BlackBerry 9810 – a messaging dream?
On the outside, the new Blackberry Torch looks exactly the same as its predecessor. On the inside there have been changes, like speed, but SEAN BACHER asks if this is enough.
Research in Motion (RIM) has had its ups and downs with the various BlackBerry models. For example, just last year, it released the BlackBerry Bold 9900, with poor battery life and an unstable phone. Before that, though, it produced the original BlackBerry 9800 Torch, arguably one of the best smartphones it has ever made. (Gadget Editor-in-chief Arthur Goldstuck swears by this model and is always eager to return to it after testing another brand or model).
Late last year RIM announced a new Torch, the 9810, which uses the new BlackBerry 7 OS and a faster CPU.
Will this be a phone that can live up to its predecessor’s expectations? A phone that Arthur won’t be too eager to give up in order to return to his older, worn out BlackBerry Torch? We put it through the Gadget Ten Task Test to find out.
1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 feels the same as the older 9800. It allows users to control it via the slide-out keyboard, touch screen or optical trackpad. Its dimensions are exactly the same and, if it were not for the silver shell, it would be very difficult to tell the old from the new.
The mini USB/charging port, headphone jack, Power, Volume and Camera buttons are all located in the same place as on the BlackBerry Torch 9800.
It is a little disappointing that RIM did nothing to streamline the new BlackBerry Torch further, but for a phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, it is still an elegant option.
2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)
Weighing 161 grams, and measuring 111X62X14.6mm, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 is by no means a slim phone.
Its large dimensions make it difficult to slip into your pants pocket. I often found myself jamming it into my pocket, only to realise I had inadvertently unlocked it by pushing the unlock button at the top of the phone or by sliding the keypad out. This has led to a lot of unwanted calls at inappropriate times.
The BlackBerry Torch will fit well in a handbag, and doesn't fit too badly in a front shirt pocket – although its weight may end up making your shirt look a bit lopsided.
Overall, RIM should have made the phone slimmer – it is more than double the thickness of the Motorola Razr!
3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)
The new BlackBerry Torch starts to show its true colours when it comes to speed. Yes it may look exactly the same as the older Torch, but it is an entirely different story when comparing the specifications.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 uses a 1.2GHz processor, double the speed of the original Torch. It also includes 768MB of RAM instead of the 512MB on the former. This means that scrolling is far smoother and applications launch and close far quicker than before.
The processor and RAM upgrades also allow for a much easier, more seamless multitasking experience. Switching between apps doesn't take much time, although a general loss in speed will be noticed as more applications are opened – especially when switching between games.
That said, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 did have a few go-slow moments, where it looked like it had frozen, but was just thinking really hard and carried on as normal after a couple of seconds.
The BlackBerry 7 OS also seems to work more efficiently on the Torch 9810. Unlike the Bold 9900, which uses the same OS, same processor and same amount of RAM, the Torch seems to handle these resources and the OS with much less of a hassle. It is almost as if the BlackBerry 7 OS was designed specifically for the Torch and as if all other new RIM handsets should get a BlackBerry OS version of their own.
Despite the phone’s slow moments, the device, OS, RAM and CPU all come together very well to provide a fast, responsive and stable phone.
4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)
Battery life has never been one of BlackBerry’s strong points. The BlackBerry Bold 9900’s battery barely lasted a day and, on some days, the battery indicator would not even give a true reading of how much operating time was left.
There is, however, a vast improvement with the BlackBerry Torch. I set it to connect to both 3G and 2G networks and was able to get eight hours of heavy usage out of it. Setting it to 2G-only more than doubles its battery life.
Yes, connecting to a 2G network means much slower data transfer speeds, but this barely comes into play when sending and receiving BBMs, e-mails and Tweets.
If you are preparing for a serious session of Internet browsing, such as streaming a YouTube video, connecting to a 3G network does make all the difference, and all you need to do is change the settings. This may sound like a work-around but, thanks to the touch screen, it takes no more than five taps to switch between networks.
