By October 24, 2011

BlackBerry Torch 9860 review

BlackBerry Torch 9860 reviewThe BlackBerry Torch 9860 is RIM’s first touch only Smartphone with a capacitive screen. Sure, we have had the Storm and Storm 2 but they didn’t use the same screen technology and I’m not sure if RIM are too proud of those devices. Things have moved on now and the Torch 9860 is running BlackBerry 7 and like its brothers, the Torch 9810 and Bold 9900 it is powered by a 1.2Ghz processor.

These new features bring a new experience to a BlackBerry, but is there a market for a BlackBerry without the well known hardware keyboard and is the Torch 9860 a worthy competitor to all the touch screen Android devices and the iPhone?

You will have to read on for my verdict.

 

What’s in the box?

  • Device
  • Battery
  • USB Cable
  • Plug
  • Headphones
  • Warranty/Quick Stat Guide

 

The ten second review:

  • Device: BlackBerry Torch 9860
  • Price: £414-£418 SIM Free
  • Summary: A feature packed BlackBerry offering a bright crisp touch screen.
  • Best of: Media, Multi-tasking, web browser.
  • Worst of: Gaming, not as many apps as other operating systems. On screen keyboard not as good as hardware one.
  • Buy it now: Clove or The Smartphone Centre

 

BlackBerry Torch 9860 Specification:

  • 2G: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
  • 3G: HSDPA 900 / 1700 / 2100
  • HSDPA 850 / 1900 / 2100 / 800
  • Dimensions: 120 x 62 x 11.5 mm
  • Weight: 135 g
  • Display: TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
  • Size: 480 x 800 pixels, 3.7 inches (~252 ppi pixel density)
  • Optical trackpad
  • Multi-touch input method
  • Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
  • Accelerometer sensor for auto-rotate
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Internal Memory: 4 GB storage, 768 MB RAM
  • microSD, up to 32GB
  • HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth: Yes, v2.1 with A2DP
  • microUSB v2.0
  • Camera: 5 MP, 2592?1944 pixels, autofocus
  • Camera Features: Geo-tagging, continuous auto-focus, image stabilization, face detection
  • Video Camera: 720P HD
  • CPU: 1.2 GHz processor
  • GPS: with A-GPS support
  • NFC support
  • Digital compass
  • Social feeds
  • BlackBerry maps
  • Documents to Go (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
  • Media player MP3/WMA/eAAC+/FlAC/OGG player
  • Video player DivX/XviD/MP4/WMV/H.263/H.264
  • Organizer
  • Voice memo/dial
  • Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 1230 mAh

 

 

General:

On the left side of the device is only the microUSB port.

BlackBerry Torch 9860 review- left

 

Over on the right is the convenience key, media/volume controls and headset jack.

Torch side

 

The screen lock button is located on top although it is flush with the plastic. The microphone and speaker grill can be found on the bottom.

Over on the back we find the camera lens and flash and of course the BlackBerry logo situated on the battery cover.

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Review:

For starters I am going to be honest and say this review is not going to be as long as in depth as most of the ones we do. Why you may ask. Well the reason is that out of all the new BlackBerry Smartphones to launch in the past couple of months I firmly believe that this one, the Torch 9860, will be the least popular. There is nothing wrong with it but it is a new form factor for RIM and we all know how much us BlackBerry users love a hardware keyboard.

The thought of using a touch only BlackBerry frankly scared me slightly. Half the reason I love using a BlackBerry is the wonderful hardware keyboard, so not having it on the Torch 9860 was really weird. That said, whatever phone you use, you do become accustomed to whichever input method and after a few days it does seem natural.

Hardware wise the Torch 9860 feels a well built piece if kit. With no moving parts like on the Torch 9800/9810 there are no creaks or squeaks and it feels pretty robust.

The back cover on the handset is made from metal and this certainly helps to make things feel more solid. Sure, it adds to the weight but I don’t mind that. From the front the whole phone is black in colour and looks good. Turning it onto its side reveals the silver bezel running all the way around the handset which gives it an air of bling and the silver compliments the gun metal battery cover. All in all a good looking device.

When it comes to feeling comfortable in the hand I found both good and bad. In portrait mode it doesn’t feel the best to be honest. I’m not totally sure why. Although height wise the Torch is about the same as the iPhone 4/4S I think the extra width and depth make it feel very slightly odd. However, in landscape it feels flaming awesome! RIM seem to have put the curves in just the right places and using two thumbs on the screen is grand. Luckily the screen is designed to rotate into landscape at every point from the home screen to all applications so using it this way may be preferable to some.

One thing I don’t like about the design of the Torch 9860 is the four hardware buttons on the front of the device. Don’t get me wrong, they work perfectly well but I don’t think they look great and the button design on the Bolds, Curves and even the Torch 9800/9810 are so much more attractive. A strange decision RIM.

