BlackBerry Torch (9850) Review| By Cam Lincoln
In another world, one where Google stuck to search and Apple kept its eye on the iPod, BlackBerry's Torch 9850 would be an amazing phone. But this isn't an alternative dimension, and the Torch is stuck in the middle of the road, even though if it's a radical departure for RIM.
The Torch looks a lot like earlier models, including the 9800 and 9810, but in a bad way -- it features an enlarged, half-hearted attempt at a touch screen To make matters worse, RIM removed its iconic QWERTY and went with a straight-up onscreen keyboard. If RIM had released it years ago, or in a vacuum, I'd be a decent device, but frankly, it's worse off -- if you wanted a physical keyboard, you won't get it, and if you wanted a touch screen there are better, cheaper Android devices out there. RIM tried to do something it wasn't good at, and in the process, ditched the thing it was.
But that doesn't mean the Torch is a monstrous Frankenphone. There are a few positives, and that's evident in the design. It balances sharp angles with a soft-touch finish on the back. I thought the gunmetal band that circles the perimeter has a nice quality feel. But at nearly half an inch thick and 4.7-inches tall, it's not small. You can still slip it into a pocket without a problem, but just don't accidentally sit on one of the sharp edges. I had an issue with the glossy front. In short, it will attract fingerprints like a magnet, so you'll be wiping it a lot.
The bigger display, meanwhile, nicely curves to fit your face. At 3.7-inches, it's the biggest BlackBerry screen yet -- which, compared to rivals, isn't really that big, actually. Regardless, if you're a BlackBerry loyalists, and you've been unhappy with the measly display, it's 15 percent larger than the 3.2-inches on the Torch 9810. The added size comes with a beefed up 800-by-480 pixel resolution, which I found to be sharper and more vibrant than earlier models, but still a far cry from the high-end iPhone and Android devices.
I streamed some movies, and they looked decent. BlackBerry claims its "Liquid Graphics" engine boosts and smooths out graphics performance. But it's the same story: the difference is noticeable compared to earlier models, but not that impressive compared to the top-end multimedia powerhouses out there. The viewing angle is wide, though, and I didn't notice much difference in image quality even at odd angles.
The 5-megapixel camera takes bright pictures, with accurate colors and a lot of definition -- both indoors and out. But nothing too impressive. I thought the best feature was the auto-focus -- even the shaky photos I took came out focused thanks to the stabilization feature. But after I captured the image, I was out of luck trying to tweak photos. There's not much in editing options here, so prepare to boot up your PC and launch Photoshop. You can record 720p video, and the quality is equally vibrant. But the auto-focus lags when you try to track moving objects. Just be aware it's not great for action-packed clips. There's no front-facing lens, so you won't be able to video chat.
The Torch, like its predecessor the 9810, runs on RIM's BlackBerry 7 software, which more or less the same as version 6. You'll get all the same widgets and shortcuts, and little else. There's a new search bar, which is a little more inconvenient. On past devices, you just had to start typing to dig up contacts and e-mails. But now, since you need to use the virtual keyboard, you need to take the added step of tapping an icon. The search is great, but I found that small change to be a huge inconvenience.
If you're tired of intrusive Android skins, full of flamboyant animations, you may find the stripped down BlackBerry 7 layout a breath of fresh hair. But frankly, I didn't like BB7. I found it a little too simple: there's not even a proper homescreen. RIM has a long way to go to catch up to iOS and Android. Why? Well, the company prides itself on its business perks, especially e-mail, and it does do it well, but there's little in the way of entertainment. Sure, you'll get the tried-and-true programs like Documents To Go. I loaded up and edited Word, Excel and PowerPoint-like files without a problem. But, unfortunately, that's as far as the apps go.
RIM designed the Torch to be more like an Android device, but the choice of apps is a far cry from it. If you want those, bluntly put, go with iOS or Android. Your choices are measly, and that's putting it generously. No matter how solid the camera, screen or hardware are, if RIM wants to claw back into the market, it needs to get developers onboard -- but it's a losing uphill battle. That's a shame.
But the browser looks better thanks to the larger screen -- you can actually read on it. Pages loaded faster too, thanks to better HTML5 rendering, but sadly, like the iPhone, it lacks Flash. Fortunately, I didn't have problems with lag, and everything loaded, scrolled and zoomed smoothly.
The 1,230 mAh battery is a mixed bag. On one hand, it's far longer-lasting than any Android device. But it's a drop down from earlier models. I got over a day's worth of juice, and you can expect about six hours of continuous use. The 1.2-megahertz chip, meanwhile, keeps everything running smoothly, while the 4-gigabytes of storage is unspectacular, but you can -- and should -- boost it with a microSD card.
Overall, if you like Android, the Torch was designed for you. And if you want a tried-and-true BlackBerry device, the lack of a keyboard is a deal breaker. I can't really recommend it, though. If you wanted an Android, just buy an Android, because the Torch, despite its pretty screen and nice camera, is just a poor knockoff. And if you want a BlackBerry, go with the Torch 9810, which has a smaller screen but features the iconic physical keyboard. ♦
TFT (Accelerometer / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
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