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.
call quality and battery life
BlackBerries have generally had good call quality in recent years, and the Tour still has this to its credit. Voice wasn't stellar but was still clear and (with tweaked volume) sufficiently loud. The achievement is slightly more impressive given that most of the CDMA phones we've tried have usually had strictly average quality in the past.
As with the Curve 8330 it's very likely to replace outright, the Tour is equally a champion in battery life. A heavy user will still need to recharge once a day, but moderate to light users truly can get away with two or so days of charge time before the newer phone needs its AC adapter or USB cable for more energy. Despite the push e-mail system, our example rarely drained much power when left overnight or when quietly updating in the background. If you're used to the longevity of limited "feature phones" but want a smartphone, this could be on the short list.
camera quality: still photos and videos
With little to say about changes to the photo and video capture utilities, our observations on the camera focus on the actual output. The 3.2-megapixel sensor is very likely the same as in the 8900 and as a consequence produces mixed results. Compared to many cellphone cameras, the Tour's produces sharp autofocusing without the "smearing" of a poor plastic lens and generates reasonably rich color. Low light and high-contrast scenes are still flawed, but they're also flawed on most phones where the camera isn't a cornerstone feature.
However, you don't really have fine-grained control over your autofocusing point, and our experience with the video recording function was poor. Like many smartphones, its video capture is actually limited to a low MMS-friendly resolution and suffers terribly as a result. Our test footage was small and full of low-bitrate artifacts (including audio) compared to the crisp images of the iPhone 3GS we just recently tested. It might be true that RIM's core audience of workers might not use movie recording much if at all, but with a fast processor and a modern camera sensor there shouldn't be any reason to limit the Tour's capabilities.
Notably, we also had an odd instance in which a video (recorded in the very standard 3GP format) refused to play once transferred to a computer. It could be an exception but is worrying when other phones we've tested haven't had that problem.
The Tour does indeed feel like the culmination of many lessons learned for its creator, and if you're primarily seeking the ultimate BlackBerry experience as we know it, the Tour is arguably your best choice. It feels great in the hand and when typing, and it's one of the most capable non-touch phones in existence. It's even more relevant if you're on a CDMA carrier and have no intentions of leaving, either due to network quality or simple work necessity reason. We would put the Tour near the top of the recommended phone list for these networks, and it's more enjoyable to use than the ostensibly more advanced but practically half-hearted execution of the touchscreen Storm. That's especially true as the fresher BlackBerry still has the GSM/EDGE world roaming of the Storm, making it an eminently better replacement for the aging 8830 World Edition.
As a culmination, though, it similarly feels like the end of an era for RIM. Whether or not touchscreen phones will become the dominant breed is a matter of debate, although a Storm sequel is in the works; but BlackBerry OS as we know it is showing signs of rapid aging in those areas that haven't been given a major reworking in recent memory. When an iPhone is sometimes better for e-mail, it's clear there's a need for a much larger overhaul. The OS isn't frustratingly old in the way Windows Mobile 6 has been, but it's evident competitors like Android or OS X iPhone are moving more quickly.
Also, if you're set on a BlackBerry but not tied to any particular carrier, the choice isn't perfectly obvious. Someone who values having both 3G and Wi-Fi on the same device could, for now, pick up a Bold on AT&T or Rogers and be content. If Wi-Fi is the only real concern, especially if it involves making unlimited calls (for a fee) on a local network, then the Curve 8900 on AT&T, Rogers or T-Mobile USA is still an excellent option. While it's a good all-around device, we'd recommend the Tour the most for those already attached to CDMA or for residents of larger US cities like New York City and San Francisco, where AT&T's 3G network is, as of press time, still extremely overloaded.
App World makes the Tour a great smartphone on the software front, but check with subscribers to a competing carrier offering the Tour to see what software is preloaded by default. You can always download App World and BlackBerry Maps, but it's potentially a deal breaker to have Bluetooth partly disabled, and we don't like it when carriers mislead new users into assuming they must pay the carrier itself for GPS navigation when free or less costly alternatives exist.
Accordingly, we can't quite recommend the Tour on a universal basis, but for those people who fit its criteria, it could well be one of the better phones of the year.