By September 29, 2010

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

9800-main

At last the Torch has reached UK shores and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a review unit straight away. You may have seen some time ago I did a demo video with the Torch. This was not final software for the UK but now the software is finished we should see it arriving with the networks very shortly, unless delayed again!

The Torch 9800 gives us a double whammy. A new phone and an updated OS, now called BlackBerry 6.

The BlackBerry Torch has had mixed reviews in the States where it has been available for some time. If you fancy reading what I think of the device plus BlackBerry 6, and if I believe there is a market for it here in the UK you will have to read on.

 

What’s in the box:

  • Device
  • Battery
  • USB Cable
  • Charger
  • Headphones
  • Sync/Charge Dock

This was not a retail box so I doubt very much if the sync/charge dock will be included. You can see the BlackBerry Torch 9800 unboxing video here.

 

The ten second review:

Device: BlackBerry Torch 9800

Price: £481.75 sim free or from free with contract

Summary: A touch screen BlackBerry with the added bonus of a sliding qwerty keyboard and sporting a new OS – BlackBerry 6

Best of: Keyboard, BBM, Email, Improved Media and camera

Worst of: Weight, over sensitive screen lock key, 624MHz processor

Buy it now from: Coming soon to Orange and Vodafone as well as sim free from Clove.

 

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Specification:

  • Dimensions: 111 x 62 x 14.6 mm
  • Weight: 161g
  • Display: TFT capacitive touch screen, 16M colors
  • Screen Size: 360 x 480 pixels, 3.2 inches
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Optical trackpad
  • Multi-touch input method
  • Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
  • 3.5 mm audio jack
  • 4 GB storage, 512 MB RAM, 512 MB ROM
  • MicroSD up to 32GB
  • GPRS, Edge, 3G, HSDPA, HSUPA
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, UMA (carrier-dependent)
  • Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP
  • Camera: 5 MP, 2592?1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
  • OS: BlackBerry OS 6.0
  • CPU: 624 MHz processor
  • SMS, MMS, Email, Push Email, IM
  • GPS with A-GPS support
  • Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 1300 mAh

 

General:

The left side of the device contains only the microUSB charging port.

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BlackBerry Torch 9800 left side

 

The right housed the convenience key, volume controls and the 3.5mm headset jack.

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BlackBerry Torch 9800 right side

 

On the top side we have the screen lock button and also a mute one.

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BlackBerry Torch 9800 Top

 

The front when closed has the speaker and sensors at the top and under the screen we have the traditional call send/end keys, menu, back and the track pad.

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BlackBerry Torch 9800 Front

 

On the rear we find the camera lens and flash.

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BlackBerry Torch 9800 back

 

Slide the device open and we have the hardware QWERTY keyboard, pretty much identical to on the Bold 9700.

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BlackBerry Torch 9800 keyboard

 

Highlights:

  • BlackBerry 6
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • BBM and emailing

 

Lowlights:

  • Heavy
  • Over sensitive standby key
  • Hard to open without touching the screen

 

 

 

Review:

The BlackBerry Torch is a good looking phone and RIM have clearly put a lot of effort into producing a well built top end BlackBerry. At 161g in weight it is a hefty phone and does feel a bit too heavy. It is however pretty robust. Although only very slightly thicker than the Bold 9700 is does feel bulkier in the hand, but then it would do with its sliding keyboard neatly tucked away.

9800-angled-right

 

With its metal bezel running all the way round the face of the handset (which we did not get on the Bold 9700 or Storm 2) the Torch looks an attractive quality Smartphone. We get a new style back cover on the Torch. Although plastic it consists of horizontal lines giving the cover a ribbed effect (for extra pleasure!) As well as feeling very nice it serves a purpose and gives you a bit of grip unlike some Smartphone’s that tend to feel a little slippery.

 

9800-angled-back

 

The buttons on the right side of the device feel typical BlackBerry although the convenience key has had a slight design change. Nothing major though.

A BlackBerry these days would not be complete without the track pad and although you may find yourself not needing to use it as much as you have a touch screen it is handy for certain features and when the keyboard is open it is easier to press the track pad as a ‘select/enter’ key rather than reaching up to press the screen.

And speaking of the screen, thank god that RIM decided to ditch the clicky screen like on the Storm and Storm 2. Now we have a nice capacitive screen like we have seen on most other top end touch screen phones. A few people in the USA have complained about the screen on the Torch being a little laggy. It is not as quick at swiping as the iPhone 4 but I wouldn’t say it is laggy. I have found it to react very well and as this is relatively new technology for RIM they have done a good job. There is room for improvement but that is true with all new smartphones. The iPhone 4 sure had a few issues.

