BlackBerry Torch 9800

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The problem: BlackBerry 6 is just like BlackBerry OS 5.0, but it's better looking. Sure, there are many multimedia enhancements, that cool new browser, universal search and probably lots of new stuff going on behind the scenes, etc. Still, I can't help but think that BlackBerry 6 feels nearly identical to BlackBerry OS 5.0, just with a fancy "theme" sitting on top. (Perhaps that's why RIM has been so quick to lash out at developers who made BlackBerry-6-like themes for OS 5.0 in the past...)

My most notable issue with the software is that it still freezes up fairly constantly and "lags" almost as much as BlackBerry OS 5.0. And that's simply not good. It may have to do with the processor. It could relate to the available application memory I have on my particular device. It could be that the software's just not perfect yet, and RIM plans to work out the kinks in future builds. But the bottom line is that I expected a much smoother user experience on the Torch and BlackBerry 6.

The Torch lags less than my Bold 9700, so users upgrading from one BlackBerry to the 9800 will probably see an improvement. But RIM's really targeting a new user-base with the Torch, and those folks won't see that the device lags less, only that it lags.

Last week, I wrote a post on things you might not know about the BlackBerry Torch. In that piece, I mentioned that the BlackBerry 6 start-up process on the Torch was significantly faster than my 9700 start-up, but it looks as though I may have jumped the gun. The Torch did start up faster than my 9700, significantly...until I fully customized the Torch, adding various apps, e-mail accounts, security settings etc. Now the boot-time is roughly the same on both devices, which is a letdown.

Torch call quality and battery life were both average; RIM says the Torch should get about 6 hours of call-time on 3G, though I saw slightly less. Regardless, the Torch has weaker battery life than the Bold 9700, so I really noticed the difference. I suppose with future software releases call quality and battery life could change, but for now, I'm not particularly impressed with the Torch on these counts.

I found the on-screen keyboards frustrating, and having large fingers made it difficult to type a sentence without making multiple errors. You can, however, use a full QWERTY on-screen keyboard in both landscape and portrait mode, as well as RIM's SureType-style keyboard in portrait, so at least you have options. (Note: I also dislike my iPhone's on-screen keyboard and every other touch keyboard I've used, so I may not be the best judge of virtual-keyboard-quality.)

And you still cannot store and access BlackBerry applications on your microSD, which means the total number of apps you can store on your device at a given time is restricted to how many you can fit in the relatively small portion of the BlackBerry memory, called "application memory." BlackBerry App World, RIM's mobile software shop, lets users "archive" applications for storage on media cards, but those apps must be "restored" and reinstalled on their handsets to work.

And now (inhale deep breath) my conclusion...

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review: Conclusion

First of all, it's warranted to state the BlackBerry Torch really shouldn't be compared to other high-end modern devices with only a full QWERTY keyboard or just a touch-screen. It's a slider device with both touch-screen and traditional keypad, and as such, its overall functionality should really be compared to other slider devices like Palm's Pre--which, by the way, is a nothing more than a toy, compared to the Torch, at least from a hardware perspective.

If you don't like sliders, you're probably not going to like the BlackBerry Torch. It's that simple. I'm not really a big slider fan, and as such, I think the BlackBerry Bold 9700 still holds the title of RIM's Best BlackBerry Ever, despite AT&T's claims to the contrary.

The hardware is impressively solid. The software looks and feels very much like BlackBerry OS 5.0 with a jazzy theme, but I like BlackBerry OS 5.0, so that's really not a problem for me. I wish I could write I was blown away by both the hardware and the software, but that simply wasn't the case.

Is the Torch the best full-QWERTY device available? Nope. Is it a better touch-screen device than, say, the iPhone 4. No, it isn't. But the Torch is probably the best slider available on the market today, despite its software woes. And if the BlackBerry keyboard and messaging experience are important to you, but you also want a bigger screen and more multimedia features, you'll surely find a friend in the BlackBerry Torch 9800.

Will I stick with the new Torch and abandon my trusty BlackBerry Bold 9700? It was a tough decision, but yes, I will, though I'll be using it on T-Mobile's network for now, which provides better overall coverage for my particular needs--just no 3G. My Bold 9700 is already collecting dust, and I'm embracing the Torch...at least until RIM releases the BlackBerry Bold 9780, an upgraded version of the Bold 9700 that's better suited to run BlackBerry 6.

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Al at ASacco@cio.com.

This story, "BlackBerry Torch 9800" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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