BlackBerry Torch 9810 review
The original Torch marked a new direction for RIM, a company well known for sticking to its guns and churning out minor variations on what are essentially very similar phones. Going down a new path with the Torch must have been quite tough for RIM as they're back a year later with a Torch which is basically identical to the original. Despite the 9810 looking just like the old one, it does seem that RIM have listened to reviews and customer feedback; they have rectified the main issues highlighted with the original Torch, namely the low screen resolution and the lag.
Does the new performance boost and OS make the Torch 2 a worthy successor to the 9800, and is it good enough for a seat in your pocket in 2011? Read the full review to see what we thought.
The 10 Second review:
- Product: BlackBerry Torch 9810
- Price: £372.00
- Summary: A worthy update to the 9800; a good compromise between touchscreen and keyboard design
- Best of: Performance, camera quality
- Worst of: Pricey and bulky
- Buy it now from: Clove
- Also consider: BlackBerry Bold 9900, Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini pro
What's in the box?
- Battery (F-S1)
- USB cable
- Wall charger
BlackBerry 9810 specification
- Radios: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900, GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA 14.4Mbps 850 / 1900 / 2100
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, UMA (carrier-dependent)
- Bluetooth v2.1 with A2DP
- Size: 111 x 62 x 14.6 mm (closed)
- Weight: 161 g
- Display: TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours, 480 x 640 pixels, 3.2 inches (~250 ppi pixel density)
- QWERTY keyboard
- Optical trackpad
- 8 GB storage, 768 MB RAM, card slot up to 32GB
- 5 MP camera, 2592?1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
Geo-tagging, continuous auto-focus, face detection, image stabilization, 720p video recording
- BlackBerry OS 7
- 1.2 GHz processor
- GPS with A-GPS support
- Digital compass
- Document viewer (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
- DivX/XviD/MP4/WMV/H.263/H.264 player
- Li-Ion Battery 1270 mAh
Starting from the top, you'll find a traditional button strip, with a lock button on the left and a mute button on the right. These buttons only need a very very small amount of pressure to press them. While I was using it, the phone was constantly waking accidentally in my pocket, wasting the battery and generally being a pain. Unless you're careful, I think you'll find yourself waking it up much more often than you intend to. The narrow opening in the middle is the speaker grill, which means that sound isn't muffled when your phone is sitting on a table.
On the left there's a lone micro USB port for syncing and charging, which is very poorly positioned. It means that when the phone is charging, the cable is very much in the way of your grip. It is possible to adjust your left hand grip to accommodate for it, but it makes typing very awkward. A much easier solution would be to move the port up higher like on the Bolds.
The right side is a bit busier. Here you'll find the headphone socket, a volume rocker, and a camera button. While this button can be customised to do almost anything in the settings, the fact that it has a two stage depression makes it ideal for the camera focus.
On the back you'll find a 5MP camera and LED flash, positioned in exactly the same way as the old Torch. The back cover has changed to a silver square pattern, but otherwise the design here remains much the same.
Flipping over to the front you'll find the earpiece, flanked by various sensors and of course the classic notification LED. At the bottom, there's the now standard optical trackpad and four buttons - menu, back, call and end. As for the screen, it remains at the same 3.2 inch size as the previous model, but with an up-rated resolution to 480x640 pixels.
- New OS7 and hardware is functional and super quick
- Bright, crisp display
- Camera photo quality
- BlackBerry keyboard
- Outdated and bulky design
- No NFC
- Sleep/wake key still too sensitive
- No front facing camera
For anyone who's familiar with last years Torch, the look and feel of the new 9810 won't be a surprise at all. It has the same form factor - a touchscreen with a slide out portrait qwerty keyboard - as the 9800. In fact, it's totally identical, except for the new battery cover and colour scheme. The battery cover has changed to a subtle silver plastic grid, while much of the exterior casing has also received the same lick of silver paint. I'd argue that the predecessor's rubbery lines were more functional as they provided extra grip on the phone, but the differences are marginal; in the end it comes down to personal taste whether the new silver suits your style.