 

Taking a closer look at the BlackBerry Torch keyboard it is most like the Bold 9700 if you were to compare. The keys themselves appear to be very slightly smaller on the Torch but the difference is minimal and it may have just been my eyes playing tricks on me. The keys have the same design and spacing as the 9700 but on the Torch it does feel a little different to type. The keys feel a little harder when you press them. The 9700s keys feel like they have a slight bounce in them. That’s the best way I can describe it. I was slightly concerned before I used the Torch that the sliding top section of the device may get in the way when using the top row of keys. It doesn’t, phew!

 

9800-angled

 

Either way the Torch has a great keyboard and if you are thinking of upgrading from a Bold then after a few minutes you wont even notice the difference.

Some people may well be a little concerned with the sliding mechanics on the Torch and whether these moving parts likely to fail. As it is a new device I cant say for sure but what I can tell you is that the slide feels solid and there is no wobble at all between the screen and the keyboard. The Torch 9800 is a premium handset and it feels like it. Mind you, it should be good for the high price!

I do have one major hardware issue and that is the screen lock key on the top of the device. It is just way to sensitive. I find myself picking up the Torch and pressing the button by accident. Or slipping the phone into a pocket and unlocking the screen. Blooming frustrating!

 

The Torch 9800 comes complete with a 1270mAh battery which is less than in the BlackBerry Bold 9700. Before I got the review device I was a little concerned about this. Surely a smaller battery powering a big touch screen phone is never a good thing. After using the device for a few days I was pleasantly surprised. I was managing to get through a whole day on one charge which I didn’t think would happen. I tend not to normally mention batteries when I do reviews as the length that they last really depends how you use your phone. I mainly use my BlackBerry’s for email, BBM, Twitter and Facebook. If I had been watching video for an hour or two a day I think the outcome may have been slightly different.

 

So lets jump into the software and see what we have that is new in BlackBerry 6.

Once the phone is switched on you are greeted with the homescreen and this is a major change from OS5. With a built in accelerometer you can rotate the phone into landscape mode within pretty much any app on the Torch. The accelerometer works well and takes less than a second to switch.

As you would expect, on the homescreen you are shown the time/date, battery, mobile network, service indicator and the time.

 

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As you can see below there a few options on how your homescreen appears. The menu is popped up by pressing the white arrow at the base of the screen. The menu will then take up most of the screen but you can change this. Just drag it up or down to where it suits you. You can have four, eight, twelve or sixteen icons on the screen. Once the menu is full screen you can scroll up and down to find the application you need. The scrolling is beautifully smooth and a joy to use.

 

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However, the homescreens don’t finish there. You can also scroll left and right to give you even more options. There is a favorites, a media, a downloads and a frequent screen. This personally is not a huge benefit to me but that’s just how I roll, (said in an American accent!)

 

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Touching the very top of the screen on the Torch will open up the connections tab. Here you can quickly manage Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile network and your alarm. All very straight forward and handy to have at your finger tips.

 

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Under the clock on the homescreen is the notifications bar. If you get any messages, missed calls, calendar events etc  icons will appear here. Give them a press and the notifications page drops down taking up the whole screen from the clock downwards. The benefit here is that you can quickly access your notifications even if you do not have any application folders on screen. Give the event you require a press and that particular application will then open. Simple.

 

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Another nice new feature to BlackBerry 6 is universal search and there are two ways to access it. On the top right side of the screen is the magnifier icon. Option one is to press this and a text bar will open with the onscreen keyboard underneath.

Option two is to just open the sliding keyboard and to start typing whatever it is you wish to search for. The BlackBerry will then display any application icons that may relate or be used to assist you in finding what you are looking for. So in the example below where I have entered the words tracyandmatt the device has given us an email account, the podcast application, YouTube, App World and Google. I know that tracyandmatt are not in App World but the device still gives this options. A great new feature which I personally find useful when searching for a contact. If the contact also is in any of my instant messaging apps those too will appear on screen. A great idea RIM.

 

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With any new Smartphone you will want to alter the settings and set up certain things. If you are not currently a BlackBerry user then the below screen shots may look a little daunting but believe me tweaking the settings is actually very easy to do. Within the setup page the BlackBerry will guide you through setting up your email addresses, connecting to Wi-Fi etc. There is not too much new here compared to pre BlackBerry 6 devices but its presentation is totally different and it makes life just a little easier.

 

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The Torch 9800 now gets a memory boost over the other BlackBerry devices sold here in the UK. Now with 512MB instead of 256MB the Torch will not only store more but will ensure less slowing down with multiple apps running. A good move RIM.

