One of the best QWERTY BlackBerries but maybe the end of an era. (July 26th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Research in Motion
Price: $200 (contract)
- Best QWERTY BlackBerry design yet.
- Still a capable OS for mail and media playback.
- Good call quality and long battery life.
- App World a major expansion of software choices.
- Good camera for still photos.
- No Wi-Fi.
- Certain carriers remove features, apps.
- Poor video recording quality.
- Glossy back a magnet for fingerprints.
While those on GSM carriers have had not one but two significantly new keyboard-equipped BlackBerries -- the Bold and Curve 8900 -- those on CDMA carriers like Bell, Sprint, Telus or Verizon have been forced to either try the touchscreen BlackBerry Storm or go with warmed over versions of older phones. As such, there's a mountain of pent-up demand, and the BlackBerry Tour appears poised to address this in style: it appears to have the best features of the GSM phones rolled into a single device. But is it actually the best of all worlds, or a signal that RIM needs to move on?
design: ergonomics, the keyboard, the display
If there's any evidence required that RIM advances the BlackBerry line through gradual evolution instead of radical overhauls, the Tour is all that's necessary. The smartphone is quite literally the child of the Bold and Curve 8900 designs: it has the slightly squarish shape of the Curve, but the Bold's keyboard. It's comfortable to hold and still aesthetically pleasing, but what changes there are could be slightly negative: the back is hard plastic like the Curve, but it's glossy black and not the brush-effect surface of the older model. That invariably makes the Tour a fingerprint magnet where either the Curve's texture or the Bold's leather mitigates that problem. We like that the Tour borrows the Curve's "buttonless" lock/unlock control, but we noticed that it requires significantly more pressure than we were hoping for.
Thankfully, every other control seems to be at least as good as what existed before. Much like the overall design, the keyboard's finer points are a blend of the best traits of earlier phones. Each key has the "carved" shape of the Bold to better guide your fingers, but they all have the precise, quick feel of the Curve 8900's keys instead of the spongy feel we've encountered with the Bold. As difficult as it may be to believe, we still type quicker on the touchscreen keyboard of the iPhone 3GS but found ourselves flying on the Tour once we became used to its idiosyncrasies.
The one concern we have about the build is the battery cover: it appears to have a slight amount of give. We were never worried that it would fall off in testing, but it diminishes the perceived quality somewhat.
RIM also wisely chose to use the 8900's 480x360 display instead of the Bold's. That nets about 40 extra pixels of vertical space, a must for e-mail and the web, but still provides an absolutely gorgeous image with very high pixel density and vibrant colors. It's not perfect, as it's not true 24-bit color, but it's still one of the sharpest screens ever on a non-touch phone and eases most other tasks.
Expansion on the Tour is typical for 2008-onward BlackBerries, but that's certainly enough. A 3.5mm audio jack renders this a good choice for those who prefer their own headphones or wired headsets. The microSDHC slot is underneath the battery cover but, since the cover is easily removed, it's not a problem to swap cards (or batteries, for that matter). Our reservations about depending on removable cards for storage are starting to fade, too, as it's not hard to get a 16GB card that will hold most owners' entire music (and sometimes whole media) collections. Having said this, there's no practical 32GB microSDHC card as of this writing, so the truly dependent on large amounts of storage may have little choice but to opt for an iPhone 3GS or a Nokia N97.