BlackBerry Tour boasts crisper screen, multimedia goodies

Sprint and Verizon will offer RIM device later this year in US

RIM's new BlackBerry Tour smartphone adds a crisper screen display and advanced multi-media support, including Apple iTunes synchronization, to lure new users.

But those users seem to be from the consumer rather than enterprise market, continuing RIM's aggressive efforts to grow BlackBerry into a mass brand. Thus, the Tour 9630 combines a number of features found separately in its brethren, the Curve 8900 and the BlackBerry Bold. The result is a BlackBerry optimized for handling photos, videos and music files.

It's the first full-keyboard BlackBerry for CDMA EV-DO Rev 3G networks in North America (and UMTS/HSPA overseas, along with quad-band EDGE networks). A key difference from the Curve and the Bold: the Tour lacks Wi-Fi.

The device will be available in the United States on both Sprint and Verizon networks. It will be available on Sprint later this summer, priced at roughly $200 with a two-year contract, and after both a $50 "instant rebate" and a $100 mail-in rebate.  Verizon hasn't announced details.

As with other BlackBerries, the Tour can be managed and secured via the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. RIM recently released BES 5.0.

PC World has an initial comparison, based just on the vendor specifications of the just-introduced Tour with the just-introduced Nokia E72, part of Nokia's enterprise smartphone line.

The Tour is almost identical to the BlackBerry Bold in size and weight: 4.4 inches high, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.6 inches thick, weighing 4.58 ounces. (RIM has an online tour of the Tour). It has a 480x340 pixel 2.44-inch screen, compared to the Bold's 480 x 320 (the Curve is 480 x 360). Due to the Tour's higher pixel per inch density, 245, RIM says it's the highest resolution BlackBerry. Of course, there is the iconic and efficient full QWERTY keyboard, with frets separating each row, as in the Bold.

The Tour has the Curve's 3.2-megapixel camera (instead of the Bold's 2-megapixel one), with auto focus, variable zoom, image stabilization and video recording.

It has 256MB of Flash memory, a hot-swappable microSD/SDHC card slot for 16GB cards today and 32GB in future. The phone has RIM's media player and support for MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, among others, for video; itadds WMA ProPlus to the alphabet soup of supported audio formats.

As with the Bold, there is built-in GPS and the BlackBerry Maps applications. (You can check out our own recommendations of BlackBerry applications for IT professionals.) BlackBerry Media Synch lets you sync the phone with iTunes and Windows Player. DataVis Documents to Go comes with the Tour, for editing Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

It has integrated support for RIM's recently announced BlackBerry App World, the vendor's online application store.

In keeping with an industry trend, the Tour has simplified access to social networking sites: Facebook, MySpace and Flickr. It supports a pack of popular instant messaging services.

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