Product spotlight: BlackBerry Tour 9630 smartphone

The BlackBerry Tour 9630 is a high-end 3G smartphone. See what it does well and where it's weaknesses lie, and learn why it's now one of the best enterprise messaging devices available in the U.S.

The BlackBerry Tour 9630 is one of Research in Motion's flagship smartphones. Along with the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Storm, the Tour is part of RIM's cadre of high-end 3G devices. It is primarily a corporate smartphone but also has some broader appeal for small businesses and prosumers.

For a visual look at the BlackBerry Tour and a quick summary of my thoughts about it, check out this short video clip, and then read the full review below:

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  • Carriers: Verizon Wireless and Sprint
  • Processor: 528 MHz
  • Memory: 256 MB RAM
  • Display: 2.4-in. 480 x 360 pixel high-resolution HVGA+ TFT LCD
  • Battery life: 5 hours talk time and 336 hours standby
  • Weight: 4.6 ounces (130g)
  • Dimensions: 4.4(h) x 2.4(w) x 0.6(d) inches
  • Storage: 256 MB internal flash, microSD expansion slot
  • Camera: 3.2 MP with LED flash, autofocus, and video (there's also a version of the Tour available without a camera for high-security enterprise customers)
  • Keyboard: 35-key backlit QWERTY with trackball
  • Networks: Quad-band: 850/900/1800/1900MHz, GSM/GPRS/EDGE; Single-band: 2100 MHz, UMTS/HSPA networks; Dual-band: 800/1900 MHz, CDMA/EV-DO Revision A networks; SIM card included for global roaming
  • Tethered modem capability: Yes
  • Price: $499 retail; $199 with two-year contract
  • RIM's BlackBerry Tour product page
  • Photo gallery: BlackBerry Tour 9630

Who is it for?

The Tour is primarily aimed at smartphone power users in business. It features BlackBerry's industrial-strength email and messaging software along with one of best qwerty keyboards on the market. For people who type a lot of messages on the go, this is one of best smartphones money can buy. For that reason, it will also appeal to some small business users and prosumers as well.

When combined with the backend BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) infrastructure, this device is highly secure and highly manageable for IT departments. The Tour also throws in an impressive high-resolution 2.4-inch LCD screen and 3 megapixel camera to make it a strong multimedia device as well.

What problems does it solve?

The Tour is the successor of the BlackBerry 8800 Series, also called the "World Edition." Like the 8800, the Tour is a global roaming device that includes a wide array of both GSM and CDMA radios. It has voice service in 220 countries and data service in 175 countries. The 8800 Series was getting pretty long in the tooth, so the Tour updates it with 3G and much better multimedia capabilities.

The other BlackBerry that is very similar to the Tour is the BlackBerry Bold, which came out in November 2008. The two big drawbacks of the Bold were that it was a bulky and its battery couldn't even make it through a full day under heavy use. The Tour improves on both of those faults. Its form factor is smaller, much closer to the slim BlackBerry Curve. The Tour's battery life, while limited to a single day, will almost always make it through a full day without a recharge.

Standout features

  • Top-notch keyboard and excellent email software - This BlackBerry has the same 35-key keyboard that you'll find on the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry 8800 Series. The keys are large and easy to hit, have a nice tactile feel, and make it less likely to hit two keys at the same time. I consider it the best smartphone keyboard on the market. Paired with BlackBerry's first-rate email software, that makes the Tour one of the best messaging smartphones you can buy.
  • Multimedia display - One of the first things you notice when you pick up the BlackBerry Tour is how bright and colorful the screen is. To see how good this screen really is, watch a hi-res video clip from the microSD card. You'll be impressed by the quality.
  • 3G network - This is a 3G device that works on EV-DO Rev A in the U.S. and HSPA networks abroad. In the U.S., the Tour on Verizon Wireless offers a widespread and reliable 3G network, while Sprint offers a serviceable alternative with a cheaper data plan.
  • Enterprise-ready - It's no coincidence that BlackBerry is the smartphone used almost exclusively in governments and financial institutions - the two highest security industries on the planet. RIM has built the BlackBerry platform from the ground up to conform to strict IT standards. When you combine that with the latest 3G and multimedia capabilities of the Tour, you get a pretty compelling device.

What's wrong?

  • No Wi-Fi - The fact that a high-end smartphone like this one does not include Wi-Fi is inexcusable. Wi-Fi can offer much better data performance and it can save money by reducing data usage at home, work, and at hotspots.
  • One-day battery life - Like most 3G devices, the BlackBerry Tour will need to be recharged every night. While it has better battery life than the BlackBerry Bold (mostly because the Bold has Wi-Fi and the Tour doesn't), that still doesn't mean the Tour has good battery life. It is not nearly as good as the BlackBerry Curve (which can go 2-3 days without a charge), although most of the battery drain in the Tour is due to the 3G radio.
  • Second-class Web browsing - If you want a smartphone that can do a lot of mobile Web browsing, this is not the device for you. You'd be better off with the iPhone or the Palm Pre. Because of it's faster processor and 3G speeds, the Tour is a better Web browsing phone than the Curve (which is virtually unusable for Web browsing), but it is still slow and awkward, even when using Opera Mobile. This is the biggest drawback of the BlackBerry platform in general.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

If you need an industrial-strength device that can speed through lots of emails, contacts, and calendars, there's no better smartphone available in the U.S. right now than the BlackBerry Tour 9630. It also throws in great multimedia capability and premium 3G service from Verizon (or respectable, less expensive service from Sprint). However, if you need a smartphone primarily for mobile Web browsing then you'd be better off with a Palm Pre or an iPhone.

User rating

Have you used or supported the BlackBerry Tour 9630? If so, what do you think? Rate the device and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. You can also give your own personal review of the BlackBerry Tour in the discussion below.