9 November 2010
After an ill-fated dive into the touchscreen ocean with the Storm, RIM have resurfaced with a slider - the Blackberry Torch 9800. While it can be a little slow, and it's the heftiest Blackberry we've seen in years, the combination of both touchscreen and the trusty thumbboard still make it RIM's best so far - just.
The build quality is great, with a shiny trim, very sturdy vertical sliding keyboard that we find much better than the side sliding jobs on every other smartphone out there such as the Motorola Milestone. The rubberised back cover is nice - but comes off a bit too easily - for example, when taking it out of a tight leather holster.
Starting with the new Blackberry 6 operating system, the Torch's interface doesn't look wildly different in appearance to what you've seen before, and why should it need to? We love the new universal search function, and the messaging functions are as good as always.
We were a bit disappointed, however, with the new Home screen. You can now swipe horizontally from the original home screen, called "All", to new screens. We like how you can, like the expanding menus in Windows, tap to show more or less icons. Unfortunately, you can barely customise the new screens, which in some cases is a serious disappointment. The "Favourites" screen is handy (although there's a Torch bug which means the text messaging shortcut keeps disappearing), as is the "Media" screen (which mirrors the Media folder) but the "Downloads" screen is useless as it's usually empty, and can't be customised at all. The "Frequent" screen which automatically shows your most commonly used Apps is useful, but nothing too different from the "Favourites" screen. And it always defaults to the original Home screen - you can't set it to start in "Favourites".
The new operating sytem works nicely with the capacitative screen, which changes the Blackberry experience (for those that didn't try the ill-fated Storm). Pinch and zoom, tapping dialogue buttons, and of course, scrolling through tons of messages and long documents - it'll be a whole new world for both developers, and suits who have enviously watched for years as everyone from parents to tweens flicked around the iPhone. Yet the little touchpad found on the recent Bold and Curve is still there too - and between the two, you'll navigate faster than ever before.
That said, as touchscreens go, at 480 x 360, it's not the biggest so while web surfing is no longer an agony, it's not quite as nice as on bigger screened (yet lighter and thinner) competitors. Still, it's a much bigger screen, of course, than any other Blackberry with a keyboard.
The 640mHz processor means it isn't as fast as its 1 gHz competitors - we put it side by side with an iPhone 4, opening messages and viewing photos varied between the Torch being close to instant, but sometimes far too slow. The lack of power and speed is definitely the Achilles Heel of the Torch, though it's not bad enough that we were throwing it at walls. Which is a good thing, considering how hefty the device is.
The keyboard is a slightly smaller version of the Bold 9700's - and it's great. We are very picky with thumbboards - really, this is the only reason you'd consider the Torch against touch screen phones, but the Torch truly shone. It's just smartly done - your fingers don't bump against the top of the slide, or the lip at the bottom. The only problem is that the Torch's sliding mechanism is heavy enough that you'll usually need two hands to push out the keyboard, so one handed operation suffers compared to say, the Bold 9700.
As a phone, there's not much that needed to change, and it hasn't. Icons are much bigger so it's a nice touch screen experience - though the heavy slider slows down making a quick call from the Address book. Sadly the ringing volume is soft compared to the 9700 and the Curves - so keep your eye on it outdoors and in crowds.
Multimedia is fine - none of it has changed much. We still wish the media player would default to Now Playing rather than the song list. Video is good, not great, and often the underpowered Torch reboots itself when playing YouTube clips (as did the Bold). The camera is good - another incremental improvement, but nothing special compared to other top line smartphones. A micro-SD slot is standard, though you'll need to pry open the battery lid to change it if needed.
Battery life is poor, something confirmed with another user and disappointing considering the Blackberry heritage. It's clearly below that of say, the Bold. Daily charging is crucial with average use.
In summary, we like the Torch a lot - more than any other Blackberry to date. Sure, it's too slow, the battery life is lousy and the Home screen is a bit disappointing, but the touchscreen addition to the Blackberry platform is such a winner, we can overlook those flaws. We think the Torch II, like the Bold 9700, will probably be lighter, faster - and just right.
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