When you think of BlackBerry the first thing that is likely to pop into your head is a QWERTY keypad. It’s been BlackBerry’s most defining feature for years and the reason why they’ve been so popular amongst enterprise users as those chunky, physical keys are perfectly designed to type out long business emails. So with its new handset, the Torch 9860, RIM has done something different – they’ve replaced the iconic keypad with a touchscreen. Can a BlackBerry manage without one?
The touchscreen itself is pretty big, at 3.7-inches but looks surprisingly long and narrow. Four nav buttons and an optical trackpad at the bottom of the display do give it an appearance similar to that of an Android phone. However, upon closer inspection, the keys make it recognisable as a BlackBerry as they’re the same as the one we saw on the Bold 9900 – restyled versions of the buttons featured on many RIM devices over the years.
The optical trackpad seems like a strange inclusion here. It worked on the Bold 9900 because that handset had a very small touchscreen which could be difficult to use without accidentally clicking on the wrong thing, here though, the Torch 9860’s large touchscreen negates the need for such a thing. It’s very responsive – too responsive really – and it can be far more difficult to use than simply tapping on the screen itself. There is of course the possibility that RIM have designed it with users of older BlackBerry phones in mind, users who feel more comfortable with physical keys.
As for the rest of the handset, it sports a slim and stylish chassis and doesn’t feel like it’s going to break if it gets dropped. At 11.5mm thick it isn’t the slimmest smartphone on the market but it’s definitely got a sleek look to it that’s reflected in its smooth edges and metal backplate. It also fits well in your palm and doesn’t suffer from an accusation levelled at many BlackBerry devices; that it’s too cumbersome.
Power and Operating System
The Torch 9860 runs RIM’s BlackBerry OS 7 operating system, the latest version of the software. Whilst BlackBerry OS isn’t as well established as Android or iOS and doesn’t have anywhere near as many apps available for it, this update scores well when it comes to user experience it’s considerably faster than OS 6 with RIM claiming that web browsing speeds have been increased by up to 40%. However, it doesn’t look as good as some of the software available from other manufacturers, particularly HTC’s Sense user interface.
On the plus side, the software is powered by a 1.2GHz processor with 768M of RAM which is more than enough to handle the strain of running a feature-rich OS and easily deals with multitasking. The phone is fast and there’s no lag at all when using its many functions giving the Torch 9860 an edge over some similarly postioned handsets
Using the internet on the 9860 certainly supports RIM’s claim that web browsing speeds have been substantially increased. Web pages load in very little time and render quickly, and this is especially evident when zooming in and scrolling around and flicking backwards and forwards between different sites. With BlackBerry OS not being as well supported as Google and Apple’s platforms there aren’t as many apps available for the phone but it does come with the latest version of Blackberry messenger, one of the key influencers when choosing to jump on the BlackBerry bandwagon owing to its ease of use and functionality. However, with Apple having announced a similar service as part of its iOS5 software this might no longer be enough to make RIM stand out from the pack.
There’s a five megapixel camera fitted to the back of the Torch 9860 – pretty standard stuff for the higher-end of the smartphone market these days. Images taken with it look good on the bright screen and it has face detection, geo-tagging and auto-focus too. The camera can record video at 720p HD but the footage doesn’t come out brilliantly thanks to the torpid reactions of the in-built auto-focus which can make some of your videos look blurry. Captured video footage also suffer from looking slightly cramped a the narrow screen, regardless of whether you hold it in portrait or landscape mode.
Other tech specs
- Music player – Supports MP3/WMA/eAAC+/FlAC/OGG
- Video player – Supports DivX/XviD/MP4/WMV/H.263/H.264
- 4GB internal memory
- MicroSD card slot that supports up to 32GB
- Document viewer (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
- Digital compass
Although BlackBerry OS 7 has seen many aesthetic improvements, facilitated largely by the Liquid Graphics technology and the sharp visuals resulting from it, the UI isn’t quite as impressive as on those found on rival handsets. Also, the lack of variety in BlackBerry App World is beginning to rankle slightly.
Having run our critical eye over the Torch 9860, we’d say that RIM have dispensed with BlackBerry’s most defining feature, the physical keypad, without doing enough to make up for it. It’ll be interesting to see how BlackBerry users react to this – whether or not they’ll feel comfortable typing those business emails on an onscreen keypad remains to be seen. However, the 9860 has a big, bright screen to rival those found on the majority of other smartphones and it shows that RIM are looking to branch out and move away from their more traditional designs. Whilst more than adequate in terms of the functionality offered by modern high-end devices, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 doesn’t really do enough to either persuade established BlackBerry users to make the switch, or entice those unfamiliar with the brand to it.