Friday, August 19, 2011

A look at the all-new BlackBerry Torch 9810

Post By Ray Nicolini

When we learned earlier in the year that RIM would release a slew of new devices in 2011, none had me more psyched than the Torch 9810. Sure, I’d been waiting for something like the Bold 9900 for years, and I was curious to see what a touchscreen BlackBerry sans SurePress would feel like. But the Torch was one of my favorite BlackBerry devices to begin with, and the new version figured to correct some of my biggest issues with it. Specifically, the faster processor should have made everything smoother, creating an ideal BlackBerry environment.
I’ve played with the Torch for about a week now, and I have to say that it’s lived up to expectations. Here’s a full breakdown.
It’s no iPhone or Android
Before I even dive into the specifics, I want to make clear that the BlackBerry is not the iPhone. It is not Android. It is not, really, for someone who wants cutting edge technology in their mobile devices. The BlackBerry, as always, is for those who want a simple, stripped down mobile experience with a focus on messaging.
In that way, the Torch delivers. It’s gives you easy access to multiple messaging formats, and then adds features on top of that. It makes for a smooth, easily navigable device that takes care of all the business you need.
BlackBerry 7
The Torch is among the new crop of BlackBerry handsets to run the latest version of the operating system. It’s billed as BlackBerry 7, though it’s really more like 6.5 or even 6.1. That is, there aren’t a ton of changes from BlackBerry 6. As I mentioned, there are subtle differences, such as the ability to limit your home screen panels. Almost every change is in this mold: a subtle improvement that, while welcome, doesn’t really represent a brand new version of the operating system. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I liked OS 6 plenty in the first place.
One addition that I, along with basically every other BlackBerry user, appreciate is the ability to add numbers to an existing contact. There were apps that did this, but it’s nice to have it finally along with the native OS. There are goodies like this throughout the OS, though I really haven’t noticed too many of them. That’s both a negative, because I’d like more small improvements, but also good, because I’m not really noticing any deficiencies. It really is a smooth smartphone experience.
I’d expound on this a bit more, but it’s more accurate to reiterate that it’s nearly identical to the older OS versions. It’s a lot smoother, sure, and I’m sure software improvements are behind that. But the faster processor, which we’ll get to in a minute, plays a large role.
Social Feeds
One specific software aspect I want to hit is Social Feeds. This debuted with the original Torch and OS 6, but this time around I’m finding a bit more use for it. As you can see in the screenshot, you can control almost every aspect of your non-email messaging from here, from instant messaging to BBM to Facebook and Twitter. The ability to remain logged into all of them is a definite plus.
If there’s a downside to this, it’s that those who follow a lot of people on Twitter might not have the best experience. My main feed is basically Twitter through and through. I had to scroll through about 30 minutes of tweets before I got to a Facebook update. And then it’s basically all my Twitter, followed by all my Facebook. A more even distribution — that is, real-time updating — would be better. But this is still a good app that can store all of your social information.
(And, as a quick tip, you can add a view under Settings -> Manage Views. This way you can follow specific people, rather than your entire Twitter feed.)
On the next panel is RSS, which allows you to add feeds from RIM’s internal list, or you can find feeds of your own. Again, because of overflow reasons I suggest keeping this to the essentials. Social Feeds is basically a quick and dirty way to stay updated with things that are of high importance to you. There has to be some manual filtering, or else it will get cluttered. For example, I have BGR, Wall Street Journal, and Wired in my RSS. That’s about all I need for quick and essential information.
Finally, you can add podcasts to your feed, too. I found this a bit hard when it concerned podcasts not in RIM’s database. But if you have enough savvy you can work around that and find the ones you want. Or you can just select from RIM’s library. Again, this is all about getting the information all in one place. It’s probably my favorite addition to OS 6, and it got a bit better, and smoother, in OS 7.
The feel

Now that we’ve established the software side of things — i.e., that nothing really has changed — we can move onto the feel of the devices. As you can see from the shot above, the device is identical to the Torch 9800. Everything, from the weight to the keyboard, feels exactly the same. That means it’s still a little awkward to type on the physical keyboard, but not too awkward. That is, it took me a while, again, to get used to the shallow keyboard rather than the full-depth one on my 9650. But it only took a little adjusting. It’s good enough, again, that the on-screen keyboard is mostly useless.
(Well, the keyboard does feel a bit more solid, but that might be because the 9800 is a year old. But it’s worth a parenthetical note, I guess.)
That said, the Torch doesn’t feel any bulkier than a standard BlackBerry. In fact, it’s the exact height and width of the 9650, and maybe 1mm deeper. That 1mm makes a difference to approximately no one, so you can consider this a standard BlackBerry with a few hidden tricks.
Really, the more I play with the Torch, the more I wonder why I would ever go with a standard-sized BlackBerry again. I’ve always been a fan of the standard style, since it’s stripped down and simple. It has an adequately sized screen and the best keyboard in the biz, so I never thought I needed more. But the Torch delivers more, without creating any problems in the way. The touchcreen interface is great for navigating the device, and the keyboard only comes out of hiding when I need it. That it’s the same size as a standard BlackBerry puts the Torch over the top, in my mind.
The processor
And finally we get to the element that brings together the device. The old Torch had a 624MHz processor, which put it in a class far, far below the other smartphones released in 2010. It made for a lot of lag, which got really frustrating after a while. In a way, I was relieved when my time with the original Torch was up. It felt like a huge tease. The elements were all there, but it was just too slow. Screens lagged, applications took forever to load, and it was generally a rough experience.
The Torch 9810, along with the other new BlackBerry models, features a 1.2GHz processor, which is right in line with today’s high-end devices. That makes for a much smoother experience, one that leaves me with little to no frustration. Even App World boots up in a snap. Again, while I’m sure that tweaks to the operating system played into the improved performance, I have to think that the processor plays an even bigger part. It’s physically faster, meaning it can handle more apps, more tasks, and more inputs.
At the same time, it does not negatively affect battery life. This is the most amazing part, to me. One reason RIM kept with its slow processors is because it believed that its customers valued battery life over speed. With the Torch they’ve found a balance between the two. The battery still lasts two days with moderate to slightly heavy use, just like my old BlackBerrys. And yet it’s worlds faster. This might be the Torch’s greatest accomplishment.
Overall impression
It’s fair to say that I’ve come away from my time with the Torch impressed. Again, if you’re expecting a revolution that vaults the BlackBerry in line with Android and iPhone, you’ll come away disappointed. The Torch is not that. No BlackBerry will come close, at least until they have QNX running smoothly on a dual core handset. But for what it is, a messaging-focused device with plenty of bells and whistles, the Torch delivers. It might be the only thing that would keep me with Rogers for my next BlackBerry upgrade.
Even better, Rogers is offering it on-contract for $149.99. The Bold 9900, meanwhile, is $199.99. I don’t think a BlackBerry deal  of this caliper gets better than that.

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