Research In Motion (RIM), the Canada-based company that owns BlackBerry (BB), seems to be taking the proverb ‘once bitten, twice shy’ rather seriously. Its previous series of touchscreen phones, the Storm 1 and 2, did badly in the market and have been they’re discontinued altogether. But that hasn’t stopped BB from launching another fully touchscreen phone — what the Storm ought to have been. Only this time around, it’s given the Torch nomenclature.
Unlike the other Torch models, the Torch 9860 has no physical QWERTY keypad. Instead, it gets a spacious 3.7-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 480x800 pixels. To make the most of this large display, RIM’s equipped this Torch with its new BB OS 7 operating system that’s also present in the Bold 9900 series.
The 9860 is quite an eye-catcher. Although the body is mostly plastic, it doesn’t feel low-grade. The screen curves at the top, giving it an edgeless look and the metal flap at the back makes it feel solid. After the Bold 9900, this seems like BB’s most bombproof phone yet. Good craftsmanship extends itself onto sleek inconspicuous buttons on either sides of the device. These include a volume rocker and a convenience key. Unfortunately, the four buttons at the lower bottom — for call, menu, return and disconnect / power — feel plasticky. Touch-sensitive buttons like those on HTC’s Incredible S might have made more sense.
Slick user interface
BlackBerry OS 7 is RIM’s attempt at doing an eye-candy heavy user interface. For the most part, it works. Icons are nice and detailed. The address book icon gets a fancy leather cover while the calendar application seems similar to that seen in Apple’s iOS. Power down the phone and it’ll slowly fade to black. Numerous other effects are present throughout the interface. BB calls this Liquid Graphics, which also runs under the hood of the company’s tablet, the PlayBook. Unfortunately, legacy menus rear their ugly head ever so often. Many apps, not designed to take advantage of the new OS, suffer from this issue. And here’s where the optical trackpad (lest you were wondering why it was present) will help you the most.
Crisp and bright screen
Equipped with a 1.2GHz single-core processor and 768MB of RAM, the Torch is as quick as they come. You’ll barely notice a stutter even if you’re playing music and surfing simultaneously. The screen is sharp, vibrant and has excellent viewing angles. Readability is great even outdoors under the sun. In short, you’ll love surfing on this device or viewing photos and videos.
The touchscreen, however, leaves a bit to be desired. It’s a bit cramped and not as accurate as that of the Apple iPhone or HTC Desire S (which has the same-sized screen). In landscape mode, the keyboard gets better and wider, but takes up too much of the screen, leaving lesser room for content. But the mobile browser isn’t as fast as that of the iPhone or Google’s Android devices. Despite no Flash support, it takes longer to load Flash-heavy websites than, say, the browser in the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray.
You won’t miss much in the multimedia department. The five-megapixel camera has quick autofocus and can shoot photos with good sharpness and low noise. Automatic white balance seems dodgy, but it’s nothing you can’t fix on your computer. Video recording at 720p is pretty good too. Surprisingly, there’s no front camera or FM radio.
The Torch 9860 is finally a touchscreen BlackBerry that works. Its rich screen makes browsing a whole lot of fun. There are some rough edges like the plastic buttons on the front, and no front camera or FM, but these don’t detract much from the experience. If BB services are essential for you, and you intend on doing lots of surfing and watching YouTube on the move, the Torch will serve you well.