Again, like last years model, the 9810 tips the scales at 161 grams. While that's certainly not amongst the heaviest phones, it does feel a touch heavy for its size. For those who like some heft to add to a quality feel, you'll like what's on offer here. The silver section around the edges of the screen and the button rocker on the top carries on from the 9800 and is made of metal, which makes the 9810 feel just as robust. The curves of the device does make it look a bit podgy, yet it also offers great ergonomics; typing and swiping is a breeze when there are rounded edges to wrap your fingers around.
Even though the original Torch was very popular, I personally don't feel that it's a good design to carry into 2011. With smartphones now becoming impressively thin and compact, the 9810 feels decidedly fat and chunky, given the relatively small screen size. That's not to say that the portrait slider is a bad idea - the fact that it's one of the few smartphones available in this form factor makes it unique. But at 62mm wide and almost 15mm thick it just doesn't feel like a competitive design with iPhones and Galaxy Nexuses (Nexuii?) - maybe it's just the keyboard's double chin.
The slider mechanism of the 9810 conforms to the usual high-quality BlackBerry standard - there's no Palm Pre-esque creaking in the slide whatsoever. One good thing, in this case, leads to another - the keyboard. You don't need to be a mobile tech addict to know that BlackBerries are famous for their excellent keyboards, and I can't think of a single example where that wasn't the case. Some could say that it's because all their keyboards are the same, but why 'fix' something that isn't broken? The keyboard found here carries over from last years model, and it's still one of the best keyboards you can type on. While the BlackBerry 9900 keyboard tops it out in size and comfort, this one is no bad 'board. The keys are big enough and have the trademark slope for minimal typos. Compared with the Bold line of keyboards, the Torch's keys feel quite different - they're stiffer, have a little less travel, and a little more 'click'. They are a little like a hybrid between the bouncy keys of the Bold line and the clicky keys of Curves. The bottom line is that all BlackBerry keyboards are excellent, including this one, but for truly the best and most comfortable hardware keyboard ever on a BlackBerry, check out the 9900.
The display of the 9810 has been updated from the previous model - one of the biggest complaints from the Torch 9800 was the low resolution screen. Fortunately RIM seems to have listened to feedback and have upped the screen resolution to 480x640. While this is no Retina Display, the smaller physical size means that it has a pixel density of around 250ppi (higher than phones with WVGA resolutions on a 4.3" display). What this means in practice is that images and text on the screen are much more crisp than on the previous Torch. It also means that you can see more of a webpage at a given level of zoom than before. Apart from crispness and clarity, the screen is also very bright, colourful, and responsive. The capacitive technology means you only need a light touch, and taps and swipes are registered instantaneously thanks to the much faster hardware and the new Liquid Graphics. Interestingly, the sensitivity of the screen did fall noticeably near the edges - a firmer tap is required, but it's no big deal.
The Torch runs a new version of the BlackBerry operating system, OS 7. The previous Torch launched with OS 6, which updated many of the UI elements to be a bit more modern, and of course, touchscreen friendly. With all the fancy screen transitions and more pixels, the 9800 was a bit sluggish. This time, RIM have paired the new 1.2GHz processor and 768MB of ram with something called 'Liquid Graphics'. RIM have been quite vague as to what this actually comprises of, but all that matters is the performance, and I'm happy to say that OS 7 and the much needed update to the hardware have resulted in a much more responsive phone. Virtually throughout my entire time with the 9810 it has been instantaneous everywhere in the OS. Responsiveness is better than most Android devices, and definitely on par with iOS. Good job RIM.
