Welcome improvements from Blackberry 6 OS, but it feels like RIM is just catching up
The Torch is the first RIM handset to feature Blackberry 6 OS, bringing with it a wealth of welcome or - some might say - overdue features.
Weighing 161g, it feels substantial (compared to 135g for the Desire and 137g for the iPhone 4) the sliding keyboard making it a chunky 15mm deep. One side includes a 3.5mm jack, volume controls and the camera button, the other micro SD, while lock and mute buttons are positioned on the top. On the front you'll find the trackpad, back, menu and call accept/cancel buttons, all standard RIM fare, although we rarely used the trackpad.
We're not overly keen on the sliding mechanism. Our natural instinct was to push the rim at the base of the phone, which meant on occasion we accidentally hit one of the buttons, opening a menu - it takes time to become accustomed to pushing the middle of the screen instead.
Blackberry Torch 9800: Interface
With Blackberry 6 OS Rim has made some crucial changes to the Torch, whilst ensuring the interface still remains familiar. For instance within every program hitting the menu button brings up the familiar text menu and holding down the trackpad lets you swap between applications.
Alongside the main menu you get four homescreens. Favourites is fully customisable; Media includes Music, Videos, Pictures etc; Frequent is most used programs and finally there's Downloads. It's certainly easy enough to use, but can't match the flexibility of an Android or Apple handset, where you are free to put apps or shortcuts anywhere.
Some things seem to take a bit too long, especially compared to the Apple iPhone 4. For instance when moving icons, you can't just tap and drag, instead hold your finger down, select Move and use the trackpad to reposition it.
Universal Search is a welcome addition. Tap the magnifying glass on any screen on the interface and it quickly searches your contacts, Browser History, You Tube, Blackberry App World and Google Local Search.
Alongside Blackberry Messenger, the Torch supports Enterprise Server and you can also sync web-based email like Hotmail and Gmail to the same inbox, via the simple Setup tools.
Blackberry Torch 9800: Screen and touch controls
At 3.2-inches the screen is excellent, it's certainly good enough for You Tube videos, although the resolution of 480x360 seems woefully low and can't compete with the sharpness and colour depth of the iPhone 4.
Touch commands are excellent, especially when browsing, which (compared to the Bold and Curve) is a sublime experience. Pinch and zoom works well and double tap, and autowrap ensures the text fits the space. Tabs are a welcome addition hit the square icon to the right of the status bar and you can flick through thumbnails of your open pages and shut them by hitting the cross.
The Webkit browser supports Flash Lite, but not Flash, so it can't handle T3.com's videos, but pages load relatively quickly over 3G and WiFi, although the 624Ghz processor isn't really fast enough to compete with the 1Ghz of rivals and at times the handset does feel a bit sluggish.
Blackberry Torch 9800: Keyboard
We loved the keyboard on the Bold, but here because it's a slide-out keyboard, we found we needed to hold it with two hands to balance the weight, then using our thumbs to type. Unfortunately it feels too cramped, especially when you type quickly. If you want to type with one hand you'll need to use the virtual keyboard, the portrait QWERTY is far too small, but luckily the landscape QWERTY has keys that are a decent size, although predictive text isn't as effective as the HTC Wildfire.
Blackberry Torch 9800: Messaging and social networking
Social feeds is new, it basically lets you sync multiple accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, AIM, Blackberry Messenger, Google Talk, My Space, Windows and Yahoo Messenger. While it's very useful, we prefer HTC Sense, here when you click on a message it takes you through to the individual application, so it doesn't feel truly integrated. Choose to integrate Social Feeds with your Messages and you're informed when new Facebook (or whatever application) feeds are available, alongside email, DMs and text messages.
RIM's pre-loaded the Torch with apps including Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. Otherwise Blackberry App World is still understocked compared to rivals.
Blackberry Torch 9800: Multimedia
For casual snaps, the 5-megapixel camera takes respectable images. It's at its best on a bright sunny day where colours are bold and sharp. However it struggles with high contrast areas, with blown-out highlights and if you examine your pictures closely, fine detail is a bit a soft (although we are perhaps being harsh here). The shutter can be a bit sluggish too, which means it's easy to miss a moving subject. The LED flash lighting is fine for lighting up a small room.
Transfer via plug and play, the music player has a simple interface with album art you can flick through, create playlists and choose from 12 equalizer settings. The speaker sounds a bit tinny, but it's easily loud enough for a few people to watch at the same time.
Download podcasts directly from the internet and they appear in the Podcast library, althogh we struggled to find some podcasts - including T3.
Rim quotes a battery life of 5.8 hours 3G talk and 14 days standby, in real use terms with moderate browsing, some music playback and video and WiFi on, it lasted well into the second day.
Blackberry Torch 9800: Conclusion
The Blackberry Torch 9800 is a hard handset to judge. The Torch's screen is a generous size, touch controls work well, the camera is pretty good and the browser is the best we've seen on a Blackberry handset. It gets points for being the first handset to run the superior Blackberry 6 operating system, which is simple to use and brings features like Social Feeds and Universal Search, along with a more customisable user experience. This is clearly Rim's best Blackberry yet and you'd expect it to achieve 4 or even 5 stars.
But the mobile phone market has moved on, the screen resolution is low compared to the iPhone 4's retina display, while colours lack the punch of the Samsung Galaxy S 480x800 Super AMOLED screen. The software though better than previous Blackberry operating systems isn't as flexible or intuitive as Apple IOS4 or Android 2.2 and the Torch's processor is way off the current 1Ghz benchmark set by its rivals. And with a sim free price close to £500, the HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S and Apple iPhone 4, are the handsets it's going up to be compared against and with this in mind it gets 3 stars.
Ultimately, the Torch 9800 is a good handset, making vast improvements in some areas, while still needing to improve in others. What Rim does is produce excellent emailing and messaging handsets and the Torch is no exception and Blackberry fans will love this device. But it just doesn't seem like anything new and it will be interesting to see what Rim does with its sucessor.
The Blackberry Torch 9800 is out now, find out more from RIM
OS: BlackBerry 6
Storage: 4GB eMMC and 4GB mico SD card
Screen: 480x360, 3.2-inches capacitive
Battery: 5.8 hours talk (3G), 30 hours music, 6 hours video
Connectivity: Wi-Fi (b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.1, HSDPA, GPS
Camera: 5-megapixel, LED flash, autofocus, 640x480 video
3G Talk time 4.5 hours