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BlackBerry Torch 9800 - First Looks Review

Research In Motion launched their first ever BlackBerry Torch slider handset last week at an event in New York on the AT&T network, where RIM held a similar event in the UK in which One Mobile Ring attended.

We managed to spend a good deal of time with the BlackBerry Torch 9800 at the launch event, whilst at the same time obtained a detailed briefing from RIM in order to provide a first looks review of the device from our experiences alone.

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is a full capacitive touch screen handset, with a physical Qwerty keyboard that slides out vertically in the same way as the Palm Pre Plus also functions. The keyboard has the look and feel of the same one accompanying the latest Bold 9700 handset. It has curved rows of keys and fairly identical size, where the sliding out process to expose the keyboard is very smooth and feels similar to the way the Pre Plus also operates.

The Torch stands 4.37-inches tall or 5.83-inches when opened, where their BlackBerry Storm 2 as a comparison is just 4.43-inches tall. Both devices have the same width of 62mm, where the 9800 is 14.6mm thick and the Storm 2 is slightly thinner at 13.9mm. It's a comfortable BlackBerry to use, with the width providing a good size for holding and also typing upon with a very similar feel to the Storm 2 only with the physical keyboard of the 9700.

BlackBerry Torch's 3.2-inch 480x360 capacitive touch screen has the same size display as that Storm 2 handset, where instead of pushing the screen inwards to action a task - the touch screen now operates in the same way as every other touch screen device. We found this is a much more preferable way of operating a phone than the way the Storms work. This venture for RIM could attract more buyers that were put off with the Storm phones and even lure those who didn't make the leap to its sequel.

The touch screen is very responsive and handles touch requests fairly well, where in the time we used the device we never saw a misinterpreted incident. Its new operating system really takes advantage of the new screen and in a way the previous OS never could, nor could any other RIM platforms. The colours and images on the Torch 9800 are the sharpest we've seen on a BlackBerry handset, with one of the highest reported DPI on any of their phones.

The slide-out keyboard does appear to be a fairly exact replica to the one that accompanies the Bold 9700, if compared side by side most people would be hard pushed to tell any differences. Besides the keyboard that's easy and familiar to use, the call, menu, optical touchpad and end call button have also been brought across from the 9700 and the Curve 8250 which stamps home continuity within the brand and entire range as a whole.

RIM's Torch runs with 512MB of RAM, where in the past BlackBerry's have only reached the lofty heights of 256MB. Applications now respond faster as a result, with better multitasking possibilities and switching between the apps. The native storage has also reached new heights as there is now 4GB built into the phone, with a further 4GB microSD card bundled in as part and parcel of the shipping product.

Other notable hardware implementations on the 9800 come from the WIFI 802.11n specification, which has only been seen before in the Pearl 3G where the phone also has Tri-band UMTS and Quad-band GSM connectivity. The camera in the Torch 9800 is of the 5 megapixel variety - the highest MP count in any BlackBerry to date, where other phone manufactures have hit 12MP and are still pushing the boundaries.

At the heart of the new BlackBerry slider phone is the new operating system - the BlackBerry 6 OS. The new user interface is very touch screen centric, where RIM has certainly taken note of Android and other touch screen based operating systems with the way they function. Research In Motion has almost taken the best of those worlds and included them in the new platform, with elements of a traditional BlackBerry UI.

The home screen on the BlackBerry 6 OS has the same initial look to version 5, with a few quick access icons to applications at the base of the screen. Instead of pressing the physical BlackBerry icon menu button to see all the applications - the quick access icon bar can be swiped up the screen, to show all the software on the phone. The screen can then be swiped across to the left, to show the individual category's of the apps, favourites and weblinks in a similar way to other touch screen handsets. The icon bar at the top of the screen shows notifications, which can be simply touched upon to show all the new messages in a fast, friendly and easy manor. All of which is very unlike the BlackBerry business centric operating systems of the past and much more like Android than anything else.

The new universal search tool is one of the most notable inclusions in the BlackBerry 6 OS. The search tool can be run from anywhere by typing on the keyboard, and not even in a specific application. The search is performed on the fly when typing, then brings back results not only relating to emails, IM's, text messages, but also music, RSS feeds and even from social networking sites. It's fast and the results are very thoroughly, where the task we found takes little time in running.

Lastly, the web browser has been greatly improved in this version of the BlackBerry OS. RIM acquired a company called Torch Mobile in 2009, for their webkit web browser technology. Incidentally, it's where the name of this new BlackBerry handset originates, as it's their first device to show the fruits of that acquisition. Torch previously developed the Iris browser for Windows Mobile devices, where the switch to BlackBerry handsets have brought in pinch-to-zoon-in abilities and an altogether much better browsing experience on the handset - as compared with past BlackBerrys.

The Bottom Line

From the outset, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 does appear to be the best of both worlds - a touch screen device and also a handset with an actual physical Qwerty keyboard. It does appear as if the Storm2 and BlackBerry Bold 9700 have visited a chop-shop and the Torch 9800 is the result.

We're glad RIM has switched from the push-in-screen-to-action-a-task touch screen display of the Storm handsets, as the 9800 now works much better than any of those two previous devices. The Qwerty keyboard is a little on the small side for our liking, although the learning curve and adjustment process was nothing like what was seen with the Storm phones touch screens - we were used to the actual physical keyboard in no time at all.

The OS is a vast improvement over any RIM platform we've seen before, with a very consumer friendly feel along with managing to still retain the business elements needed to succeed elsewhere. Over all, we were fairly impressed with the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and we're keen to see if it wins over BlackBerry keyboard based users and also those who have come from a traditional touch screen environment.

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