Update - June 16, 2009: Today, Research in Motion announced the BlackBerry Tour 9630, their latest next-generation non-touchscreen, full physical qwerty smartphone for CDMA carriers. A replacement to the popular BlackBerry 8830 World Edition, the BlackBerry Tour will with time roll out to CDMA carriers including Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, Bell, Telus and likely everywhere the 8830 was sold. We first reviewed the BlackBerry Tour three months ago in March, and while our device was pre-release our in-depth BlackBerry Tour review will give you a great hands-on look of what you can expect when it becomes available. You can find part one of our BlackBerry Tour review below, and Tour Review Part II here.
Original Review - Published March 17, 2009 @ 14:55:21 -0500
The Full Qwerty BlackBerry CDMA Carriers & Users Have Been Waiting For!
Didn't we say when it rains it pours? As you likely surmised from the previously leaked images and video and forum posts, the BlackBerry "Niagara" 9630 has made its way into the wild. And once an unannounced, pre-release BlackBerry Smartphone gets loose you know it's just a matter of time before it winds up getting photographed and videoed on the CrackBerry review table. So following up on our pre-release reviews of the BlackBerry Bold, BlackBerry Pearl Flip, BlackBerry Curve 8900 and BlackBerry Storm, it's time for a hands-on first look (lots of photos and video!) at next full-qwerty BlackBerry that'll be coming to a CDMA carrier near you in the months ahead.
* Disclaimer: Like all of our pre-release reviews, please note that this is non-commercially available device which means things could change by the time it comes to market. *
A Note About the Pre-Release Device Review
In the case of the BlackBerry Tour 9630 unit reviewed here, the hardware is actually really solid. Compared to the other pre-release devices I have handled, this hardware feels final form (which gives me hope that it could be announced and available sooner than Q3). However, while the hardware seems pretty much good to go, the device software is another. The 126.96.36.199 software on this unit is very early days, which means it's practically unusable. So for the purpose of this review, we're just going to focus on the hardware. We'll be back to talk software and device usage and performance once we get some updated code on it. Don't worry, there's still lots to get excited for and drool over in here!
An Intro and Overview of the BlackBerry Tour 9630
It's been a long time now since word of the BlackBerry with the codename "Niagara" first popped up in the forums and blogs. So what's it all about? It's probably easiest to think of the "Niagara" as the next-generation BlackBerry 8830 World Edition. It's hard to say which carrier will land this new device first (safe bets would be Verizon or Sprint), but the odds are good you will see the "Niagara" roll out with time to every carrier who currently sells the 8830.
Out with the old (8830) and in with the new (9630)!!
The BlackBerry 9630 itself is really a mash-up of RIM's BlackBerry Bold, BlackBerry Curve 8900 and BlackBerry Storm. Size-wise it fits somewhere in the middle between the 8900 and Bold, and it shares design influences from both. Though smaller, the 9630's keyboard is of same style as the Bold, with no spaces between the keys and "guitar frets" between the rows. The 9630's display is the same as the Curve 8900's, as is the layout and type of ports/buttons around the perimeter of the device. And with the 9630 being a world phone, under the battery cover the ‘guts' are basically the same as the BlackBerry Storm in terms of processor (528) and radios (though layout is of course different). And like the Storm and Curve 8900 both, the 9630 gets the new and improved 3.2 megapixel camera. Looking at the 9630, the most unique visual queue is its battery door which I'm happy to say I personally think looks much better in person than in the previous photos that popped up on the net of it.
One last thing to think about before moving on to some hand-on impressions is the name. While "Niagara" is kind of a cool name that won't be the go-to-market name labeled to the 9630. After holding the device, I'm really baffled as to what name it will be sold under. Is the keyboard what makes a Bold a Bold? Maybe it'll be the BlackBerry Bold 9630. Or BlackBerry Bold 9630 World Edition (or WE). Or maybe RIM will skip the brand name and just go with BlackBerry 9630 WE. It seems unlikely that they'd develop a new brand name to market it under, but they do have to name it something... and I don't think BlackBerry Curvy Bold 9630 would work!
BlackBerry Tour 9630 Video Hardware Overview
For those of you on CDMA carriers that don't offer the BlackBerry Storm of if you're simply not a fan of RIM's touchscreen smartphone, this is going to be the next BlackBerry you buy. Seriously, once you pick it up you're going to say to yourself "You Ought To Be With Me." So to that end, I'll save my voice for once I get some hands-on time with this 9630 running a more stable OS and for now we'll let Al Green do the talking...