There is also 4GB of internal storage built into the devices so plenty of space for pictures, music and video. If you need more then a MicroSD card will take care of that. You can even swap memory cards without removing the battery

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Like on OS5 we still get a application switcher pop up when we hold down the BlackBerry menu button. But, it now looks totally different to before. Of course it does the same job just as its name suggests, but now it looks funky.

 

Task

 

Lets move onto the main apps and features on the BlackBerry Torch. A BlackBerry would not be a BlackBerry without amazing email/messaging capabilities. If you are not currently a BlackBerry user then I will summarise why messaging is so good.

On any BlackBerry you can have up to ten email accounts. All email will be pushed to the device, which will help conserve battery, instead of it syncing with the server every 10-15 minutes. The email interface is extremely easy to use and what I love about BlackBerry is that everything is quick. You can create an email in seconds. Or open your inbox and delete 20 emails in seconds. Cant beat it!

The Torch does all of the above and now with the new OS we get to do a few things slightly differently.

You have two options when it comes to viewing messages. Option one is to use different folders (icons) for each messaging client. For example if I had two email accounts set up I would need three folders on my home screen. Two for the separate email accounts and one for SMS.

The alternative is what I use and this is an integrated messages folder. Here all your email and SMS and even BBM’s if you want can come into the same folder. If you also use some other instant messaging clients those messages will also show up. This frees up space on your home screen for your other most popular applications. I find it a cleaner way of doing things but like most things in life this comes down to personal preference.

The emails you receive will still appear on your computer as well as on the BlackBerry but when it comes to deleting on the BlackBerry you do have the option to delete just from the handheld or from the server too which is handy.

Messages on the Torch are neatly presented and you are given the basic information: who the message is from, the subject and what time it was sent.

 

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Either pressing the message you want or selecting it with the trackpad will open it. At the bottom of the screen within an email you have five tabs. From the left these are activate the onscreen keyboard, reply, forward, reply to all or delete. You can also press the BlackBerry menu button and do these same actions in there but using these nice new tabs is a much quicker way of doing things, especially if you want the touch experience. And there is a third way too.  Simply hold a point on the screen and the box in the third screen shot below pops up. Here you are presented with a range of options.

 

 

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A BlackBerry would not be complete without BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). If you have not used it before it is essentially an instant messaging client exclusive to BlackBerry smartphones. Messaging is unlimited as it will be included in your BlackBerry data plan and as well as text you can also send pictures, voice notes, videos and other files. Within your profile you can add a photo, alter your name and also add personal message which most people use as a status update like with the social networking apps. Once you have used BBM you will find yourself part of a huge BlackBerry family and more than likely addicted.

 

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As well as BBM the Torch comes pre loaded with four other instant messaging clients. These are Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and AOL Messenger. I only use two of these hence only two screen shots below.

These apps are RIM’s own but if you fancy it you can download one of the many integrated IM clients such as IM+ or Nimbuzz. There are plenty in App World.

 

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Onto the web browser. Using the internet on a BlackBerry has historically been a bit rubbish and slow when compared with other platforms. Now BlackBerry 6 comes with a new web kit browser that is certainly a lot better. Is is as good as the alternatives we have seen on iOS and Android? No, but it is an improvement. Although it’s better I am a little disappointed to be honest. This browser should have rocked but is doesn’t. It is just ok.

At the top of the screen you have the address bar. Here you can type what site you are looking for. Directly next to it is a globe symbol. Press this and you are given a selection of options such as bookmarks, add to bookmarks, send page address and history. A quick and handy way of getting to your saved pages.

 

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Besides the globe is another icon which resembles two squares. This takes you into multi tab browsing. Here you can view multiple open web pages and glide left and right through them to jump to the one you want. A fine new feature.

 

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The browser of course works in landscape mode too and this gives you a more PC like web experience.

 

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Although the BlackBerry Torch has its wonderful hardware keyboard it does also have an onscreen one if you need it. It is nothing special and I really didn’t like using it but that is why I use a BlackBerry, for the hardware one. Although a decent size i missed not having haptic feedback on the onscreen keyboard. It may be there somewhere but I sure as hell couldn’t find it. In fact I actually find it slightly easier typing on the Storm 2 with its clicky screen!

In addition you do have the option to use either a traditional style on screen keyboard or the BlackBerry SureType style .

 

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keyboard 

 

Browsing is so much better than on previous models but far from perfect. It is just not as fluent as on some other platforms.  Don’t get me wrong. The Torch is more than capable of looking after your browsing needs but it’s just not the best.

