So what's this high-end slider got to offer? According to RIM, it's as good at multimedia as it is communication, but will it find as much favour with the general public as with the manufacturer's traditional fans in the business world?
Hardware and usability
As soon as you pick it up, you realise that this is a big phone. At 160 g on the scales, it's not a light handset, or a particular slim one either, but that's the price you have to pay for a physical keyboard The weight makes it feel solid, and it's perfectly well made, as long as you don't mind your phone being all plastic.
These generally positive first impressions are dashed as soon as you slide open the screen. You have to push hard with your thumb to get to the physical keyboard, and we would have preferred something a little smoother. And once it's open, there's a slight wobble between the two halves. It's not unlike the problems we found on the Nokia N95, another smartphone that has a touchscreen and a physical keyboard. Apart from that, though, the finish is generally good.
The back of the phone has a rubber exterior, which feels nice and prevents it from slipping out of your hand even if you've been holding it for a long time. One bad decision is the location of the 3.5 mm headphone jack: why isn't it on the top? It's not much use having it on the side when you have the phone in your pocket.
The 'small' 3.2'' capacitative touchscreen actually turned out to be quite usable. It's responsive enough, though a resolution of 480 x 360 pixels really pales into insignificance compared with the 960 x 640 on the iPhone 4 or the 800 x 480 on the Samsung Galaxy S. The contrast ratio of 1150:1 is excellent, and it's as responsive as the iPhone 4's display, although it doesn't reproduce colours accurately.
Let's turn now to the BlackBerry's legendary keyboard, which has been a key ingredient in RIM's success. The version that's included on the Torch is quite squashed, but is nevertheless decent, for the keys in the centre at least. Those situated around the outside are harder to reach because the keyboard is is quite deep and the curved bottom edge of the top half of the phone makes it hard to reach the buttons on the third and final rows.
On the screen, the virtual keyboard with predictive text works well, and we found ourselves using it more than the physical keyboard, even for longer messages.
Interface and navigation
Version 6 of BlackBerry OS sees a new user interface that's more fun to use and better suited to touch-based interaction. The homescreen is all new, with the option of dividing up your 'desktop' into five different areas (all, favourites, frequently used, downloads and media) along a horizontal navigation bar.
As you can see in the photo above, each of the five areas can take up the whole screen, or just part of it, depending on how many apps you have. To move from one to the other, you just need to scroll along the navigation bar, using either your finger or the optical trackpad, which is very responsive. The new interface is easier to use and plugs many of the gaps in its predecessors which were less complete and very clearly behind the times for most users as they were aimed directly at business users.
What remains to be seen is what users will make of the different ways of accessing the same features via different menus—you can reach your messages by opening both the Social Stream app or the Message app—and constantly switching between the touchscreen, the trackpad and the physical keyboard. There have definitely been some improvements in the interface, but RIM could do with trimming things back to make things simpler.
A handy app called 'Social Stream' brings together content from instant messaging platforms and news from social networks (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, mySpace) as well as RSS feeds. It means you can stay in one place and consult all of your different social networks.
Handling all of your c
|Setting up connections
||Press and hold the central button to rearrange and delete apps
RIM has decided to pursue its strategy of wooing ordinary users, and that means it can't avoid including a decent range of multimedia features on its handsets. In particular, that means we're looking for a good music and video player, camera and web browser.
Let's start this part of the test by looking at the WebKit browser which is new on the Torch. Until recently, BlackBerry users had to make do with a browser that was behind the times, but now, surfing the web is a lot easier, as long as the software manages to handle text on the page. However, despite being able to download sites very quickly—the same is true for other content like apps and e-mail attachments—zooming into pages using multipoint gestures is much less smooth. The good news is that you can open more than ten pages at once, compared to six on the LG Optimus 7 and eight on the iPhone 4.
Once again, it's the low resolution that's a problem: you have to zoom right in before the text becomes legible, and then you have to keep scrolling up and down and from side to side to follow the text. The browser doesn't support Flash.
You only get the bare minimum in video, with no support for HD, unlike on the latest handsets in this segment. Whether you're taking photos and videos, you'll want to make sure you're in a well-lit environment, despite the presence of a flash, especially for the former.
The audio experience on the Torch is pretty decent for a smartphone. The music player interface is fun to use because it's so easy, and the sound it produces is good quality. Less demanding users will be able to use it in place of their MP3 player.
Finally, let's finish with one of the Torch's strengths: its battery life. Even with all of the wireless services turned on, and regular use of all of the communication, web and media services, the handset we tested managed to last almost two days when starting from a 100% charge. For comparison, plenty of its competitors in this part of the market struggle to last more than 24 hours.
The memory can be extended to up to 32 GB.
- Combination of touchscreen display and physical keyboard
- Screen: great conrast and responsive
- Fast new interface is fluid
- Good communication features / Excellent virtual keyboard
- Battery life / Quality audio
- Low resolution screen
- Web: browser is better but needs more work / No support for Flash
- Heavy / Physical keyboard not as good as usual
- Video not recorded in HD
- Apps often expensive
The Torch's new interface is pretty impressive all things considered. The most commonly used features are easy to find, and the web browser has seen some noticeable improvements. Unfortunately, the physical keyboard isn't quite as excellent as usual, but we're sure this new BlackBerry will be a hit with the general public and professionals alike.