The newly-announced BlackBerry Tour gives Research in Motion a powerful new high-end smartphone, and yet another conflicting product name to confuse BlackBerry buyers.
While Palm and Apple are slugging it out with their fancy touchscreen devices, RIM went for an incremental update to its BlackBerry line with the Tour, which will be available in the U.S. on both Verizon and Sprint later this summer.
The Tour is a mix between the workhorse BlackBerry Bold (AT&T) and the solid-but-not-spectacular Curve 8900 (T-Mobile and AT&T). The design and form factor of the Tour looks very similar to the 8900, but it offers the 3G data capabilities of the Bold. The chart below compares the three smartphones in terms of their size and display properties (you can do a full comparison on the BlackBerry site).
(Click image to enlarge)
The most conspicuous feature missing from the BlackBerry Tour is Wi-Fi. It's inexplicable that RIM would leave out Wi-Fi on a high-end device like this. However, Verizon generally does not like Wi-Fi in its phones — see the BlackBerry Storm — so it's very likely that Verizon could be behind the lack of Wi-Fi.
Whatever the cause, not having Wi-Fi is a big drawback because Wi-Fi gives users a better data experience when connected and can minimize data usage when using a smartphone from home, work, and/or a Wi-Fi hotspot.
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The other big problem with the Tour is its name. It's going to confuse BlackBerry customers. RIM has too many product brands and inconsistent product numbers. This issue had been solved in the last generation of BlackBerries, with the Pearl (8100 series), Curve (8300 series), and World Edition (8800 series). Now we also have the Bold (9000), the Storm (9530), the Curve 8900 (with the Curve 8300s still around), and the Pearl Flip (8200 series).
This means way too many choices for consumers and IT buyers to sort out. And, with the Tour, the Bold, and the 8900, the problem is compounded by overlapping products and exclusive carrier agreements. The Pearl, the Curve, and the World Edition were essentially the same three phones available on nearly all of the carriers. RIM has sacrificed that simplicity.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.