The BlackBerry Torch 9800 carries too many expectations on its shoulders. It's been clear that BlackBerry needed to come up with something that could match the iPhone and Android invasion.
Expectations from the Torch 9800 - the first slider from BlackBerry to have a touchscreen, an optical trackpad, a QWERTY keypad, the BlackBerry 6 OS, the highest-rated camera on any BlackBerry device - were high. The price tag of Rs 35,000, too, only seemed fair.
RIM has remained true to its classic BlackBerry design with nice refinements. Instead of a chrome rim there's a classier brushed grey gun metal rim. It weighs 161 grams and misses leather finish on the back. 'Lock' and 'Mute' keys are on top with a 3.5 mm earphone, volume/ zoom and a convenience key on the right side.
Being a slider, the only visible buttons are the standard four. The screen is a 3.2-inch 360x480 multitouch display. In terms of touchscreen, the iPhone still rules. The onscreen keypad is quite rubbish. The optical trackpad is brilliant and so is the slide-out QWERTY keypad.
If you're looking for a revolution with the BlackBerry 6 OS, you'll be disappointed. Most of the improvements are in terms of visual refinements. RIM has retained a 624 MHz processor in the Torch 9800, which is the same as that on both the Bold models. There's 512 MB of RAM, same as the iPhone 4 and 4 GB of internal storage.
Now, a full reboot is faster than on OS 5. There's Universal Search, a new social networking app that aggregates your social networks, multitouch gestures like pinch-to-zoom and a WebKit-based web browser with tabs. There's also a new camera interface.
The home screen has application icon views that can be scrolled vertically, with horizontal scrolling for categories such as Favourites and Media. There's also a drop down notification view and a wireless networking view.
Universal Search is very cool. From the home screen the smartphone throws up answers to your queries across apps, folders, the Web, and email. The Social Feeds feature that is supposed to aggregate your social networks is a disgrace compared to the free third-party app SocialScope.
The new browser is a welcome change. Webpages display well mostly and pinch-to-zoom and tabbed browsing are also available. However, there's still no Flash support. Email also uses Webkit for HTML rendering, which is welcome. But the experience isn't the best thanks to what is perhaps one of the slowest processors in this class of smart phones.
I found the touchscreen, optical trackpad and QWERTY keypad adding to the complex nature of the phone. This is definitely in stark contrast to Apple's famed simplicity.
Media and connectivity
On the media front, things are good. In the audio and video departments, this smartphone is as good as the Bold 9700. The 5-megapixel camera too is nice, definitely the best on a BlackBerry phone yet. It takes pretty decent photos, and the camera interface on BlackBerry 6 is fresh with the ability to geotag photos. However, the video camera is disappointing with a 640×480 resolution video capture.
In terms of connectivity, the Torch 9800 is 3G enabled, and features Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR with A2DP. Another major shortcoming is the absence of BlackBerry maps for India, which means you'll still have to depend on Google Maps.
But the battery life is what left me absolutely flummoxed. On a full charge, I got half-a-day's worth of battery life without using voice or media features. And that, for me, is a deal breaker.
What we like
Good audio quality
Comfortable QWERTY keypad
What we don't
Poor battery life
Verdict: I wasn't very impressed with the Torch 9800. At Rs 35,000, it's pricey for what's on offer. There's a lot that's good about the smartphone, but it doesn't live up to the hype. For whoever the BlackBerry is a status symbol, the Torch 9800 is a good option. In a line, the Torch 9800 is no iPhone killer and Android slayer. Wait for Torch 2, a la Storm 2.