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Shedding light on the Torch

In this second part of our BlackBerry Torch review, CRAIG JOHNSTON drills down into the nitty-gritty of the new Torch. Is it the phone that will give Apple a run for its money? Read further to find out.

The concept of the BlackBerry Torch is a full touch screen with a slide-out keyboard. We have seen this before, more recently with the Palm Pre and the Motorola Droid/Milestone, so it’s not new. However RIM has always built the most amazing physical keyboards and they do not fail to deliver with the Torch. The keyboard has great tactile feedback. It doesn’t feel cheap and “clicky””, but rather has a quality feel to it. Typing on it is a pleasure.

The screen is a full touch screen now. No need to click the screen to take actions on menus. Just touch them as you would on other touch screen phones. RIM has included the familiar call, end, menu, and back buttons plus a trackpad. When I first saw a trackpad it worried me because I got the feeling that it would be like an Android phone where you normally need this alternative navigation method, but on the Torch I can see that RIM has included it as a way for people to adjust to using the touch screen full time. In addition, there are still some actions that require you to press the menu key, so the buttons are actually needed.

As a concept, the Torch is very well executed. Quality build, great keyboard, and a full touch screen. As a current BlackBerry user, this is a great step-up for you.

BlackBerry OS6

The BlackBerry Torch is the first BlackBerry to support OS6, RIM’s new operating system. When we first saw OS6 earlier this year, all we got was a commercial showing quick flashes of it. Not enough to see what it was really like. At the time, most people saw it as the same old thing, just a bit prettier.

Well, now that we can see and use it on the Torch, we see that the initial impressions are partially correct, but there are some cool things that current BlackBerry users will appreciate.

OS6 has a much, much better web browser. Finally RIM has used WebKit to build their browser and the results are as you would expect. For some reason a bit slower than other implementations of WebKit browsers powering the iPhone, Android phones, and webOS phones, but a close second to them. One thing is for sure. No more struggling with the old antiquated browser that was about 7 years old on the old BlackBerrys. This new browser is enough reason on its own to buy a Torch. It’s really that good compared to what you are used to today.

OS6 has touch areas on the home screen. For example if you touch the time, a drop-down allows you to get to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings as well as the alarm clock. Touch the Profile icon to quickly change the Profile. Touch below the time to see your calendar appointments and Social feeds.

There is a search icon right on the home screen that, when used, searches everything on your device plus YouTube, Facebook, Yellow Pages, and Google. This Universal Search is extremely useful.

Social Feeds are part of OS6 too and show your friends’ posts on Facebook, Twitter, all IM clients including BlackBerry Messenger, and has the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds. It will even find an RSS feed on a web page for you.

The old style of BlackBerry icons has been rethought a bit. Now the icons are on a movable screen that can slide up and down on the home screen. Slide left and right to see your favorite applications (you choose these), media applications, applications that you have downloaded, and the most frequently used applications (which the BlackBerry populates itself based on how you use applications).

In general the menus all look the same as they do on current BlackBerrys, but many screens have been re-worked to look good with icons added next to choices, making it easier to find things. OS6 also adds touch-and-hold actions. Touch and hold on something and a menu pops up with some useful choices.

The Processor

The Torch is run by a 624MHz processor that unfortunately cannot keep up with the demands of OS6. Anytime you swipe a screen left and right, you see a lag. This is really disappointing to see when other Smartphones are run by 1 GHz processors that are easily able to provide fluid swiping and other graphic animations and improvements.

The Screen

The screen is OK but a little disappointing in today’s Smartphone marketplace. Its physical size is good but its pixel count is low. 480×320 is all it has to offer while the iPhone 4 has a 960×640 screen, and your typical Android Smartphone has a 480×800 screen. This means that, while it looks pretty good, it suffers when browsing the web, as text is often too small to read unless you zoom in.

The Camera

The camera is good, but not amazing. It’s a 5 Megapixel camera with auto focus. Used in video mode it records video at a resolution of 640×480. It falls short hereon two fronts. Firstly, it has not progressed to the level of the iPhone 4 camera with its better CCD that lets in more light, and secondly it does not record HD video, something with iPhone 4 and many Android Smartphones do today. It’s still a good camera, don’t get me wrong, it’s just behind the curve.

BlackBerry Torch Image

iPhone 4 Image

Corporate Use

RIM wants to sell to the consumer, but keep selling to the corporate user, so all of its Smartphones work as corporate devices. The Torch is no exception. I have nothing to complain about here other than the Torch (or more likely OS6) has this weird behavior where it acts as if the e-mails are not on my device. I keep seeing the —More— message for a second or two before emails display. You normally only see this if you are out of coverage and only part of the message has downloaded.

Weight and Size

This BlackBerry is a bit on the heavy side at 161.59g (5.7 oz). Compare this to the BlackBerry Bold that weighs 138g (4.7 oz). It is noticeable, but not the end of the world.

Even with its slide-out keyboard the Torch is not that much bigger than a Bold.

The Torch (closed) is 4.4″” x 2.4″” x 0.57″” / 111mm x 62mm x 14.6mm.

Compare this to a Bold which is 4.29″” x 2.36″” x 0.56′ / 109 mm X 60 mm X 14.1 mm.


Now the question is, do you buy it? Well, the answer needs to address two audiences. Those who already have a BlackBerry and want to keep it no matter what, and those who may or may not have a BlackBerry and are deciding what to buy.

Current BlackBerry users/evangelists

If you use a BlackBerry today and are hooked on it, you can’t give up your BlackBerry Messenger, or the keyboard, or the look and feel of a BlackBerry, then you need to rush out and buy this BlackBerry immediately. For a BlackBerry fan, this BlackBerry is the best BlackBerry. You get a nicely refreshed feel and added functionality, plus a touch screen, and a keyboard. OK, it’s a bit sluggish, but you are probably used to that by now.

Current BlackBerry users who are bored with BlackBerry or those who are just Smartphone shopping

If you fall into this category, then I’m afraid the BlackBerry Torch is not that revolutionary device you were hoping it would be. There are some great things that have now made it to BlackBerry but nothing that hasn’t already been done years ago on other Smartphones. Proper touch screens were done in 2007. Most Smartphones use a 1GHz processor while the Torch ships with a 624MHz processor, too slow to keep up. The screen is pretty low resolution compared to other Smartphones. The BlackBerry interface has not been refreshed enough so it can leave the physical buttons behind.

Applications available on the Torch, and indeed all BlackBerrys are terribly behind the times. They look old, and they feel old. Your selection of applications is tiny in comparison to Android and minute in comparison to the iPhone.

Smartphones that support Microsoft ActiveSync, like the iPhone, Android phones, and webOS phones can all wirelessly synchronize your corporate email, calendar, and contacts, in real-time. Your administrators can force you to use a password, require encryption, set password lengths, time-outs, and history. They can even remotely wipe your device. This then, is no longer the huge corporate benefit that the BlackBerry offered.

So if you won’t switch from BlackBerry, get a Torch. However, if you just want a great, modern Smartphone, the BlackBerry Torch doesn’t have the X factor to compete with Android and iPhone.

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