We've had the BlackBerry Torch 9800 for ATT in house for two days, and I have to say that I like it. Will I get flamed by fellow reviewers who were ho-hum on RIM's first combo touch screen and hardware QWERTY phone? Maybe, but who cares.
The Torch will be available in stores this Thursday for $199 with contract and $499 with no contract extension. The Torch is RIM's first capacitive touch screen phone. Gone is the maddening moving SurePress display and instead we have a 3.2" multi-touch display that works similarly to the iPhone and Android smartphones. The resolution is 360 x 480, and that's garnered some complaints, but I find that the resolution is appropriate to the screen size and text is readable. Text was a wee bit tiny on the smaller screened Bold 9700 while the Torch is just right. The display is extremely sharp and videos look great on it.
The Torch 9800 is built like a tank and my guess is that it would survive a few drops no problem. The sides are rubbery and the volume and convenience key are rubberized. The back has a ribbed soft touch finish that looks cool and helps keep the phone in hand. I do wish that RIM would come up with something as novel and high-end chic as the original Bold 9000's faux leather back though. Looks do count, even for business users.
RIM is a smart company. They know they're not going to beat the iPhone at its game. That's just not their market. Rather than going down the Microsoft road with the Kin (and from what we've seen on the Net, Windows Phone 7) and sort of copying the iPhone's functionality from 2007, they've stuck with what made them winners and what sets them apart from the iPhone and Android. One-handed ease of use, myriad phone and messaging conveniences like push email, a ringer silencer on the top of the phone, hardware keyboard, great reception and call quality, super security and a durable design. Things a business user wants, and heck-- things even everyday users could appreciate.
Sure the Torch has a good video player and a very nice music player. Yes, it's got a mobile YouTube player app and MobiTV. It does multimedia just fine. The camera takes really nice shots and you can upload video to YouTube. But it's not that consumer-oriented bag of fun and freebee downloads that is Android and the iPhone. There are no widgets, fart apps (I confess I didn't look too hard for one on RIM's relatively small App World) or 3D games since there's no 3D API. For pure fun, I'd chose the iPhone first and Android second as personal entertainment devices. But for push email from a variety of account types, solid calling, security (much to the dismay of some governments) and a great keyboard, the Berry is still a go-to device. Especially since Windows Mobile has seemingly lost the business market and left it all to RIM.
With the BlackBerry Storm and Storm 2, RIM cobbled touch screen functionality onto BlackBerry OS 5 and it was never a pretty thing. The UI just wasn't designed for touch and somehow touch underscored how dated the UI was (menus within menus, inscrutable system settings). RIM has done a wonderful job of moving the BlackBerry OS into the present. The UI is very intuitive and consistent. Most functions are immediately available when you press the BlackBerry key to bring up an app's menu and you no longer wade through arcane settings. The home screen, though not flashy, is a work of user interface genius. Everything is there! There's simply no need for 3rd party themes now that you can access apps, messages, social networking feeds, RSS and important phone settings with a tap on the home screen. We'll show you this in depth when we post our video review later today.
So I'm not ready to call BlackBerry dead. In fact, RIM has moved the BlackBerry platform into modern times, and done so with finesse. This is not a killer superphone with a mega-huge display, very short battery life and a top speed CPU. It's a pocketable, lasts all day smartphone that's pleasant and easy to use. It does email, IM, texting and calling better on the whole than any other smartphone platform. The hardware specs are mid-range but they're certainly adequate to provide a good experience (OK, I wouldn't mind a faster CPU). BlackBerry still does business phone better than anyone else, and now it's actually a fun phone to use.