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BlackBerry Torch 9800 Smartphone Review
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Date: Sep 20, 2010
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

RIM's line of BlackBerry smartphones has been popular among business users for some time, but the brand has been losing market share in recent years to other platforms such as Android and iPhone. Now, the company is looking to turn things around with its new BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone and the new BlackBerry 6 operating system.

RIM claims BlackBerry 6 "retains the familiar and trusted features that distinguish the BlackBerry brand while delivering a fresh, approachable and engaging experience that’s powerful and easy to use." In other words, RIM says it has taken everything you like about a BlackBerry and added some cool new features and options that will improve your overall experience with the phone. Many long-time BlackBerry users will tell you this is exactly what they want—familiarity but with a more powerful and faster web browser, more social networking capabilities, better support for multimedia, etc.

             

 
One of the touted new features with BlackBerry 6 is the new WebKit browser which can render HTML web pages quickly. The browser also features tabbed browsing, pinch to zoom controls, and an auto-wrap text feature. Like other popular mobile platforms today, BlackBerry 6 also offers a universal search feature which lets you search email, messages, contacts, music, videos, and other files on the smartphone as well as search the Internet directly from the home screen.

Like previous generations of BlackBerry smartphones, the Torch still offers many of the tools that business customers love including the platform's popular messaging tools. But it's not all work and no play: The Torch also offers more social networking and messaging capabilities with integrated access to BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and various instant messaging applications. The Torch also comes with Wi-Fi Music Sync, a feature that lets you view and sync your iTunes or Windows Media Player music libraries with the phone wirelessly or via USB.

In addition to new social networking and multimedia features, the Torch is also changing things up a bit by combining a touchscreen with a hardware keyboard. If you'll recall, many people felt RIM's first attempt at a touchscreen device (the BlackBerry Storm) was awkward. Will the Torch's touchscreen be better? This is just one of the many things we'll take a closer look at as we dive into our hands-on review of the BlackBerry Torch and the new BlackBerry 6 OS.

BlackBerry Torch
Specifications & Features

Display 3.2” HVGA+ touch screen (480x360)
Light-sensing and proximity detecting screen
Memory 512 MB flash memory / 512 MB SDRAM
4GB eMMC + 4GB media card included
support for microSD card up to 32GB
Camera & Video Recording 5 MP camera with continuous auto-focus, image stabilization, flash, 11 scene modes
2X digital zoom
VGA (640x480) video recording
Geotagging
GPS & BlackBerry Maps Built-in GPS functionality
Includes BlackBerry Maps
Data Input & Navigation Trackpad Phone, Menu, Esc keys
Touch screen with on-screen keyboard: SureType, QWERTY and multi-tap, landscape QWERTY
Slide-out QWERTY keyboard with backlighting
Voice Input & Output 3.5mm stereo headset capable
Integrated speaker and microphone
Hands-free headset capable
Bluetooth headset capable
Integrated hands-free speakerphone
Media Player Windows Media DRM 10 for music & video
Video format support: MPEG4, H.263, H.264, WMV3
Audio format support: MP3, AMR-NB, AAC-LC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WMV, Flac, Ogg Vorbis
Bluetooth Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR; Headset, Handsfree, Serial Port Profile, Stereo Audio (A2DP/AVCRP), SIM Access Profile, Dial-up Networking and Messaging Access Profile
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
WPA / WPA2 Personal and Enterprise
Wi-Fi access to BlackBerry Enterprise Server
Wi-Fi access to BlackBerry Internet Bundle
Support for UMA (carrier-dependent)
Wireless Networks Tri-band 3G UMTS networks: 2100/1900/850/800 MHz
Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
Battery & Battery Life 1300 mAHr removable lithium-ion cell
Standby Time: GSM - up to 18 days, UMTS - up to 14 days
Talk Time: GSM - up to 5.5 hours, UMTS – up to 5.8 hours
Music Playback: up to 30 hours
Video Playback: up to 6 hours
Size & Weight Height (closed): 4.37in
Height (open): 5.83in
Width: 2.44in
Depth: 0.57in
Weight: 5.68oz

In the BlackBerry Torch's box, you'll find:

  • BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone
  • Hands-free 3.5mm stereo headset
  • Charger and USB cable
  • Lithium ion battery
  • 4GB memory card
  • Polishing cloth
  • Safety and Product Information Booklet
  • BlackBerry User Tools CD
  • Quickstart

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Design

The first time you pick up the BlackBerry Torch, you'll notice it has a similar look and feel as well as similar dimensions to other BlackBerry smartphones. The fact that it has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, however, is distinctly different. When the phone is closed, it measures approximately 4.37 x 2.44 x 0.57 inches. When opened, the phone's height increases to 5.83 inches. At 5.68 ounces, the Torch's weight is comparable to other BlackBerry devices though it's definitely heavier than some of the other smartphones we've recently reviewed such as the Samsung Captivate (4.5 ounces) or Apple iPhone 4 (4.8 ounces).

