GCN LAB REVIEW
BlackBerry Tour's features qualify for the job
Phone delivers the e-mail service you'd expect, along with a few useful extras
- By John Breeden II
- Jan 13, 2010
I still remember my first BlackBerry. It was a comparatively large unit with a monochrome screen, but it was cutting-edge at the time. To tell the truth, I didn’t really like it. E-mail wasn’t the ubiquitous communications medium that it is today, and the only things that ever came into my screen were advertisements for Classmates.com. So it would buzz in the middle of the night. I would get up and look and find yet another stupid e-mail ad.
Plus the original model required that you keep your client computer powered, which then forwarded e-mail to the BlackBerry. That system worked, but it was hardly efficient. And if anything happened to your client, such as a power failure or the cleaning crew turning it off, the mobile device stopped receiving e-mail.
However, that original fat — again, comparatively — device laid the groundwork for everything that would come after it: the millions of die-hard fans who live by their BlackBerrys, the CrackBerry nickname, the injured thumbs that come from frantic e-mail typing, and President Barack Obama being the first Oval Office occupant to be wired with a specially modified unit, dubbed the BlackBerry One.
Any BlackBerry is now an enterprise client, not unlike the PC you do all your work on. The e-mail software for a BlackBerry client is likely handled at the server end using push technology, so it doesn’t matter if your PC is powered or not. Some feds even have separate e-mail accounts that they only check via their BlackBerrys. Mail going to them never touches any other network client.
But that raises an interesting question: If feds are willing to carry around an appliance dedicated to e-mail, then why not give them some other features as well, without too much added complexity? Do-everything phones such as the Verizon Droid and Apple iPhone are one way to go, but they might have more than you need for work. And if you don’t want any applications, there are plenty of bare-bones models of phones to choose from.
The BlackBerry Tour hits the middle ground between stripped down and loaded with options. It functions perfectly well as a BlackBerry e-mail device but also has some nice extra features that might come in handy — sort of a pick of the litter in terms of applications that aren't e-mail. And at $149 with a two-year Verizon service agreement, you can get it for not much more than you would be paying for a standard unit anyway.
The Tour is surprisingly thin and light. It’s only 0.6 inches thick, 2.4 inches long and 4.4 inches tall. It weighs 4.6 ounces, so you won’t notice it if you pop it into a shirt pocket, though you probably want to have a dedicated case for it because it’s not exactly rugged.
It has a brilliant 480 x 360-pixel screen, known as half VGA, that looks good whether you are typing an e-mail or watching a YouTube — or government training — video. The display can handle 65,000 colors, and everything we looked at was very realistic, particularly Web applications that don’t require the level of precision that the Tour offers.
The device is controlled using a 35-key backlit keyboard. It is a full QWERTY device that seems a little small if you are just starting out in the BlackBerry world but is probably second nature to anyone who uses them all the time. We found it to be functional in any lighting condition, from direct sunlight to pitch darkness, thanks to the backlight.
The other thing that makes navigating the Tour a joy is a tiny trackball that sits above the keyboard. Anyone old enough and geeky enough to remember the Centipede arcade game will know how easy it is to control a cursor with a spinning ball. It’s extremely intuitive right off the bat, more so than even a touchpad and almost equal to a mouse in that respect. Plus there are dedicated keys to perform standard functions such as Escape, Send an E-mail and even activate the End function on programs.
For e-mail, the Tour works with Research in Motion’s popular push-based mobile technology and can be used with instant messaging, Short Message Service, Multimedia Messaging Service, and social-networking sites.
Beyond that, it has several other helpful features, the biggest being the ability to browse the Web. Clicking on links and navigating using the trackball is almost as easy as using a mouse. And the integrated 256M of memory on our test unit, the standard size that can be expanded, meant that everything was snappy, even heavily graphical sites.
Moving into the entertainment realm, with the Verizon Wireless V Cast Music service, you can find and play a lot of nice tunes. I only bring this up because the sound is good when played through the integrated speaker on the Tour. I hate when a company makes a multimedia phone and hobbles it with an anemic speaker. That’s like giving you the autobahn and then putting you inside a 1984 Yugo to drive on it. Thankfully, the Tour does not do that. Things still will sound better when using a headset, but they are pretty good with just the stand-alone speaker.
And of course, the Tour also is a phone. We tested it at various spots around the Washington, D.C., area and found that the Verizon Wireless network worked well, with clear sound almost anywhere. And there were no dropped calls. We were also almost always strongly within the high-speed 3G data network, so Internet applications flew.
There is a camera on the Tour, which can be a problem for some feds. However, realizing this, a special noncamera model was created. It’s the same price as the normal Tour and performs the same, except without the camera functions. So feds can choose either one depending on the rules that govern their buildings.
The Tour is a good deal for the price, offering a bare-bones e-mail device and a not-too-complicated multimedia phone that sits somewhere short of, say, a Droid phone. But that mix of simplicity and advanced features should appeal to most businesspeople who are less concerned with having the next big thing but might like to dip their toes in the high-end smart phone water as long as their business applications don’t suffer during the journey.
If you already have a BlackBerry model such as the Curve, upgrading to the Tour won't be too big a deal in terms of how your device works, but the Tour will give you access to 3G networks, which means your browsing and online experience will be greatly enhanced without forcing you to learn a new phone.
Verizon Wireless, 800-561-6227, www.verizonwireless.com/govt
Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Tour
Pros: Beautiful color screen; great BlackBerry front end for e-mail.
Cons: Video and sound applications quickly eat away battery life.
Ease Of Use: B-
Price: $149 with $100 mail-in rebate and two-year service agreement.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.