The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is a bit of a revolution, at least for current BlackBerry users. This is Research In Motion’s first ever touch-screen and physical QWERTY keyboard hybrid device. We’ve put the Torch 9800 through a series of business and general consumer day-to-day use. We give you our unbiased thoughts and show you whether or not the Torch 9800 is the “best BlackBerry ever” and if OS 6 lives up to the hype.

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 was initially going to be apart of the Bold family. However, RIM decided to honor Torch Mobile, the creators of the new webkit browser, by changing the 9800’s family name to Torch.

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Below are our honest points on the Torch 9800 and OS 6. We have taken a series of pictures and videos to include visual demonstrations of just about each area, so that you can see why we liked or disliked an area.

What we like about the Torch 9800:

  • Killing of SurePress – SurePress is certainly unique and could have been an excellent technology for accurately typing on a touch-screen. However, as we all know the technology has yet to be perfected. The decision to include a capacitive touch-screen, in our opinion, was a wise decision.
  • Trackpad – Many wonder why a touch-screen device would need to have a TrackPad. However, we’ve found time and time again that the TrackPad aids in accurately highlighting text and clicking on links, which you might not be able to do with fingers on a touch-screen.
  • Proximity Sensor – a true proximity sensor has finally been added. It works quite well. You can see it in action while on a call as the IR sensor light blinks.
  • Call Quality – All calls were crisp and clear even when the device had the keyboard slid open. The only out-of-the-norm thing we noticed is the quality actually improved when we were on speaker phone.
  • Physical QWERTY Keyboard – The keyboard on the Torch 9800 has got to be one of RIM’s best yet. There is hardly any resistance on the keys and the entire keyboard base is snug in place.
  • 5MP Camera – A very welcomed addition over the previous 3.2MP camera. Images and video are obviously clearer. Auto-focus and flash are a necessity.
  • Comfortability – The Torch 9800 is very comfortable to hold. The new battery door helps it from slipping out of your hand.
  • Sliding Mechanism – Sliding out the physical keyboard feels very smooth. It is nice to feel it lock in place. Our only hope is that this mechanism doesn’t wear out.
  • Battery Life – We’ve been a hard user on the Torch. Needless to say the battery has kept up and lasted the entire day. The battery is small compared to the Storm2, so we were skeptical at first, but the Torch 9800 has proven to have solid battery life even with a lot apps and data processing.
What could be better about the Torch 9800:
  • The send/end, BlackBerry options, and back keys should have been touch sensitive rather than push keys.
  • The top part of the device (housing with the touch-screen) wiggles when the device has the keyboard slid closed. This at times made it feel weird when typing on the on-screen keyboard when in landscape. We’re hoping the wiggling will not get worse over time.
  • Lock/Mute Keys – These were relatively easy to push. Thus, it caused you to accidentally unlock/lock or mute the device.
  • Convenience Key – The lack of a left side convenience key felt is a mystery to us.
  • Portrait Keyboard – We understand the reason the Torch has a portrait versus a landscape keyboard is for the purpose of typing with one hand. However, we believe a landscape version may have been a better fit. This has been one of the greatest debate features so far.
  • Fingerprint Marks – The screen attracts the oils of your fingers too much. Other touchscreen devices have taken measures to fix this and have succeeded. This should have been implemented on the Torch 9800’s screen.
What we dislike about the Torch 9800:
  • Screen Size and Resolution – The screen size is only 3.2″, which is tiny compared to the competition. Screen resolution of only 360×480, surely the resolution should have been increased.
  • Processor and Memory – With a processor at only 624Mhz and Flash RAM of only 512MB, the Torch 9800 is no more powerful than the Bold 9700, 9650. This device could have easily used 1Ghz in both areas.
  • MiniSD – The Torch 9800 is being marketed as a mulit-media entered device. However, only a 4GB miniSD memory card has been included. This seems pathetic over the 16GB miniSD that came with the Storm2.

What we like about OS 6:

