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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hands On with the BlackBerry Torch 9800

By: Sascha Segan


The BlackBerry Torch 9800 for AT&T isn't all-new and all-different, but it's new and different enough.

On Tuesday, Research in Motion (RIM) announced the company's first slider-style BlackBerry, the Torch 9800, which is also the first BlackBerry with both a touch screen and hard keyboard, and the first device to run the new OS 6. We received a bit of hands-on time with the new phone.

The Torch feels and looks very much like a BlackBerry, with the proper BlackBerry Bold-style arrangements of plastic, metal and glass; there are also BlackBerry fonts on the keys and the now-standard BlackBerry trackpad. Like a good BlackBerry, it feels rock-solid and like a premium device in the hand.

But of course it also has that touch screen. The Torch's 3.2-inch, 360-by-480 screen is a standard capacitive LCD touch screen, not that weird "click-screen" from the BlackBerry Storm that RIM seems to have finally given up on. The screen is bright and sharp, but it's obviously behind the competition in terms of resolution.

The phone's sliding mechanism feels tight and solid; RIM says it's been rated for 150,000 slides. The QWERTY keyboard, on the other hand, feels tighter and flatter than previous BlackBerry keyboards.

The new BlackBerry 6 OS adds touch to the interface mix, but you can still navigate with the trackpad or QWERTY if you prefer. Applications now appear in a pop-up drawer - a little like on Android - with swipeable panes that take you to "All," Favorites," "Media" or "Downloads." There's a little bit of a delay when swiping, which I found a bit disconcerting.

I was very happy to see universal search here – just start typing a word and results pop up from contacts, email, programs, and media files. That's quite slick.

According to RIM, the new WebKit-based Web browser speeds up data transfers by compressing data two to three times, while still providing the kind of fidelity you see on the iPhone and Android platforms. That should, in part, help make up for the phone running at HSPA 3.6 speeds rather than HSPA 7.2, and it should let AT&T users get more Web pages out of their $15/month, 200-MB data plans.

I haven't comprehensively tested the speed, but it displayed with great fidelity. Unfortunately, there's no way to change the user agent to pretend to be a desktop browser, which means lots of sites (such as ours) just show dull WAP pages.

RIM appears to have totally rewritten its media apps. There's a new Desktop Manager coming with BlackBerry 6, and a Social Feeds app that combines Twitter, Facebook, and various instant messaging conversations.

More specs: the Torch has a 5-megapixel camera with VGA video recording, Bluetooth 2.1, 512 Mbytes of program memory, 4 Gbytes of built-in storage, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. As is usual for BlackBerrys, these aren't super-duper, top-of-the-line specs. Rather, the BlackBerry experience is about providing solid reliability.

BlackBerry 6 is exclusive to the Torch for now, but it may come to other existing BlackBerries. The Torch has the same 624-MHz Marvell processor and screen resolution as the existing BlackBerry Bold, so there aren't any hardware hurdles to get the new version onto higher-end existing phones.

The BlackBerry Torch is an AT&T exclusive, though RIM execs I spoke to said they would like to turn this form factor into a platform. That means if AT&T's Torch is successful, they may build versions for other carriers.

You can look at the BlackBerry Torch two ways. If you live in BlackBerry World, it's obviously a big step forwards. But on AT&T, it's competing against the Samsung Captivate and iPhone 4, with their gigahertz processors, "retina" screens, and thousands upon thousands of apps. Can the Torch compete with the new round of super-phones? We'll have a full review of the BlackBerry Torch soon.


Jaspal July 1, 2017 at 1:50 AM  

Still waiting for BlackBerry to come up with intuitive Android handsets.

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