Early reviews of Research In Motion's BlackBerry Torch are beginning to emerge, and a general consensus is forming: As RIM and AT&T executives at the press conference introducing the device insisted, the Torch is the best BlackBerry smartphone to date. However, reviewers added, it's not quite enough to win away consumers from the Apple iPhone or the numerous high-end devices running Google's Android OS.
The two most important details about the Torch, all reviewers pointed out, are that, first, it's the only BlackBerry to offer both a slide-out keyboard and a touch screen, giving users the option of typing on the long-well-received BlackBerry keypad or a virtual keypad. Second, it's the first RIM handset to run the BlackBerry 6 OS.
Walter S. Mossberg, writing in the Wall Street Journal, was generally kind in his review. He called the Torch a "big improvement over earlier, stodgy BlackBerry models" and noted that it might "help stem the urge to switch to iPhone and Android, and even steal some users from those and other platforms." (He was alone, among early reviewers, in this latter feeling.)
Mossberg liked the updates to the browser (calling it "finally usable") and to the home screen, and found the settings screens to be "more graphical and attractive." The music and video players were also "much more attractive and useful"-though rather time-consuming to sync with a PC. (No dice at all, Mac users.) He was also satisfied with the Torch's 5-megapixel camera and its redesigned pop-up menu that "makes it easy to share photos via email, text message, BlackBerry Messenger or various social networks." Message notifications also arrived more quickly than on older BlackBerry models, and the battery happily lasted a whole day.
The downsides? He complained it was "slower overall" than the iPhone 4, and the browser, though the same as on the iPhone and many Android handsets, behaved badly for him until he removed and replaced the battery. Mossberg also found the display to be smaller and of a much lower resolution than on many obvious rival handsets, and noted there was no front-facing camera for video calling, like Apple, Motorola and HTC now commonly offer.
And that's not even harping on the application situation. While the Apple App Store offers a cool 250,000-plus apps, and even the relatively new Android offers 70,000 apps, for BlackBerry handsets the number is around 9,000.
Writing for Gizmodo, Matt Buchanan was far less kind.
"If you don't already own a BlackBerry, you will not want this phone," Buchanan wrote. "And if you do, you still might not want it, even if it may very well be the 'best BlackBerry ever.'"
He found the Torch slow and the screen lousy, and said RIM's efforts to appeal to both new users and the BlackBerry dedicated are resulting in some "existential angst."
"It's like Two Face, but even less focused. Is BlackBerry 6 a touch-screen OS? A trackpad and keyboard OS? Mostly for business users? Regular people?" asked Buchanan. "It's not quite sure, and the results can be pretty messy." In closing, he complained, "They could've at least given the damn thing a better screen."
Sascha Segan, of PCMag.com, was more diplomatic. While the iPhone 4 and various Android handsets may have gorgeous displays, 4G radios and super-duper 3D games, "the BlackBerry Torch doesn't live in that world," wrote Segan. "It's for people who live on email, IM, Facebook and Twitter, for whom typing updates and messages is their number-one priority."
At Engadget.com, Josh Topolsky gave the Torch's Universal Search feature a thumbs-up, but otherwise found the Torch by turns boring, confusing and lame. "It's tough to feel really excited about the BlackBerry Torch and OS 6 after heavy testing," he wrote.
In conclusion, Topolsky offered, "The Torch seems sluggish, underpowered and dated from a hardware design standpoint, and BlackBerry 6, despite its new features and polish, still feels woefully behind the curve."
Perhaps the most fun any of the reviewers had with the Torch was giving in to the puns RIM so easily delivered up. Topolsky wrote that with the Torch, RIM failed to create a product that can "ignite a buyer's desire to own something," while Segan, at PCMag, added that the Torch "keeps the flame alive, but it's not a barn-burner."