Gallery: E3 2010 Show Floor | 108 Photos
Gallery: E3 2010 Show Floor | 108 Photos
No matter what you call it -- Niagara, Tour, 9630 -- there's no denying that this is the BlackBerry that CDMA users have been waiting for and lusting over. Ever since the very first whispers and early photos emerged, the main question on everyone's mind has been a frantic "When?!" Now that it's finally set to hit the market next week -- on a variety of carriers no less -- we can really dig deeper and give it a thorough look.
Hardware and Design
We were a bit worried when we first saw the carbon fiber-esque finish on the battery cover, but it really looks great in person. We're big fans of the final finish that Verizon went with: the combination of smooth rubber and textured plastic seems to work and makes it feel virtually perfect in your hand. It adds to the professional feel of the device, and while we personally aren't rushing to swap it, we're sure that there will be a whole crop of third-party covers before you know it if the factory one isn't your cup of tea.
The Tour uses a high resolution 480 x 360 screen that really just looks stunning on the face of the device. Fonts and graphics are crisp, colors are vibrant. One minor complaint: there's a noticeable black border around the screen, and we wish that the actual screen simply stretched further across the front instead. It's by no means a deal breaker -- and it's entirely possible that there was a technical reason behind the design decision -- but it's definitely noticeable.
Software-wise, there isn't all that much new here that hasn't already been around on more recent GSM BlackBerry devices; that said, for CDMA users, it's still a big leap forward in terms of functionality and polish. We were told that the software build on our device isn't the final build, and we're glad to hear it because we had a bunch of complete freezes that required a battery pull to remedy.
Verizon is also offering its VZ Navigator software with the Tour, which integrates with the built-in GPS chip to allow turn-by-turn navigation -- and it will support global navigation at the time of launch. As always, the service carries an extra charge which can be billed monthly or daily depending on how much you plan to use it. It works pretty much as expected -- and it's virtually the same as VZ Navigator on other devices, so we'll spare you the nitty gritty details.
We're also glad to report that the built-in GPS chip seems to be unlocked, meaning that it will work with third party apps. Verizon has gotten a lot of flack in the past about the decision to lock it down only for VZ Navigator, so we're glad to see the company following through with its promise to start opening up.
Also bundled is the new visual voicemail app, which -- you guessed it -- is being offered for an additional fee each month. A link to the app is included as a service book, but it has to be downloaded separately for use. We don't know if this means Verizon doesn't anticipate that many users being interested or if there's some other justification, but either way it seems to get the job done -- though it probably won't shut your iPhone-toting friends up.
We didn't conduct a series of scientific tests to get rock solid numbers on battery life, but from what we can tell it seems to be pretty decent. RIM is quoting 5 hours of talk time and 14 days of standby which seems to be about right. We don't envision people having trouble getting through the day, as we were able to browse, BBM, and run our favorite Twitter apps in the background for a solid day and a half without even getting a low battery warning. However, to be safe, you'll probably want to charge nightly -- and your own mileage may vary depending on things like Bluetooth, GPS use, and the actual amount of calling you're doing.
Put simply, the BlackBerry Tour is far and away the best CDMA BlackBerry available, and it could very well might be the best BlackBerry period if not for a few shortcomings. At this point in the game, we're still in denial that there isn't WiFi in this device -- it's inexcusable. We're well aware of Verizon's stance on the matter, and we still think it's ridiculous that they're allowing RIM to offer a device in this category that doesn't offer such a basic, universal feature, seemingly in an effort to increase reliance on WWAN data services and juice customers for a few extra bucks in data revenue. We're also disappointed that the screen doesn't make the most of the available real estate and that it seems excessively sensitive. Bottom line, if you're a CDMA user and plan to keep things that way, the Tour is definitely the best BlackBerry available -- and it will probably be that way for a long time to come.