Zooming is done by either a double screen tap or pinching which is a nice welcome. One of the best features on the browser is that text reflows when you zoom in. This makes a real difference when reading as you are not having to constantly pan left and right like on the iPhone.

 

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Pressing the menu button on the Torch gives you loads more options. Here you can also manage your bookmarks.

 

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App World is where you will buy your apps, funnily enough. There is some decent stuff in there but prices are a little high compared to other platforms. Of course there are loads of free apps as well. It’s easy to navigate around App World and you are given a lot of info about the apps before you download, including screen shots. 

If you are after a Smartphone for gaming then you don’t want a BlackBerry. Although there are plenty of games available you cannot compare them to other phones such as the iPhone or Android devices. I find that the best apps on a BlackBerry are the social networking ones and productivity apps. Remember, a BlackBerry is primarily a messaging device.

 

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At the base of the App World homescreen are four tabs. These are categories, Top 25, search and my world. The ‘top 25’ section is split into five sections to allow you to browse the best titles quickly. These are newest, free apps, paid apps, top themes and recently updated. App World got an update a couple of months ago so now looks and feels a little better than before.

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I mentioned above that the Social Networking apps are great on the BlackBerry. Both Facebook and Twitter come pre loaded and both work seamlessly. Facebook notifications are handled by the app and not by email like on many other platforms. If you get a notification then as well as a sound and a flashing LED you will get a symbol appear on the Facebook icon to let you know.

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The twitter app works much the same. I’m not a huge fan of this particular app and I tend to use others. There are many alternatives in App World. Just choose the one you are most comfortable with.

T4BB

 

Right, lets have a look at the camera. The interface is pretty simple. At the bottom of the screen are five tabs. On the left we have an image preview, next to that we have location, then the camera shutter button, the flash settings and finally scenes. The scenes are new to BlackBerry 6 and a nice welcome to ensure you get the best shot possible. There are eleven in total including the auto setting.

You can take photos by pressing one of three different buttons. The convenience key is option one. Option two is the onscreen key and the third one and the one I was most happy with using is the track pad. You can also use the track pad for zooming in and out.

 

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The Torch is the first BlackBerry with a 5MP camera including continuous autofocus and it does a pretty good job in my opinion. The only other flagship device I own is the iPhone 4 and the Torch is lacking a little bit in comparison. Now with HDR photography the iPhone wins that battle.

We do get a pretty decent flash on the Torch so snapping pictures of your friends at night will be no problem.

 

torch Torch flash

 

The video recorder on the other hand was not great. If RIM had given us a greater processor and not the 624 MHz one installed, the Torch would more than likely be capable of recording in 720P HD but as things stand at the moment we are left with very average video recording. If you want to see a quick sample click here. 

 

When the BlackBerry Torch was launched they had a big focus on media. I must say that the Torch definitely handles media better than its predecessors. The media section is already displayed on one of the scrolling homescreens so accessing it is only a couple of swipes away.

 

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Lets start with music. The music interface is greatly improved. Essentially it gives us the same information as we saw on older devices but now it is much more pleasing on the eye. As you can see below, music tracks can be found by category. Just press the one you want and off you go. Album artwork is shown onscreen and the controls are a nice size. The music quality is also pretty great. The supplied earphones are much better than with previous models and the music sounded as good as on the other top end phones I have used recently.

 

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The picture gallery is as you would expect. Once the picture you are looking for is on screen you can zoom in by pinching.

 

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At the bottom of the screen are a few tabs. These allow you to rotate the picture, play a slide show and move forward and back through your images. A swipe of the screen achieves this too. The tab on the far left is a handy one. Press this and you are given a list of options such as email, text message, send to twitter, Facebook and Bluetooth. Another nice tab which prevents you having to go into the menu.

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We must not forget that the BlackBerry Torch is also phone. Using the touch screen to dial numbers is a breeze. The keys are nice and big and the screen is responsive. You have three tabs at the top of the screen, dialer, call history and contacts. There are also tabs at the bottom. This is one of the nice things about BlackBerry 6. They have designed the tabs to enable you to perform objectives without having to dive into the menu each time.

I have seen a few people on the internet mention about the speaker volume. I thought it was loud enough so no issues there.

 

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I love the calendar on the Torch. It essentially does the same job as on OS 5 devices but just looks better. I use the BlackBerry calendar for running my life. Not just for business appointments but also for general reminders. Entering an event into the calendar is simple pimple. Just click on the time you want and write what you need. You can alter the time and date from within the event and even send it to another user. This is blooming handy. If you do send one it will be received by the other user which and they can accept or decline. Once accepted the event will automatically be transferred into their BlackBerry calendar. How cool is that?

