After the release of the original Torch (which had a touchscreen and a sliding keypad underneath) it made sense for the RIM to finally release their own full touchscreen offering, the BlackBerry Torch 9860. The question now is this: does the BlackBerry Torch 9860 have enough features and appeal to break it out of the BlackBerry niche?
The Torch 9860 sports a large 3.7-inch 800 x 480 display, which is possibly the biggest screen the company has ever put on a device. The exterior of the 9860 eschews the boxy, corporate design of the previous BlackBerries and embraces the curved styling of its competitors. The 9860 has some serious curves, and as a result you get a better grip around it. Below the screen sits five buttons – call, menu, select (which also doubles as the optical trackpad), return and end.
On the right side of the 9860 sits the volume rocker, camera shortcut key and the 3.5mm jack. You unlock the device through the small unlock button on top, and charge it through the micro-USB slot on the left. There’s a 5 megapixel camera at the back, and a smaller, front facing camera near the top of the LCD.
Unlike other higher end smartphones currently out in the market, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is powered by a single core 1.2GHz processor that coincidentally also powers the company’s other high-end device, the Bold 9900. While it might look on paper that the BlackBerry Torch 9860 might be lacking in the number crunching department, it’s OS (simply named BlackBerry OS 7) is utilitarian enough in a sense that it doesn’t have flashy visual effects (or gimmicky features) that require loads of processing power. Additional hardware include the requisite Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 2.5 GB storage, 768 MB RAM, GPS and so on.
For the most part, BlackBerry OS 7 is pretty easy to use, especially since this is the first time I’ve actually managed to handle and review a BlackBerry device. You drag the menu bar up if you want to see your apps, settings and other accouterments, which you can actually sort via favorites, frequent and so on. A press of the BlackBerry icon lets you manage the panels and gives you other options when you’re in an application. The device lent to me had various apps pre-installed on it (Facebook, Twitter, the ever important BlackBerry messenger and so on) and you can always find more from BlackBerrie’s App World.
The 9860’s build quality is good, and the device had that nice, premium feel all over. The screen was responsive enough, and BlackBerry OS 7 was pretty straightforward to use that I never really felt lost when I was using the device. My initial worries about the single core processor was soon laid to rest – apps and different functions opened speedily enough, and though the 9860 stumbled a bit when it came to opening and displaying sites with extremely rich media, it managed to get by.
Probably my biggest complaint with it is ironically, one of the device’s supposed strengths – messaging. Don’t get me wrong, the 9860 is completely capable of sending out SMS, email and going on BlackBerry Messenger, but the on-screen keyboard is annoyingly small, and hard to use, especially to someone with big digits. RIM obviously wanted to stay true to the traditional layout of the physical BlackBerry keyboard that’s present on their other devices, but it seems that particular layout doesn’t quite fly with a touchscreen. Typing messages (especially with the device on portrait mode) is a chore, and god help you if you’re trying to compose a long reply. In contrast, virtual keyboards on WP7 and Android devices are much easier to type on.
You’d think that a premium-ish device like the Torch 9860 would at least have some kind of screen protection for the LCD, like Gorilla Glass protection or something. Unfortunately, that’s not an option with the Torch 9860, and the result is a scratched up screen. The demo unit lent to me spent a majority of its time with other phones (a low-end Nokia) and came out scratched after a couple of days. Compare this to other smartphones with Gorilla Glass protection that shared pocket space with keys, coins and other accouterments, and you’ll see why manufacturers need to have some level of screen protection for their products, especially all-touch devices.
And while you can get additional apps from the BlackBerry App World, the selection is pretty thin. If you’re the sort that likes a lot of variety and a large selection of apps, then you might be disappointed by the offerings in BlackBerry’s App World.
Call quality was excellent, and the 9860 did not have any trouble finding and holding a signal when calling, which obviously resulted in no drop calls and excellent call quality. Battery life was good, and unlike other smartphones in its class, the 9860 was able to retain a charge after a day and a half of moderate use – texting, calling, internet and the like.
It’s tough to recommend the Torch 9860 to non-BlackBerry users. It has a great screen, loads of connectivity and multiple messaging options, and the new BlackBerry OS 7 feels tight and focused, without any kind of gimmicks slowing it down. On the other hand, the hard to use virtual keyboard, dearth of apps and annoyingly easily scratched touchscreen mar the overall experience of using the device. While it might be a no-brainer upgrade for existing BlackBerry users, it might not impress the folks who are looking for their first touchscreen smartphone.
Easy to use
BlackBerry OS 7 is tight and focused, easy enough to pick up for new users
Long battery life
Virtual keyboard is frustratingly difficult to use
Not a lot of apps available
LCD is prone to scratches
While the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is definitely a viable upgrade for existing BlackBerry device users, first time smartphone users may not find it to their liking.
- Operating System: BlackBerry OS 7
- CPU: 1.2 GHz processor
- LCD size: 3.7-inch TFT capacitive touchscreen
- Physical Dimensions: 120 x 62 x 11.5 mm
- Weight: 135 g
- Band: HSDPA 850 / 1900 / 2100 / 800, GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- Internal memory: 2.5 GB storage, expandable up to 32GB