Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

A Day With the Blackberry Tour 9630

by Eric Stewart on Jul.18, 2009, under Cell Phones & Providers, Technology

So my Blackberry Tour was delivered by UPS yesterday.  It was a good Friday for me – a lot went right at work, so coming home to the Tour just capped off a really good day.  This is Blackberry number three for me – prior to switching to Blackberry, I had been on a Treo 650 (and a 300 before that).

There were some initial frustrations (mostly unrelated to the Tour itself – sometimes my PC can be somewhat unstable when it has an external drive device connected to it, which is where the updated Blackberry software was).

The first thing I noted (and was somewhat unhappy about) was the power/USB connector on the Tour – it’s no longer the standard “mini” USB connector, but something resembling a squished mini USB connector.  This is somewhat inconvenient to me – I was using the USB cables and power adapters from my first Blackberry so that I could charge or transfer data both at home and at work.  However, the connector, being so slim, does help the Blackberry look a little cleaner.  But I have also noticed that it’s inconveniently placed; my 8830’s connector was near the top of the unit, so I could plug the charger in while it was in its holster.  On the Tour, it’s down near the bottom of the unit; you might be able to charge it if you had the unit in the holster top-down.

Speaking of the holster, it gives the feeling of being just a little too big for the phone – like it’s sized for an 8830 and not the 9630.

Compared to the 8830, the 9630 has a higher resolution screen, is a little skinnier and shorter, but slightly thicker.  I like the feel of the keyboard on the 9630 better, too.  It’s got four times the RAM built in, and can take a 16 GB Micro SDHC chip (the 8830 I think was limited to a 2 GB Micro SD chip, at least originally).  My 9630 came with a 1 GB chip, but I already had a 2 GB chip (and ordered a 16 GB chip that’s just not here yet).  It also came with a stereo headset – encouraging people to use this device as an MP3 player …

The default theme (the only free one for the 9630 I’ve been able to find) is very clean – the icons are, for lack of a better term, stylized and minimalistic in my opinion – not bad, really.  Older or downloaded application icons will clash with the styling though.  By default there are folders for categories of applications: “Downloads” (look for new applications here, and if you don’t find them, then look in the most logical category – but you might not need to hunt for download locations for an application, as there might already be icons linking to those download locations on your Tour already), “Instant Messaging”, “Social Networking”, and a couple of others.  I actually like this, as I was using folders for app icons on the 8830 to make my home screen a little less cluttered.

Day Four Edit: After looking at the stats for this article, I noticed a question about “Adding more icons to the home screen.”  It depends on what you consider your “Home Screen”; there’s

  1. the screen where (on the 9630) your chosen background picture is: the number of icons here is controlled by your theme, I think, and the default one will take the first six icons as they are arranged in your “Home” folder, which is
  2. what you see when you hit the application button while on the screen above.  If you want more icons here, you just have to use the “Move to folder” function (with a particular icon highlighted, hit the application button and a menu should pop up offering to “Move”, “Move to folder”, “Hide”, etc) to move the application/icon to your “Home” folder.  You’ll only be able to see three rows of six at any time though with the default theme.  On my 8830, I could find a theme or two that would have different sizes for icons (and therefore different numbers of icons that would fit on the screen at a given time), but as noted in this article, I have yet to find other free themes for the 9630.

End Day Four Edit.

Activation of the new phone was done via chat through Sprint’s website.  The Sprint representative gave me all of the instructions I needed and waited as I called my work phone and heard my voice mail message as a test call.  I was warned that it could take as much as four hours before the device was fully registered on Sprint’s data network.  I was not warned that I would be able to access stuff on the network before the device was fully registered (but I suspected this) so how “done” the device was setting up might be a little misleading.

Once I got my home PC behaving and got the most recent version of the Blackberry desktop software installed and configured properly (and had a VPN established in order to access my work email using Outlook), I used it to do a “transfer” from my 8830 to the now active Tour.  I was allowed to pick existing software to transfer (or not to transfer) to my new device.  This didn’t go as seamlessly as I would have liked; even though some of my applications were registering as installed in the “Applications” listing on the “Status” icon, my Facebook application icon was nowhere to be found, even after the required reboot (at least not until I redownloaded the application).  My Blackberry Enterprise Server information managed to sync up eventually (which of course can take a while).  Networking took a while to really start working properly … once it did …

My browser settings remembered that I had attempted to set my browser to mimic Internet Explorer some days before in an attempt to get to an uncooperative website – which interfered with my attempts to update/fix/redownload TwitterBerry and the Facebook application.  Once I realized the settings situation, I got those applications working (including TwitPic integration, which I will go into later since there’s some gotchas with it), I grabbed the Blackberry App World as well.

