RESEARCH IN MOTION launched its much anticipated Blackberry Torch model 9800 that is both a slider and touchscreen handset this week in its latest bid to crack the touchscreen market.
The INQUIRER went along to the UK launch event in London and managed to get a quick hands-on with the handset. Our first impressions are that for Blackberry fans it's a decent alternative to current models but it's not going to tempt any Iphone or Android fans away from their beloved smartphones.
Most smartphone vendors have shied away from going down the route of developing a touchscreen and slide-out keypad combo, and for those that have tried it such as Sony Ericsson with the Vivaz Pro, the results haven't been that successful. RIM made an initial foray into the touchscreen market with the Storm, but has continued its efforts by launching its own combo model.
The Torch's 480x360 3.2-inch touchscreen is a vast improvement on its 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.
I found the touchscreen on the Storm models to be difficult to use, needing to press down quite hard on the screen or press twice to type or access applications, and then often accidentally opening the wrong application or typing the wrong character through hitting the wrong key.
From my initial experience of the Torch, the screen is now much more comparable to the 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 the Storm.
RIM has included a favourites screen, where users can create icons for any webpages that they visit most. The device can also house a huge range of apps on the home screens, which can be scrolled through, as is standard with many touchscreen models.
However, 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 seeing. This was not expected, as RIM made a big deal of the new Webkit browser during its launch presentation. Perhaps it's not helped by the use of a 624MHz Marvell processor, compared to the 1GHz processors included in models such as the Iphone 4 and HTC Desire.
Torch users get a range of text input options: full Qwerty, Suretype and multi-tap in portrait mode, and Qwerty in landscape mode. And, for those times when you're typing a long email it's handy to be able to slide open the touchscreen to use the physical keypad.
But that physical keypad comes with a price. The Torch feels quite chunky and weighty, especially compared to other available handsets.
The handset measures 111 x 62 x 14.6mm and weighs 161.1g. Compare this to the slimline Iphone 4's 115.2 x 59.6 x 9.3mm dimensions and 137g weight, and another touchscreen with slide-out keypad combo, Sony Ericsson's Xperia X1, at 110.5 x 52.6 x 17mm and 145g.
So while smartphone buyers will expect some increase in size and weight for the slide-out keypad, they might not be prepared to shell out for the Torch when it compares badly to competing models in the same category.
At the launch event, RIM was keenest to show off the social and multimedia features. We didn't really get to try out the new social media functions during our quick hands-on, but from our initial look it's a useful addition to the Blackberry, pulling all feeds from your contacts and social notworking applications into one place.
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, but video calling hasn't yet been added.
We'll be posting a full review of the Torch shortly. µ