19 Comments

Summary:

Amid declining market share losses, Research In Motion has both a new operating system, BlackBerry OS 6, and a debut device for AT&T’s network in the BlackBerry Torch 9800. Will the updated hardware and software grow RIM’s user base or simply keep current BlackBerry users happy?

Image (2) stock_toutouke_tools.jpg for post 29459

Amid declining market share losses, Research In Motion has both a new operating system, BlackBerry OS 6, and a debut device for AT&T’s network in the BlackBerry Torch 9800. The $199 Torch is RIM’s first touchscreen device paired with the famous BlackBerry keyboard and also boasts a WebKit browser like that used in competitors’ handsets. RIM’s ad campaign touts the Torch as the “smartphone evolved,” and although it may be the best BlackBerry ever, such a tagline may be overstated. Instead, the Torch is better described as the BlackBerry evolved — an excellent device for the BlackBerry crowd, but not offering much appeal for those already enjoying a new iOS or Android phone.

I’ve used a Torch evaluation unit for a few days, and my initial impressions from the device’s press introduction earlier this month haven’t changed much. There are two components to review here — the hardware and software — so let’s start with the device itself. Like many current smartphones, the capacitive touchscreen garners immediate attention. However, a 3.2-inch smartphone display on an “evolved” device ought to be better than the Torch’s 480 x 320 resolution, as other devices in this price range offer screens that display 800 x 480 pixels or higher. While the lower resolution doesn’t hinder any functionality, it feels like a missed opportunity.

Navigation is done directly on the screen or via the optical trackpad, which works very well. The touch display and on-screen keyboard are responsive, although I often found myself sliding out the better hardware keyboard for improved speed and accuracy. That was a personal preference, however, and most people ought to be fine with the software keyboard. As for sliding out that keyboard, the sliding mechanism impresses. The form factor greatly reminds me of my Palm Pre, which also has a touch display and slide-out QWERTY, but sliding open the Torch feels like closing the door on a luxury car; it’s precise. The only caveat is that it can be tricky to push the display up from the bottom due to the thinness of the screen.

RIM outfitted the Torch with a 5 MP camera sensor and LED flash, both of which can be used for still pictures or for videos. Here again, the Torch falls short of the competition with video recordings limited to VGA quality. By comparison, many new devices that arrived before the Torch are offering a form of 720p high-definition capture. Also lagging are the internals of the Torch: 4 GB of internal memory, an additional 4 GB of storage through an included microSD card and a 624 MHz CPU: all lower or slower than recent entries from other handset makers. Such specifications drag down the performance of the new operating system, which is certainly better than prior editions.

 

Indeed, BlackBerry OS 6 is a welcome refresh with many new features and a more modern web browser. However, the software platform would benefit from beefier bits under the hood, such as more memory or a faster processor. A great example is the new browser, which often lags when rendering or zooming a page. Although the BlackBerry OS offers a more modern look and feel, I really couldn’t find a feature that hasn’t already existed on other smartphones, even among the features that RIM is touting. The Social Feeds, which lumps Facebook, Twitter and RSS all into one bucket, is reminiscent of Motorola’s Motoblur  interface, for example. Starting to type anything to engage the Universal search is handy for seeking information locally, in apps or on the web, but I saw that over year ago in Palm’s webOS. Customized home screen shortcuts and unified inboxes are welcome, but again, nothing is new save for the Wi-Fi media sync feature, which is nifty and will likely be seen on other platforms in the near future.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say that much of this is new for BlackBerry devices, but not for high-end smartphones of today. The Social Feeds and notification message bar can be overwhelming because, for example, Facebook items can appear in the Inbox and in the Facebook app. The same goes for Twitter messages. While I like the idea of having everything grouped together, not all communications really should exist in a giant bucket, because it becomes difficult to separate the important items from the “I’ll get to these later” messages.

As a prior iPhone and current Android user, one other hindrance to me was the continued lack of solid support for Google’s Gmail and Calendar services. The Gmail experience is still abysmal using the native Messaging application, and only by adding Google’s apps to the device could I find a better, more seamless experience. If RIM wants to market this phone to potential consumers outside the BlackBerry world, it needs to consider embracing external services on its phones.

