It’s been a while since I’ve used a BlackBerry. My first experience was with the BlackBerry 8820 a few years ago. Today, we’ve got the new BlackBerry Torch 9800 to review, which RIM calls its best BlackBerry phone ever. It’s the first device with the new BlackBerry 6 operating system, and the software design is much better than it has been in the past — but is that enough, and are the differences significant?
Here’s the unboxing for the BlackBerry Torch.
The new BlackBerry Torch is running a 624MHz processor with 512MB of ROM, 512MB of ROM, with an additional 3.6GB ROM capacity, as well as a 4GB MicroSD pre-installed for added storage. The 3.2″ capacitive color TFT display has a 360 x 480 pixel resolution. In terms of wireless radios, you’ve got everything you’d expect for an AT&T smartphone: WiFi (with N), AT&T’s UMTS frequencies with HSDPA, Bluetooth 2.1, and GPS (assisted). For imaging, the camera (with LED flash) takes stills at 5MP and video at VGA resolution. The smartphone battery is 1300mAh, the device dimensions are 62 x 111 x 14.6 millimeters, and it weighs 161.1 grams. For even more specs, check out PDAdb.net.
The Blackberry Torch phone feels good in the hand and the screen is decently viewable outdoors. Unfortunately for some, the low resolution may seem archaic. On the bottom, you’ve got the usual call send button, Blackberry menu button, an optical joystick navigation button (so you don’t have to touch the screen), an escape/back button, and the call end button. While the buttons are thankfully not capacitive, they are flat and there is very little tactile differentiation between them. Fortunately, you can feel the optical joystick and then move left or right to determine the positions of the other buttons without having to look at the device. At the top of this phone is the speaker grill and an ambient light sensor.
The slide-out keyboard is really great to have and it seems very similar to previous BlackBerry phone keyboards. Die-hard BlackBerry users are sure to feel right at home with this keyboard, however I still feel the HTC Dash 3G’s Qwerty thumb keyboard is a better design.
On the left side of the device we have the Micro USB port.
On the right side of the device we have the camera button, volume rocker buttons, and 3.5mm headset jack.
On the top we have a mute key and a lock key.
The back battery cover has a ribbed rubber coating along with the BlackBerry logo. The ribs feel great and definitely keep the device from slipping. Surrounding the “Torch” logo you’ve got a 5Mp camera and LED flash at the top. Underneath the battery cover is a 1300mAh battery, along with the SIM card slot, and a 4GB microSD card.
Here’s our first look video demo of the new BlackBerry Torch during the launch event in New York.
The universal search is a great feature and should be very useful. Unfortunately there are a lot of issues with the BlackBerry 6 OS that may keep others away. There are little glitches and bugs here and there including a very reproducible method for causing the task manager to freeze. The Blackberry Torch phone comes with a lot of bundled applications that aren’t really bundled. They’re just shortcuts to a web page where you can download the apps yourself.
There are still plenty of usability issues with the BlackBerry platform as well. On a positive note, the application icons now have labels that you can see all at the same time without having to scroll over each one individually. That should make finding the program you want much easier, and if it doesn’t, the universal search will. Unfortunately there are still plenty of unlabeled icons in certain apps, and the tool-tip that is supposed to tell you what the button does only appears with a light press and hold. You’ll have to press it again to activate the actual command. The BlackBerry menu still does not show all commands at one time so users may not know that there are more options available, and the menu items do not have keyboard mnemonics for quick activation, however typing the first letter does still jump between menu commands that begin with that letter.
Unfortunately, the new BlackBerry Torch phone still requires a BlackBerry server in order to sync your contacts, calendar, and tasks with Exchange server. It feels weird to have a phone these days that does not directly support Exchange ActiveSync, so to me, it really feels kind of useless without BES (which I don’t have on my Exchange Server).
For still photography, the Torch smartphone can take photos at 5MP. Here’s a few photo samples at full resolution: outdoor bright light landscape, indoor close up with flash. The outdoor photo is pretty average for a camera phone, with plenty of noise and lack of detail. The indoor close-up photo with flash is actually quite well exposed. It takes about 4 seconds to launch the camera software and then there’s about 0.5-1 second lag between pressing the hardware camera button and actually taking the photo.
In terms of the user interface, the Torch’s 624Mhz processor is generally sufficiently responsive. Menus activate and screens scroll pretty quickly. That is until you get into the web browser where the BlackBerry tends to slow down significantly, especially if you’re trying to load a large web page.
The Torch’s battery life is very good. With push email and social networking on full time, it lasts about 3 days.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
+ Connects to BlackBerry Servers
+ No more sure-press touch screen
+ Familiar BlackBerry keyboard
+ BlackBerry 6 OS
+ Very usable and useful Universal Search
+ Social Network integration
– No direct Exchange ActiveSync support
– Lots of little operating system bugs
– Poor web browser
– Low resolution screen
– Slow processor compared to other high-end devices
If you’re stuck with having to use a BlackBerry server for your work email, the Torch is going to be a decent work device that also supports your social networking Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace fix. If you don’t use a BlackBerry Enterprise Server or don’t know what one is, you may want to review better options out there. For example, since this device is going to be on AT&T, it will be in the stores right next to better-looking, more-capable devices like the Samsung Captivate and iPhone 4. Then if you wait a few more months, you’ll have some great new Windows Phone 7 smartphones to choose from on AT&T as well.
I give the new BlackBerry Torch a 2/5.