video recording

* Support for the renowned messaging capabilities of the BlackBerry platform, including push e-mail, popular instant messaging applications and premium phone features

The features that really catch my eye here are the processor speed; the device's support for a wide array of wireless networks, both GSM and CDMA; the new BlackBerry software, OS v4.7; and the 3.2 megapixel, auto-focus camera.

None of these features are really unique to the Tour; in fact, both the Sprint- and Verizon-branded versions of RIM's 8830 are "World Phones," meaning they work on both CDMA and GSM networks, as does Verizon's Storm 9530 device. The Storm also runs on a 528MHz-processor and has a similar version of BlackBerry OS 4.7 meant for touch-screen devices. And most of RIM's latest handhelds, from the Storm on (Curve 8900, Tour, etc.), have 3.2 megapixel cameras with auto-focus.

The Tour is basically a BlackBerry Curve 8900-size and 8900-style device with a Bold 9000-like keyboard.

But the Tour is special in that it's the first "new" CDMA BlackBerry--besides the Storm, Curve 8350i and Pearl Flip 8230--to hit the United States in more than a year. Many Verizon and Sprint users have been patiently awaiting the next new, full QWERTY CDMA device while their friends and colleagues on GSM carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T ran around with shiny new Curve 8900s and BlackBerry Bold devices. Now CDMA subscribers can have their days in the sun--at least until the Onyx drops.

Though the BlackBerry Bold sports a faster, 624-Mhz processor, the Tour's 528-MHz processor combined with the new BlackBerry OS v4.7 build make it one of the smoothest running BlackBerrys on the block. (Think: Speed with minimal process lag-time.)

The Tour's 3.2 megapixel camera's also impressive, and though I haven't spent any time with it specifically, I'm very familiar with the BlackBerry Curve 8900's identical camera. And its image-quality and auto-focus make it one of the best mobile phone shooters I've used.

However, there's one gaping whole in the Tour's total package: Wi-Fi. The Tour 9630 does NOT have Wi-Fi. In fact, it's one of only a few new BlackBerrys that lacks the functionality, along with Pearl 8230, another Verizon device. Verizon is notorious for offering full-featured devices without Wi-Fi and the Tour is no exception. I've mostly come to expect this from Verizon--shame on you, Big Red--but I'm not sure of Sprint's excuse.

In this day and age, Wi-Fi should be available on all high-end devices, especially a BlackBerry smartphone. This lack of Wi-Fi support is a deal-breaker for me personally, and I refuse to even consider a Verizon or Sprint device without it.

I live and work in an area with decent Verizon and Sprint coverage. However, as soon as I enter my office building or sit down in my second-floor living room at home, I lose almost all Verizon/Sprint wireless signal. AT&T and T-Mobile have better coverage in my area, but these networks are also weak inside the office or in my condo. However, all of my AT&T and T-Mobile devices have Wi-Fi, so this is less of an issue.

The Tour's also reasonably priced at $199.99 with a new, two-year Verizon/Sprint contract. That's the same price as thePalm Pre, which is also on Sprint, as well as the 16GB iPhone 3GS on AT&T. As far as service-plan-fees, Sprint tends to offers more competitive prices, but you should investigate individual plans on your own.

If you're looking for a cheaper BlackBerry options on Verizon or Sprint, the Curve 8330 and Pearl 8230 (Verizon only) could fit the bill. Both devices can be had for $100 or less.

Bottom line: The BlackBerry Tour 9630 is without question the best option for BlackBerry users on Sprint or Verizon--at least if you want a top-of-the-line device with a physical keyboard. It's also reasonably priced at $200 with a new wireless service commitment. The Tour lacks Wi-Fi, which is a major downside, but if Wi-Fi's not a necessity, you really can't go wrong with RIM's latest BlackBerry.


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