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BlackBerry sees the light with Torch

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Over the past few weeks South Africa’s mobile landscape has seen a number of powerful newcomers, with Telkom’s announcement of 8ta as the fourth mobile network operator, and the releases of Apple’s new iPhone 4, Motorola’s Flipout, BlackBerry’s new Pearl and its new Torch. But how do they fare under the Gadget 5 Question User Test? SEAN BACHER puts the BlackBerry Torch through its paces.

Before looking at the new BlackBerry Torch, a word for newcomers to the Gadget 5 Question User test. This review process allows us not only to drill down to the nitty-gritty of the product at hand, but also provide the information which is most useful when you are deciding if you should or shouldn’t buy a gadget.

The test

The questions are:

Is it ready to use?

Here we look at the product as it comes out of the box. We consider things like charge time in the case of wireless products and look at any additional settings that need to be applied before the product is ready to be used. The idea of this question is to give you some indication as to how complicated the product will be to set up and how long it takes before you have it working for you.

Is it easy to use?

Here we look at the basic product functionality. We all want devices that are easy to use. However, often manufacturers get a little carried away with their software design or the physical layout of the product, sometimes making it a pain to use instead of making it as simple as possible.

Does it deliver on its promise?

Here we see whether the product really does everything the manufacturer says it can do, and performs the way the manufacturer promises. After all, how many times have you bough a product for the sole purpose of it performing a function it was intended to do, only to find that it doesn’t come near to doing so? Phones that are bad at phone calls are a good example.

Is it innovative?

Much of the time, ‚new‚ products‚ offer merely an increment on the features of a previous model. However, every now and then we come across a gem of innovation, and it’s under this question that the product shines.

Is it value for money?

This is probably the most important question of the lot. Forking out your hard-earned cash for something that really is not worth the bucks is soul-destroying. Under this question we will give a simple explanation of why we think it is or isn’t value for money. When considering this, we will take into consideration not only the price, but also, obviously, what the product offers for that price, and sometimes the equivalent alternatives available at lower prices. An easy way to understand it is, does the product as a whole, with all its features, match up to the market price?

So with that in mind, let’s see how BlackBerry’s new Torch fares in the Gadget 5 Question User Test.

The Torch

I still to this day remember playing with my first BlackBerry. Now this was a few years ago, so I can’t tell you the exact model number, but one thing I do remember is the scroll wheel on the right-hand side of the phone. To me, this was the most innovative feature I had seen on a phone in years. It made navigation an absolute breeze and this feature blew me away more than the real selling point of BlackBerry at the time, which was of course its push e-mail system.

Since then, I have been keeping close tabs on what Research In Motion has been doing with its product. Their phones have obviously become more sophisticated over time and the scroll wheel migrated to a little ball sitting below the screen. The company also upgraded its screen technology, doing away with that awful screen that you could only see in very dark situations to screens that can now be seen clearly in any environment.

These developments were great, but I began to notice many consumers buying the phone to use as a normal phone, and not using it to its full potential by integrating it into their mail server in order to get e-mail on the go. When I asked them about this, their answers were always along the same lines ‚ ‚I like the look of the phone and I like the easy navigation. Besides, why on earth would I want an e-mail from my boss coming through to my phone on a Saturday morning telling me what needs to be done at work on Monday?‚

The dawn of the iPhone

When Apple announced its iPhone 3Gs, BlackBerry responded with the announcement of its own touch-screen device ‚ the Storm. The company was sure its superior Sure Type technology would blow Apple out of the water but, alas, the Sure-Type technology was more of a pain-in-the-butt than anything else. You ended up pushing the wrong buttons half the time, because the phone worked off both heat and pressure, unlike the iPhone which used heat only. When BlackBerry announced the Storm 2, with upgraded Sure Type technology, I was rather disappointed as I couldn’t see any difference between the first and second.

However, BlackBerry has learned from its mistakes, and all its lessons learned have led to the BlackBerry Torch 9800.

1. Is it ready to use?

The first actual test came in after slipping my SIM card in and starting the device for the first time. The BlackBerry is renowned for taking ages to start up, and especially when a crash or freeze forces you to remove the battery to restart. But when I started the phone I couldn’t help but notice the increased boot-up speed. Among other things, this is due to the inclusion of an Intel PXA930 processor running at 624 MHz, compared to previous devices, like the Storm 2, which used a Qualcomm processor running at 528MHz.

BlackBerry has also included, among other, a Facebook application, YouTube and social feeds application that lets you view your Twitter and RSS feeds. Although these do come pre-installed, each one has to be set up by entering your username and password.

2. Is it easy to use?

If you are a BlackBerry user, you will have no problem adjusting to the new operating system. Besides that, using the new improved touch screen will blow you away and, if you don’t like the screen, the slide-out QWERTY keyboard will more than suffice.

