The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is the first in a new line of handsets for RIM. It’s the first touchscreen slider smartphone to carry the BlackBerry name and shows a bright and friendly face to the world. Although its 3.2in capacitive display can’t match the exceptional brightness of the latest Samsung Galaxy S superAMOLED Android phone or the razor-sharp resolution of the iPhone 4, we defy most users to be disappointed with the colourful but bright 480x360-pixel screen of the Torch 9800.
In fact, we think more people will find the relative heft of this feature-laden handset an issue. It tips the scales at 161g with battery and SIM card inserted. This is quite a bit more than the iPhone 4 or most Android smartphones we’ve tried. Oddly, though, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 feels much lighter than the Motorola Milestone 2 that we reviewed it alongside. In fact, the Motorola is just 8g heavier.
Weight isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a smartphone though. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is very well built and is noticeably better finished and more solid than RIM’s other touchscreen handset, the Storm. We also far prefer the smart ridged rubber backing of this smartphone to the scratch-prone iPhone 3GS and fingerprint-attracting Galaxy S.
The touchscreen isn’t as sensitive as that of several other smartphones we’ve tried, but the pinch-to-zoom and sideways scroll to access apps listed along the bottom of the screen works well. A proximity sensor built in to the BlackBerry Torch 9800 ensures the battery isn’t unduly drained – when not actively being used for web searching or media playback, for example, the screen dims.
As with an Android smartphone, you can switch between having a screenful of apps to choose between or having nothing but your beautifully backlit wallpaper on show. Just press the BlackBerry Torch 9800's touch-sensitive button to flick between the two. The time, date, connection and battery status remain in the discreet bar at the top of the screen save when you’re using a third-party app or the media player.
As both a full-size touchscreen device and one with a slide-out keyboard, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone is pretty large – it extends to 147mm in length with its keypad pulled out. Typing on either this or the onscreen keyboard works fine, though it’s rather top-heavy due to that chunky screen. If you’ve used a BlackBerry keyboard before, you’ll soon be typing speedily on its raised but flat buttons, but if you’re unaccustomed to thumb typing so the handset doesn’t topple over, you’ll find the weight distribution needs some getting used to. Spellchecking and error correction are useful inclusions, especially for longer messages tapped out on the physical keyboard. On the touchscreen keyboard we found our accuracy and speed were fine.
One of the best innovations here is the newly implemented universal search feature – the most welcome feature that the BlackBerry 6 operating system brings to the party. Type in a keyword and the BlackBerry Torch 9800 will return results from the media library, relevant apps, your contacts, emails and documents and the web. Neat, fast and highly efficient, this marks out this smartphone as a superior business device. We did find ourselves tripping up with the plethora of menus and ways of getting to things, so it’s a good thing the search feature was there to take us to items quickly.
Multimedia credentials are as solid as we’ve come to expect from the past few BlackBerry smartphones. A 5Mp camera with flash, 2.5x digital zoom and autofocus are the headline features here – an improvement in megapixel terms over the BlackBerry Curve and BlackBerry Bold, which respectively sport 2Mp and 3.2Mp cameras. The BlackBerry Torch 9800's ability to capture decent shots in artificial or poor light is far better than other BlackBerry models too. We found were able to take sharp, bright and colourful shots even indoors.
The bright screen of the BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone lends itself, of course, to media playback. Its crisp resolution is more than adequate for viewing movie trailers, music videos and more. The Torch has dedicated media playback keys on the top of the device. Finding what you want to watch or listen to is easy thanks to a media library search feature – an extended take on which has essentially become the universal search feature of the new BB6 operating system.
Using the web browser is a much-improved experience on the BlackBerry Torch 9800 – this was one of the promised features introduced with the BlackBerry 6 operating system. With pinch-to-zoom navigation, you can now move around web pages and flick back and forth between them far more easily than on previous BlackBerry smartphones. Full web pages load quickly, with embedded media content playing without issue. It’s still not the best web surfing experience available on a smartphone, but RIM has certainly made strides here.
Connection speed has never been an issue with the BlackBerry smartphone range – after all, they are geared up to provide messages and information whenever you need it. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 offers 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so you need never be out of touch. As always, it’s a cinch to turn any of these on and off and to manage connections to protected networks.
Enterprise-grade security and network access have long been standard on the more business-focused BlackBerry devices. On the BlackBerry Torch 9800, this includes the automatic encryption of emails so they can’t be intercepted on route. With more and more of us conducting financial transactions and exchanging personal information via our smartphones, such concern for security is welcome.
RIM’s BlackBerry App World store offers both PayPal and carrier billing support, making it easier to make payments if you’d sooner not give out your credit card details each time. There’s now a very healthy set of apps available for download to your BlackBerry smartphone. Sensibly, the new BlackBerry 6 operating system seen on the BlackBerry Torch 9800 allows you to group and manage these on your device.
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