The BlackBerry Torch-the smartphone that Research In Motion launched with much fanfare less than a week ago, and which was supposed to help it win back market share in North America by standing up to the Apple iPhone and Android-running smartphones-is now being offered for just $99.99 on Amazon.com.
The Amazon offer is attached to a two-year service contract with carrier AT&T - which is currently offering the Torch for $199.99, the price it introduced with the phone at a New York media event Aug. 3.
"RIM's sales are booming in Europe and Asia, but the vendor is under attack in the United States," analyst Neil Mawston, with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK. "RIM has at least two main challenges in the U.S. First, RIM is still suffering from a weak touch-phone portfolio, which is encouraging consumers to switch to alternative Apple or Android models from HTC, Motorola, Samsung and others. Second, we believe RIM continues to underestimate the power of beautiful design. The Torch is arguably not pretty enough to wow consumers, and it is struggling a little to stand out on crowded store shelves."
Indeed, while surprising in its swiftness, the price cut was perhaps inevitable, as many early reviews panned the device or were, at the very least, far from effusive-even while agreeing with RIM and AT&T executives that the Torch is, to date, the best BlackBerry handset that RIM has made.
"If you don't already own a BlackBerry, you will not want this phone," Matt Buchanan wrote at Gizmodo.com. "And if you do, you still might not want it, even if it may very well be the 'best BlackBerry ever'."
At Engadget.com, reviewer Josh Topolsky called the Torch "sluggish, underpowered and ... woefully behind the curve."
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Walter S. Mossberg found the Torch to be overall slower than the Apple iPhone 4, but still found features to feel positive about. The browser was "finally usable," many of the screens were "more graphical and attractive," and the Torch overall was a "big improvement over earlier, stodgy BlackBerry models." Not exactly the sing-hallelujah-from-the-rooftops response that RIM has been working toward-and hinting at.
Still, analysts say that all is not yet lost for the company long considered the only name in enterprise-class mobile devices. Analyst Ken Hyers, with Technology Business Research, has said that in making the crossover from enterprise-only customers to wooing both enterprise and consumer customers alike, design-something Apple does very well-had been a major weak point for RIM. While Hyers doesn't believe RIM is in danger of losing its relevance-"their e-mail product is still unique and the industry gold standard," he told eWEEK-he does view the Canadian company as "giving up sales opportunities" by not putting more emphasis on design.
RIM executives may disagree, noting that that Torch is the first BlackBerry to combine a multitouch display with the RIM keypad, as well as the first to run the revamped BlackBerry 6 operating system. The OS cleans up the previously overwhelming BlackBerry homepage, includes a universal search feature and offers a more seamless transition between applications. RIM executives have described it as "fresh, but familiar"-aka, an improved but not confusing experience for the RIM faithful, but also one, with its upped cool factor, that's better able to compete with mainstream handsets.
In the end, however, it's the public that will decide, loudly and clearly, whether the need for change has been pushed far enough and RIM's aesthetic is cutting-edge enough.
Concluding his review for Gizmodo, Buchanan complained: "They could've at least given the damn thing a better screen."
Editors' Notes: Amazon.com is offering the Torch 9800 for $99.99 with a two-year contract with AT&T, compared to AT&T's price of $199.99 with a two-year contract.