As a phone, the device excels. With the good AT&T coverage in my neck of the woods, I never had a dropped a call. Voice quality was excellent, even with the speakerphone. And typical of the BlackBerry heritage, I experienced excellent battery life, easily going a full day on a single charge of the 1300 mAh removable battery. RIM estimates nearly six hours of talk time and two weeks or more of standby, although I haven’t had the device long enough to test that claim. Still, even with the full-sized display and 3G radio, the Torch’s battery lasts longer than nearly any other smartphone I’ve used recently.

If I had to summarize the Torch, and by default, BlackBerry OS 6, I think I’d lean on the missed opportunity theme. RIM has worked on the new OS for well over a year but has only caught up to other platforms in some areas. After this much anticipation, the $199 hardware is more suited for a device of 2009, not a device meant to compete with iPhone 4 or a top-tier Android phone. The reason for missing the bar in this regard is simple though — RIM couldn’t afford a complete overhaul that would alienate current BlackBerry users; especially those in the enterprise. Due to this constraint, the Torch is more like the blend of a traditional BlackBerry with the “iPhone-like experience” rather than the smartphone evolved.

My gut reaction to the device is still holding true: Current BlackBerry users will be happy with a move to the Torch while few non-BlackBerry users will make the jump. In fact, I expect RIM to enjoy more enterprise sales as the Torch may alleviate some employees carrying both a BlackBerry and an iPhone.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d):

Why RIM’s Future (Unfortunately) Hinges on BlackBerry OS 6

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

By Kevin C. Tofel

You're subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. kostenlose mmorpg Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    I also buyd a Blackberry and i dont want miss it anymore. Before i had an iPhone, but this sucks like hell. Im Computer Scientist and want to write my own application. This is fully featured by BlackBery.
    At the moment i think ill also try out the new Google Android.

  2. Apple Snags 48% of Mobile Profit Pie Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    [...] a new operating system and flagship device, but it doesn’t look like enough of a disruption. My hands-on with the BlackBerry Torch shows an underpowered handset that tries to bring some appealing new features — such as a [...]

  3. Slight correction on the specs there — CPU speed should be 624 MHz (although, 624 GHz would probably make the Torch real sweet!)

  4. how i can the chance to get the evalution unit for blackberry9800?

  5. how i can the chance to get the blackberry 9800 evalution unit?

  6. The whole Blackberry concept was to allow enterprise control over a mobile messaging device. So to ask why there isn’t more google app integration is to fly in the face of there core demographic. Corporate mandated apps push down to the smartphone, rock solid security, total big brother control is there centerpiece. When joe blow consumer wanted to feel important and began buying Blackberry is when they started adding more consumer driven apps but corporate America doesn’t want any social media time wasting apps. They want to know why you didn’t answer you phone when you were in Central Park when you said you were sick and at the doctors you said your battery was dead when BES said you had 86% battery life. Blackberry’s main purpose in life is to be an electronic tether. Even Exchange 2010 with the premium package falls short to Blackberry Enterprise Services. While Blackberry’s consumer sales spurt is coming to an end they still have their niche.

  7. I watched the video and you said the Google Android was a modern OS and I had to laugh. The task switching mechanism even with Froyo is a Blackberry throwback that isn’t even as good as it is on the Blackberry. It shows the last 8 used apps whether they are running or not. It’s a joke. I may just be completely stupid but I set the alarm clock in Froyo to a music track and because I had several emails and text messages notifications I couldn’t get to a screen to dismiss the alarm. I pulled down the notification screen there was nothing there. I literally had to turn the phone off to get the alarm to stop. I guess I’m just used to braindead simple interfaces. I can’t believe how many people are gushing over Froyo when it still feels so unfinished. Of course if your a paid Google pundit I guess you’d have to gush over it.

  8. Happy to read your article, but the headline felt a little cliche.

  9. BlackBerry App World 2.0 Goes Live Thursday, August 19, 2010

    [...] store is just in time for the launch of the BlackBerry Torch and OS 6, which looked pretty good in Kevin’s recent review. Smartphone owners have come to expect the availability of good apps, so the app ecosystem will [...]

  10. Can Android Be Stopped in the World of Smartphones? « Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    [...] so for including BlackBerry too. But RIM’s future is constrained by its prior success — as shown by the new Torch handset, the company can’t completely alienate its loyal user-base by changing too much too [...]

Comments have been disabled for this post