  • Universal Search – While some of the results might not have been the most useful or accurate, we did generally find what we were looking for. The only thing we couldn’t find was BlackBerry Maps. We’ve heard that AT&T has hidden this app so that you are forced to use AT&T Maps.
  • Previews – This shows a very small preview of all of your most recent e-mails, text messages, social networking updates, etc. so you can decide whether or not you’d like to view it.
  • Options – The entire options has been dramatically improved. You can now view your CPU usage, Memory use, and see what apps are taking up space/memory.
  • Webkit Browser – Although strikingly familiar with Opera Mini 5, the new BlackBerry browser developed by Torch Mobile is undoubtedly the biggest addition to OS 6. The previous BlackBerry browser was so behind the times it was very sad, yet laughable at the same time, and also quite aggravating. The new webkit browser is by far one of the best mobile phone browsers in the market today. When on WiFi and not AT&T’s sorry service, full webpages are scaled and load very fast . The tabbed browser is finally a dream come true, which makes it a dream to use your BlackBerry browser for work and just to surf.
  • Setup – The new setup interface has made it easier to manage your connections, e-mail accounts, bluetooth, and to fully personalize your device’s sound profiles, wallpaper, themes, etc.
  • At least for the Torch 9800, when you set your wallpaper it will automatically resize the image when transitioning from portrait to landscape. Traditionally, in OS 5, you could not set the landscape wallpaper for the Storm series, unless you created a theme.
  • Media – The media interface has been improved and picture thumbnails finally load generally quicker.
  • Pinch to zoom – A feature that should have been implemented a long time ago, it is very nice when viewing a website or pictures. You can even pinch to zoom with e-mails.
  • Shortcuts – A welcomed improvement for moving, launching, deleting, etc of an app icon.
  • App backwards compatibility – Some have had luck with this, while others haven’t. Luckily for us, most of our Storm2 apps worked very well on the Torch 9800. We aren’t sure if other OS 5 apps from devices such as the Bold 9700, 9650, etc will work.
  • Camera – New interface is great. Addition of facial recognition technology is amazing.
  • WiFi Sync – Along with BlackBerry Desktop Manager 6, you can now wirelessly sync your media from your PC to your OS 6 enabled device.
  • Boot Time – When doing a battery pull or soft reset the boot time seems to have been dramatically shortened.
What we dislike about OS 6:
  • Although there are some notable improvements in OS 6 from OS 5, there isn’t that much different from the two. We understand that RIM wanted to make OS 6 “recognizable” so it would be an easy transition for users, and they have definitely accomplished this. However, OS 6 is not ground breaking in a market that has BlackBerry competing against the likes of Android and iOS.
  • Pages – We understand the pages concept and its not entirely terrible. There are still folders for certain things (games, applications, instant messaging, etc), and you can create your own folders. What we don’t understand is why you can’t even create a custom page! Sliding from one page to the next hangs a bit. We aren’t sure if this slight pause when swiping from one page to the next was intentional or not. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make the Torch 9800’s capacitive touchscreen feel as ‘brilliant’ as we’re told it is.
  • No on screen answer button for incoming calls. Not a huge issue, but you would think for a touch-screen like the Torch 9800 there would be this option, rather than having to use the send button.
  • On-screen keyboard – This currently only applies to the Torch 9800, but the on-screen keyboard is definitely not the best. It’s accuracy is as laughable as it is irritating at times. What struck us as odd is that when we took off the ‘key indicator’ we swear our typing accuracy became slightly impaired. However, once we turned it back on we were able to type a little more accurately.
Torch 9800 Spec List:
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
Battery Life GSM Talk Time: 5.5 hours; GSM Standby Time: 17 days
UMTS Talk Time: 5.8 hours; UMTS Standby Time: 13 days
Audio Playback: 29.8 hrs
Video Playback: 6 hrs
Keyboard Physical keyboard: 35 key backlit QWERTY
Touchscreen keyboards: portrait/landscape full qwerty, condensed portrait
Display High resolution touch scree
Half-VGA+ display (360 x 480 at 188ppi)
3.2″ (diagonally measured)
Navigation – Capacitive traditional touch screen (no SurePress)
– Optical trackpad
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
Voice Input/Output Integrated speaker and microphone, hands-free headset
capable, Bluetooth headset capable, integrated hands-free speakerphone
GPS Integrated GPS with A-GPS (assisted GPS) ready
Media Player Video format support: MPEG4, H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile H.264, WMV
Audio format support: MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, FLAC, OGG
Ringtone format support: 32 polyphonic – MIDI, SP-MDI, MP3, WAV
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

Afterthoughts on the Torch 9800 and OS 6:

The BlackBerry operating system has never been one of RIM’s strengths. We feel that OS 6 is a timid step up from OS 5. Many of the new features in OS 6 should have been implemented years ago. It is good to see RIM working on improving the user interface and experience. We were truthfully hoping for something with a little more ‘wow’. If rumors are true, than we may see such a ‘wow’ OS with the Storm3, as it has been suggested it will include widgets, etc. Nevertheless, we feel OS 6 is a good improvement from OS 5, but there is nothing that shouldn’t have already been.
While unique to current BlackBerry users, we aren’t anticipating the Torch 9800 or even OS 6 to steal any users from the competition. We walked away with mixed emotions. Yes, the Torch 9800 is by far the best BlackBerry ever and should be purchased. It truly performs great and brings the power of a physical keyboard with the ease of a touch-screen. However, the clincher is that the Torch 9800 does not meet or exceed its competition with hardware, software, or even ingenuity. We’re glad to see RIM stepping out of their comfort zone with a slider phone, albeit a somewhat out-dated design, but it makes us concerned for the future of BlackBerry.
The Torch 9800 is nothing short of a mix of parts from other BlackBerry series. The Torch 9800 is more a morphing of past well performing devices than a leap into the future. We hope that RIM will wake up and one day be next to or better than the competition, before it is too late. We would hate to see our beloved BlackBerrys suffer the same fate as Palm or Nokia.

[rating:3.5/5]