Firing up the phone does take a while on first boot, but this is because the battery wasn't inserted. After that, when you turn it off, boot up is virtually instant. If you do remove the battery though, a cold boot will take around 30 seconds - much faster than it used to on previous BlackBerries. Another thing to note for current BlackBerry users is that throughout my use, I didn't have to do a battery pull - OS 7 on the faster hardware means you won't see that infamous BlackBerry slowdown by the end of the day. Even with the new and improved performance, battery life hasn't taken a big hit. BlackBerries have always had longer lasting batteries than competition from Android or iOS, and I found that is still the case with the 9810. With very heavy use, it should still last throughout a full day, and with more frugal use (30 mins calling, a few hours of texting and other fiddling) you should see between two to three days.
The Torch 9810 is one of three (at the moment) devices which runs the new OS 7 - all three run identical software except for the screen resolution and sizes. The Torch 9810 is joined by the full-touch 9860, and also the classic candybar Bold 9900. James went to town (and back!) with a super in-depth look at OS 7, so take a gander here for the full lowdown.
The homescreen is one that's probably quite familiar to most BlackBerry users. You get the app menu at the bottom which can slide up and down to show one to four rows of app icons. A swipe up will reveal the full app list. The time and status bar display reveals some quick settings and options to turn on or off various wireless settings. The bar below that with all the notification icons brings a drop down bar where you can see and deal with all of your notifications. The icon to the left of that bar allows you to change and customise sound profiles - much better and much more powerful than a simple mute switch. Sliding up the keyboard and typing will automatically open the universal search, a feature introduced in OS 6. It indexes all your content from emails to mp3s, and also lets you extend your search through various internet sites.
All modern smartphones have one portal or another to download and install third party applications. iOS has the App Store, Android has the App Market, and BlackBerries have the App World. Despite an entire world being bigger than any market or store I've ever heard of, the App World doesn't have nearly as many apps, and the prices are usually a bit more. However, there are more and more quality apps being added all the time and we all know that for apps, quality is better than quantity. The actual application is pretty good too. There's a handy search bar at the top of the first splash page, and links to games, apps, my world,and payment options. Finding some decent apps won't take long, especially if you use the sorting options such as Top paid or free, and take a look at some of the reviews and ratings. Downloading is quite fast and simple too, with the occasional hourglass 'working' icon rearing its head. What is annoying though is having to restart the phone after installing applications. And that's not just a turn off/turn on either - its a full restart from boot. Hopefully the next update to the App World will enable installation of apps without a full restart after each one.
The OS 6 update to BlackBerries was the first to introduce the new and improved internet browser, which was a breath of fresh air after the dismal browsers that featured on OS 5 and older devices such as the Curve 8520. While we gave praise to the new internet browser in OS 6, it was clear that the hardware was still not quite up to the challenge. Now, with the 9810's 1.2GHz processor and more ram, the browser is as good as the other browsers on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 7. Pages load and render very quickly on the 9810 - if you're coming from an older BlackBerry, the difference will be night and day. While users from other smartphone platforms won't feel much of a change, the fact that this is just as fast as competing OSes means that internet browsing isn't a compromise like it used when using a BlackBerry.
The browser of course works in both landscape and portrait, and it's very responsive to switch between the two. However, it doesn't have an orientation lock; the only way to lock it in portrait is to slide the keyboard out, and there is no way (as far as I could find) to lock the screen in landscape for videos or browsing while lying down. Tabbing browsing is alive and well here though, and opening multiple tabs didn't cause havoc like it used to on older devices with OS 6. The higher screen resolution of the 9810 compared with the 9800 means that you can see more of a webpage, and text is more crisp. Scrolling can be done either in the usual way with your thumb or with the trackpad which makes it easy to scroll without your fingers getting in the way of the screen. It's still not really possible to read small text from zoomed out like on higher density screens, but why do that when you have super responsive pinch to zoom too?
