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Blackberry Torch

Review RIM's second touchscreen
Fri Oct 01 2010, 14:22

Product Blackberry Torch
System Specifications 624MHz Marvell processor, 512MB RAM, Blackberry 6 OS, support for up to 32GB Micro SD card, 5 megapixel camera, 480x360 3.2-inch touchscreen, WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G, 111 x 62 x 14.6mm, 161.1g
Price From £35 per month on a 24-month contract

THE BLACKBERRY TORCH is RIM's first touchscreen, slide-out keypad device, and aims to offer the best of all worlds for smartphone users. Blackberry fans get a fancy touchscreen to try to outdo their Iphone and Android owning colleagues, while touchscreen fans get the addition of a physical keypad for heavy duty typing tasks.

blackberry-torch-sideThe 480x360 3.2-inch touchscreen is a vast improvement on RIM's previous effort with the Storm. The Torch retains the capacitive touchscreen but has lost the Surepress technology, which made a click sound for every press on the screen.

The Torch screen is much more comparable to leaders in the market for a touchscreen experience such as Apple and HTC. It was a smooth experience scrolling up and down, and side to side while browsing webpages, and the pinch to zoom worked well. It also requires a lighter touch than on the Storm.

You can also use the sideways swipe action in applications, such as messages, which lets you slide between emails, phone calls and instant messaging conversations - we enabled Google Chat on our test handset - and to scroll through your home screens.

RIM has included various home screen options: All, which features the standard apps such as email, SMS and social feeds, along with any downloaded apps; Favourites, where users can create and store icons for the web pages that they visit most or their most used contacts; Media, housing videos, pictures and music; Downloads, for all your App World apps; and Frequent, grouping together the 12 most used functions.

There are a range of text input options for the touchscreen: Qwerty in landscape mode, and Qwerty, Suretype and multi-tap in portrait mode. It's easy to switch between these, simply press the Blackberry key while composing a message and you'll be offered the option to enable full or reduced keyboard, or Suretype.

Typing on the Torch virtual keyboard was a bit fiddly as the keys are narrower than on other touchscreen devices. We found the best typing mode to be landscape Qwerty but it's useful to have the multi-tap and Suretype options, which might require more key presses but should result in less frequent mistakes.

The physical keypad is slightly against the grain of other slider phones. Sliding the touchscreen up in portrait mode to reveal the keypad is not the most natural of movements, although it has enabled RIM to engineer the Torch based on the Bold unit, the best Blackberry handset in our opinion.

blackberry-torch-frontFitting a Bold-style keypad into the Torch has meant the keypad is slightly narrower than on the most recent Bold model, at 54mm compared to 56mm. Even though it's a mere 2mm difference, we did notice it being that bit more awkward to type than on the regular Bold 9700 model. Those with chunky fingers might have problems with pressing incorrect keys - but then again, you can always revert to the touch screen in that case.

With the Blackberry 6 operating system update, RIM has gone big on social, building in apps to Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Youtube on the home screen - though there's no Linkedin app, which is strange for a favourite corporate device. There's also a Social Feeds application, which offers a feed of social network posts from sites such as Facebook and Twitter in one place, saving the user from having to visit each social app separately.

A universal search feature has also been added to let users carry out a search across every app and contact on their device.

We really liked the ability to add favourite webpages to your home screen, done really easily by clicking the browser icon at the top of any web page. This offers a choice of adding the site as a bookmark, favourite, or copying or sending the URL. Also featured is tabbed browsing, letting you open and scroll through multiple pages during a single browsing session.

The browsing experience still had a slight lag compared to other devices, with pages not quite as speedy to load up as I'm used to. This could partly be down to the addition of a 624MHz Marvell processor, compared to the 1GHz CPU included in models such as the Iphone 4 and HTC Desire.

We performed a very basic side by side test of the Torch and Iphone 4 for mobile browsing speed.

It was difficult to do an accurate comparison for The INQUIRER website, as the Iphone serves up the mobile version of the site, while the Torch offers the full version, which we'd expect to be slower. So we looked at the Spurs website instead, being a supporter of this great London football club, and found that over wireless the Iphone was speedier than the Torch on all page load tests.

Over 3G the Torch was considerably faster, although we did test these on different 3G networks - Vodafone for the Torch, and O2 for the Iphone, which has poor 3G capability from our previous experience.

Double tapping on a webpage reformats the text to fit the screen width, so users do not need to scroll from sideways, only up and down. However, the Torch display is not so crisp as those on other smartphones, which is down to its lower resolution, and you have to zoom in substantially before text is readable in normal format.

Video playback was quite speedy to load and fairly clear, but not up to the standard of devices such as the Iphone with its 960x640 resolution or Google's Android Nexus One at 480x800. RIM has also included a 5MP camera with flash and the ability to record video, although video calling is not possible.

The Torch has 512MB of onboard memory plus 4GB of built-in storage. You also get a 4GB media card, and it has support for microSD cards up to 32GB, allowing plenty of space for music and video files.

The handset measures 111 x 62 x 14.6mm and weighs 161.1g, which is slightly larger and heavier than other touchscreen-only or combo models such as the Iphone and Sony Ericsson Xperia X1.

Battery life is touted by RIM as 5.8 hours of talk time and 30 hours of playback. In our tests, which consisted of lightweight everyday use, mainly browsing and emailing rather than watching lots of video or listening to music, the battery lasted for a couple of days at a time, about what we'd expect.

For anyone interested in the biggest and best choice of applications, the Blackberry Torch isn't the phone for them. RIM's App World offers apps in the thousands, compared to the tens of thousands available to Android users and the hundreds of thousands on the Iphone App Store.

But Blackberry users tend to favour the business features such as corporate email synching and security over the ability to play Angry Birds.

In Short
The Torch is RIM's first touchscreen, slide-out keypad device, and is a marked improvement on the firm's previous touchscreen efforts. Many BlackBerry fans will love the Torch for its mobile browsing and social networking improvements, but it is unlikely to convert fans of touchscreen pioneers like Apple and Android. µ

The Good
Touchscreen plus keypad combination, integrated social and messaging feeds, swipe functionality, enhanced security for business users.

The bad
Low resolution screen, inferior app store.

The ugly
Weighty and bulky compared to similar devices.

Bartender's score:



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