Because the Torch has a slide-out keyboard, there's more room for a larger display. The Torch has a 3.2-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 360 and support for 65K colors. The screen itself looks good, though it is smaller and supports a lower resolution than some of today's other popular smartphones. The slider on the BlackBerry Torch is smooth, but there is a tiny bit of play in the screen when it's extended.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The keyboard itself feels very similar to other BlackBerry keyboards with a standard layout and slightly raised keys that are easy to differentiate from one another by touch. As with other smartphones that have sliding keyboards, the top row of keys isn't quite as accessible as the rest because the screen interferes. During our tests, we were able to type without difficulty but our fingers were touching the base of the screen when using the top row of keys.

At the base of the screen, you'll find BlackBerry's four standard keys: Send, Menu, Esc, and Power/End. Between the two middle buttons, you'll find the phone's trackpad. The phone comes with 4GB of internal storage as well as a 4GB microSD card preinstalled. If you want additional storage space, you'll need to swap out the 4GB card for a card with greater capacity. The card slot is located underneath the battery cover in the lower left corner. You won't have to remove the battery to swap memory cards.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The BlackBerry Torch has rounded edges and a soft rubber grooved battery cover. Overall, the device feels solid. On the top edge of the BlackBerry Torch you'll find a Lock key and a Mute key. On the left side of the device, you'll find the phone's microUSB port. The right side of the device contains the 3.5mm headphone jack, volume rocker, and camera button. On the back of the BlackBerry Torch, you'll find the phone's 5.0 megapixel camera and flash.

In terms of other features, the BlackBerry Torch has many of the other must-have features of a smartphone such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and an accelerometer.

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User Interface

As we've mentioned, the BlackBerry Torch is RIM's first smartphone with the all new BlackBerry 6 OS. This revamped OS adds a number of long-awaited features such as a new, more powerful web browser, universal search feature, an overhauled multimedia experience, and more. Even with all of these new features, RIM has maintained many of the key features that have been present in the BlackBerry line for years. In fact, loyal BlackBerry fans will appreciate the instant familiarity that is present when they pick up the Torch.

BlackBerry 6 has a redesigned home screen which features a notification bar at the top. This bar will alert you to new messages, calls, and events. The top bar also provides access to the phone's universal search feature which will scan your folders, apps, email, and the Internet to help you find the information you're looking for.

    

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At the bottom of the home screen, you'll find a new navigational bar that takes advantage of the phone's touchscreen. By swiping your finger across the screen, you can access apps and other content that is organized into categories such as Favorites, Media, Downloads, and Frequent. By tapping on the category heading or dragging it with your finger, you'll see an expanded view with more options.

Enhanced web browsing is one of the key new features you'll find in the BlackBerry 6 OS. The browser has been completely revamped and now offers pinch and zoom controls, tabbed browsing, and more.

         

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Many BlackBerry users will tell you one of the things they love about their phone is the messaging and email capabilities. RIM has kept these strong points of its OS and brought them over to the new BlackBerry 6 OS. Business users will appreciate the ability to sync with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server just as with previous BlackBerry devices. Home users will like the fact that they can synchronize up to 10 POP3 or IMAP4 email accounts using the BlackBerry Internet service. When viewing email, you can opt to view individual account inboxes or a unified view.

For social networking addicts, BlackBerry 6 can pull various sources of information together into a single view. With the social feeds app, you can see social networking and RSS feeds. The app supports Facebook, Twitter, AIM, BlackBerry Messenger, Google Talk, MySpace, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger. You can type an update and send it to multiple networks with a few taps. RIM also upgraded the text messaging interface by adding a threaded text view for reading SMS and MMS messages.

         

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BlackBerry 6 features an overhauled multimedia experience complete with a dedicated YouTube app, podcast app, Web Video Search, AT&T Music, PrimeTime2Go, Slacker Radio, and more. The Torch ships with the BlackBerry App World preinstalled. Considering you'd have to download the store on previous BlackBerry devices, this is definitely a nice addition.

