Whereas Apple's iPhone 3G S clearly targets consumers first, and Palm's Pre straddles the fence between commerce and leisure, Research in Motion's BlackBerry smartphone remains all but synonymous with business use. As such, the July 12 release of the newest BlackBerry Tour 9630 ($199 on Verizon with two-year contract and $70 mail-in rebate) promises to be a noteworthy event for entrepreneurs and investors alike. One of the company's most capable devices yet, it lacks the touch-screen and Wi-Fi support so common to today's leading mobile handsets, detracting slightly from general intuitiveness and the web-surfing experience. However, courtesy of an ergonomic QWERTY keyboard, support for high-speed web browsing and extensive world calling capabilities, the Tour offers a winning balance of performance and functionality that road warriors will relish regardless.
From a purely technical standpoint, featured specs won't wow at first glance, mainly encompassing the usual highlights. Think built-in support for push e-mail and multimedia messaging, as well as broadband internet access, integrated GPS capability and a 3.2 megapixel digital camera. Dig deeper though, and you'll discover that the unit, meant as a stand-in for the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition, offers several welcome extras. For example: The ability to record videos, auto-focus pictures or geo-tag photos with location data, plus optional storage expansion in the form a microSD/SDHC memory card slot. As is typical, downloadable applications are also available via the BlackBerry App World online shop, allowing the Tour to double as a portable navigational device or personal assistant. But more importantly, the 2.4-inch, 480x360 resolution screen does an excellent job of displaying all graphical content, and shooting off the odd e-mail or text message is a cinch thanks to the responsive, tactile keypad. While the latter isn't as roomy as the setup found on predecessors like the BlackBerry Bold, text messaging addicts shouldn't have any trouble pounding out time-sensitive missives.
Slightly bigger than the BlackBerry Curve 8900, the Tour's industrial design dresses for success in stylish black and chrome. As such, you won't feel awkward whipping it out in the boardroom or over drinks with an important client. But from a practical standpoint, more exciting is the ability to sync with enterprise software like Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise, and 10 business or personal e-mail accounts. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF documents can also be opened and viewed, as can images in multiple formats. World travelers will further appreciate GSM/CDMA calling components, which lets you make calls and access e-mail or the internet in 220 and 175 individual countries, respectively. Voice-activated dialing, speakerphone and conference calling options are offered too, as is Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity, allowing you to pair the Tour with hands-free headsets. Multiple instant messaging services are additionally available, as is access to social networks like Facebook, Flickr and MySpace.
Surfing the internet could be easier, and battery life is pegged at around five hours, which is only fair to average for the category. Nevertheless, the device is eminently suitable for everyday professional use, as well as leisure activities such as music and video playback. Boasting satisfying heft, appreciable horsepower and an all-around solid feature set, make no bones about it: Even with a dizzying array of competition to choose from, the BlackBerry Tour 9630 makes yet another welcome entry into what's quickly becoming one of the consumer electronics industry's hottest markets.