I’m toting a trio of smartphones again, at least for a few more weeks, because Verizon Wireless has given me with a demo unit of the new BlackBerry Tour 9630. One thing that makes this hardware release unique is that Research In Motion (ticker: RIMM, Nasdaq), the Waterloo, Ontario-based company behind the BlackBerry brand, has made it available to both Verizon Wireless and Sprint customers simultaneously. The “exclusive” deal is extended to two companies instead of one.
At first glance, the Tour appears very similar to the BlackBerry Bold from AT&T that I carry as a company-provided device and use primarily for secure work e-mail. I run several applications on the Bold, but don’t use it for voice or texting. I reserve those functions for my personal phone, the Apple iPhone 3G. I don’t have the newest 3G S model yet; my timing was such that I couldn’t hold out for the new hardware. Since I’m spending my own dollars, I’ll wait until I’m eligible to upgrade at a reduced price.
The Tour, like the Bold, is not a touch-screen device; users navigate with the familiar trackball and buttons. The full QWERTY keyboard is very easy to use, although I still find it quirky to have to hit two keystrokes (alt.) to type a period or dot.
The Tour, however, is different in many ways including:
— Smaller format: It’s about a quarter-inch narrower and just slightly shorter than the Bold. Technical specs show the Tour at 2.4 inches wide and the Bold at 2.6 inches. Holding the Tour in one hand is much more comfortable, as I find it awkward to get much done on the Bold using just my right hand. The Tour is shorter, at 4.4 inches, compared with the Bold’s 4.48 inches. Compared with the iPhone, the Tour is almost the same width and about a quarter-inch shorter.
— Better camera: The Tour’s 3.1 megapixel camera is superior to the Bold’s 2.0 megapixel camera. I haven’t taken many photos with it yet, but plan to test this feature thoroughly in the coming weeks.
— More applications: The Verizon model comes ready to download apps from the Verizon Application Center. I had to go to the phone’s browser and search for the BlackBerry App World link to download the widget that leads to hundreds of other BlackBerry apps. I think the BlackBerry App World widget should be preloaded, along with popular apps like Facebook and Pandora, which I had to download.
— Visual voice mail: This is one of the features on the iPhone that I really like because it gives users control over their voice-mail inboxes. You can choose the order in which you’ll listen to the messages and save or delete them easily. The Tour has this feature and I suspect other smart phones will adopt this standard.
The price for the Tour on both Verizon and Sprint is $199.99 with a two-year service agreement.
I plan to fully review the Tour in an upcoming column. If you use a Tour, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts about it. E-mail them to me at email@example.com with the subject “Tour” or leave a comment on this blog post.