RIM's BlackBerry Torch 9800 is the company's answer not only to the iPhone 4 but to the growing legions of Android devices; from our first hands-on we're certainly impressed with the build quality. For the first time it's possible to have a touchscreen BlackBerry without sacrificing the hardware QWERTY keyboard, and as you'd expect from RIM that keyboard is one of the Torch's prime advantages. More first-impressions after the cut.
The Torch may be primarily plastic - with some chromed highlights like the fascia bezel - but it's high-quality and creak free. Some sliders, like the Palm Pre, show notable wiggle in their mechanism, but the Torch 9800 clicks open and closed neatly. Shut, it's smaller face-on than an iPhone 4 - helped by the 3.2-inch screen, which is compact and bright but short on pixels in comparison to rivals - though it's longer than the Apple smartphone when opened. Still, the balance in your hand is good, with the weight in the lower section and little feel that the smartphone might topple over while you thumb-type.
The touchscreen - which uses a capacitive panel - is responsive and, while RIM isn't talking CPU MHz, what's happening on-screen keeps up with your taps and swipes. Although RIM's presentation stuck primarily to consumer-centric functionality, the company's enterprise users should be satisfied with the keyboard response and the optical trackpad, as well as the overall business aesthetic of the device.
BlackBerry Torch Hands-on
As for BlackBerry 6, the updated OS is certainly an improvement on previous iterations, though arguably that wouldn't be too difficult to achieve. The homescreen is more usable, with stacks of icons rather than the traditional single row, and everything has been sized to suit finger-control. We'll have to spend more time with the OS to know how well the universal search, social networking aggregation and boosted media functionality hold up to everyday use, however.
Overall, though, there's a sense that the BlackBerry Torch 9800 would have been a sure-fire hit if it had been released twelve months ago. The hardware, while solid and likely reliable, pales in comparison to the current fashion for sizeable touchscreens running at high resolution, and the spec sheet in general fails to push ahead in any particular area. Given the state of the smartphone market, while the Torch is certainly sufficient to keep existing BlackBerry users within the RIM family, we're not convinced it's enough to cause Android and iPhone users to defect.
BlackBerry OS 6 User Experience demo