Another year, another BlackBerry Torch on AT&T. Though the new model looks quite similar to the outgoing Torch 9800, it sports a lot of improvements under the hood. Instead of a dated 624MHz XScale CPU, we have a 1.2GHz CPU, and we've got a new OS, BlackBerry 7, that cuts the bloat and improves on web browsing. The display still measures 3.2", but the resolution is higher at VGA 640 x 480 for a very sharp 253dpi pixel density. That means sharper looking photos and videos, but also plenty of zooming to make text readable in the web browser.
The Torch 9810 has a 5 megapixel camera that can shoot 720p video, and quality is improved over the original Torch. The phone has WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, a GPS and 8 gigs of internal storage plus a microSD card slot. It's triband HSPA+ 4G for significantly faster data speeds, and that's a good thing since the web browser now works well with desktop full HTML sites and streams video nicely.
As with the original Torch, the QWERTY keyboard is very good, but cramped. It's also slightly awkward to access given the slider design. But that slider affords a larger display vs. the 2.8" Bold 9900, so we can't complain too much. The slider mechanism is absolutely rock solid, and the Torch 9810 looks and feels like a high end, well made phone. Our only aesthetic complaint is the cheesy silver plastic back cover with it's embossed fine grid pattern. The side volume keys, convenience key and top plate with mute and lock controls are rugged and good looking.
Voice quality is good and reception is superb. RIM really knows how to make a voice phone, and a phone with exceptionally good GSM reception. This is RIM's first HSPA+ smartphone for the US, and we found that web pages downloaded quickly, as did email attachments over AT&T's network. Applications take a long time to download, but that's par for the course with BlackBerry App World.
Here's the not so rosy part; BlackBerry OS 7 feels and looks almost like OS 6. That's good for those who hate learning something new, but it also means the OS looks, feels and is dated. This makes OS 7 and the fall 2011 BlackBerry touchscreen smartphones feel like a stopgap measure until RIM gets real and releases phones with the all new QNX OS, the same OS used on the very modern and enjoyable BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. Will the Torch 9810 be upgradable to QNX? RIM hasn't indicated that this will be the case.
RIM's multimedia apps are pleasing, and the sharp display and excellent speaker make for good music and video experiences. The photo viewer is fast, supports pinch zooming and swiping to advance through photos-- good enough in our book. The phone handles AT&T Live TV and YouTube mobile playback well.
The Torch has the horsepower to support 3D gaming, though the selection of 3D games isn't there. And that brings us back to BlackBerry App World; it's still a non-starter. Yes, you'll find the basic staples that are popular on other platforms such as the B&N Nook ebook reader app (visually, its like reading a raw text file though), Flixster Movies, The Weather Channel and Foursquare. But beyond the basics, there's not much to see here, and the prices tend to be higher than the iTunes app store and the Android Market.
While we're on the subject of software, the included Wikitude is an augmented reality app that's both very cool and very creepy. Run it and it will launch the camera app and show you bubbles indicating BBM users close by, YouTube video created by those in your neighborhood, Flickr photos uploaded by your neighbors and more. It's entertaining and impressive, but it makes my skin crawl when I think of privacy issues. YouTube and Flickr uploads are products in the virtual world, and no one expects that you'll be able to track down someone's home or work location with frightening accuracy based on their online uploads. And it can make social interaction awkward with your neighbor after you've seen his all too revealing home videos on YouTube (TMI).
If you're an original Torch owner and you enjoy that phone, the Torch 9810 is a sweet upgrade that brings much faster performance while keeping battery life the same. The higher resolution display, faster data connection and refreshed OS add to the pleasure, and the solid build quality improves on the old Torch. The price can't be beat with a 2 year contract, though Torch 9800 owners likely won't quality for new contract pricing since the first Torch came out just a year ago. I bought the original Torch when it first came out, and was a Bold 9000 owner before that. But BlackBerry OS has fallen behind, and OS 7 doesn't do enough to remedy this. If you're dedicated to BlackBerry, the Torch 9810 is a fine phone at a great price, but it won't steal users away from Android or the iPhone by any means.
Display:3.2" capacitive touch screen. 24 bit color, VGA 640 x 480 resolution.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:1.2GHz CPU, 768 megs of RAM and 8 gigs internal flash storage.
x 2.44 x 0.57 inches. Weight: 5.68 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band world phone with HSPA+ 14.4Mbps on the 850/1900/2100MHz bands.
Camera:5.0 megapixel camera with extended depth of field lens and LED flash. Can shoot 720p video and can upload directly to YouTube.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.
Software:BlackBerry OS 7. BBM 6, web browser, email, text messaging, AT&T Navigator, BlackBerry Maps, AT&T Live TV powered by MobiTV, AT&T App Center, AT&T Music, AT&T Code Scanner, Wikitude AR browser, Slacker Radio, Visual Voice Mail, Podcasts, Yellow Pages Mobile, voice notes, voice dialing, calculator, Memo Pad, Tasks, Compass, Documents to Go full version, BlackBerry Protect, Password Keeper, Facebook, Twitter, Social Feeds 2.0 and more.