Phone and Internet
Reception is a bit above average among Sprint phones, and call quality is very good. The speaker is startlingly loud, full and clear. The phone works on Sprint's CDMA network with EV-DO Rev. A 3G, and it has a SIM card slot for GSM roaming abroad on 2G and 3G networks (AT&T and T-Mobile are blocked here in the US). The SIM card slot is beside the battery door, and Sprint includes a SIM card. The microSD card slot is beside the SIM card slot (Sprint includes a 4 gig card), and you need not remove the battery to swap the microSD card.
The phone lacks a mobile hotspot feature, so you won't be able to use it as a wireless modem over WiFi.
Now, the $64,000 question: how's the virtual keyboard. The Torch has the same on-screen keyboard as the BlackBerry PlayBook keyboard. It has square keys that use all possible screen real estate, and it's easy enough to use in landscape mode thanks to the end caps that turn into hand-holds. The screen is sensitive to input, so you barely need to hit the keys, and the phone did a good job of interpreting our input and making alternative suggestions. In portrait mode the keyboard is tight given the 3.7" display size and keyboard design. It's serviceable but not nearly as easy to use as it is in landscape mode. If you're a veteran BlackBerry user who types lots of texts and emails, it will take some time to adjust to the virtual keyboard. Is it worth it? Yes, if you frequently want to view full HTML web pages, Excel spreadsheets and videos.
The BlackBerry Torch 9850 uses the same 1230 mAh Lithium Ion battery as the Bold 9930. That's not a huge capacity battery, but RIM's focus on battery life over the years helped the relatively large screened smartphone last through the day on a charge with moderate to heavy use. WiFi usually drains smartphone batteries faster, but in the Torch 9850's case, we found the phone actually lasted a bit longer when WiFi was on and connected to our network.
The Torch has a 5 megapixel autofocus camera (vs. extended depth of field on the Bold 9900/9930 and Torch 9810). The camera takes sharp and colorful photos that compete well with other smartphones on the market. It can shoot 720p video as well, and uses autofocus for video as well as still shots. The Torch's photos look more natural than the Bold 9930's thanks to the autofocus lens.
The BlackBerry Torch 9850 comes with RIM's updated OS 7 apps including the latest version of BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) that integrates with other apps including the creepy-cool Wikitude AR browser. Social Feeds 2.0 provides the updates and notifications right at the top of the home screen that we've come to know and love. It works with messages, Facebook, Twitter, RSS and Podcasts. BlackBerry Maps is on board as is TeleNav, a full version of Documents To Go (create, view and edit MS Office docs), IM (Windows Live, Yahoo and Google Talk), BlackBerry Protect, Password Keeper and more. RIM's largely unchanged music player and video player are on board as well as their mobile YouTube app with upload capabilities. Sprint includes Sprint TV & Movies, Sprint Football Live, Sprint Radio, NASCAR, Amazon MP3 and Slacker Radio.
No doubt, the BlackBerry Torch 9850 is a lot of phone for $149 with contract. It has all the appeal of a BlackBerry minus the hardware keyboard, and we know that's a deal breaker for some of you (consider the BlackBerry Bold 9930 instead). But if you're willing to venture into virtual keyboard territory and covet the large touchscreens your iPhone and Android-toting friends enjoy, the Torch 9850 has its appeal. We doubt the phone will convert users from other platforms, but it's a step toward the touchscreen revolution for existing 'Berry owners. When RIM moves to QNX in 2012 (their brand new modern OS that's on the BlackBerry Playbook tablet), maybe we'll see a phone that will win over or win back Android and iPhone owners. Until 2012, the Torch 9850 is an elegantly designed phone that's made with quality materials. It has a sharp and colorful display, decent battery life and good call quality. And it's worlds better than the BlackBerry Storm series of smartphones.
Price: $149 with a 2 year contract
Websites: www.blackberry.com, www.sprint.com
Fall 2011 BlackBerry stack: the BlackBerry Bold 9930, BlackBerry Torch 9810 and the BlackBerry Torch 9850.