Research in Motion has done the impossible: it ditched its iconic keyboard in favour of a touch screen for its BlackBerry Torch 9860. Unless you’ve lived under a rock this past decade, you’re likely aware this is big. The BlackBerry experience has always been defined by its thumb board; by joining the touch screen movement, the Torch practically guarantees a completely different encounter. Does this new direction make the Torch 9860 a better BlackBerry? We shuffle, swipe and poke through RIM’s fully touch screen device to find out.
So let’s first address the elephant in the room: the typing experience. A BlackBerry with a physical QWERTY keyboard is arguably the best and fastest way to input text on any smartphone. They’re perfectly tactile, responsive and ergonomic. If you’ve tried virtual keyboards, then you probably already know how this would turn out. In the Torch 9860’s portrait mode, the keys feel cramped and cause a lot of typos. Typing in landscape mode would probably necessitate two hands, but it’s much better because of larger, more evenly spaced keys, but it’s obviously no match with a physical QWERTY. There’s also an option to type with two letters per virtual key, but it defeats the purpose of using a BlackBerry, just like the very existence of the Torch.
What the Torch 9860 is good for is media consumption. The 480 x 800 resolution and larger screen real estate are great for playing videos, while its 1.2GHz CPU and 768MB RAM provides a good kick to the device’s performance, especially when running apps. Surfing the web is quick and convenient as well, though we’re not sure if this is because of the improved hardware or the tweaks to OS 7 and the browser.
BlackBerry phones are known to have mediocre cameras, but the Torch 9860’s 5PM snapper manages to make a minor surprise. Its images are actually quite decent, thanks to its close-to-zero shutter lag and good colour accuracy. Taking videos will bring you crashing back to earth though. There’s a noticeable amount of distortion even when moving the camera around slowly or filming moving subjects. Video also lacks detail despite being capable of filming at 720p. And wait till you try recording in the dark; you can’t use the LED flash while shooting. Oddly, RIM didn’t include a secondary camera in smartphone that seems to be better suited for multimedia creation and consumption.
Spending time with the Torch 9860 has left us a bit confused about what it really wants to do. If the device isn’t for regular physical QWERTY fans, then who is it for? Is it for multimedia consumers who prefer using touch screens? But it’s not that good as a multimedia device. Then what is the Torch 9860 really for? While the device has a great internet browser and decent hardware, it also has a limited selection of expensive apps; isn’t comfortable to use for typing; and has a middling camera. In the end, we think the BlackBerry Torch 9860 doesn’t feel like a BlackBerry at all, and this is reason enough to stay away.