The Torch 9850 is a follow up to the original Torch, but it does discard the portrait QWERTY keyboard. Instead, it's a fully touch-screen smartphone with a nice design, hoping to bring back the smartphone market to RIM. But does the Torch light a fire or simply go out in a blaze of glory?
Lighting a Whole New Fire
Research in Motion (RIM) has not been known for creating great touch-screen smartphones. The BlackBerry Storm, for instance, was not a hit when it first came to fruition and the original Torch 9800 didn't fare that well either. While the original Torch was a decent smartphone, too many people may have been off put by the Storm, or had already moved on to the iPhone or an Android powered smartphone. The Torch 9850 hopes to rectify the situation, sparking a new light for RIM to follow.
Design and Display
The BlackBerry Torch 9850 is nicely designed, with the largest touch screen to date from RIM, a 3.7 inch display dominating the front of the smartphone. Beneath the display are 4 shortcuts for the dialer, menu, back and power buttons. In between is a trackpad that can be used for navigation. In general, the Torch 9850 looks quite similar to the myTouch 4G Slide, though a bit more stylish. The top and bottom points are nicely pointed while the outer rim is a nice silver finish. The back is also a soft touch cover, meaning the Torch 9850 doesn't feel like it will slide out of your hand easily.
At the top resides the iconic LED notification light, that BlackBerry users cannot live without. Along the sharp top edge is the lock button. On the left edge is the microUSB port. Along the right edge resides a dedicated camera shutter button, a custom key, and the volume rocker. The right edge also contains the 3.5 mm headphone jack. Rounding out the back is a 5 megapixel camera.
All in all, RIM did a great job making the Torch 9850 different from other BlackBerries, and in general, it looks sharp and stylish.
The Torch 9850 packs a 1.2 GHz processor, much faster than previous generation BlackBerries, but it still has its moments with lag. BlackBerry OS 7, which is a minor upgrade from OS 6, is a great operating system and is mostly smooth. The occassional lag does distract a bit when it comes to using the smartphone and there are times where it seems as though pressing the touch screen does nothing. It may take 2 or 3 tries to get the Torch 9850 to register the touch.
The call quality was a bit sub par for both incoming and outgoing calls. Incoming calls weren't bad by any means, but the volume had to be turned up and there was occasionally a bit of cut off. Outgoing calls didn't fare any better, with voices coming out fuzzy and slightly garbled. Data speeds were also not at the level of newer smartphones, mainly due to the fact that the Torch 9850 is not a 4G smartphone. While 3G speeds are fast, 4G is what new smartphones are heading towards, so it is disappointing to see RIM stay with a previous generation.
The Torch 9850 comes with BlackBerry OS 7, which is a slight upgrade from OS 6. There aren't a lot of noticeable changes, except the Liquid Graphics display, which helps to enhance the graphics on the screen. The notification bar still sits at the top, and the Quick Access bar above that. The navigation screen remains the same, with the variety of categories appearing for you to use for selecting apps and content. The touch-screen interface is different for a BlackBerry, but overall OS 7 works well. It's easy to learn and use and easy to master and customize.
Newer users switching from Android or the iPhone may feel a bit lost at first, but once they go through the Torch 9850 they'll be able to notice the similarities and quickly understand how to go from screen to screen. Older BlackBerry users may actually feel a bit more comfortable depending on how long it has been since they used a BlackBerry. OS 6 was quite the major update, so users previous to that era may need a bit more time to get up to speed.
The Torch 9850 does lack a bit when it comes to the features department, sadly. The 5 megapixel camera on the back takes decent pictures, but it doesn't compare to the cameras that are currently coming out from other smartphone manufacturers. In addition, it only records at 720p, which isn't bad by any means, but for RIM to come out swinging, guns blazing, they need to do better than that. The video does seem a tiny bit choppy at times, but overall it's decent. The Torch 9850 is also not a 4G smartphone, meaning the data speeds just aren't there, and in addition, there's no front facing camera for video calls.
To make up for the lack of 4G speeds, the Torch 9850 does offer the ability to connect to both CDMA and GSM networks (internationally). While this is a great little addition to make the Torch 9850 a world phone, it is no longer unique enough for the smartphone to stand out. Many newer smartphones, powered by Android, are starting to become world phones, once again taking the Torch 9850's market share.
The Final Verdict
Overall the Torch 9850 is an 'Average' smartphone, which is not really a good sign for RIM. It's been a long wait since the last BlackBerry came out and many have been hoping that the next generation of BlackBerries would fare better. However, it doesn't seem as though RIM is really pushing their boundaries and reaching for the stars, rather they seem to be maintaining the status quo and hoping that their customers don't jump ship. It's a sad situation to watch as the BlackBerry was once the king of smartphones, and it seems its fall from grace is not going to be softened by the launch of the Torch 9850.
What do you think? Is BlackBerry dead?