Something new to the OS6 is the fact that the home screen is broken into five sections. So instead of having all your programs on one screen and having to scroll through lists and lists of icons to get to the correct one, your frequently used applications are accessible via the ‚Frequently Used’ screen, your downloads are accessible via the ‚Download’ screen, media is accessible via the ‚Media’ screen and the applications that you mark as favourite can be seen under the ‚Favourites’ screen.

Once the phone was up and running, my first test was to see what BlackBerry had done to improve the responsiveness and user-friendliness of the screen. Lo and behold, the screen is an absolute dream. It is responsive, accurate and, best of all, there is no more SurePress technology.

After checking out the screen, my next task was seeing how well the new operating system, BlackBerry OS 6, handled. My main concern was that when such a major operating system upgrade is implemented on a device, you have to go back to school to learn how to use the device again. Not so with OS 6. All the settings and options are in much the same place as they were with previous operating systems and, in some cases, such as your in-call settings, are easier to access and easier to change.

After using the phone for a few hours I knew where every setting was, and as such didn’t have to guess where to go to change something and didn’t have to refer to manuals to check up on something.

3. Does it deliver on its promise?

The operating system is touted as BlackBerry’s best yet, and I absolutely agree. In fact I would go even further and say that it fully delivers on its promise and then some.

I was in absolute awe when I first got my hands on the Torch. When I saw the 3.2‚ TFT screen, I knew there was something special about the phone. However, the addition of the full QWERTY keyboard that slides out from the bottom of the screen was what really sold it for me. I have found that users either like a smartphone with a virtual touch screen keyboard or they go the other way and find a phone with a proper keyboard. However, with the Torch offering both, Blackberry is catering for both market segments.

A major test, however, was the battery. Vendors often boast an astonishing battery life, but when you get the phone you quickly and unexpectedly realise that the vendors obviously sucked these battery times out of their thumbs as the phone didn’t come close to what was claimed.

The Torch comes standard with a 1300 mAH Li-Ion battery that claims to have a standby time of up to 336 hours on a 3G network and a talk time of up to 5 hours and 40 minutes, also on a 3G network. This all depends on how reliable the network is, of course. Quite often you find the phone switching between 3G and GPRS, depending on how good your signal is. So to begin the test, I unplugged the phone at 6:30 and took it with me to work. My usage consisted of browsing the Internet a few times a day, logging on to Twitter every hour or so and obviously checking my e-mail every time my phone’s light started blinking. Overall, I was pretty impressed, as by 5pm I still had enough battery power to keep going. It got me through to about 9pm that evening.

This is not really an accurate test, as there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as what applications are running in the background and signal strength. However, running the same applications and spending a similar amount of time on my Storm 2 had the battery ready to die by midday, meaning I would have to plug it back in if I wanted to carry on using it. So, in conclusion, a huge improvement and delivery on promise.

4. Is it innovative?

The combination of keyboard and touch-screen is not new in its own right, but the superb manner in which these are integrated with BlackBerry’s strengths represents a leap in innovation for RIM. Aside from that, there are no obvious features that really set it apart from other phone brands. However, the fact that it boasts a better quality screen, has a better battery life, a faster processor and a far more stable operating system can all be counted in its favour.

5. Is it value for money?

The phone’s recommended retail price is around R7 200, depending on your service provider. If you consider the price of other phones in the same league as the BlackBerry Torch, you will find that their prices are far higher, and at the end of the day offer the same functionality and features. So, is it value for money? Comparatively speaking, yes.

The bottom line: if the Torch is within your budget, and you are not an Apple groupie, go for it.

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Have craved it since it was announced, and while waiting moved from BB Bold 9000 to HTC Desire to HTC HD, back to BB Bold 9000.

And then the Torch came, and blew me away.

Played with the iPhone 4 (awesome screen) but the Torch has definite advantages:

– BIS provides unlimited browsing/email/social feed for that R60-odd Rand

– BBM (need I say more?)

– Physical qwerty

So, especially if you have a limited budget, BB ftw 🙂

A few things (like with every new gadget) that I still have not figured out though….or do not understand….

When I want to set up my profile sounds (I like to know what’s being sent to me, e.g a Tweet, e-mail or BlackBerry message) and click on Change sounds and alerts–>Sounds for selected Profile–> It does not give me an edit screen. Very irritating as I need to be alerted about what is incoming…… Am I being blonde??

Also when I wanted to install the flickr app -it told me that the app is not available for my phone yet- big bummer. Use that one often….

But again- marvelous phone or shall I say- laptop in hand…

As for the profiles and other problems you are having with the device, please contact me directly and I will try and sort things out. If I cant help, I will point you in the direction of someone at BlackBerry who I am sure will be able to sort your device out.

Regards

Sean Bacher”,”body-href”:””}]

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