I think it was about this time that I noticed that all the folders I wouldn’t have much interest in (IE, the “Sports and Entertainment” folder, and the “Instant Messaging” folder) suddenly had a lot more icons in them.  If you didn’t install the applications, the icons are still there, providing a link to the download location for the application in question (IE, most of the IM apps under the sun, like AIM, ICQ, or even applications for MySpace – and probably Facebook had I not already downloaded it while the networking was still syncing, were tucked away in the “Instant Messaging” and “Social Networking” folders).  I know of no way yet to get rid of these icons, only “Hide” them – they do not show up in your “Applications” list under “Status”.

The camera has a flash and can put geolocation info into a particular picture’s metadata, but it’s nothing compared to a camera that’s built to take pictures, particularly when the flash has to get involved.  It’s also got what appears to be a very low shutter speed.  I’ve taken a test video but not enough to critique the Tour’s video taking abilities.

Speaking of the camera, TwitterBerry has TwitPic integration.  First thing you should know about TwitterBerry is that you should go into the settings and set the “Connection Mode” to “TCP” if you are encountering any problems using it.  Next, the only place where the ability to use TwitterBerry to send a picture to TwitPic shows up is when you’re looking at an “open” picture after viewing it in the Media application – post picture taking is insufficient (in other words, save out your newly taken photo and then go into the Media app, find it, and open it).

Just before starting the blog article for the Tour, I decided to send test mails using my Blackberry Internet Service driven accounts to make sure they worked.  They didn’t!  Even though the “transfer” had created mailboxes for them, it turns out that you might find that you need to use the “Email Setup” application (mine is tucked away in my “Setup” folder, but I might have put it there) to access your BIS account (which, as one might do only infrequently, is easy to forget the password to).  When I signed in to mine, it told me right off the bat that my BIS account was set up to use a different device than the one I was attempting to use, and it gave me the opportunity to change the setting (automatically, meaning that all I had to do was say “Yes” to the “Use this new device ID?” question).  Boom!  Email messages from all of my BIS based accounts letting me know the switch has been made, and a quick test, and all is right in the BISworld.

By the way, if you have a lot of BIS inboxes and are frustrated by all of the “Mailbox” icons created (since they all should be delivering to the main “Messaging” icon and aren’t really needed), here’s a piece of advice: Create a new folder and move all of those mailboxes into that folder … then hide it.

So far the web browser on the 9630 has been a bit better than the one on the 8830, with some caveats:

  • Some sites that didn’t work well on the 8830 work worse on the 9630
  • The higher resolution screen is the same size as the old screen, so the pixels themselves are smaller – which means that you’ll be using the provided magnifying function to enlarge some pages in order to navigate them properly, using the trackball to scroll side to side as well as up and down

Let’s see … oh, there’s a Clock application that will become most apparent when charging the device (you can use the settings in this app to have the app start when the phone is charging).  It has a “Bedside Mode” which dims the screen and shuts off the keys.  Very cool … until you breath on the device or look at it wrong, and then everything lights brightly back up (didn’t really matter much for me last night anyway – even the dim screen of an active “Bedside Mode” was too bright for me and my beau, so I put the thing face down).  This app had some promise for me initially because my bedroom clock is across the room (in order to prevent me from falling back asleep after turning off the alarm) but my eyesight is so bad I can’t see it from the bed – so if I wake up during the night, I have to sit up, lean forward, and squint to have any chance of figuring out what time it is.  But, the “Bedside Mode” screen is still too bright to leave face up, and a passing breeze will cause to to go brighter …

If your old home screen pictures were specially formatted for the previous device’s lower resolution screen, not to worry – you can choose “Fit To Screen” before “Set As Home Screen Image” and it will attempt to resize.  The anal among us will still want to locate 480×360 images for our home screens, though!

If you’re upgrading and signing a new contract, be sure to review your plan; Sprint changed theirs awhile ago.  I’m using the 450 minute version of the Everything Data plan now, that will include unlimited data and texting.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, getting all of that with an iPhone will currently run you $20 more a month.

I haven’t played much with App World.  Every time I look at it and see costs involved, I exit out and figure I’ve lived without, and can continue to do so.

The only other thing worth mentioning is that the Chess game I transferred from my old device doesn’t do well on the higher resolution screen – it doesn’t automatically resize.  No big loss – Poker’s back!

All in all, I’m liking it, and not just because it’s new.  It feels a little better in my hands, and seems to be a bit faster on the network, too.  The keyboard’s keys feel to be more of a rubber than the plastic of the 8830, and the general construction gives me hope that there’s less of a chance of dirt or grit getting under a key and interfering with its operation (the Y key on my 8830 was sometimes reluctant to work on the first keypress).  The higher resolutions mean tiny but readable (and therefore, more than the previous models) text in apps like Messaging, Browser, or TwitterBerry.  Haven’t had a real phone call on it yet though so I can’t speak to it’s voice call quality … but then, that’s not the primary reason you buy a Blackberry.

Blackberry users will like it I think.  From what I understand, it’s not much of an upgrade when compared to the more recent Curve model.  However, if you’re using your International capable 8800 series on Sprint or Verizon, you’ll want to give the Tour 9630 a gander.

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