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Of course we get the optical track pad that us BlackBerry users have now become so used to. I must say though that on the Torch 9860 I rarely used it.

The keys on the right side of the device are also not great. They are a lot thinner than on other BlackBerry models and no way as nice to press. Not a huge thing but worthy of a mention. The new Curve 9360 has these same buttons for media and convenience keys. They must be cheaper?

A BlackBerry would not be a BlackBerry without a LED notification light. Whenever you receive a notification this light will flash so even if the phone is on silent you can still see you have a message. You can download apps that will enable the light to flash a different colour depending on what kind of notification you have.

Finally the screen. What a beauty. Using 480 x 800 pixels, (~252 ppi pixel density) the the 3.7 inch screen is super crisp. Colours are bright and vivid. Top marks here RIM.

So lets turn our attention to the software. The Torch 9860 runs BlackBerry 7 and although the screen is a different size to the Bold 9900, Torch 9810 and Curve 9360 things are pretty much identical across the four devices.

So like we have seen before when we reviewed the Bold 9900 your home screen will be customizable in terms of how many icons you have on screen. You can have none, four, eight or even more. These icons can be moved around to enable you to have your most frequently used at the top therefore ensuring you can perform tasks as quickly as possible.

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As I mentioned earlier the home screen works in landscape orientation too so you can use whichever way suits you best.

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You can swipe the home screen left and right to reveal further screens where you can view your favorite apps, media and downloads. When BlackBerry 6 devices were launched a lot of people disliked this feature as using the trackpad often meant over shooting the icon you wanted and then ending up on the next page. Things are easier with a touch screen but you do have the option to disable these further screens or just have one or two of them.

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Touching the area of the home screen under the clock will show you your recent notifications much like Android and now iOS does. As well as messages you will also see calendar entries, Twitter, Facebook and more here. A quick way to have a look what’s happening without opening each individual app. A press of the individual notification will open it up full screen.

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Touching the very top of the home screen will allow you to manage your connections. Here you can set up Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and also delve deeper into other settings.

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Universal Search is a superb feature on BlackBerry.. The icon is located at the top right of the home screen and there are two ways of searching. The first is to simply type what is is you are looking for. The second is by voice and it works really well. Once you enter a word the BlackBerry will filter down any applications that may relate to that word. It also works if you are searching for people and this is the only way I look for contacts. Just start typing there name and voila, they appear.

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I am not going to waffle on about how great BBM is as we have done this before loads of times and most people know exactly what is it. What I will confirm though that it is the best instant messaging client on the planet. It wins hands down. As well as just sending text you can also send pictures, voice notes, video and with the bonus of having BBM groups you can create your own groups with select friends or family members. You just cant beat it!

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A quick look at the web browser on the Torch 9860. In the olden days browsing the web on a Blackberry was slow and laggy. Those days are now gone and the Torch does a sterling job.

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Zooming is achieved by either a double tap or by using pinch to zoom. It works beautifully. I may have said earlier that the 9860 may be the least popular BlackBerry 7 device but I must say that it provides the best browsing experience on any BlackBerry in my opinion.

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As you can see there are numerous options within the browser. One of my favorites is the fact that you can add a web page to the home screen. This means that for quick access to your favorite sites they are then just a simple click away. Nice.

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When it comes to social networking the BlackBerry has some fantastic native applications. Although there are other apps you can download I am a big fan of Twitter for BlackBerry. It is simple yet effective to use. Mentions and direct messages will be pushed to you so you will be notified instantly when someone gets in touch.

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The BlackBerry Torch handles Facbook with ease. Like Twitter, the application comes pre loaded on the device. As you can see from the menu you will be able to do most things you can on a desktop and of course when you get a message the BlackBerry will tell you.

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Facebook chat is part of the app so no need to install a 3rd party client. You can choose when to be online so you wont get disturbed when you don’t want to be. Although chat runs constantly in the background the list will auto refresh each time you open it. Then just tap the person you wish to chat to and off you go.

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This maybe a good time to mention the onscreen keyboard on the BlackBerry Torch 9860. Getting used to it takes some time and at first I found it a real struggle. As I said earlier,  you soon adjust and although I didn’t particularly like typing in portrait mode once in landscape it was wonderful. Clearly here the keyboard will be a lot bigger. Although you then loose some screen real estate for seeing what’s going on in the app it is a worth while sacrifice. Using two thumbs here like on a hardware keyboard worked well. The keys are responsive and after a bit of practice i was up to a decent speed.

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Numbers and symbols are accessed by tapping the icon in the bottom left corner of the screen. Having to do this does slow things down in comparison to a hardware keyboard but if you choose the Torch 9860 as your Smartphone it is no big deal. You still need to do this on the likes of the iPhone.

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When it comes to media the BlackBerry 9860 kicks butt! This has to be the real bonus of having this kind of form factor Blackberry. The music interface may not be the most glamorous but it performs well and the speakers generate a decent sound.

