BlackBerry Bold 9650 Review: An Updated Tour, Not Much More

CIO.com's Al Sacco reviews RIM's new BlackBerry Bold 9650, an upgrade to the popular BlackBerry Tour. The verdict: RIM's latest smartphone gets the job done in style, but it may not satisfy true smartphone geeks. Here's why.

Way back in July of 2009, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) released via Verizon Wireless and Sprint a strong new addition to its U.S. CDMA smartphone-lineup: The BlackBerry "Tour" 9630. Today, almost a year later, both Verizon and Sprint are offering a 2010 upgrade to the Tour: the BlackBerry "Bold" 9650.

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The Bold 9650 looks almost exactly like the Tour; on first glance, the devices are identical except for the Bold's new "trackpad" for navigation, which replaces the Tour's often-problematic "track ball," and some Bold branding on the battery cover. Minor tweaks were made "under the hood:" Wi-Fi support and more application memory--in fact, the Bold 9650 currently has more app memory than any other BlackBerry on the market with 512MB.

In other words, the BlackBerry Bold 9650 is for all intents and purposes the exact same device as the Tour 9630, with some new additions to address the original Tour's most obvious shortcomings. (Read my thoughts on the name change from "Tour" to "Bold" for a possible explanation for the switch.)

I've had a Sprint-branded Bold 9650 for a couple of weeks now, and I put the device through all the paces. Keep moving to determine if the Bold 9650 is for you, as well as advice for current Tour owners on whether or not to upgrade or wait for another, more modern-feeling handset.

Heeeere we go.

BlackBerry Bold 9650 Good Stuff: Wi-Fi, App Memory, Form Factor

One of the most notable new features found in the BlackBerry Bold 9650 is the handheld's Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) support. Wi-Fi's not new to BlackBerrys or to modern smartphones; in fact, almost all mid- to high-end devices currently have Wi-Fi. So the Bold's Wi-Fi support doesn't translate into any sort of competitive advantage. However, some wireless carriers, particularly Verizon, resisted Wi-Fi for as long as they could, for fear it would eat into their profits. And the Bold 9650 is one of the first BlackBerry devices on Verizon, behind the Storm2 and Curve 8530, to support Wi-Fi.

The Tours lack of Wi-Fi support was a deal-breaker for me. The Bold 9650 is much better suited for power-users now that it's Wi-Fi equipped. I'd really like to see a U.S. carrier other than T-Mobile announce unlicensed mobile access (UMA) support for VoWi-Fi calling, but that's another story altogether...

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