The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is a first for Research In Motion in two respects. It is the first smartphone from the company to run the latest version of its operating system, BlackBerry OS 6, and it is the first RIM smartphone to take a slider format.
It has another claim to fame too. The new operating system version supports touchscreens, and the Torch has one. RIM has produced touchscreened handsets before in the shape of the Storm and Storm2, but these used a novel technology in which the entire screen depressed when pressed, and it did not go down well.
This time around the touchscreen is more conventional, being a standard capacitive type. The 3.2-inch, 480 x 360-pixel screen is bright and clear, and we had no real problems with it.
The slider format takes a bit of getting used to and we never really warmed to it. In closed mode the BlackBerry Torch 9800 looks quite standard with the usual panel under the screen containing Call, End, Menu and Back buttons and an optical trackpad. Just like other modern BlackBerry devices.
Slide the top and bottom sections apart and you reveal a miniature qwerty keyboard. We found it more awkward to use than many other BlackBerry keyboards. The ridge that runs round the edge and forms part of the handset chassis makes it difficult to hit the outside keys.
The keys don’t have a great deal of travel, and the whole phone felt a bit too large, especially for one-handed use. With the slider opened the BlackBerry Torch 9800 is 148mm tall. With it closed the handset measures 111 x 62 x 14.6mm and it is quite heavy too at 161g.
This being a touch screened device you can opt out of the sliding keyboard altogether and use on-screen alternatives in both tall and wide modes. The tall screen mode keyboard is small and quite fiddly, but the wide screen one we found fine to use.
There is better news as far as BlackBerry OS 6 is concerned. It looks similar enough to its predecessor to be easy for existing BlackBerry fans to get to grips with but it offers a huge number of useful alterations and tweaks.
There is a status bar area which lets you toggle the built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and set alarms. There is a new universal search tool. There are easily accessible notifications for missed calls, RSS feeds, social media feeds and diary events. Context sensitive menus pop up if you tap and hold an icon or thumbnail image.
It is all very intuitive and user friendly. RIM even tips a wink to social media fans by including a new Social Feeds app that unites Twitter, Facebook, Google Talk and MySpace notifications in one place.
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