I’m a BlackBerry user from way back. I tried the iPhone, and for all the apps it sports, its limited functionality on the AT&T network, as well as its dreadful touchscreen keyboard left me extremely cold. I’d always much preferred the tactile effect that the full QWERTY keyboard gave me, but didn’t enjoy the rollerball and touch / drag interface of the BlackBerry, so when I heard about the Torch combining a touch screen with keyboard, I was – shall we say – cautiously optimistic. However, seeing that it was carried by the reprehensible AT&T 3G network, emphasis was placed on the caution and tempered the optimism.
I always enjoyed the industrial look of the BlackBerry. They avoided the “sleek” feeling of most Smartphones, and produced a satisfyingly heavy product that made you feel like you were wielding the technological equivalent of Thor’s Hammer. Picking up a BlackBerry gave you a miniscule thrill, and a sense of power. It was a way for any man to compensate for whatever penile deficiencies God may have stricken him with (not me, you understand…). It was a serious machine, not some plastic toy. The sense was that you were about to drop some indiscriminate communication on some poor fool. You weren’t about to text to Kiki that you were “Totally diggin’ tha new Lady Gaga song,” but were about to hit President Obama with some serious knowledge.
This carries over to the Torch, but the effect isn’t gratifying so much as outdated. It feels archaic. The weight and design feel old instead of powerful. It’s clunky and awkward. It might be appropriate if I intended to lug it down the mountain with the decrees of the almighty written on it, or tying it to a death threat to be cast through the window of some mook that decided to rat me out to the feds; but otherwise it is far too bulky to really survive in the current marketplace.
The display is another point of contention. The Torch uses a 480 X 360 pixel display, which makes it look childish compared to the 480 X 800 resolution that is much more the industry standard at this point. Text was over sized and pictures were unrefined. It had a cardboard book feel to it, and being well past the age in which I require Fun with Dick and Jane literature, and not yet being to the age that a Jitterbug appeals to me, I didn’t care for it. I suspect the reason for this is to maintain backwards compatibility with some of the applications, but it did not make for an attractive interface.
I was hoping that when I fired up the Torch, I would be receiving the same jolting experience I had with my first BlackBerry, which is to say an obscene display of power. The specs all had whispered promises of outstanding force to me. 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB hardwired storage, a micro SD slot for additional storage, 802.11b/g/n WiFi connection (which is probably meaningless to most of you, but means it is practically a Netbook), and the promise of a next generation processor all had me giddy with the hope that there would be glory to be had inside of this boat of a phone.
Sadly, such was not the case. The processor works at the old 624MHz that was seen on several previous BlackBerry models, and it was barely sufficient then. The processes on the Torch all seemed very sluggish. I don’t know if the processor is to blame or if it is the fault of the operating system. Either way, it is not only less than promised, but less than I would expect from any Smartphone in existence today.
The next bit of tech to be reviewed was the much lauded new BlackBerry 6 OS. Older iterations of BlackBerry operating systems were unfriendly in their interface, designed – it seemed – by frustrated archaeologists that wanted everyone to experience a fruitless dig through the entire detritus of the world with the hope of finding some small gem of information. The BlackBerry 6 is much more streamlined than its predecessors. Objects are easy to find and the display is much more malleable allowing for a level of cohesiveness that eliminated the gross arrays of sub-menus that had become the BlackBerry standard. Now there is a drop in (or in this case, slide up) window that contains all the applications. It can be kept out of sight and brought up with a drag, or notched into the main screen. It uses the touchscreen well. Overall, the BlackBerry 6 OS is the single shining improvement the Torch can claim.
Where I live, connectivity is paramount. Anyone that lives in the mountains knows that dropped calls and spotty reception are often a way of life. This is more the fault of the carrier than it is the phone itself, so only minimal blame can be assigned to the phone. The Torch did manage to have very solid connectivity both for phone and data reception, despite being tethered to AT&T. I would prefer a different carrier, and knowing BlackBerry, a contract with Verizon or T-Mobile or both is likely in the works, but even using AT&T, I have no complaints about the number of bars I had.
Overall, the Torch shows some improvements in the software that BlackBerry is using, and that is a much welcome relief for die-hard users. When these improvements are put into a really enjoyable phone, then BlackBerry will really have something that can compete in the current marketplace. The problem with the Torch is that it feels like it is a generation behind the times. It is being beaten soundly by phones like the Droid X and Nexus.
With a $500 price tag (depending on where you buy or with what contract) it is certainly not worth the price. The combination of the touch screen and slide out keyboard is great, but not inspired. It is better than trying to make its ugly stepsister the Storm work, but not by much. At the end of the day, if you are a BlackBerry fan, you can save money and get a better overall experience by choosing the Bold. The changes in software show where BlackBerry was focusing, so hopefully the next product they offer will marry the advances in software to a hardware worthy of it.