Targeting the business professional always on the go, whether it’s across the ocean or across town, Canada-based Research In Motion released the first global 3G BlackBerry into the wild. Sharing design features with last year’s Bold and Storm, the Tour marries everything BlackBerry devices are known for with the best Verizon data speeds we’ve seen.
BlackBerry devices scream professionalism from every angle, and the Tour is no different, but the growing number of quality, and quite often-free entertainment apps in addition to productivity apps like Word to Go, Excel to Go, and PowerPoint to Go, make this the perfect phone for both the busy professional and Internet radio junkie alike.
Features and Design
We thought it looked like the Bold at first, but upon closer inspection, the Tour is quite dissimilar. The dimensions are all just a bit different, with the width of the Tour being the most noticeable. At 2.4 inches wide, the Tour fits perfectly in a pants pocket without feeling bulky, but surprisingly the screen is a higher resolution on the Tour than the Bold (480 x 360 vs. 480 x 320).
The Tour features lock and mute buttons in familiar places on the top of the handset, a gunmetal bezel, chrome accents separating the rows of the full QWERTY keyboard, and a chrome camera button, volume rocker, and voice command key. We would have liked to see a standard mini-USB output for charging, though. Enough with every phone having a different receptacle!
We liked the rubberized back cover of the Tour, too. Its grippy surface means you won’t have to worry about dropping the device when taking it out of your pocket, and it feels comfortable in your hand. The inclusion of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack was music to our ears, but the mono-speaker on the handset wasn’t; For voice it was decent, but we had to use headphones for listening to music via the included 2GB Micro SD card or the free Pandora and Slacker Internet radio apps.
RIM smartly changed the color of the trackball to that of what the Bold’s commonly looked like after a few months of use: black. Strangely, the trackball became stuck during our tests, thus making navigation impossible until we cleared whatever it was that was stopping movement.
The keys on the Tour are soft, with a raised edge on them much like a laptop keyboard, making it easy to type out an e-mail, instant message, or text with few mispressed keys. A raised dot on the combination D/5 key gives a centering point for your thumb when dialing the phone without looking. The only gripe we had with the keyboard is that the backlight bleeds through the spaces between rows of keys, making the Tour look on the cheap side.
Setup and Use
As is the case with other BlackBerry devices, setting up our e-mail account on the Tour was a breeze, and we were sending and receiving e-mails within minutes of initially turning the device on. The Tour also supports up to 11 e-mail accounts, ten of them being personal and one being a BlackBerry address. We found ourselves using the BlackBerry e-mail client more often than not when compared to the available Gmail app for a number of reasons. PDF attachments displayed correctly, images and all, rich text HTML e-mails displayed correctly, and it was generally faster at receiving e-mails too, usually by ten minutes. The only gripe we had was that e-mail conversations with the same sender don’t stack, meaning that a series of messages between you and another person appear as multiple messages instead of one that becomes progressively longer.
In addition to Word to Go, Excel to Go, and PowerPoint to Go, the Tour features the BlackBerry App World. While it’s not as bloated with junk apps and clones of cool apps as the iPhone App Store, what’s available on the App World is rock solid. We’re fans of Internet radio here at Digital Trends so we were beyond pleased to find that both Slacker Radio and Pandora have free apps available. TheStreet.com offers stock updates and analysis; Poynt finds local movies, restaurants, and bars; ScoreMobile delivers instant sports updates and stats; and those are just some of the free offerings.
The 3.2-megapixel camera squeezed into the tour is impressive, especially when considering the lackluster image quality of previous BlackBerry cameras. Even when taken at full resolution of 2048 x 1536, images were incredibly sharp. There are multiple settings for flash output, white balance, and image size. The Tour also features video recording capabilities with a 2x zoom.
In our informal tests, the Tour performed admirably in regard to battery life. We were able to squeeze over eight hours out of the battery with heavy Web surfing, Twitter, e-mail, and AOL Instant Messenger use. Once the phone turned the antenna off to conserve what little battery power it had remaining, we were able to work for about an hour in Word to Go before the phone finally died on us. Very impressive.
While we weren’t able to send someone to Europe to test out Verizon’s global 3G service, we’ll take their word that it’s fast – because that’s just what the domestic service is. Loading the DigitalTrends.com homepage (not the mobile version) took eight seconds before we could navigate and 15 seconds before the loading dialog disappeared from the bottom of the display, indicating the load had finished. Loading up the xbox360.ign.com page however, took 50 seconds, which was extremely impressive given the amount of graphics and scripts running on the page. It’s a shame that RIM didn’t include Wi-Fi on the Tour, but when Internet speeds are this fast, we barely missed it.
Voice quality was excellent as well, even in rural areas, which are usually torture tests for any mobile phone service.
Price and conclusion
The BlackBerry Tour is available for $199.99 with a $70 mail-in rebate and new two-year service agreement. The fact that it prices out at $100 cheaper than the Bold and offers nearly the same experience is remarkable. While the BlackBerry App World isn’t worth throwing your iPhone away for just yet, the Tour offers the best BlackBerry experience on the Verizon network to date.
- Unmatched e-mail performance
- Speedy 3G voice and data network
- Smart design
- Best BlackBerry camera yet
- Backlight bleeds through on keyboard
- Nonstandard USB input
- No Wi-Fi
- Slow startup
- Low speaker quality