My specific Tour came under the Sprint badge. I was not expecting much from Sprint’s coverage and performance, but I was pleasantly surprised. Its coverage definitely isn’t as extensive as AT&T and Verizon’s, but it did seem better than T-Mobile’s.
And the Tour gives you a roaming option many others don’t: support for both GSM networks — including HSDPA — allowing it to be used around the world. However, I couldn’t take this device with me to out of the country, so I was unable to test this feature.
The call quality was good, with very little cracking or interference. The audio volume was fine, though I would have liked to see the speakerphone be a little louder. The sound was well balanced with no tininess or any other distractions.
I dropped a call during a conversation a few times and noticed something interesting. Sometimes there was no after-drop sound, and other times I was bombarded by a loud triple beep. Not expecting it, the sound took me by surprise, and is probably a feature I’d keep if I could choose. The only benefit I saw was that it did save me from talking to a dead line.
This BlackBerry operates on Verizon’s or Sprint’s mobile broadband (EV-DO Rev. A) network.
Sprint continues to bleed customers to other carriers, which is bad for Sprint, but means that there are fewer devices clogging the network. This means that in areas with good coverage, I experienced Sprint data speeds that were on par with if not better than AT&T’s (no Verizon device was available for benchmarking).
The Tour can also roam on other high-speed 3G wireless networks around the globe.
The lack of Wi-Fi should be considered for those planning on using the device heavily data, as there is no option to supplement Sprint’s network. Where the network worked, it worked well, but the coverage simply wasn’t reliable enough outside of major metro areas (Cape Cod, southern NH, parts of Pennsylvania) for me to be completely comfortable.
Messaging has always been a BlackBerry core competence, and the Tour delivers where expected. There is a wide range of customizations available such as alerts as to whether emails and SMS messages are displayed within the same inbox. Within the message, certain fields that are changeable (such as the account you wish to send from) now have a more user-friendly drop down box associated with them.
The BlackBerry Messenger is also improved over other models. The in-conversation screen has a shortcut to emoticons in it, giving users easy access. If you are BBMing with one friend and another sends you a message, the first few lines of the new message and the person’s name are displayed in another window, so that you can read both conversations at once and decide to switch if you’d like. The main screen has also been slightly redone, and will display the first line of each conversation you have if you have multiple conversations open. From the main BBM screen you can also see the time, signal strength, and the number of unopened message in your inboxes.
For you messaging hounds, the Tour also comes preloaded with AIM, MSN messenger, and ICQ for those of you living in 1999. Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger are also available at their respective websites.
The pre-loaded system software on the Tour is from the BlackBerry OS 4.7 family; I checked for updates and installed 18.104.22.168. There were no major differences between the two besides a flaw fix related to some Internet connection issues that had been reported (according to a local provider).
The software does good job of enhancing the user interface and experience over previous models, however the UI experience is as good as competitor’s, most notably Apple. That being said, RIM is making strides. The menu options are more polished with neat touches of transparency in the background of menus.
One of the more notable features is the new layout for ringing profiles. From the main profile menu, it’s now easy to select or create a custom profile, and set contact-specific alerts. These two options are a little more hidden in previous versions.
The other huge improvement here is the ability to change notifications of specific accounts or applications. Selecting “Set Ring Tones/Alerts” provides a collapsed menu structure for phone, messages, instant messages, reminders, and the browser. Any one of these categories can be expanded to subsequent levels. Within individual accounts or applications, the drop-down menu prompts are better looking, and you can replicate settings for in or out of holster much easier than before. One of the best features here is the ability to define the length of the vibration for alerts — “short, medium, long.” This is a huge advantage for things like battery life and something that should be standard issue for all BlackBerrys moving forward. There is also an increased number of volume options from 0-10 instead of low, medium, or high. The notifications customization section is easily the best upgrade of the software over previous devices.
Not everything is better than previous devices, however. Coming back from battery resets was a bit slower than I am accustomed to with the Bold. Sometimes (such as when installing a new application or pulling the battery) you will have to do a hard reset. On older models prior to the 88xx series this took several minutes, on the Bold it is much quicker, but the Tour takes longer. It is annoying, especially because there are some cases where you will be prevented from getting messages/calls etc. Also, with this process you will sometimes get welcome prompts.
Like all BlackBerrys, however, the 9630 was a breeze to transfer settings, contacts, applications from one to another. Simply install the desktop manager, plug both devices in, and select which way you wish to transfer. At the end, the manager will alert you to any settings/items that couldn’t be transferred. It is incredible how much you can transfer over — even your sent messages and some call history info copies!
The Tour comes preloaded with the DocumentsToGo Suite from DataViz. This is the same suite that is standard issue on pretty much all newer BlackBerrys. For basic Word, Excel, and PowerPoint viewing and editing needs, the free version of this suite is plenty.
Beyond the third-party applications, the Tour comes with the standard set of BlackBerry productivity tools — calendar, tasks, notepad, alarm clock, etc. All of these are intuitive, and are easy to sync with Microsoft Outlook if you don’t have an Exchange Server.
GPS and Navigation
My Tour came preloaded with BlackBerry Maps and the Sprint Navigator. The latter is powered by TeleNav.
The Sprint Navigator proved useful with its read-aloud instructions, but after the trial period ended I switched over to Google Maps, which I am more familiar with. If you are going to rely heavily on your phone for navigation, I would suggest trying a few GPS applications before committing to one.
I did notice that at times the GPS took a long time to get a lock, and sometimes had to rely only on tower triangulation.
The entertainment value and capabilities of the Tour are enhanced by BlackBerry Mobile App World — where you can download a variety of apps for free or for a fee. Though this pales in comparison to the iTunes App Store, it still has some good features.
For pre-loaded entertainment, the Tour comes with instant messaging software, social networking applications, a variety of games, and shortcuts to pro-sports applications.
Instant messaging includes AIM, MSN, ICQ, and BBM. In the Social Networking category, the Tour includes MySpace and Facebook. For Sports, the Tour comes preloaded with the NASCAR Spring Cup, NFL Mobile Live, MLB.com Mobile Premium, Sprint TV, Pocket Express, Sprint Music Store, and Pandora applications (or their respective shortcuts).
It should be noted that most of these are subscription services, but feature a limited time trial period. The Tour includes the now-standard BlackBerry games including BrickBreaker, WordMole, and Texas Hold’Em among others.
Along with the styling, messaging ease, and finishing of the software, the camera is another strength for the Tour. It features a 3.2 megapixel camera with auto-focus, flash, and video recording (flash doubles as a video light). Like any smartphone camera, it’s no replacement for a digital camera, but it will work fine for casual pictures.
By default the right convenience key is the camera shortcut. To take a picture, press the convenience key in (or the center ball) to a half stop, wait for the green box indicating focus appears and then press all the way. The flash etc. are all automatic. One thing I noticed was that there was a little bit of a delay between pressing the camera convenience button and the camera launching. Not too much, but enough for me to wonder if I had pressed it or not.
Considering the increased resources and demands on the phone, the battery life is just average. Most users will find themselves recharging every night, though it is possible to get two days with light use.
The Tour sports the D-X1 battery line, which is more widely available and therefore cheaper to replace than other 3G BlackBerry batteries. If you’re planning on sharing chargers, make sure to be cognizant of the micro-USB charger (traditionally this is a mini-USB slot).