RIM's new BlackBerry Torch 9800, the company's first smartphone with a capacitive touch-screen and sliding physical keyboard, represents its attempt to appeal to both businesspeople and consumers. There's a lot for both those groups to like, but also some issues that could pull those users toward the iPhone or a Google Android device.
The BlackBerry Torch 9800 represents Research In Motion's
attempt to be all things to all customers. For
business users, many of the tools that made BlackBerry a corporate name have
been preserved in all their utilitarian glory. However, the company also hopes
the Torch's multimedia features will appeal to consumers in the hunt for a
Can RIM pull off this delicate high-wire act? After a few
days of extensive testing, eWEEK found that the smartphone-due for
release Aug. 12-represents a leap forward for the BlackBerry franchise in
many respects, but also suffers from a handful of niggling software and
The Torch 9800's vertical slider is a relatively rare
form-factor. Palm tried it with the Pre, and while early reviews of that device
were largely positive, some users complained about the sturdiness and
durability of the keyboard's sliding mechanism. By contrast, the Torch 9800's
sliding screen feels very firmly seated in its track, with no horizontal
"wobble" when extended; a satisfyingly heavy "click" accompanies the action.
Click here for more information on the BlackBerry Torch 9800.
That being said, the sliding mechanism does have its issues.
The lack of a thumb indentation or "grip" in the screen's frame means that your
fingers, in the process of trying to slide the screen upwards, will sometimes
skid across the front of the device. After a few days' use, my thumb trained
itself to angle downwards against the screen's bottom bevel-and even then, I
found myself accidentally hitting the trackpad or other buttons on occasion.
Is this a dealbreaker? No. But it can lead to frustrations
while trying to type an email or text message via the physical keyboard.
As with previous BlackBerry devices, the Torch 9800 seems to
manage heat well. After a long period of heavy use-voice calls, browser, maps
and YouTube-the back of the device was only slightly warm to the touch.
But hardware-wise, the Torch 9800 comes with an Achilles
Heel: the 5-megapixel camera, which boasts image stabilization, auto-focus,
flash, 2x digital zoom, and VGA (640x480) video recording. It feels decidedly
last-generation, especially when compared to the camera on the iPhone 4 or the
newest Android phones. Even though RIM integrated a number of "Scene Modes" into the camera
interface-including "Party," "Landscape," and "Portrait"-many images
remain blurred and/or murky when shot under less-than-ideal conditions
Also last-generation: the 3.2-inch HVGA+ touch-screen, with
its 480x360 resolution, simply can't compete against smartphones such as the
Samsung Galaxy S or the HTC Evo 4G. Hardcore business users primarily
interested in email and texting probably won't have an issue with that screen
resolution, but it could prove a deal-killer for consumers who expect to watch
television episodes or play complex games on their device.
Overall, though, the Torch 9800 has a weighty sturdiness
that will be familiar to habitual BlackBerry users. With the keyboard
retracted, the 5.68-ounce smartphone measures 4.37 inches high, 2.44 inches
wide, and 0.57 inches deep: shorter and thicker than many of the iPhone-like
devices on the market. Extended to its full 5.83-inch length, it towers over
those rivals by a solid 0.75 inch in many cases-which brings the bottom of the
Torch closer to your mouth when speaking without a Bluetooth, which in turn may
have contributed to the crystal-clear fidelity during calls.
BlackBerry devices have traditionally boasted superior
battery life, and the Torch 9800 is no exception. RIM claims the device has a
standby time of either 14 days (UMTS) or 18 days (GSM), talk time of up to 5.5
hours (GSM) or 5.8 hours (UMTS), music playback of up to 30 hours, and video
playback of up to 6 hours.
Even with heavy use, it took around two days to drain the
Torch's battery. In that aspect, it proves superior to the iPhone 4 or Google
Android devices, where battery life is something of a weak spot.