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Performance

One of the things we like about the BlackBerry Torch is the fact that any BlackBerry user should feel right at home almost immediately—navigation is much the same, but with the added option to use the touchscreen as well as the optical trackpad and QWERTY keyboard for navigation and input. In fact, when we handed the BlackBerry Torch to a friend who is a die-hard BlackBerry user, he immediately commented about how he felt right at home using the device and liked the various navigation options (touchscreen, trackpad, and keyboard). 

The old browser found on other BlackBerry smartphones was slow and lacked many of the features we've seen on other smartphones today. We tested the new browser side-by-side with the browser found on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 from AT&T. The new browser was noticeably faster at loading pages and it also displayed them more accurately.

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When browsing the web, you have the option to surf in landscape or portrait mode. Assuming the phone is closed, the phone's accelerometer will automatically rotate the web browser to match the orientation of the phone. If you extend the screen to reveal the keyboard, the phone will automatically revert to portrait mode.

Overall the Torch performed well, though there were a few times when we had to wait a moment for the phone to respond.

Although we appreciate the multimedia offerings that RIM has included on this phone, the BlackBerry Torch's screen held things back a bit: In comparison to many of today's other popular smartphones, the Torch's screen is smaller (measuring 3.2-inches) and supports a lower resolution (480 x 360). Overall, videos looked okay, but they weren't anywhere near as pretty as they are on the iPhone 4, HTC EVO 4G, or one of today's other large touchscreen phones.  

We were pleased with the quality of outdoor images taken with the BlackBerry Torch's 5 megapxiel camera. Indoor shots using the flash weren't quite as good as those taken outdoors because the flash tended to wash out a close-range subject and it was difficult to keep the camera steady and avoid motion blur.

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During our time with the BlackBerry Torch, the screen definitely attracted some fingerprints, though they didn't appear to interfere with the phone's performance. Viewing the screen outdoors under direct sunlight was similar to our experience with most of the other smartphones we've reviewed lately—it's a little difficult to see the screen due to reflections, but overall, things are still readable. Overall call quality was good, though the phone did get a bit warm during one of our long calls.

As with all phones, battery life is sure to vary depending on how much you use the phone and its capabilities. RIM claims you should expect up to 5.5 hours of talk time and up to 18 days of standby time from the BlackBerry Torch's lithium-ion battery.

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Conclusion

The smartphone market is hot right now. As a result, many manufacturers are cranking out phones left and right in an effort to try to top one another and have the best, most balanced smartphone on the market. Certainly the latest Android phones and Apple's iPhone have captured a lot of the attention lately. With the BlackBerry Torch, RIM is attempting to bring some attention back to its BlackBerry line of smartphones.

The Torch is RIM's first BlackBerry to ship with a touchscreen as well as a hardware keyboard. It's also the first in the BlackBerry line to feature the new BlackBerry 6 OS. RIM's first two touchscreen devices (the Storm and the Storm 2) were met with lukewarm response. With the BlackBerry Torch, RIM is offering a much more user-friendly design than either Storm offered.  Not only do you still get RIM's popular hardware keyboard, but you also get a touchscreen that functions well and provides another form of navigation in addition to the keyboard and trackpad.

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BlackBerry 6 doesn't bring a lot of revolutionary new features to the platform, but it does bring it up to speed with other popular platforms of today. Prior to BlackBerry 6, RIM's software was beginning to show its age. By adding a few key features such as a much-improved web browser and a touchscreen display and combining them with BlackBerry's popular messaging capabilities, RIM has definitely provided a worthy device for any BlackBerry loyalist who is looking for an upgraded device.

At the beginning of this review, we told you RIM described the BlackBerry 6 platform as offering familiar and trusted features while also delivering a new and engaging experience that's powerful. Indeed, many of the BlackBerry's most popular features such as its strong messaging capabilities, are still present. Navigating the phone is very similar as well, but with one exception: Now, you can navigate using the touchscreen as well.

 

We felt that RIM did a good job at preserving the features BlackBerry users love while also adding touchscreen functionality and navigation. Our one complaint with the screen is that we wish it was bigger with a higher resolution. Though it's true the Torch has a larger display than many BlackBerry devices, it's still feels small in comparison to the recent crop of smartphones and has a lower resolution in comparison to many of today's popular devices.

All in all, the BlackBerry Torch is easily the best BlackBerry smartphone on the market today. With its multimedia and social networking capabilities, it also proves that a BlackBerry smartphone can be more than just a business-friendly device.

     
  • Touchscreen & RIM's popular QWERTY keyboard
  • Improved web browser
  • New multimedia capabilities
  • Not as thin or as lightweight as other popular smartphones
  • Occasionally sluggish
  • Low resolution screen



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