BlackBerrys, being primarily business devices, don't always have decent snappers (if at all) and so it's refreshing to find that the 9810 is equipped with a very nice 5MP camera. This is an area which it beats the flagship 9900 - for some reason, the 9900 doesn't have real autofocus, only Extended depth of field (which is definitely not as good). The camera interface may not be very flashy, but it definitely does the job. As you'd expect, most of the screen acts as the viewfinder. Along the bottom of the screen, there are shortcuts to your camera pictures, GPS tagging, flash mode, and focus mode. Of course there is also an onscreen camera shutter, but the 9810 has a dedicated camera button on the right hand side (which can also be set to activate the camera app) and you have a third option of using the trackpad as a camera shutter button. Pressing the menu button brings up more options for scene modes, image resolution, and more camera options.
Real autofocus goes a long way (vs. EDoF or fixed focus) and it shows in the photos. On the whole, the camera performed really well - autofocussing was quick, and the flash is extremely bright. Judge them for yourselves below.
Of course BlackBerries aren't popular for their picture snapping abilities - it's messaging that BlackBerries excel at, and the Torch does it all too. The 9810 will handle basically every email account you can throw at it with ease, and true to BlackBerry reputation, emails are pushed instantly to your phone (when BIS isn't down anyway). You can view your messages as one unified message inbox (which can include text messages and BBMs and everything else) or you can view each inbox separately. Adding contacts is also very easy, and there are loads of fields you can enter details into. Even if you somehow want to enter information that doesn't already have a catagory such as number or company, you can create your own, or add it to the contact's notes.
The Calendar also works very well on the 9810, in much the same way as any other BlackBerry. Entering an appointment into the diary takes seconds - you just press on the time you want and then add the text. You also have options to amend the time and date of the appointment as well as the reminder options. You can add notes to the entry as well as invite a friend who will be notified via email and once accepted the diary entry will then be shown in their calendar too. The calendar will sync with various PC and Mac applications such as Outlook so you can work on your computer and then sync the calendar entries over to your BlackBerry. Like on previous BlackBerries 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. All the alerts can be customised to your liking too, from the number of vibrations to the volume of the alert.
BlackBerries may be business devices, but social networking has hit in a big way and BlackBerry have not let it pass. Every major social network (bar Google+) has an app on the BlackBerry, my favourite of which is Twitter. If you are a Twitter user then you have a selection of Twitter apps you download from App World. RIM's own Twitter for BlackBerry app comes pre-loaded on the 9810 and it is my Twitter app of choice. The killer feature with it is push notifications. If you get a mention or direct message you do not have to wait for the app to sync; you will get the notification instantly allowing you to respond to messages in real time. Navigating around the features on screen is now easier with the touch screen. It just makes opening a particular feature on the app that little bit quicker.
Social Feeds is a feature we first saw on the BlackBerry Torch 9800. Essentially it combines various apps and notifications into one feed. 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 it 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.
When the BlackBerry Torch hit last year, it caused quite a stir. It was an entirely new direction for RIM in terms of form factor, and that doesn't happen often for the company. As a result, there was big media hype about it, especially as many had been crying out for a combination of a touchscreen and BlackBerry's frankly awesome keyboards. While the 9810 is quite a big step up, it was overshadowed by the attention of the Bold 9900, a top notch phone in it's own right. Even though it may not have had the same amount of attention, it doesn't mean that it's not as good. The 9810 plays safe with the same form factor as last years Torch, yet beefing up the internal hardware and the screen. This allows it to perform much better than pre-OS 7 devices, but it's hard not to think about what would have happened if this was the first Torch - I am almost certain that it would have been an absolutely huge hit.
Whether the 9810 is recommended depends on who you are. If you are coming from the previous Torch, and you liked it but wished it was faster, the 9810 is for you, you won't be disappointed. If you're a media junkie but still want to get your BBM on, then the 9860 may be better suited thanks to it's larger and higher resolution widescreen. If you're new to BlackBerry or new to smartphones altogether and looking for the best BlackBerry (or even smartphone) yet, I'm afraid you won't find it here. Add 90 to the model number and you'll find the best BlackBerry, but the 9810 sure does give it a run for its money.
Review by: Vince