Monday, August 29, 2011

BlackBerry Torch 2 9810 Review: The Updated Touchscreen and QWERTY Slider

Posted By Ray Nicolini


Before the new devices got announced I was under the impression that a lot of users would be holding off and waiting for the QNX-based BlackBerry devices. I thought that RIM would be in transition and release something only slightly better than last year’s offerings, leaving BlackBerry fans to be sentenced to exile or to wait patiently for the second coming of BlackBerry.

Comparison Torch 2 and Torch 1
Being shipped a new device that looked nearly identical to my current Torch 9800 only worsened my fears. The body of the phone seems to be cut from the same mold. It’s such a mirror image of the Torch 9800 that only Torch owners will know you even got a new device. If you’re one of those people who feels the need to show off your new phone you’ll probably feel unfulfilled with the new Torch.
For those who care more about actual performance, this is the device for you. The new Torch is nearly twice the phone that the old Torch was. This has to be the most significant update with the smallest jump in model number I have ever seen. After a week of using the new Torch, I found myself eating my words because my faith in team BlackBerry had been restored.

Better processor: more multitasking

I was a big fan of the Torch 9800 but I found it a little underwhelming when it came to battery life and multitasking. The processor on the Torch 2 runs quite a bit faster than the old Torch 9800’s. Clocking in at 1.2GHz, it’s almost double the rate of the Torch 9800’s 624MHz processor while maintaining some pretty decent battery life. Counting Megahertz is somewhat futile when comparing smartphones; one chip’s 624MHz can potentially outperform another’s 800 MHz. It’s more about how the chip works in conjunction with all the other engineering elements.
I’m not sure if I’m able to say that the new Torch is twice as fast but I am willing to put myself on the line for saying that it’s at least 50% faster than it’s predecessor.
Keep in mind that the Torch 9810 is still new and has yet to be fully optimized. When I first got the 9800, there was an OS update that came a month after launch that optimized battery, cut boot times in half and made navigation a bit smoother and more responsive. Right now my Torch 9810 has what seems to be a 3-minute boot time that I hope will be cured in the first update.

Liquid Graphics: OS lag reduced to acceptable levels

My biggest criticism of the Torch 9800 was that the extra flair put into the animated navigation was laggy. Users could really tell that they were causing a delay because actions were carried out about a second after you made them. I noticed the delay most when I wanted to mark my messages as read, I would have to wait for the OS animation to complete or the message will still be marked unread after exiting back into the messages list. Small stuff I know, but waiting for a computer for the sole reason of “seeing a pretty fade” is just bad design.
I know that all this OS glitter is something that consumers apparently demand. Why bother animate a smooth transition between two screens if you can just cut there? If I could turn off all the swipes and fades in favor of a less resource-intense cut, I would.
All this to say that Liquid Graphics has corrected the noticeable lag between OS transitions, and improved response time for swipe-based navigation, as well as pinch to zoom navigation.

Design: exactly the same as the Torch 9800

I’m very pleased that they didn’t change the design. The upside is all the advantages of the old Torch remain: a well-balanced, large touch-screened, keyboard-driven super-phone. Your old Torch 9800’s cases, skins, battery doors, Micro SD cards, batteries, data cables and chargers are all compatible with the Torch 9810.
A couple of things they have improved are the lightweight metallic body and the new and improved slider hinge. The new Torch is now a bit lighter, more rigid and it takes a lot less coordination to open.

Torch 2 review
The white space represents the Torch 9800 screen resolution

Display: 3.2 inch diagonal touch screen display with more pixel density

The New torch has a 640×480 display, up from the 9800’s 480×360 display. The display is about as bright and you probably won’t be able to tell too much of a difference between the two models until you realize that your font is a couple of points bigger than what is was on the old Torch.
If you love tiny fonts and packing as much detail as you can on to a mobile screen, you’ll be thrilled about the new Torch’s increased pixel density. There are close to 80 percent more pixels on the 9810 and I didn’t consider the 9800 to be lacking in this department at all.

Optical trackpad: still awesome

There is nothing to report here except for that since the dawn of smartphones, RIM has continually developed some of the best controls schemes designed specifically for mobile. Some users still feel nostalgia for the old scroll wheel, and I think everyone can agree that the new trackpad was an incredible upgrade to the sometimes-temperamental multi-directional scroll ball.

More app memory and more on-board storage

The Torch 9800 had 512MB of application ROM while the Torch 9810 boasts 768MB. With 50% more installed app memory, you can install a few more apps and games before noticing those extra-long boot times. The on-board drive space has been doubled too with 8GB for photos, music and other files. The Torch 9810 has a MicroSD slot that can accept a big 32GB card, bringing the total storage up to 40GB. While this is an improvement, it seems like storage is fast becoming a cloud-based service and we’re no longer concerned with RIM’s choice of SD Cards.

