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BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon Wireless) review: BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Verizon Wireless)

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While offering 3G support, the BlackBerry Tour does not have integrated Wi-Fi, but this isn't a case of Verizon crippling the feature; Sprint's version of the Tour also lacks Wi-Fi. You do get Bluetooth 2.0 with support for wireless headsets, stereo Bluetooth (A2DP/AVCRP), hands-free kits, phone book access, serial port, and dial-up networking. The latter allows you to use the Tour as a wireless modem for your laptop, but to use the feature, you will need to sign up for Verizon's Mobile Broadband Connect plan, which ranges from $39.99 per month for 250MB of data up to $59.99 for 5GB of data.

GPS is also onboard. The smartphone uses both satellites and cellular triangulation to find your position and can provide navigation via several methods. The smartphone ships with BlackBerry Maps, where you can get maps, text-based turn-by-turn instructions, and search for local businesses. However, for real-time voice-guided directions, you will need to subscribe to a location-based service, which Verizon provides through VZ Navigator. The service costs $9.99 a month; unfortunately, our review unit was not set up with the service to test it out.

Of course, what would a BlackBerry be without e-mail? The BlackBerry Tour can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server, with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise, to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. With BlackBerry Internet Service, you can also access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. There's also an attachment viewer for opening Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more. Thankfully, there's more instant messaging support as well, so in addition to BlackBerry Messenger, there are also preloaded clients IM for Windows Live, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, and AIM.

To supplement the attachment viewer, the smartphone ships with DataViz Documents To Go Standard Edition, so you can now edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well. If you want the ability to create new documents, you will have to upgrade to the Premium Edition, however. Staple personal information management tools, like a Calendar, a task list, a memo pad, a voice recorder, a calculator, will also help keep you on track. Recognizing the growing popularity of social networking sites, Verizon and RIM has also included Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr on the BlackBerry Tour for easy access.

In addition to the preloaded apps, the BlackBerry Tour supports the recently launched BlackBerry App World. The catalog has a basic, but easy-to-use, interface and features a fairly comprehensive database of applications, which you can view by category, top downloads, or featured items. You can also search by title. We downloaded several programs over Verizon's 3G network, including Slacker Radio, the Weather Channel, and AP News, and had no problems. The bad news, however, is that like the T-Mobile G1, you can't save apps to the microSD card, so you'll have to download them to the phone's main memory, which isn't that much at 256MB.

While the app store has plenty of entertainment apps, there are some onboard options as well. The BlackBerry Tour features a built-in media player that can play various music and video formats, including MP3, WMA, WMA ProPlus Bluetooth, AAC, AAC+, and eAAC+ files, and MPEG4, WMV, and H.264 video clips. There's a search function, playlist creation, shuffle and repeat, and you get a full-screen mode for video playback. You can purchase and download songs over the air through V Cast Music or stream music from various sites. The included software CD also contains a copy of Roxio Easy Media Creator, so you can create MP3s from CDs and add audio tags. Make good use of that 2GB microSD card and save all your multimedia files on there. If you need more, the expansion slot can accept up to 16GB cards. Video and TV buffs might be disappointed to learn that the Verizon BlackBerry Tour will not support V Cast Mobile TV, whereas Sprint's version of the Tour will support the carrier's mobile TV service.

Picture quality was mediocre, and there's a bit of shutter lag.

The BlackBerry Tour comes with a 3.2-megapixel camera with 2x zoom, auto focus, flash, and image stabilization. It can also record video and geotag photos using the phone's GPS. Despite the image stabilization, we found picture quality to be a little fuzzy. There's a bit of shutter lag so it may be that we pulled the camera away too soon, but that in and of itself is annoying. Video quality was actually more impressive. The picture had some expected pixelation but was mostly clear and it did well even in darker environments. For enterprise customers whose workplace bans camera phones, Verizon will also offer a version without a camera.

We tested the dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA 2100) RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 in San Francisco with Verizon Wireless service and call quality was good. We heard our callers loud and clear; in fact, it was almost too loud so we had to take the volume down a couple of notches. There are also settings to enhance the audio by boosting the treble or bass, but we didn't feel the need to so. Our callers also had positive comments and said calls sounded quite clear. However, they could tell when we switched to the speakerphone unannounced. While the audio was not quite as pristine, we were still able to carry on with the conversation. On our side, the calls had enough volume but sounded just a bit hollow.

We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active headphones.

Armed with a 528MHz Qualcomm processor, the BlackBerry Tour was able to keep up with our day-to-day demands and was quite a fast little device. We encountered minimal delays, and we were able to switch between tasks with no problems. Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network also provided speedy as well as reliable coverage here in San Francisco. App and music downloads were pretty swift. It took 52 seconds to download the Slacker app, while a 1.94MB song took 1 minute and 27 seconds from V Cast Music. Thanks to the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack, we were able to plug in our Bose On-Ear headphones and enjoy rich-sounding tracks. Video playback was also smooth with synchronized picture and audio.

Using the Tour's full HTML browser, CNET's full site downloaded in 38 seconds--quite impressive considering other 3G smartphones have taken up to a minute--while CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites came up in 7 seconds and 15 seconds. We've said it before, but we'll say it again. BlackBerry's Web browser isn't the best. It's come a long way and it's much less frustrating to navigate with the onscreen cursor and different page views, but still there's a lot to be desired.

Since our review unit didn't include VZ Navigator, we couldn't really test the voice-guided navigation. However, we used BlackBerry Maps, which was able to provide accurate directions to our destinations. The GPS reception was pretty good; from a cold start, the phone was able to find our location within two minutes and subsequent starts were a little faster at about a minute or less.

The RIM BlackBerry Tour comes with a 1400mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the BlackBerry Tour beat the rated talk time by 1.5 hours.

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