Review: BlackBerry Torch 9800

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While the BlackBerry still is one of a businessman’s best friend, it still faces some challenges when it comes with the Apple iPhone and Google Android-powered phone. And after years of constantly trying to outdo the popular phones (and, in some cases, failing – such as the BlackBerry Touch), the Torch is its latest attempt to revamp the brand.

Read our full review, after the jump.

  • Score:

    7.5 / 10

  • The Good:

    BlackBerry OS 6; form factor; social network connectivity; keyboard

  • The Bad:

    Video recording; applications are on main memory; microSD is behind battery

  • Bottom Line:

    It is a much-needed improvement to the BlackBerry brand.

Design and Hardware

The BlackBerry Torch features a combination of a slider phone and a touchscreen phone, giving you the option to use either a keyboard or your fingers to navigate and send messages – and it does well in blending the two forms of phones together. The touchscreen is actually responsive, unlike its previous try with the Storm, and the keyboard is pretty comfortable to use, despite the fact it has been trimmed compared to previous BlackBerries. The trackpad also is inherited into the new design, allowing you to swipe up and down easily without actually pressing any physical keys.

The phone also features a 3.2-inch screen, using a capactive touchscreen, and while the colours are vibrant and it is easy to read from the screen, it has a lower resolution when compared to other smartphones, and it is very noticeable difference. However, the lower resolution isn’t a big deal as readability should not be demoted – especially when it will be used for the corporate environment.

While it is slim and thin, it doesn’t have that “sexy” look that phone makers try and put into their phones – granted, it is a phone designed for enterprise and corporate users, so the design is appropriate. However, it does have some weird placements for the headphone jack and the USB port to recharge the phone, as both are on the sides rather than at the top and/or bottom, making it feel akward to hold.

As well, another negative is that the microSD card slot is behind the battery, which makes hot-swapping the cards not possible, when many of the other phones have that same luxury. However, it was most likely done to keep the phone as thin as possible – but in my book, not a good reason to remove such a thing.

BlackBerry OS 6

One of the new things about this phone is that this is running the new version of the BlackBerry OS – version 6. The interface gets a huge revamp, chucking away a windows interface for going to applications and instead opting for having the applications in one location, a-la the Android/iOS. It also offers automatic sorting when it comes to downloaded applications and recent applications, in addition to common applications.

Despite the fact that it does not have a 1GHz processor, the OS runs smoothly on its 650MHz processor – and it could be because it was designed to run on a lower processor. Touch interfaces are fast, with some (and very small) delay, and it is rather smooth to switch between and open applications. As well, expect this on future BlackBerries – touch screen or not, as it will still support the trackpad movements. The onscreen QWERTY keyboard is easy to type with, and is present in both landscape and portrait mode, and does not open to a brand new section to input characters, like Symbian does. However, if there was some criticism – notifications seems to be squashed in together and feel like it has been slapped on – but then again, I am a web designer.

One of the big improvements is that it now ditches its old web browser for a new, WebKit-based web browser – bringing it on par with other devices. The new browser, while it does have some lag, renders pages really well. It also features tabs (finally), smooth browsing to the page rather than the traditional pixel by pixel change, and multi-touch zooming a-la the iPhone. It is an improvement, but I wouldn’t say that the browser offers the best experience in the entire phone market.

Another thing that is new with the BlackBerry OS is its now integrated social networking options. Now included are the BlackBerry’s Facebook, Twitter and MySpace applications and they connect to this new application called “Social Feeds”, allowing you to keep track of your social life on your phone. It should be noted that the Social Feeds application is not a replacement – it just happens to be an aggregator offering basic features. You will still need the applications in order to use the other options. It is also a shame that other social networking sites aren’t included, such as FourSquare and Gowalla.

Multimedia and Camera

Multimedia has also gotten a much-needed redesign after the previous OS had a crappy multimedia interface, with a new cover flow effect in order to flick through the screen when listening to music, allowing quick access to other tracks in your library. The video player gets a much-needed screen resize button, allowing you watch it in full screen or in standard screen. In addition, it has a YouTube application and allows you to listen to podcasts.

The phone features a five-megapixel camera with 2x zoom, LED flash and even a brand new interface, and the quality of the pictures is alright. The camera does offer a lot of features, not typical to other BlackBerry phones, such as facial recognition and “scenic” modes – with presets designed to take the best pictures in different scenarios. However, the video camera is a bit disappointing as it records in VGA quality – rather than in HD video quality like other smartphones, though they were decent – though a bit fuzzy in certain circumstances.

Call Quality and Performance

The phone’s call quality is pretty decent, and the other side was able to hear us clearly. However, it should be noted that the phone we used is on Vodafone – and with the recent problems, would see a different experience as what we had and what other carriers used. (I also did experience some slowness in retrieving data, especially when getting applications – I eventually was forced to use my WiFi network).

Battery life is alright, with the phone lasting nearly two days with some use before needing a recharge, and between three to four days when we just left it there sucking in data from RSS feeds and the social networking sites we put in the phone.

Conclusions

The phone, while not overall a “sexy” phone, does a great job in pushing BlackBerry to a new path where mobile phones are getting thinner and also changing in order to help us push our social lives. While the BlackBerry OS 6 has some flaws, it is pretty smooth despite the hardware not in the same par as other smartphones, but if you are corporate user or own a small business – it is a decent phone to get your emails and keep up to date in the business world.

If you are a consumer, rather than a corporate user, it pretty much does the same things that Android can do, and probably an Android phone can do better. It still, however, has a long way to go in order to prevent Android and Apple taking more market share.

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