Thursday, August 26, 2010

5 Things I Like About the BlackBerry Torch 9800 - And a Few I Don't

    Is the Blackberry Torch better than an iPhone? No, but here are some of the reasons why it's good enough for me.
Research in Motion surprised me a week or so ago when it sent aBlackberry Torch review unit. Apparently, the company sent out a lot of them. It seems as if the folks at RIM are more than a little nervous about the market reception to this phone and its overall chances for success. I don't blame them. This polarizing product has reviews that are largely complimentary and others that are already calling the Blackberry Torch 9800 underwhelming or worse.
Its early sales—150K in the first weekend—are nowhere near Apple iPhone sales numbers, but they're still respectable.
Last week, I got into an argument about the BlackBerry Torch with a Gizmodo editor. This guy is probably 20 years younger than me and can only view the Torch through the prism of an Apple iPhone. The technology is old he told me and the screen resolution, in today's 800-by-480 world, is embarrassing. I'd already been carrying the Torch around for a few days, and I simply couldn't agree with him.
I won't argue the fact that the iPhone 4 is an excellent product. And the slew of Android phones, with and without keyboards, are exciting products. I like the Droid X, for instance, though I think it's too big to carry around on a day-to-day basis. I like the original Droid and Droid 2, though I think Motorola still has some work to do on that keyboard.
The keyboard—really any mobile phone keyboard—is, to a certain extent, at the crux of my disagreement with the Gizmodo editor. He, like many other early 20-somethings, is perfectly comfortable without a physical keyboard. I'm not. There are many people in my generation just like me and probably many existing RIM customers who still prefer QWERTY phones.
But leaving aside the yawning generational differences, I like the Torch and I enjoy using it. Not only do I not miss my BlackBerry Bold 9000, I don't want it back. Here's why:
1) The Browser: Yes, this is mostly a credit to the BlackBerry OS 6, but without a touch screen and accelerometer, which lets me switch from portrait to landscape mode, the experience wouldn't be half as good. It's definitely faster, handles virtually any kind of Web site, and is backed by a screen that, while not as high res as a Droid or iPhone, is easily sharp enough for my eyes.
2) The Home Screen: RIM has done a nice job with the available real estate on the Torch screen, and I love how the screen moves left to right and up and down. I can live in the All screen, but now, as with other configurable mobile platforms, I can customize it as well. There are quite a few icons on the All screen, so being able to move some to Favorites is a welcome change. I'm also glad the Text message icon is now at the top of the list. On my Bold, I often missed text messages because the icon was stuffed well below the digital fold. In addition, I like that some of the important apps, like Twitter, are now a default part of the system.
3) The Touch Screen: I used to own a Palm Treo and always appreciated the combination of touch and physical typing. Granted, that old Palm screen was very limited. The Torch, on the other hand, is not. I like that I can use gestures to move through the various screens. The addition of the pinch and zoom is welcome, though, I can't imagine someone launching a touch screen without it.
4) The Design: The Torch is heavier than my Bold, but it feels very good in my hand. The lines are nice, though not revolutionary. There is something very BlackBerry-ish about the Torch—and I'm fine with that.
5) The Keyboard and Touchpad: Yes, the keyboard is smaller and a tad more cramped than my Bold, but RIM has given the keys slightly shaped edges, so they're easier to feel. I can still do some typing without staring at the keys. If I type on an iPhone, I have to watch my strokes (don't hate me because I'm old). Anyone who has an older Curve or first-generation Bold will appreciate the trackpad. However, the reason it's interesting on the Torch is because it lives right below a full touch screen. At first I wondered why you would need the trackpad with the gesture-driven screen. However, I soon became adept at using it for one very critically feature—something that isn't so easy to do on an iPhone: moving a cursor around through letters, words, and blocks of text.
On an iPhone, I place my finger where I want to select and hold it until the cursor moves to that spot. If I hold for a second longer, my selection tools appear. There is no easy way to scroll through text. The Torch's trackpad lets me move my cursor anywhere I want—in interfaces and text—and then start selecting, copying, pasting, etc. It's a subtle difference but one that's important for a certain kind of user.
By Ray Nicolini
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