New: Magnetometer

A new addition the Torch 9810’s swiss army knife of features is the magnetometer. This new hardware will pave the way for Augmented Reality apps as well as better navigation apps. The two apps of note are the first party Compass app and the Wikitude augmented reality suite. It seems the software that powers the magnetometer needs a lot of work as I find that it asks me to recalibrate the compass every time I start a magnetometer-app, and several times while using the app too.

Camera and Video

While the old and new Torch both sport a 5 megapixel camera, the new Torch has some under the hood upgrades. Face detection allows the autofocus to choose faces to focus on rather than a distant light bulb that you unintentionally centered.
Also the video recording got a significant boost. The Torch 9810 can record in 720p (1280×720), up from VGA (640×480).
The camera sensor uses a CMOS sensor. CMOS is a great sensor with the exception of taking pictures or shooting video with a lot of motion. When there’s a lot of motion, the top part of the photo gets recorded before the bottom part and your image gets skewed. Same thing happens for video too, a round ball will turn oval when traveling quickly. This isn’t criticism so much as the limitations of CMOS in general. This type of distortion is called Rolling Shutter Distortion.
I love the new 720p video recording. The “send to” menu item is also a nice touch. Directly sending a 720p video to your YouTube account is a feature that is sure to see a lot of use.
Navigation nirvana: Universal Search
Universal Search has changed the way I access my BlackBerry. Introduced in BlackBerry OS 6, Universal Search allows a user to simply type in a word or two and your BlackBerry will present you with a screen full of highly-contextual options.
Begin typing a person’s name and the BlackBerry will show you the communications, social networking posts, calendar events and all the emails you’ve exchanged with them separated by accounts.
The big improvement OS 7 has made in this regard is how it lets developers tap into Universal Search by using something called Extend Search. This allows users to specifically search using any search engine they please, or specifically search within any app. The extended searches appear right below the universal search results and works wonders for reducing the time it takes to access the information you need.
RIM has also introduced Voice Activated Search that takes a sample of your voice and sends it to a RIM server to decipher it and turn it into text. It takes about 2 or 3 seconds for it to do it’s thing, definitely faster than typing on your BlackBerry with one hand.
These features are not unique to the 9810 but rather come with BlackBerry 7.

App World: available apps

With every new device there is always a two-month period in which very few apps have been ported. As of the writing of this article (August 2011) there are 13402 apps, 1308 games and 7083 themes available for the Torch 9800. Compare that to The Torch 9810’s 1990 apps, 169 games, and zero themes.
I’m not sure what RIM can do to have more apps ready for new devices when they launch but it wouldn’t hurt to try something like making the emulators available for developers earlier.

Faster network: better browsing

So the Torch Webkit browser now supports HTML 5 sites as well as JIT (just in time) javascript acceleration. I really noticed the HTML 5 content right away because embedded YouTube videos would load on-page as opposed to taking me into the YouTube viewer. I also noticed that the faster network connection meant no buffering when accessing multimedia content.
The documentation says that BlackBerry 7 gets up to 30% faster browsing than speeds than BlackBerry 6 and up to twice as fast as OS 5. I didn’t really notice any speed difference whatsoever between BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 7. Maybe it’s the rendering of the page that’s bit faster but the act of waiting for stuff to request then load is still as slow as dial-up.
The Torch 9810 has an HSPA+ radio, which is a small leap ahead of the 9800’s 3G radio. For me, this has breathed new life in to my BlackBerry Playbook’s Bridge Browser. I noticed lower access times, actually watchable online videos and tolerable wait times while loading web sites. As a result I’m packing the Playbook with me now instead of leaving it on my desk or coffee table.

Full version of Docs to go comes standard

RIM has included a full version of Docs to go on the Torch 9810. Right out of the box editing and viewing of office documents re-affirms BlackBerry’s business edge. I think that this is the first usable version of Docs To Go because of the new screen size. I’ll have no problem emailing myself a document or spreadsheet and working on it as I travel.

back of the Torch series

Should I upgrade?

If you use your phone to show off your sense of gadget style, are hoping to upgrade to BlackBerry OS 8 or buy a phone every second year, this is probably a model that you can skip.
If you spend more than 20 minutes per day on your BlackBerry, buy a new phone every year, are owed a device upgrade from your carrier, are a fan of the Torch 9800, or own a BlackBerry Playbook, you should without hesitation get the new Torch. It performs so you can outperform.
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