The only proviso is that some apps drain battery power rapidly, even when open only in the background. Such app-demand is unpredictable, and will vary according to the apps you prefer to use.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 uses a Li-Ion 1 270 mAh battery, which RIM says will give you a talk time of up to five hours when connected to a 3G network, and just over six when on a 2G network. Strangely, it is a step back from the Torch 9800’s 1 300 mAh battery, but still an improvement over the Bold 9900’s 1 230 mAh battery.
5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)
The BlackBerry Torch 9810’s browser is fluid and displays most web pages clearly and accurately. It offers a pinch-to-zoom option and the ability to open multiple tabs , which are easy to scroll through.
The 5MP camera offers a maximum resolution of 2592X1944 pixels and features autofocus and face detection - but is exactly the same as that on the BlackBerry 9800. This is not a bad thing, as the picture quality is great and the dedicated hardware button makes launching the camera app quick and easy. I would have liked to see a pinch-to-zoom function here too, as I found zooming in and out too finicky.
The BlackBerry 9810 Torch offers a 3.2” 16 million colour Thin Film Transistor (TFT) capacitive touch screen with a resolution of 480X640 pixels at 250 pixels per inch. It’s an improvement over the previous Torch, but it is no match for a phone like the iPhone 4S with its Retina Display.
Overall, the BlackBerry Torch is almost average here, although an improvement on previous BlackBerry devices. There are no “Wow!” features, but at the same time the phone does not underachieve in any of these areas.
6. Talk to me (quality of audio)
The loudspeaker included with the BlackBerry Torch is good enough for phone conversations, but is not designed to rock your world with your favourite tunes. A headphone jack is also included. The speaker-phone function is effective, but beware the mute button while making a call – thanks to your ear on the touch-screen, you may suddenly find yourself dead to the world in mid-conversation.
7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)
Messaging, or more to the point, handling e-mail and BBM, is the reason many people buy a BlackBerry handset. Should you decide to buy the BlackBerry Torch for those reasons, you will not be disappointed.
I have yet to find a phone that comes even close to BlackBerry for delivering, receiving and responding to e-mails. This, combined with the full QWERTY keyboard, is a perfect match for the active e-mailer.
There are a few apps available that try to compete with BlackBerry Messenger, such as WhatsApp, but none of them come close to its reliability and ease of use. A new feature included with the BlackBerry OS 7 is BBM Connected Apps. This feature gives you the option to share apps with your BBM contacts and the ability to chat within the BBM Connected Apps, creating an ecosystem around the BBM service.
Right now, the messaging services on the BlackBerry cannot be rivalled.
8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)
The buttons are all within easy reach with one hand. The touch screen means you don't need to slide the keyboard out ever time you want to use the phone, but the virtual keyboard that pops up when you want to type a message is a bit cluttered, making hard work of something that is easy on the physical keyboard.
The phone Lock button is a little too easy to press when in a pocket and I would have liked to see it located somewhere where there is less chance of it being accidentally pressed.
9. The new new (innovations, unique features)
All the features located on the BlackBerry Torch 9810 are available on its predecessors. Besides a faster, more stable phone, RIM has brought nothing new to the table in the way of innovation.
10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 carries a retail price of around R5 000, considerably less than other top-end smartphones that offer similar features. But, it is still a lot to pay for a smartphone and as such, a little shopping around is required.
Total score: 74/100
I once heard someone say that, in order to fully appreciate a BlackBerry, you have to have the need to communicate a lot via e-mail. This is the prime purpose of the BlackBerry Torch 9810. Yes, it does offer a range of multimedia capabilities, but if you bought the phone purely for those, you would be disappointed. If e-mail and BBM are your prime purpose, though, it is a messaging dream and you could probably eliminate several of the low-scoring elements and increase the overall score substantially.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher