BlackBerry Torch 9800 in-depth review -

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Look and feel

A heavy device, by its very nature, the phone grows by about a third once the keyboard is slid open

Ease of use

The phone can be fully operated by the touch-screen, keyboard or a combination of both, while although the new OS 6 may take a bit of getting used to it is a fluid experience

Features

An excellent camera, HSDPA and Wi-Fi for your internet browsing, a social networking integration app and A-GPS and BlackBerry Maps for your navigational needs

Performance

A solid performer with all its features, the processor is not as powerful as some other smartphones, so a degree of patience might be needed when multitasking

Battery life

An impressive battery life of 340 minutes talktime, 336 hours standby and 30 hours music playback

 BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review -
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/7/2011 10:36:01 AM

8

out of 10

Performance

6

out of 5

Look and feel

8

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

The five-megapixel camera is the best snapper to appear on a blackberry device, with the flash in particular impressing

Cons:

The BlackBerry Torch is a heavy device and we weren?t enamoured with the overall design

RIM has one of the most loyal fan bases of all the major manufacturers. With most BlackBerry users you’ll have more chance of getting them to pull out their own teeth than swapping to something different. Of course, most have their favourite style, be it the QWERTY keyboard sporting Bold and Curve range, the SurePress Pearl offerings, or even the touch-screen toting Storm devices. However, as hard as they’ve tried, RIM hasn’t captured the masses as much as they would have liked. Which is why a huge amount rests on the success of the BlackBerry Torch, a handset that not only features both a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a touch-screen, but also a brand new operating system.

Look and feel

The Torch is no lightweight, weighing in at a hefty 161 grams, while the very nature of the springy slide-out QWERTY keyboard means when popped open, the Torch grows by about a third. The keyboard itself is very much RIM’s, with keys doubling up for both letters and then numbers or punctuation. At the bottom of the phone is a slight chin which actually acts as a comfortable thumb rest and gives the keyboard a sunken feel. The keys are on the small side but feel good under the thumbs, so as long as you take a degree of due care and attention you shouldn’t encounter too many typos.

The top part of the phone, which also houses the 3.2-inch touch-screen, not only slides open smoothly but also feels secure, something that can’t be said for all slider phones. Below the screen are four touch keys and a track pad, all of which will be familiar with BlackBerry users. The track pad continues to impress, though we had to alter the sensitivity levels due to us continually losing track of where the mouse cursor had got to. RIM has ditched the clickable touch-screen as seen in the BlackBerry Storm for a more traditional capacitive variety and the results were pleasing. The touch-screen proved to be both fluid and responsive, though again we needed to alter the sensitivity levels and found the medium level to be the ultimate.

Touch-screen

Though you have an actual QWERTY keyboard to bang out your texts and emails, your messaging experience can be solely governed via the touch-screen. Turn the handset on its side and tap any text box such as a search bar or email and you’ll automatically raise a full QWERTY keyboard. RIM has made these virtual keys large enough so that even the fatter fingered among you shouldn’t have any problems hitting the right keys. Yet when the phone is held upright you have two options in terms of keyboards. Again you can use a QWERTY keyboard, though due to the smaller dimensions it’s obviously a little more squashed. However, in another tip of the hat to their loyal customer, you can also choose to use a SurePress keyboard a la the Pearl range.

BlackBerry 6 OS

As previously mentioned, the BlackBerry Torch is the first device to sport RIM’s new operating system, BlackBerry 6. As with previous BlackBerry devices, the home screen remains pretty sparse with just four icons running along the bottom of the screen. However, these icons can be swiped from side to side, with each swipe revealing a new home screen with four new icons; the all-programs menu, a customisable favourites menu, a media menu, a frequent menu which automatically populates with your most-used apps and contacted friends, and finally a downloads screen that houses the latest apps you’ve downloaded from BlackBerry App World. But if this bar just displays four icons at a time, how do you access the rest of them, we hear you ask? Well simply swipe up from the base of the screen to reveal a full tray of all your programs. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it’s refreshing to see RIM hasn’t simply gone for an Android or Apple clone, and with crisper font and more spacious menus the BlackBerry  6 OS is a massive improvement on an operating system that had begun to look a little stale.

