RIM's original BlackBerry Torch -- the first BlackBerry to offer both a touch screen and a hardware keyboard -- debuted last year to decent reviews but a tepid reaction from shoppers. It was a solid device, but one that failed to win over shoppers more interested in the latest Android phones and Apple's iPhone. That's why it's a bit surprising to see that RIM's new BlackBerry Torch, the 9810, offers minor updates only, giving shoppers little incentive to switch to BlackBerry.
Price and Availability
One area where the new BlackBerry Torch absolutely bests its predecessor is price: where the first phone cost $200 on contract, AT&T is offering the new Torch for just $49.99 when you sign a two-year service contract. (The original Torch now sells for $29.99.) That's a fantastic price for a full-featured smartphone.
The design of the original BlackBerry Torch was groundbreaking for RIM, as it was the first BlackBerry to offer a truly usable touch screen, something that both the BlackBerry Storm and Storm 2 had tried and failed to do. By combining a touch screen with BlackBerry's well-regarded QWERTY keyboard, the Torch succeeded where those phones failed.
The Torch 9810 doesn't mess with what worked: it features the same slider-style design, a 3.2-inch touch screen, and a very good QWERTY keyboard. In fact, the touch screen is another improvement over the original Torch: its sharper, with an improved resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, and more responsive, probably thanks to this phone's zippy 1.2-GHz processor.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 features the new BlackBerry OS 7, while the original Torch was the first to sport the completely redesigned BlackBerry OS 6. While OS 7 doesn't offer a complete redesign, it does bring some important behind-the-scenes upgrades. One is the a Liquid Graphics technology, which delivers sharper graphics, and you also get an improved browser and 720p HD video recording.
BlackBerry's OS 7 retains the look of OS 6, with the home screen that offers notifications with previews, universal search that can locate results both on and off your phone, and a universal inbox that catalogs not just e-mail, but also information from services like Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry Messenger.
Browsing the Web
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 runs on AT&T's "4G" network, which uses HSPA+ technology. Some industry insiders do not consider this type of network a true 4G network, because it uses technology found in a 3G network, rather than a completely redesigned technology that is often considered the hallmark of a next-generation service, but in my tests, HSPA+ was speedy. Web pages and videos viewed over HSPA+ appeared well before content viewed over AT&T's 3G network.
The Web browser itself worked well, loading HTML 5 videos as promised, thanks to OS 7. But Flash videos wouldn't play at all, which is too often the case with smartphone browsers. But I did like the browser's speed and its handling of tabs. I also like that it supports the pinch-to-zoom technology that's become more common on today's smartphones.
Like the first BlackBerry Torch, the Torch 9810 features a 5-megapixel camera with some advanced features, including a flash, auto-focus, zoom, scene modes, and image stabilization. I was very impressed with the quality of my test photos, especially those taken outdoors; colors were vivid and the images were sharp. And I was equally impressed with the quality of video clips, which looked bright and crisp.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 is not a complete overhaul of its predecessor. Nor is it an attention-grabbing smartphone that will lure shoppers away from iPhones and Android devices. But it is a solid smartphone with a very good feature set, including BlackBerry's excellent messaging capabilities, that comes at a very low price.