Research In Motion’s BlackBerry handsets are known for marrying a screen and small but very usable keyboard. They are the darlings of the business world and of the youth market, which makes copious use of the BlackBerry Messenger service. Forays into screen only smartphones have not been RIM’s most glorious moments, but undaunted RIM has returned to the format with the BlackBerry Torch 9860.
A capacitive 3.7in, 480x800-pixel touchscreen dominates the BlackBerry Torch 9860, while very familiar BlackBerry Call, End, Home and Menu buttons sit beneath it, with an optical touchpad in their centre. The BlackBerry design is unmistakeable with its slightly curved short edges and silver and black colour scheme dominating.
The curved upper edge means the headphone connector needs to go on the upper right side – an awkward location for anyone who wants to leave headphones attached when the Torch 9860 is in a pocket. The chassis design features the RIM signature ‘convenience key’ which can be set to launch your favourite application.
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 runs BlackBerry 7 OS, the latest OS version which features across the BlackBerry range. Having suffered from criticisms around poor specifications in the past, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 runs a 1.2GHz processor and offers 4GB of storage with a microSD card slot. A 5Mp camera rounds off the key specifications.
Without a physical keyboard users are reliant on the onscreen keyboard. When working in tall screen mode you can switch from full Qwerty to a two-characters-per-button keyboard which helps make the most of reduced screen space. A downward sweep on the screen closes the keyboard off, and tapping in any text field opens it up.
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 retains all the usual BlackBerry strong points, and many will like the touch screen element. Fans of the BlackBerry OS who have hankered for a larger screen for web browsing may be pleasantly surprised here – but probably only until they try to run embedded video. There’s no Flash support.
Overall, RIM may have done too little with the Torch. It offers the same core features as other BlackBerry 7 OS smartphones, but the single home screen looks naked when compared to the multiple screened, widget supporting offerings of competitors.
Review from 22/9/11
By Campbell Simpson
BlackBerry Torch 9860 review: A touchscreen-only BlackBerry? Only for casual users
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 is a BlackBerry, but it doesn’t have a physical keyboard. It’s a BlackBerry for the iPhone and Android generation, but we think the BlackBerry faithful will prefer the real thing. The Torch’s best chance is with casual BlackBerry users that like the interface and ecosystem, but aren’t going to spend all day on email or BlackBerry Messenger.
BlackBerry Torch 9860: Design
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 is, like most touchscreen smartphones these days, almost entirely screen. There are five tactile function keys arranged along the screen’s lower edge — Send, Menu, Escape and Power — but that’s almost it. We say almost because there are volume and play/pause buttons on the phone’s right side, but they’re surprisingly small and quite hard to press — unless you were looking for them, we don’t think you’d notice they were there.
Between the four buttons on the Torch 9860’s front is an excellent optical trackpad. It’s quite small, at around 7mm square, but is highly responsive and works very effectively for browsing the Web. It feels much easier to use than BlackBerry’s superseded trackball design, and the default sensitivity is excellent.
The screen of the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is a 3.7in LCD display with a 800x480pixel resolution, giving it a pixel density of 253ppi — not as high as the iPhone 4’s 960x640pixel 326ppi, but still detailed and smooth-looking. It’s very bright and colourful and suits the vibrant BlackBerry OS 7. The screen size is a bit bigger than the 3.5in-display iPhone 4 it competes with, and this makes the Torch 9860 superior for Web browsing and reading long emails.
BlackBerry Torch 9860: Specifications and performance
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 is, as smartphones go, reasonably powerful. It’s got a 1.2GHz processor and 768MB of RAM, which makes general operation almost instantaneous and more intensive tasks like Web browsing still impressively fast.
The combination of fast processor and plenty of RAM works well in tandem with the Torch 9860’s Liquid Graphics GPU to handle 3D graphics — gaming is surprisingly good-looking on the Torch 9860, with only a few short instances of jittery gameplay when we tested out some 3D apps.
HD video recording through the phone’s camera is also supported — the 5MP rear camera has an LED flash and handles 720p video recording with ease. You’ll need to purchase a microSD card if you want to use more than the 4GB of internal memory in the BlackBerry Torch 9860 — thankfully flash memory is cheap as chips these days (pardon the pun).
The overall impression we got of the BlackBerry Torch 9860’s hardware was that it was excellent, easily equalling the vast majority of its Android smartphone competitors. We didn’t encounter any long pauses or freezes at all when we used the phone’s basic functions &38212; this is a testament to both the phone’s power and the refinement of the latest BlackBerry OS version.
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 is a touchscreen-only smartphone like the iPhone or any generic Android. Given that the BlackBerry calling card has always been excellent physical keyboards (and excellent mail) we’re a bit confused as to the Torch’s purpose. The phone itself is built to a high standard and is powerful, but its imperfect touchscreen keyboard makes the Torch inferior to its tactile counterparts.