The calendar can be viewed as either day, week or month by default so choose which suits you best. Jumping from day to day or month to month is done with a swipe of the screen.

 

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With A-GPS included, the Torch clearly needs a mapping application. BlackBerry maps will be installed on the device and this works much the same as Google Maps, although I prefer the later. You can use the app to search for things around your location as well as send your findings onto a friend. The UI is nothings special and if I were you I would just forget about this and download Google Maps. It has more features and a much nicer, brighter, fresh user interface. Sorry RIM.

 

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The clock on any phone is not very exciting but most of us do rely on it to wake us in the mornings. The BlackBerry Torch, like all BlackBerry smartphones, has a bedside mode. You can set this to activate as soon as the device is put on charge or docked. What this will do is automatically pop the clock onto the screen and a few seconds after the clock will dim so as not to make the room bright at night time. Also your flashing LED will be disabled, again for that same reason. You will see below that the clock appears as a LCD Digital. You have three other options, digital, analogue and flip.

As well as the alarm you also get a stopwatch and timer which are simple yet effective. I use the timer most days for cooking. Nothing burnt yet!

 

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As you can see below, when changing the clock options everything is neatly laid out and very self explanatory. Just the way I like it.

 

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Within the main menu you will find a YouTube icon. Unfortunately this is not an application but a link to the YouTube web page. I wish RIM could have made a proper app. The iPhone and Android ones are excellent.

Anyway, the video quality was better than i thought it was going to be and I was more than happy to log into my account and watch my subscriptions while I had breakfast.

 

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This is one of the advantages of having a BlackBerry with a big screen. I couldn’t watch a whole movie on my 9700 but on the Torch I certainly would.

As you can see, the video will appear full screen and you get four simple on screen tabs for pausing and skipping etc. When the video starts you can either tap the screen to make the tabs go away or they will do so of their own accord within a few seconds.

 

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Another new feature to come with BlackBerry 6 is the Social Feeds app. Here your Facebook, Twitter and MySpace updates are integrated into one list along with any instant messaging ones.  In addition, if you subscribe to any RSS feeds these too will appear. At the top of the app is a filter so if you only wanted to see only Facebook updates for example you can do this. We have seen similar apps to this produced by other manufactures such as Friends Stream from HTC. Nice to see RIM jumping on the band wagon as these social messages seem to play such a huge part in our lives these days.

 

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Within the Applications folder in the main menu you will find much the same as on previous BlackBerry devices. With Word To Go and Sheet To Go you will be able to view word and excel documents although creating them from scratch is a no no. I do foresee this changing in the future though.

A calculator, memo pad and tasks are also present. Nothing ground breaking here.

 

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As i mentioned earlier in the review, a BlackBerry is not the best phone for gaming and things have not got that much better with the Torch. Two games come pre loaded, Brick Breaker and World Mole. Although many games on the BlackBerry platform are great they are let down by their graphics and game play. If you want the BlackBerry Torch and are into playing games in a big way i think you may have to invest in a iPod Touch.

 

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Conclusion:

Overall I am pretty impressed with The BlackBerry Torch. Sure, it is not perfect but what new phone is? The hardware is solid and well built, if a little too heavy. The improvements with BlackBerry 6 are most welcomed. Some nice new features which I also look forward to trying on a non touch screen BlackBerry.

Can I see many BlackBerry Bold and Storm users upgrading to the Torch? Yep, I sure can. I’m not too sure if it will be the business tool of choice like the traditional front facing QWERTY BlackBerry but I would imagine that high street sales will be pretty good. The problem that RIM have is the competition. Now they have a flagship touch screen device they also have a load of touch screen competitors. With new Android touch screen devices being released by Samsung and HTC every few months can the added bonus of the Torches excellent keyboard be enough to ensure sales are high. I don’t know the answer to that one. I hope so.

Will I be switching from the Bold 9700 to the Torch 9800? I’m not 100% sure yet. I really like the Torch but the best thing for me about using my BlackBerry 9700 is the speed of which I can achieve any function. With the Torch it just takes that little bit longer. Sure, the Torch brings us some much improved features such as the new web browser, social feeds and universal search but I’m not sure if that is enough to sway me. I have pre ordered a Torch so I will be owning one. If it will be here to stay only time will tell.

 

Posted by: James

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

Five year veteran of the site. BlackBerry specialist, but experienced in most operating systems. Enjoys flower arranging and cross stitch.
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