Review: BlackBerry Torch 9800

Posted on 21. Aug, 2010 by in Product Reviews, Smartphones, Tech News

I know what you are all thinking… not another Torch review, we’ve seen enough of these. Well you may be right, but I’d like to think that a review after over two weeks of use could be more valuable than these two day reviews. Not to say those reviews aren’t good, just that there is a difference between using a device for review and using one in the regular flow of your life. Alright here we go, lets start with the things I am less than excited about with the Torch.

The Bad

OpenGL. One word almost kept me from buying this device, no matter how much I had been anticipating it. Now, I’m not a big game player on my phone. I don’t even have any on my device other than the standard games, but I was offended by the fact that RIM was trying to sell me the top of the line phone in their arsenal, without the ability to play quality 3D games. They were pitching this as a consumer friendly device, and the omission of that basically kills all of their credibility and seriousness on that front.

The next few things on the bad side are conditionally bad, i.e. they aren’t a big deal to me but they will be to a lot of people. The first is the software. I’ll talk more about the software later in detail, and I’ll just say that I love it… but its not completely ready for the mainstream yet. You can tell that it was pushed out the door under intense pressure from competitors, and while it’s a huge upgrade, there are times you wonder what they were thinking. The messages app on my phone is painful to scroll through, it’s so choppy it hurts. I have talked to others who don’t have this problem and it’s inconsistencies like this that should have been ironed out. And maybe these issues can be contributed to the second thing they missed on, the generation-old processor. In a culture where numbers mean everything to consumers, putting a 624 MHz processor in your flagship device is a sin. Just like megapixels in the camera, size doesn’t always matter, as evidenced by the difference in photos between the iPhone 5MP and the Droid X 8MP. I don’t think this processor speed is a big deal on a BlackBerry. They are great at optimizing their software to make the most of the hardware as can be seen with BlackBerry 6 running buttery smooth on the 9700 (boygenius post). If you threw Android on this phone it would be unbearable. But like I said, the software isn’t polished enough for it to run like it should on this processor. The last downside most people will see is the screen resolution. At a paltry 360×480,it is dwarfed by phones like the iPhone and Droid X. It doesn’t look bad but its not as good as it should be in this day of bigger numbers.

The Good

Hardware

Lets put it this way, I’m in love with the hardware on the Torch. It just feels right in my hand open or closed. It has some weight to it, a full ounce heavier than RIM’s other devices but it gives it a solid feel that you arent holding something you could break easily. With the screen open it feels just right, easy to hold, good balance, easy to type one-handed just like your old trusty BlackBerry. The screen’s hinge is a thing of beauty. It is solid with no horizontal movement and it’s got a great feel when sliding the screen open or shut. There is a nice accelerated open/close when you pass the right spot. Overall, it feels like the hinge was built to last and perform well, no matter how long you have the Torch.

On to the keyboard. This is the best keyboard I have used on a BlackBerry. With the screen at the top and the chin at the bottom it is a little more cramped for those of you with bigger fingers, but moving passed that the fretted styling and typing experience on it make it a joy to use.  Its a much thinner keyboard than the Bold so it has a shorter key travel and more of a clicky feel to it without those very soft keys. I am now pumping out BBM’s and emails faster than ever before. Thanks, Torch!

The screen, although lacking in resolution is very responsive to touch and gestures and does a great job of handling what ever I throw at it. Long gone are the days of clicking the screen to type, thank goodness. The back of the phone is a ribbed, rubbery-feeling material that gives good grip in your hand or on the counter. It gives you the feeling that it wont be slipping out of your hand like some other phones with glass backs to them.  Last but not least, the camera. The camera is an upgraded 5.0 MP from the standard 3.2 that has been seen in the latest BlackBerrys. In my use, the camera actually takes some really nice photos, and with the new camera app with scene selection, you really are able to get the best performance out of it. While the low light performance isn’t great, the flash is incredibly bright and should help mitigate that somewhat. Take a look at some sample shots here…

The Software

RIM has been hyping up the arrival of BlackBerry 6 since April at WES, and it has  done a great job of getting everyone excited for its grand entrance. BlackBerry 6 is everything that I want and need from a smartphone operating system, and it is a great improvement over OS 5. While it’s true that this isn’t the total overhaul that some people wanted, it makes the OS relevant, adding a whole lot of great features and keeping the essence that has made BlackBerry successful for years.

From a user’s perspective, I think a good way to describe the BlackBerry 6 upgrade is that it’s the addition of a bunch of great core applications with a great new UI skin, much like HTC Sense is to Android. The base of BlackBerry is still there, the great messaging, calendar, security and contact management, but the new core applications and tighter integration of the whole platform makes it 10x better.

I would consider these great new core applications to be the Universal Search, WebKit browser, Media App and the Notifications “app”. The universal search is executed flawlessly, start typing anywhere in the home screen and the universal search will start searching everything on your device: options, contacts, emails, calendar, BBM, web search/browsing history, App World and YouTube. It makes getting to anything on your phone incredibly quick. Any third party application can also provide searchable content that will work with the app. Next is the much ballyhooed new WebKit browser. It’s well worth the wait and performs exactly how a modern browser should. Pages render quickly and accurately. Pinch to zoom and scrolling are smooth and the double tap to reflow text on the screen is a great feature. It would be nice if the screen had a higher resolution so you could make more use of the nice browser, but its not bad. Tabbed browsing also works like a charm, with smooth switching between tabs and it doesn’t even hesitate when you have a bunch of tabs open.

The media app isn’t necessarily new but it’s been overhauled and improved enough that I’ll consider it new for this review. The interface feels much cleaner and user friendly, and managing your music is a breeze with the Wi-Fi sync to your desktop/laptop. The cover-flow-like interface is very useful when listening to music and trying to find something. The only bad thing here is that songs from the same album have the same cover art (like they should) but it makes it just a repeat of the same cover. The pictures section improved the scrolling of all of your pictures. Large thumbnails load quickly and smoothly. Once into a picture, pinch to zoom and picture rotating work as they should and make it just a more enjoyable experience. Finally, the notifications app. The unified notifications area that replaced the standard static icon bar of old is a great way to access any event that has happened on your Torch quickly. Right from the drop down you can launch straight into the email/appointment/BBM/Twitter mention without having to first open the app. Efficiency is key here and the new notification bar helps you to achieve that with ease.

Overall

So, if you made it this far, whats the final verdict? Current BlackBerry users will love the software upgrade and will happily upgrade to this phone. If you need a physical keyboard but also want the benefits of a touchscreen, this is the best phone you can buy on any platform (maybe the Epic 4G, according to some, but I can’t stand Android). Business users can enjoy this phone for being a worthy personal phone as well as the amazing enterprise experience they’ve come to expect from BlackBerry. Casual consumers should be pleased and excited picking up this phone for the first time, and it’s definitely RIM’s most consumer focused device yet. The one group that would never switch is the iPhone user who loves his games. So there are winners and losers with the Torch, but RIM at least has me as a customer for another two years.

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