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Viewing photos on the device is mighty fine. Once you have selected a photo from the gallery you can then swipe left and right to view others. Sure, this is a common feature on most Smartphone’s but the Torch does it swiftly and with ease and the pictures look amazing.

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Once again you can pinch to zoom into the photos.

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When it comes to watching video the BlackBerry Torch 9860 beats all other BlackBerry’s hands down. Having the nice big screen is a huge benefit here and the video quality is pretty decent. Where RIM are let down is that there is not a video download store like on Android and iOS. It would be great to be able to rent or buy a movie for those long journeys. At the moment it is a case of transferring videos from computer to the phone, which is hassle.

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Onto the camera interface. It is typical BlackBerry with a simple number on onscreen tabs. Actually taking a picture can be done by either using the onscreen shutter key or by using the convenience key unless you have that set up to do another task.

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As you can see below there are options for different scenes if that’s your thing. I just tend to leave it in auto mode and it works just fine.

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So how does the 5MP camera perform. Pretty well to be honest. Both close up and at a distance the camera really captured the colours well. Just look at the beautiful blue sky in the samples below. Unlike the Bold 9900 the Torch has an auto focus camera which makes all the difference. Focusing and actually taking the snaps were quick and using the device as a camera threw up no problems for me at all.

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In terms of video capture the Torch records at a maxim of 720P HD which in this day is more than enough. The interface is just the same as the cameras and thanks to the nice big screen on the Torch it makes taking a video a pleasure. It is hard to say how it compares to other phones that also shoot at this resolution but I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

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Managing your calendar could not be easier with a BlackBerry.  Like on previous BlackBerry Smartphone’s you have various views available. These are day, week, month and agenda and the one you like the most you can set as the default one for when you open the application. As you would expect on a BlackBerry, once a calendar entry goes off you get a sound notification as well as an onscreen one (where you have the option to dismiss or snooze) and also the LED will flash. This ensures you wont miss an important reminder.

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Don’t forget that your BlackBerry also makes phone calls. As you would expect with a touch only device the dialer is big and easy to navigate. At the top of the screen are a couple of further tabs that allow quick access to your recent calls and also your contact list.

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Social Feeds is a feature we first saw on the BlackBerry Torch 9800. Essentially it combines various apps and notifications into one feed. The apps that are integrated can be seen in the screen shots below. In addition to those apps Social Feeds is also a RSS reader so you can add as many RSS feeds as you so desire. If you like to keep all your notifications in one place then Social Feeds is a must. You use the search option to find a feed and then the Torch will ask if you wish to subscribe. Within the settings you can select how often you wish the feeds to update and when a new one arrives it will be shown in a list as seen below. Pressing a particular feed will open the article full screen to allow you to read.

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Within the applications folder in the main menu you will discover a wide range of useful features including a couple of new ones.  Like on older devices we still get a Memo Pad, Tasks, a Calculator, Password Keeper, Voice Recorder and Voice Notes. All useful applications to help manage your life.

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With A-GPS built in you can use you BlackBerry for navigation. BlackBerry Maps comes pre-loaded on the 9860 or you can download Google Maps if you prefer. Now, although these maps will give you directions they are not a proper sat nav with voice guidance. You will need to buy a separate app to do that. These choices are rather slim for us UK users but they are out there. Remember though that if you are using GPS on your BlackBerry a lot it will drain the battery so an in car charger is always a safe bet.

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BlackBerry Protect is a ace application that will be pre loaded onto the device. To cut a long story short it will allow you to back up your contacts, calendar, sms, tasks etc daily via the cloud. If you loose your BlackBerry you will also be able to track it, message it and even wipe it remotely. You can see a demo video of it by clicking here.

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If you are looking for a Smartphone with great games you are barking up the wrong tree. Although there are loads of games in BlackBerry App World they are not nearly on par with the quality of iOS and Android so if you are a big gamer you may be a little disappointed.

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If the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is your first Smartphone then fear not as the device has a help option to get you on your way to setting the device up how you want it.  Within the setting there are numerous options for tweaking things. You can even change the text font and sizing, perfect for those who don’t have perfect eyesight.

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Conclusion:

Overall the BlackBerry Torch is a great Smartphone and performs well in virtually all areas. That said it is still a BlackBerry and the big question you need to ask yourself is that if you are getting a BlackBerry would you be better suited to one with a hardware keyboard.

I think the 9860 is perfect for those of you that use a lot of media such as watching videos and browsing photos as well as using the web. I am a big BlackBerry fan but I have to be honest and say that if the answer to the above is ‘yes’ then would you be better suited with an Android device or an iPhone? As far as I can see the only real advantage to using the Torch 9860 over other platforms is BBM.

 

Posted in: Phones, Reviews
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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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