Skip to main content

Blackberry Torch: Hands On Impressions

BlackBerry TorchSo, is the new BlackBerry Torch, officially the BlackBerry 9800, an iPhone killer?

Uh, no. That’s something the lamestream media would ask. A more informed question is, will the Torch staunch BlackBerry’s bleeding?

While still the smartphone leader, BlackBerry has dropped 12 percent in market share, first to iPhone and most recently to Android, according to Nielsen. Worse, Nielsen reports a whopping 58 percent of survey respondents say they plan on switching from BlackBerry to some – any other – smartphone OS.

First Impressions of BlackBerry OS 6

Thanks mainly to the new BlackBerry 6 OS, the Torch, available Aug. 12 for $200 from AT&T, should help blunt that switching desire. BB OS 6 looks and acts more like iPhone or Android, but adds two compelling improvements: universal search, and fully customizable app home screens that make Torch far easier to use for BlackBerry neophytes.

Universal search is truly universal. Just slide down the vertical QWERTY and start typing; search results appear immediately and possibilities narrow as you continue to type. You can then further narrow your search by tapping an application icon. For instance, if you’re searching for “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga, as you type in “Poker…” you can then tap the music player or Slacker or YouTube to narrow your search to that app, or if you’re looking for poker games, tap the BlackBerry Marketplace app.

It’s also easier to find an app buried in multiple home screens filled with icons. First, each screen has an Android-like slide-up vertical window of apps, so you can hide or show all the apps on that screen. Second, apps are grouped into logical categories (favorites, media, social, downloads, etc.), that you swipe through horizontally. Like Android, BB OS 6 offers top-line notification updates, but the drop down notification menu gives you more of a preview of each individual incoming item.

Other functionality niceties include multi-tasking, an RSS aggregating app, photo geotagging (file names are the city in which the photo is taken and a number), wireless Wi-Fi syncing, and best of all, an app that aggregates social networks, e-mail, updates and messages. When you tap an incoming message, you’re taken instantly to the page on the source application; in other words, if you tap on an incoming Facebook update, you’re taken directly to that Facebook page without having to open a separate Facebook app.

BlackBerry Torch Hands OnMissed Opportunities

That’s the good news for current and potential BlackBerry users. The bad news is the Torch itself. Given the recent flood of superphones, the Torch is hardly a dying ember.

The Torch has a slide out vertical keyboard under a full multitouch capacitive touchscreen, which seems like two missed opportunities. First, even though the Torch’s whole front is a touch screen, it’s just a 3.2-inch display with just 360 x 480 pixels – that’s around half the pixels arrayed on iPhone 4’s Retina screen.

Second, BlackBerry’s QWERTY keyboards necessarily have been compressed affairs. A slideout keyboard affords the opportunity to spread out horizontally – but RIM opted for yet another compressed QWERTY.

BlackBerry’s Band-Aid

The Torch falls short compared to iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S, Motorola Droid X, Sprint’s Evo 4G, and all their contemporaries in nearly all other hardware capabilities. It’s powered by a 624MHz processor, rather than the suddenly de rigueur 1GHz engine on all other recent superphones. There’s a 5-megapixel camera with a flash, but only a VGA rather than HD video recorder, not to mention just 4GB of built in memory rather than 8GB or even 16GB, and Bluetooth 2.1 instead of 3.0.

Considering all its competitors offer a lot more for the same price or less, Torch is hardly the breakthrough AT&T and RIM hope it will be.

Editors' Recommendations

Stewart Wolpin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
BlackBerry rises from the grave: New 5G phone with a keyboard coming in 2021
BlackBerry Key2. Credits: BlackBerry official.

BlackBerry is the smartphone brand that steadfastly refuses to die. The presumed-dead name has been resurrected once again, this time by a new company called OnwardMobility. It will work with manufacturer FIH Mobile to create and sell a 5G BlackBerry Android phone with a physical keyboard, ready for a potential release in the U.S. and Europe during the first half of 2021.

You read that right: A new BlackBerry phone with a physical keyboard and 5G, running Google’s Android software, is coming next year. TCL Communications was the last company to produce BlackBerry smartphones. It did so under license from BlackBerry Ltd., which continues to provide mobile security services, but isn’t in the hardware business anymore. TCL let its license lapse in February 2020 when modern, Android-based BlackBerry phones became a thing of the past. Until now.

Read more
TCL won’t make BlackBerry phones anymore, sending the brand back into limbo
BlackBerry Key2 LE review

TCL Communication has announced it will no longer be making BlackBerry smartphones, after taking over the dormant brand at the end of 2016, and bringing it back to life with a series of ever-improving devices. In a statement tweeted out by the official BlackBerry Mobile account, TCL Communication does not have the rights to design, manufacture, or sell BlackBerry phones any longer.

This means the BlackBerry Key 2 LE will be the last BlackBerry-branded phone produced by TCL Communication to be released, and it follows the BlackBerry Key 2, and the BlackBerry KeyOne. TCL Communication’s BlackBerry phones took the features fans of the brand loved — the physical keyboard, long battery life, and extra levels of security — and put them inside modern hardware with Google Android software. While not for everyone, they were successful with those either familiar with the brand, or those looking for something a little different.
What does this mean for BlackBerry?
The future of BlackBerry phones is once again unknown. While TCL Communication will not make another BlackBerry phone, it does not necessarily mean we will never see another BlackBerry phone. It’s possible the global license could be snapped up by another company eager to capitalize on the brand’s highly recognizable name. HMD Global, for example, has seen considerable success with the Nokia name since acquiring the license, while British phone maker Bullitt owns the license to make phones from brands including Cat, JCB, and Land Rover.

Read more
Miss physical keyboards? Unihertz is creating a rugged phone that has one
Unihertz's rugged phone with a keyboard launches July 30 on Kickstarter
unihertz titan news icing sugar

While there are some great keyboard apps that improve the screen-tapping experience, a physical keyboard remains the best way to type on any electronic device. Unfortunately for keyboard fans, smartphones with keyboards have been slim pickings in the last few years, with the BlackBerry Key2 and KeyOne being your only real options. Thankfully for fans of real buttons, Chinese manufacturer Unihertz is launching a rugged phone with a built-in keyboard -- the Unihertz Titan.

The BlackBerry influence is undeniable. The Titan looks very much like a blend between BlackBerry's more recent phones, with a wide design that's reminiscent of the BlackBerry Passport, and the two-tone coloring of the KeyOne. A square 4.5-inch LCD display sits above the physical keyboard and runs a 1440 x 1440 pixel resolution.

Read more