A common problem with product reviews is that the reviewer will often use a few days to evaluate the performance or usability of a device and give judgment based on that. While it is possible to write a reasonably accurate review of a product after a few days’ use, in reality some of the kinks of a device appear after a bit more time of using it.
I was handed the BlackBerry Torch 9800 over a month ago and since then I’ve learned to appreciate the capability of the device as well as its limitations, particularly when pitted against the Apple iPhone.
OBSERVATIONS
On the point of size (111mm x 62mm x 14.6mm) it is not a small phone but then again it’s not exceptionally large either. It’s actually a comfortable form factor if you compare this to the news HTC HD7 (122mm x 68mm x 11.2mm) with a monstrous size frame. Indeed I often keep it inside my pant pocket, and while you can notice the bulge, it doesn’t look outwardly bulky. It’s not lightweight either at 161.9 grams but it’s just heavy enough for me to remember it’s there when I leave it for long periods of disuse.
I noticed reviewers of the 9800 call the phone’s screen resolution a deplorable 3.2″ 480×360 pixel when compared to the iPhone 4’s 3.5″ 960×640 pixel or the HTC HD7’s 4.3″ 480×800 pixel resolution. To be honest the 480×360 resolution is just sufficient enough for me to comfortably watch my favorite TV programs without causing me to squirm at the thought of seeing pixilated images. And given that I don’t have a habit of zooming at photos (as the iPhone ad suggests) I think I can live with this. After all the purpose for my favoring the 9800 over an iPhone or a HTC phone is to send messages.
After weeks of using the 9800, I finally managed to buy a case designed specifically for the 9800’s slider design. This means I can finally protect the outer shell of the phone. The new case adds 1.5mm to 9800 making it feel bulky. While I could accept the bulk in favor of better protection for the phone, it makes typing on the physical keyboard a little annoying (see photo) because of the reduced space between the upper keys and the screen.
When Apple launched its first generation iPhone, there was much speculation about RIM’s implementation of a touchscreen for the BlackBerry. History tells us that RIM’s choice of the SurePress technology for its first ‘touch’ phone didn’t quite get the acceptance the company hoped for. So the choice of a capacitative touchscreen for the 9800 is welcome news, indeed I still wonder why some phone makers are opting to use resistive touch screens on their devices when it’s already proven that capacitative offers better user experience. Maybe they are just trying to keep the cost down.
When I got the 9800, one of the first things I looked at was the CPU. At the time, the Qualcomm snapdragon clocking in at 1GHz was setting the standard for the core processor of most smartphones. So I was dismayed to find out that the 9800 only had a 624MHz CPU. Certainly from a pure spec perspective, the 9800 quickly looked old and outdated. Today, I don’t even quibble about the CPU.
The 9800 is the first BlackBerry to sport the much anticipated new operating system – BlackBerry 6. It is, without doubt, the best implementation to date and one can only expect further refinement of this operating system in future Blackberry phones. The user interface is nice, clean and customizable (to a certain degree).
Multi-tasking is the ability to do two or more things at the same time. For those of us who own an iPhone or an iPad with IOS 4.2, we are condemned to suffer Apple’s interpretation of multi-tasking: only the application that is immediately visible to the user is running, all others are sitting in suspended animation ready to pounce back to life when picked from a roster of apps. Like other BlackBerry phones, the 9800 supports true multi-tasking, meaning all applications that have been picked to run will continue to run until ‘closed’. This means that with a 624MHz CPU and 512MB of internal flash memory, the 9800 may eventually run out of steam unless you close some of the applications you don’t really need to be running at that moment.
WHAT I LIKE
I read somewhere that the industrial design effort for the 9800 was the collaboration between AT&T and RIM, and that the design to use a slider design came before the Palm Pre announcement. A friend of mine loves his Bold 9000 and says the 9800 is inferior to the 9000 when it comes to feel. While I have used the 9000 and quite agree that the more elevated keys on the Bold series make them better suited for typing, I think the 9800 tries to recreate the experience while integrating a touchscreen and the touchpad.
My favorite implementation on the 9800 is the ability to use the physical keyboard and the touch screen simultaneously. I often start a message on the touchscreen and slide out the physical keyboard if I deem the message will be longer (and therefore best entered via the physical keyboard).
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The weakest point of a mechanical device is the mechanical pieces. For slider phones it is the section that connects the screen part of the phone with the rest of the body which usually includes the keyboard and the bulk of the phone including antenna, battery and processor. But this weakness will likely manifest itself after a couple of years of abuse as a friend of mine experience with his NOKIA slider phone.
But this is not my immediate pain. My current two biggest gripe with the 9800 are the two keys at the top: the lock toggle key on the left and the mute key on the right. If like me, you often slip the phone in your pocket, it is inevitable that you will press one of these keys as it jiggles in your pocket. If you were listening to music via the provided headset, the music may stop as a result of accidentally pressing the mute key. By the same token if you are watching a video and are holding the phone in landscape mode, you may at some point accidentally hit one of the lock key which will stop the video and blank the screen; or the mute key which will pause the video playback. It would be nice if there was a way to lock these keys temporarily.
RIM’s insistence of integrating the social networking aspects of the device with the BlackBerry email service continues to boggle me. I suspect it has to do with the email service being the cash cow of the company. But please the whole concept of social networking is to cut the umbilical cord anything physical giving you freedom to connect with others regardless of technology or platform. So why is it that I cannot use the Facebook or Twitter or Instant Messenger apps unless I subscribe to RIM’s email service?
TECHNICAL SPEC