BlackBerry Tour 9630 Hardware First Impressions
Every time I look at the BlackBerry 9630 I can't help but do a double take. And I'll bet the same thing will happen to those of you reading this when you first see it. The Curve 8900 and Bold dominant my brain when it comes to new BlackBerry smartphones with keyboards it seems, so to see this third same but different form factor keeps tripping me out.
Form Factor - In hand, the BlackBerry 9630 feels awesome. For all those who say the Curve 8900 is too small or that the Bold is too big, you're going to find this device to feel just right. As you can tell from the photos, the Curve 8900 is definitely the smaller device, which means the 9630 isn't quite as pocket-able (but it's still small). It also seems to be a hair thicker than the 8900. There's definitely a different and distinct feeling when holding the 9630 as opposed to the 8900. I think I like the feel of the 8900 a little bit better personally, but am sure many will prefer the feeling of the 9630.
Compared to the BlackBerry Bold the 9630 shaves off about a quarter inch of width, which is really noticeable when you back and forth between devices. All said and done, I think the 9630 is the first device from RIM to sort of "bridge the gap". A lot of BlackBerry users go with the Bold because they have big hands, and a lot people choose the Curve because they have small hands. I think regardless of hand size, most will be able to get a long with the BlackBerry 9630 just fine. As for comparing the 9630 to the 8830 World Edition... well.. honestly, there is no comparison. If you're on an 8830 right now, start saving your pennies.
Keyboard - When it comes to the physical BlackBerry keyboard, I think RIM has a REAL winner here. I love both the Bold's keyboard and the Curve 8900's keyboard. I feel at home on both of them. But it was only after I installed Fabian Heuwieser's TyperSpeed app onto both devices that I could quantify that the Bold was the better keyboard for me. Though I can type fast on the 8900, the tightness makes it easy to make mistakes as you pick up the speed. On the Bold's keyboard, the design allows me to type faster on average. The slight downfall to the Bold's keyboard is the physical size - because it is bigger you have to move your fingers further for each stroke, which when typing out long emails (which I tend to do a lot) means more fatigue. Tooling around on the Niagara's keyboard appears that it should offer the perfect compromise and be the optimal solution. The feel and accuracy of the Bold's keyboard in a slightly more efficient (tighter) package. I'll be curious to hear what everyone thinks of it once they get in their hands.Comparing the BlackBerry 9630 to its Siblings...
Other Stuff - Once I get some solid code up and running on the BlackBerry Tour I'll follow up with some more impressions. But drawing on the fact most of the hardware components have already been seen on other devices we know how they'll perform. RIM's 480 by 360 LCD as seen on the Curve 8900 and now used in the 9630 is awesome, and the 3.2 megapixel camera is much improved over the old 2.0 megapixel camera (which of course the 8830 doesn't have a camera). As for WiFi, or lack there of, you know... that is the sad story here. :(
Be sure to click all the images above to Zoom in... and I've left some notes in the captions for ya to read (gotta love the lanyard hook! lol).
BlackBerry Tour - Some Closing Thoughts for Now...
With the BlackBerry Bold and Curve 8900 available to GSM carriers, it's once again sad to see CDMA BlackBerry users trail behind in terms of getting new stuff (the exception in North America of course being the BlackBerry Storm). When the BlackBerry 9630 gets released, CDMA carriers will finally have a compelling device to call their own. This isn't them getting the 8830 or Curve 8330 a year down the road, but this is a device they can call their own... at least for a while I'm guessing! Bold owners will show a bit of envy towards the BlackBerry Tour's tight form factor and camera, while 8900 owners will be wishing for the keyboard and data speeds. There's just sooo many BlackBerry smartphones on the market right now, the variety is not making the purchase decisions any easier!
The future Verizon, Bell, Telus decision - 9630 or Storm?!
Time to finish off this hands-on first look at the BlackBerry 9630 review and go play with it some more. And we'll be back soon with more. 188.8.131.52 is early, and we know there's .17 (and even newer by now I'm thinking) out there. Hope you enjoyed this CrackBerry first look. Talk to ya soon.
Read Part II of the BlackBerry Tour 9630 Review w/ Video
CrackBerry's BlackBerry Store
Visit the BlackBerry Tour 9630 Forum
BlackBerry 9630 to be Branded the BlackBerry Tour?
Research in Motion's BlackBerry Tour Press Release
Verizon Officially Announces the BlackBerry Tour
Sprint Officially Announces the BlackBerry Tour