BlackBerry Torch Hands-on: What We Like, What We Don’t

The pressure is on for RIM, and the Torch could be viewed as a make-or-break device for the company. Yes, the BlackBerry brand is still riding relatively high, but an increasing number of smart phone shoppers say they want iOS or Android. What the Torch needs to do is get those wandering eyes back. We spent a good 20 minutes with RIM’s new slider, which features the latest BlackBerry 6 OS, and came away with mixed feelings about its new flagship phone. There’s a lot to like about the Torch, including the much-needed interface makeover, better media capabilities, social feeds, souped up browser, and other goodies. But the slider also has its fair share of shortcomings.

We’ll be bringing you our full review soon, but in the meantime we wanted to summarize our early impressions. Check out our hands-on video, pros and cons, and the gallery and tell us what you think. Is the BlackBerry Torch good enough?

What We Like

  • Improved UI: BlackBerry 6 brings a new notifications window you can launch with a tap, where you can see upcoming appointments, incoming messages, social networking updates, and more. It feels a little cleaner and more organized than the Android OS. Swiping to the right lets you see favorite apps, and you’ll see other screens (for media, downloads, etc) as you continue to swipe.
  • Premium Design:We really like the fit and finish of the Torch, from the smooth sliding mechanism to the dark chrome accents. The optical trackpad also worked well.
  • Universal Search: Yes, we know that RIM borrowed this idea from webOS, but so far the execution of this feature looks pretty solid, with the ability to scan folders, apps, e-mail, and more on the Web. We especially like the integration with third-party apps, like Slacker.
  • Social Feeds: If Motoblur and other Android widgets make your head spin, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of this app, which integrates Facebook, Twitter, and more in a single feed that looks like an inbox. Swiping to the right allows you to add RSS feeds.
  • Much Better Browser: Based on WebKit, BlackBerry is back in the game with this browser, which supports pinch to zoom and an intuitive tab interface that lets you switch between tabs and add more without leaving the page you’re viewing. (However, it didn’t feel very fast. See “What We Don’t Like”)
  • Good on-screen keyboard: Despite the fact that the Torch sports a small 3.2-inch display, we found the onscreen keyboard to be fast and accurate. Plus, you don’t have to deal with any annoying SurePress feedback that the Storm series had. It just works. In fact, at least based on our initial impressions, we prefer the on-screen keyboard to the physical one.
  • Enhanced Multimedia Experience: RIM really stepped up to the plate in this category, refreshing its music player UI while adding a host of premium apps, including PrimeTime2Go for downloading shows. Photo management is made easier with folders and the ability to select multiple images simultaneoulsy.

What We Don’t Like

  • Performance a Bit Sluggish: To be fair, the devices we played with weren’t quite final, but we did notice a fair bit of lag when switching between screens in the main menu and when zooming in and out in the browser (at least while the page was still loading). There’s a 624-MHz Marvell ARM 11 processor under the hood.
  • Relatively Small, Low-Res Display: In the age of superphones with 4- and 4.3-inch screens with 800 x 480 resolutions, a 3.2-inch LCD with 480 x 360 pixels might not cut it for some. This is really a matter of personal taste, but you definitely notice the smaller size when web surfing.
  • Physical Keyboard Not That Great: The fact that it’s a toss up for us as to whether we prefer the Pre Plus’ keyboard or the one on the Torch isn’t the best sign. Maybe it’s the case that the Torch’s QWERTY will feel better once we break it in, but at first we thought it was a little flat and stiff.
  • VGA Video Recording: The iPhone 3GS had VGA recording last summer, and now the iPhone 4 and a host of other Android phones do 720p video. So why does the Torch record only VGA clips? That’s kind of weak for a $199 smart phone these days.
  • Still Lacking High-Quality Games and Killer Apps Noticeably absent from today’s launch were any demos of high-octane¬† games. Granted, webOS showed off some pretty cool titles and that wasn’t enough to move the needle, but App World could really use some 3D eye cany, assuming the hardware can handle it.

BlackBerry Torch Outlook

Based on our early impressions, RIM has probably done enough to keep a fair share of BlackBerry loyalists around, but we’re not convinced the combination of the Torch hardware and the new BlackBerry 6 OS will keep those already interested in devices like the Evo 4G, Droid X, Captivate, and iPhone 4 from thinking twice. We may change our mind though once we’ve done our full review. Stay tuned.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. rahul Says:

    I believe the Marvell chip being used is not ARM11 but rather a variant of ARM9 and is slower than ARM11 of similar clock. Further, the GPU can only OpenGL ES 1.1 whereas nearly all top phones (iphone 4, 3GS, droid, droid X, nexus one etc) are OpenGL ES 2.0 compliant. For gaming, the Marvell chip will not be able to support graphically intense games.

  2. SAGuy Says:

    I think the real question is whether the Torch will satisfy devoted Blackberry users who love the real strength of the BB, enterprise integration. We have wanted a bigger screen and both a virtual and regular keyboard, plus a better browser and touch.

    Sounds like they have hit the mark with BB 6 OS and the Torch, assuming they did not screw up the BB interaction with Enterprise mail, calendar, etc.

    I guess it is to much to hope that a great Android phone could completely integrate with Exchange.

  3. Steven LeGall Says:

    I don’t get my messages while the phone is charging. what can i do to chage this?

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