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Key Features and Tech Specs

Size (LxWxD) Closed: 4.4″ x 2.4″ x 0.57″ / 111mm x 62mm x 14.6mm

Open: 5.8″ x 2.4″ x 0.57″ / 148mm x 62mm x 14.6mm
Weight 161.59 g / 5.7 oz (includes battery)
Operating System BlackBerry 6
CPU Speed 624 MHz
Memory
– 512 MB internal flash memory

– 4GB built-in storage memory
Expandable Memory
– 4GB microSD card included

– Supports up to 32GB microSD card
Battery
1270 mAhr removable/rechargeable cryptographic lithium cell
Display
High resolution touch screen

Half-VGA+ display (360 x 480 at 188ppi)
3.2″ (diagonally measured)
Camera
5.0 MP camera, flash, auto focus, face detection, image stabilization, scene modes, 2X zoom, video recording
Video Camera
Normal Mode: 640 x 480 pixels

MMS Mode: 176 x 144 pixels
GPS
Integrated GPS with A-GPS (assisted GPS) ready
WiFi Wi-Fi Band: 802.11b/g/n, support for UMA (carrier-dependent)
Bluetooth
Bluetooth v2.1; Mono/Stereo Headset, Hands-free, Serial Port Profile, Bluetooth Stereo Audio (A2DP/AVCRP) and Bluetooth SIM Access Profile supported
Headset
3.5mm stereo headset capable
Network
SKU1 UMTS: 2100/1900/850/800 MHz (Bands 1,2,5/6)

SKU2 UMTS: 2100/1900/900 MHz (Bands 1,2,8)
GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS networks
ONE MORE THING
As with previous generations of BlackBerry phones, the 9800 has a solid feel to it. There is no mistaking it the 9800 for other than a BlackBerry. Others, like NOKIA, may have tried to emulate the basic design of a BlackBerry, but most feel like plastic toys.
To date I have not yet seen a phone worthy of replacing the BlackBerry phone(s) that have passed my hands. I was the Motorola Droid X maybe a contender.
PHOTOS
Torch 8900 front view

Torch 8900 front view

Back view of the BlackBerry Torch 8900

Back view of the BlackBerry Torch 8900

BlackBerry Torch 8900 front view

BlackBerry Torch 8900 front view with keyboard exposed

Side-by-side comparison Bold vs Torch

Side-by-side comparison Bold vs Torch

Bold vs Torch comparison

Bold vs Torch comparison

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