BlackBerry Tour is the most boring new BlackBerry ever

I previously called the new BlackBerry Tour the “Goldilocks” of BlackBerrys and after reviewing the device for the past couple of weeks, that holds true – there’s nothing too hot or cold about this new device, it’s just right in the middle.

Available in Canada on the Bell Mobility and Telus networks, the Tour is being marketed for its “world-phone” capabilities. But this isn’t a new feature in a BlackBerry either – the Storm also is packed with multiple radios that make it compatible with different network formats around the world, including GSM format networks such as Rogers Wireless.

The form factor and specs of the BlackBerry Tour are a perfect compromise between the Curve 8900 and the Bold – both GSM-only phones. But there’s one glaring omission from the device – no Wi-Fi capabilities. Perhaps its to make room for that extra network compatability, but the absence of Wi-Fi feels like a mistake when other competing devices support it.

The overall result of Research in Motion’s (RIM) latest efforts is certainly up to par with its usual quality. The device performs well, and overs impressive functionality. There’s just nothing to write home about in terms of new features or other innovation.

When the Storm launched in Canada last Christmas, both Telus and Bell did a major advertising blitz around the device. There were billboards, TV commercials, Web contests. The first all-touch screen phone from RIM commanded a large marketing push.

It’s telling that the Tour’s attention paled in comparison. There was a press release on the day of the phone’s launch.

Despite this, the phone will likely become the most popular BlackBerry on both networks just for its incremental improvements over the BlackBerry 8800 and BlackBerry Curve.

Form factor and design

The QWERTY-keyboard on the lower half of the Tour has a great feel and makes typing as easy as possible with your thumbs.

Each key has a curved edge that allows your thumb to more easily fit as you press down. It seems a well thought-out design that makes it easy to distinguish one key from another and also is comfortable. The white letters on the keys are backlit and very visible as you tap away at a message.

The trackball and four typical BlackBerry buttons follow suit with RIM’s recent design. They are larger and flush against the device surface. The trackball sits in the slightest of depressions.

There’s nothing new about the sides of the device. Hardware buttons control volume and access the camera on the right side of the device. A button gives you access to voice dialing on the left side.

The screen is sharp and as high-resolution as it comes on a smartphone – 480 by 360 pixels. The screen is 2.5 inches in size – that’s 0.1 inches more than the Curve, and the same amount less than the Bold.

The Bold receives a lot of knocks for its super-size approach as a smartphone. But it sports a larger screen size and a more spacious keyboard. Those sort of features can win over certain users who don’t mind carrying around something that’s a little bit larger.

It seems that the Tour is a bit larger than the Curve, but with no real payoff in usage.

The exact specifications of the device size are 112 mm long, 62 mm wide and 14.2 mm deep at 130 grams.

Performance and functions

The Tour is a speedy and responsive smartphone that offers mobile workers the chance to get some work done on the road.

Using Viigo, a RSS and Web content organizer, on the Tour was a great experience. I was able to quickly load articles, scroll through text and stream audio without any lag. It stood out as a device that offered very fast performance when using applicaitons and enjoying media.

Thanks to the new version of BlackBerry OS, Documents To Go comes pre-loaded on your device. This is a great and relativley new feature on BlackBerrys as it allows you to view edit Microsoft Office documents – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint – directly from your device.

The GPS function will also allow you to get turn-by-turn directions from Telenav Navigator, if you subscribe to the monthly service. If you want to stick with a free GPS mapping option, BlackBerry Maps comes installed, but I find this app to be painful to use. Instead, install Google Maps for Mobile and enjoy the improved speed and ease-of-use.

The Tour can be tethered to your laptop for use as a 3G modem.

Multimedia and camera

The BlackBerry Media Player does a good job at making it easier to play media from your device and enjoy it. The application scans your local storage and any inserted microSD card for audio and video, and then lets you select it from well-organized menus.

The Now Playing screen displays album art in addition to the typical VCR controls and progress bar. There’s a volume indicator and options to shuffle or repeat your songs.

The Tour comes with a standard 3.5 mm headpone jack, so you can enjoy your tunes with your favourite pair of headphones. It’s a good thing too, since the speakers on the device are certainly not satisfactory for listening to music.

I ran into some trouble playing back video. I assume the demo video included on the device is designed to inspire awe as there are high-resolution shots of traffic zooming through city streets at night and the multi-colour glow of a cosmopoliton screne. But the video caused my device to lag when I played it back – it was choppy and couldn’t play back smoothly. Not an encouraging sign.

The videos I recorded with the on-device camera played back smoothly. But the demo’s choppiness indicates this device might not be ideal for playing back downloaded movies or TV shows. The high-resolution screen, however, does look great.

The 3.2-megapixel camera is much improved over the 2.0-megapixel camera included on past BlackBerry devices. There’s an autofocus feature, though it seems to select a fairly large area. The pictures I took were adequate, but won’t appear in National Geographic any time soon. It’s a good camera in a pinch, but won’t replace your point-and-shoot device.

Call quality

The BlackBerry Tour delivered great call quality and was reliable whenever I used it to chat. I was always able to hear my contacts clearly and never received any complaints about my sound.

The 3G coverage seems to work well even if I’m getting just one or two bars of reception.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Tour might be a boring upgrade, but it is the one that many BlackBerry aficianados on the Bell and Telus networks will upgrade to by default.

But its lack of compelling features makes me wonder if some BlackBerry users might leave the networks once their contracts expire, in search of a phone that is better suited to their needs. Multimedia hounds might seek out the Bold, while business-minded users might prefer the new Curve.

Still, the latest BlackBerry offering from RIM is a solid phone with overall good performance save for the video trouble. It’s priced slightly better on the Telus network.

Telus is offering the Tour for $230 on a three-year contract and $600 without a contract.

Bell’s price is $250 on a three-year contract and $700 with no contract.

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