The Teen Review: BlackBerry Torch
One of the growing must-haves for any teen going back to school is a new cell phone– and for more and more teens that cell phone is a smartphone like an iPhone, Android or BlackBerry.
A couple of weeks ago, AT&T and RIM (the makers of the BlackBerry) released the next generation of the BlackBerry platform, the touchscreen slider BlackBerry Torch with the all new BlackBerry 6 OS. So, if you’re going back to school and on AT&T, is this new BlackBerry better than other phones like the Samsung Captivate and iPhone 4? Does BlackBerry 6 have enough to keep the BlackBerry in the game with iOS, Android, webOS and the upcoming Windows Phone 7? For all those answers and more, read on for our full teen review!
As we did with the intro post on the Torch, we’re gonna break this review down into two parts– hardware and software.
If we had to describe the Torch on a hardware level it’d be this– good, but not good enough for a 2010 flagship phone.
Plain and simple, the design of the Torch is great— perfect size screen, thin yet sturdy casing, and that expected, awesome BlackBerry keyboard we’ve seen on so many devices through the years. It just feels right when you’re holding it, both in your hand and in your pocket. And just to really focus on the keyboard as a lot of people are worried that it won’t be as good as older BBs like Tour’s or Bold 9700’s– don’t worry, it really is just as good. I’ve been typing on an iPhone screen the last 3 years and there was really no “learning curve” from when I first picked up the phone. Texting and BBM-ing from this keyboard are just perfect.
And while we love the design and appreciate the removal of the annoying SurePress screen on the other touchscreen BlackBerry– Verizon’s BlackBerry Storm series– we really wish RIM up’ed the screen resolution to be on the same level as the iPhone 4, HTC EVO 4G, Motorola Droid X, and Galaxy S (Samsung’s Epic 4G on Sprint, Captivate on AT&T and Vibrant on T-Mobile) phones. While the Torch’s screen is definitely usable, there is a noticeable difference of a lower quality when you switch from looking at one of the aforementioned phones to this. Considering that there is a lot of talk about Apple adding iPhone 4-like Retina Displays to the iPod Touch soon, we believe a lot of people will be noticing this difference a lot more.
Another major downer on the Torch is it’s lag. In our tests we noticed a lot of freezing and general slowness. Whether we were in an app, in a message or the browser, or just trying to switch from BBM to Facebook, the Torch just didn’t seem capable of handling the load. Like the screen, a big reason for this could be the much underpowered processor on the Torch— a pathetic 624 MHz compared to the Droid X, EVO, iPhone 4 and Galaxy S phones 1 GHZ processors (a major and very noticeable difference in speed). For a flagship phone, this is yet another disappointment, and honestly, when you’re trying to position this as “the best BlackBerry ever” and an “evolution of the smartphone”, it needs to be able to keep up with the best everyone else offers.
The camera on the Torch was pretty good, and while it wasn’t iPhone 4 or EVO 4G-esq (particularly with video, which looked decent at best but nowhere near the great quality on those other phones); it did take some pretty solid shots that should be more than enough for capturing some fun at a party or at a game. Here are a couple of comparison shots we took between the iPhone 4 and Torch at a Yankee game last week, the Torch pix on the top, iPhone 4 pix on the bottom (click on pix for bigger shots).
Call quality on the phone (for the times when you actually use your phone as well, a phone) was pretty solid, with us hearing who we called clearly and vice versa. Speakerphone however, was like the screen– definitely usable but not the greatest, with calls sounding really distorted when on a high volume. Oh, and for some reason the Torch kept giving me an EDGE signal at the Yankee game while my iPhone 4 was giving me 4-5 bars of 3G. Data on the Torch during this time was still good with Facebook checks and BBMs going through fine, but when loading up our site and ESPN, the iPhone was noticeably faster.
Now that hardware is out-of-the-way, let’s move on to the next big piece of this phone– software, mainly BlackBerry 6 OS.
BlackBerry 6 OS
Like the hardware, the new BlackBerry 6 OS provides a mixed bag. It kind of is a minor jump instead of a complete re-do like Windows Phone 7, and that in it of itself is both a good and bad thing. If you’re used to a BlackBerry then you’ll feel right at home when you pick up a BlackBerry 6 OS device. Menus, layouts, folders– it really is the exact same as BlackBerrys’ of the past. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing– a lot of people interested in the Torch already are used to the BlackBerry and not having to learn something radically new is always nice. Plus when you add in some new features like that much improved web browser (which is finally good! Pages now load like you’d expect on an iPhone or Android and is not at all like the horrible browser seen on older BBs. Though this browser is not always as smooth as those others, but hey, one major improvement at a time!), the “new” OS really is not that bad for current BB users. We also really like the new Social Feed, which lets you easily organize your Facebook, IM (such as AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo! and Windows Live Messenger), Twitter and RSS feeds (to automatically download the latest headlines from your favorite websites straight to your phone) into one easy to use and easy to manage place. You even can update your statuses on many of them at once (like what we’ve seen on Microsoft’s now dead KIN). Oh, and BrickBreaker with a touchscreen is a lot more fun.
All that said, not everything was so great with the new OS. For one, the onscreen keyboards were pretty bad. Be it in portrait or the wider landscape, thank goodness there is a slide out physical keyboard. The keys on both are way too close and the little letter overlay (where the letter you press gets highlighted above your finger) was really hard to read make it hard to make out what key you pressed. We also constantly found ourselves accidentally pressing the send key during texts and BBM’s before we were done (the onscreen send key looks just like any regular key on the keyboard with no significant differentiation in design or layout beyond an icon with a green outline instead of a letter). We also ran into a lot of trouble running apps off the BlackBerry App World, and many of the apps we tried out didn’t even work properly as they need to be specially redesigned for the new touchscreen (and though we were able to use the trackpad in these apps, for a GPS or photo app you really would love to pinch and zoom).
Again, with all the basic “must haves” like BBM, great messaging and a solid browser down, BlackBerry 6 OS should be fine for most current BB users—we just see too many other flaws for it to be on the same level as Android and iPhone.
Well, if you’re on AT&T and looking for a back-to-school smartphone is this the phone for you? Considering your options, including getting a Captivate or iPhone 4 for the same price, we’d really recommend looking at those over this. Remember, this is a 2 year contract you’re signing up for, and if we’re seeing a lot of lag and problems today, who knows how it will keep up a year and a half from now. For current BlackBerry owners who are used to the OS or those who like/need the BBM and great texting without a big App Store or high-res screen, you should be more than happy with this.
The Torch isn’t a bad phone, and I really see it as the best BlackBerry yet. However, if this is RIM’s way to fight off the rise of iPhone and Android, I’m not too excited for the future of the iconic brand. The Torch and BlackBerry 6 OS do a good job at narrowing the gap with the iPhone and Android (mainly with the much improved browser), but it still is underneath it all just the same old BlackBerry we’ve seen before.
The BlackBerry Torch is available now for $199 with a new 2 year contract and $15 or $25 a month data plan from AT&T.
Well, BlackBerry users– what do you think, is this your next phone?
Posted on August 24, 2010, in Back to School, Cell Phones, First Look/Reviews and tagged att, back to school, bb, bbm, blackberry 9800, blackberry torch, Cell Phones, review, rim, teen review. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.