BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Sprint)
Editors' note: The RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 for Sprint is largely similar to Verizon's version of the smartphone in terms of design and features. For this review, we highlight the different features and performance of the Sprint model. For more details on the device, please read our full review of the RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 for Verizon Wireless. Also, please note that the ratings have been adjusted since the original publish date to reflect newer devices that have entered the market.
Both Sprint and Verizon Wireless made its customers very happy when they announced the July 12 release of the RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630. However, when it came to launch time, Sprint didn't quite deliver on its promise, as customers were met with back-order messages and in-store stock shortages. Though it's not clear how this mess happened in the first place, Sprint has apologized for the delays via Twitter and said additional shipments are on the way and it is working with RIM to meet everyone's needs.
While obviously not the best way to launch a product, the positive side is that the BlackBerry Tour 9630 is worth the wait. We finally received our review unit, and just like Verizon's model, we think the smartphone offers a great combination of a slick but functional design, updated features, and great performance. The phone is a solid upgrade for BlackBerry owners and an excellent choice for Sprint's globe-trotting customers whose needs can't be met by the HTC Snap or the Palm Pre. The Sprint RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 is available for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates; at this time, Sprint has not announced a camera-less version of the Tour, like Verizon.
Sprint's BlackBerry Tour is largely similar to Verizon's model in design, with the exception of a couple of minor differences. For example, it has a silver bezel instead of a charcoal gray one. Also, while keeping the partial soft-touch finish on back, the battery cover is completely smooth and doesn't feature a patterned texture like the Verizon Tour, so it feels a bit slick.
Overall, though, we're fans of the Tour's design, especially the full QWERTY keyboard and high-resolution display. Sprint packages the smartphone with a travel charger (but no international adapters like Verizon's), a microUSB cable, a belt holster, a wired stereo headset, a 1GB microSD card, a SIM card, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Just like Verizon, the RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 replaces the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition for Sprint, bringing the smartphone up to speed in features while continuing to offer dual-mode functionality for world-roaming capabilities. Dual-mode functionality means the handset supports both CDMA and GSM technology, so domestically, the BlackBerry Tour will use Sprint's CDMA network, but will then automatically detect and switch to the international GSM bands when traveling overseas. In addition, the BlackBerry Tour supports the 2,100MHz UMTS/HSDPA band, so you can even get 3G support while abroad.
You are not limited to using the SIM card that Sprint provided and can swap it out for an international SIM card, but you will need to call Sprint Customer Care first to unlock your phone. Sprint offers voice coverage in 185 countries and data coverage in 150 countries. Before you embark on your trip, however, be sure to check Sprint's international rates, which range from 59 cents to $5.99. You can check rates here (PDF).
The BlackBerry Tour's other phone features include a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth is also onboard with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, AV remote, serial port profile, and dial-up networking. To use the smartphone as a modem, you will need to sign up for one of Sprint's Mobile Broadband plans, which start at $59.99 for 5GB per month.
While 3G-capable, the BlackBerry Tour does not have integrated Wi-Fi, nor does Verizon's model. However, Sprint recently announced that it will release a Wi-Fi-enabled model at the beginning of 2010 and will require device manufacturers to include Wi-Fi on all of its future smartphones. While this puts some in the predicament of waiting or just buying the Tour now, we'd say that if you have good Sprint 3G coverage now and Wi-Fi isn't a priority, you'll be fine getting the smarpthone now.
The rest of the Tour's core features--e-mail, operating system, personal information management tools, GPS, media player, and so forth--are the same as Verizon's model; for more details, check out our full review here. Sprint makes a number of its services available to the Tour, including Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, and the Sprint Music Store. There's also access to several social networking applications, including Facebook, Flickr, and MySpace, and you can always get more apps from Sprint's software store or BlackBerry App World. Note that the latter doesn't come preloaded on the device. You'll have to download BlackBerry App World from your mobile Web browser, but it's a simple and fast process. The one downside is that you can't save apps to a media card, only the phone's main memory.
We tested the dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA 2100) RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 in San Francisco using Sprint service and call quality was excellent. On our end, conversations sounded clear with very little to no background noise, and we had no problems using an airline's voice-automated response system. Friends seemed even more impressed with the phone's call quality, noting that it sounded like we were calling from a landline. They also had high praises for the speakerphone, as did we, though we thought the sound was just slightly lopsided given that the speaker is located on the left spine of the phone.
We paired the BlackBerry Tour with the Samsung WEP350 Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. Using the smartphone's 3.5mm headphone jack, we plugged in our Bose On-Ear headphones and enjoyed rich-sounding music tracks.
Video playback was also good. We watched a couple of MPEG-4 clips, and audio and images were both synchronized. We were also impressed with the quality of Sprint TV, as playback was smooth with minimal choppiness, unlike some other of Sprint's smartphones. The Tour's 3.2-megapixel camera had decent picture quality. Images were clear, but we just wish that colors were slightly brighter.
Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A network delivered good data coverage during our test period here in San Francisco. While the BlackBerry Tour's browser leaves much to be desired, CNET's full site loaded in 55 seconds, while CNN and ESPN's mobile site came up in at 5 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. The smartphone's GPS/A-GPS was also quite reliable and accurate. The Tour consistently came up with location, though not to the exact point, within a couple of minutes or less, both on BlackBerry Maps and Sprint Navigation. We also used the latter to get voice-guided directions from the Marina District of the city to CNET's downtown headquarters. The app returned with an accurate route and we were satisfied with the text-to-speech instructions and traffic data as well as the business searches.
The RIM BlackBerry Tour features a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery and has a rated talk time of 5 hours. The Tour beat the rated talk time by an hour in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the smartphone has a digital SAR rating of 1.43 watts/kilogram. The Tour has a Hearing Aid Compatible rating of M3.