At 360x480 pixels, the Torch boasts the highest resolution on any BlackBerry yet. It’s certainly vibrant and video in particular looked excellent, with clear and bright colours. However, it doesn’t quite measure up to the Super AMOLED found in the Samsung Galaxy S or the Retina Display technology used in the iPhone 4 that makes the resolution as clear as reading a book. With a preloaded YouTube app, you’re given the option of either watching or uploading a video with one key press.

Both HSDPA and Wi-Fi are pretty much give ‘uns for a handset of this calibre and we’re pleased to say both led to a fast and smooth browsing experience. However, RIM hasn’t rested on its laurels, introducing a new full HTML browser that displays pages just like you would see them on a desktop computer. The browser automatically auto fits any text so it never runs off the page. With multi-touch support you’ll be able to enjoy the pinch and pull method to zoom in and out, while a mere double press of the screen will readjust the page back to normal. While the screen is substantially wide enough for you to enjoy your browsing experience in portrait mode, turning the phone on its side will automatically trigger the uber sensitive accelerometers and transform the web page into a landscape view.

Social Feeds

Another new feature to excite BlackBerry fans is the Social Feeds application. Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are all preloaded as individual apps on the BlackBerry Torch, but Social Feeds will stream any updates into one continuous timeline along with any instant messaging services, such as RIM’s own BlackBerry Messenger. Of course, if you’d rather just keep up to speed with you Tweets, you can simply filter this timeline to only show your notifications from Twitter. It works in a similar vein to HTC’s FriendStream and Sony Ericsson’s Timescape.

Once you’ve logged into your social networking accounts, any notifications you receive, along with email, will be brought to your attention by a blinking red light, while an icon determining what account and how many notifications you have will appear at the top of the screen. Click on any of these icons and a drop down list will appear similar in the way to the Social Feeds only for notifications rather than updates. What’s more, this drop down list will cleverly integrate any impending calendar appointments or friend’s birthdays from your social networks. In fact, you’re entire phone book will be synched with your various social network and instant messaging contacts simply by typing in your username and password.

Camera credentials

BlackBerry’s have never been known for their camera prowess which is why it’s even more pleasing to find RIM has kitted out the Torch with a top notch snapper. Megapixel wise we’re talking five, and it’s also got auto-focus, an LED flash and face recognition. Photos can be snapped in landscape or portrait mode with five virtual icons appearing at the bottom of the view finder that are all easily accessible with your thumbs; album, geo-tagging, capture key, flash and scene setter. The flash in particular impressed us, capturing some great low-light and night time shots, though we occasionally found we achieved better results, particularly in doors, when we switched it off as opposed to leaving it on auto, when it would often flash when there was no need. The camera can be fired up by a dedicated key that sits on the side of the device, taking just under three seconds to be ready to snap – pretty speedy for a smartphone. However, if you rarely use your camera, you can actually change the dedicated camera key to fire up another feature, such as your browser or music player, which we thought was a nice touch.

We found the battery life on the Blackberry Torch to be long lasting. Of course, like any device, the more features and apps you have running will drain it significantly, but even with our social network push notifications and push email all switched on, we got around three days use before it needed a charge. Incidentally, RIM argues that push notifications actually save on battery life, as without them you’d be forced to fire up your applications to read your latest updates and messages, a process that uses far more juice.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Torch is one of the most capable devices available. It's feature packed, with top notch social networking facilities, the best camera we’ve seen on any BlackBerry to date and the new OS 6 is a huge improvement on RIM’s previous operating systems, while not differing to the extent that it might alienate current BlackBerry users. However, even allowing for the slightly slower processor, we just weren’t enamoured with the design and we’re not sure either BlackBerry loyalists or newcomers will be either. With a BlackBerry 6 update soon available to the likes of the Bold 9700, this may ultimately prove to be a better option.

Danny Brogan