Prior to its launch, the BlackBerry Torch was surely one of the most photographed and intensely studied mobile phones seen for a while. We went from blurry to beautiful in term of pictures and saw much speculation on its name, with the Onyx, Talladaga, Bold 9700a and of course, the Slider all connected with the device at one time or another.
All questions were answered at an event on the 3rd August, when RIM made the 9800 Torch official. Initially it was thought that the new flagship BlackBerry device may have been a US-only phone, but it turns out it’s coming to the UK almost straight away, courtesy of Vodafone and Orange.
The Torch represents many firsts for RIM. It’s their first slider phone, the first to use a 5 megapixel camera and the first device to run on the new BlackBerry 6 operating system. It’s also going up against the current might of the Apple iPhone 4 and the many Android phones storming the market, so make no mistake, this is RIM’s most important device release for many years.
It was imperative they got the design right for this very reason, so it’s perhaps surprising they went for the slider form factor, which can only too often result in a chunky and unattractive phone. The result is going to split opinion everywhere it goes, as it’s not Samsung i620 ugly but nor is it Samsung U600 pretty either. If we had to call it anything, we’d go with ‘considered’, as RIM have clearly not wanted to upset their core audience, but at the same time wanted to push their designs into new territory too.
Its closest modern comparison would be the Palm Pre, another slider smartphone. The Torch is actually a little larger – and quite a lot heavier – than the Pre, but where Palm got the keyboard wrong by bunching the keys together and surrounding them with a slight lip, RIM have ensured the keyboard is as superb as the rest of their range. The images reveal the keys as being less prominent than say, the Curve, but the perfect spacing, placement and layout will mean experienced BlackBerry users shouldn’t notice an difference in typing speed, while newcomers will instantly understand what makes RIM phone keyboards the best in the world.
The screen is a 3.2″ 360×480 pixel resolution touchscreen item and has shunned the SurePress technology found on the Storm and Storm2, as it has a regular capacitive screen instead! Below the screen is the same key layout found on the Bold and the Curve, with an optical trackpad in the centre. Around the back you’ll find the camera lens and a rubberised battery cover, while on one side you’ll see the micro USB charging port and on the other, the volume rocker and the camera/shutter release button too. For the Torch, RIM have decided to lose the shortcut key often found on the left-hand side of the device.
The Torch has a 624Mhz processor keeping everything running, and it’s the same chip found in the Pearl 3G and possibly the Bold 9700 too, while there is 512MB RAM and ROM to back it up. Internal memory tops out at 4GB, but behind the battery cover you’ll see a slot ready for a microSD card up to 32GB in size, so you probably won’t be short of storage for a while.
This is all great, but the Torch uses the new BlackBerry 6 operating system, and that’s much more interesting. BlackBerry 6 looks and feels more modern and certainly continues the feeling of advancement the Torch already represents for the company. The homescreen icons can fill the whole screen or be hidden away, like the draw on an Android device, then there is a drag-down notification bar, a universal search option, sliding homescreens with customisable widgets and shortcuts plus pinch-to-zoom too.
Also renovated are the settings pages, as instead of a looong list of text options, you now access them from within the function – messaging settings are found under messaging for example – and they’ve been given more space and a cute little icon too; it’s considerably more user friendly and infinitely more modern and attractive. The browser has also had a complete overhaul and is now WebKit based, just like Safari and Chrome, so using the Internet is finally a pleasurable experience! The new OS is a big improvement over previous versions and this is just a small taste of what it brings with it.
What Else Can it Do?
Camera. As we mentioned above, the Torch is the first BlackBerry to use a 5 megapixel camera. It has autofocus, an LED flash, face detection and image stablisation, plus it can shoot 640×480 video. BlackBerry 6 also brings plenty of great new features to the camera software and gallery too.
Connectivity. The Torch is a 3G phone with HSDPA and HSUPA data connections. There is also W-Fi 802.11b/g/n support, A2DP Bluetooth and a 3.5mm headphone port too.
Navigation/Keyboards. Of course, the Torch has that great QWERTY keyboard hidden under its slider mechanism, but it also has a virtual keyboard for when the slider is closed, plus you can navigate around the screen using your finger or the optical trackpad. This level of versatility is sure to win the Torch plenty of fans.
GPS. Assisted GPS is built-in along with BlackBerry Maps.
Multimedia. This is another area that has benefited from a BlackBerry 6 makeover. Everything looks and feels much better than before, with many music and video file formats supported, a YouTube app and a dedicated podcast feature among the new additions.
Social Networking/Messaging. You’ve got the brilliant email service, the BlackBerry Messenger, a universal inbox and the new browser, plus there is a Twitter client and an aggregated Social Feed page which displays all your updates in one place. You can also use an RSS reader in the same way.
Battery. A 1270mAh cell providing more than 300 hours 3G standby and at least 5 hours talktime.
Not really, but it is a heavy old beast at 161 grams! If there is a downside it’s whether the Torch is modern and ‘sexy’ enough to capture people’s imaginations and therefore, see them open their wallets. Time will tell on this one, but we have a feeling it could be a winner for RIM.
Forget the Pre, the last vertical sliding smartphone of note, the BlackBerry Torch shows how this form factor should be used. The keyboard is great, the touchscreen is a proper capacitive item, the camera now competes with most others on the market and the new OS brings many new features and a much needed visual makeover. Go into the Torch’s light; you won’t regret it.