BlackBerry Torch 9800 review from the perspective of a BlackBerry Newbie

CrackBerry Idol - Joseph
By Kevin Michaluk on 1 Sep 2010 11:35 pm EDT

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review - BlackBerry Newbie

If you're considering upgrading to a smartphone, you've undoubtedly come across the plethora of news articles and reviews for the iPhone and Android phones. What those news articles tend to gloss over is the fact that Research in Motion - BlackBerry's manufacturer - absolutely dominates the smartphone market. Nearly half of all smartphones sold are BlackBerrys. Combine that with a decade in the business; countless government, security, and business contracts; and a history of solid operating systems - you'd think RIM would get a little more love.

With the BlackBerry Torch 9800, RIM aims to get a little of that love back. The Torch is a hybrid of old and new, physical keyboard and touch screen, introducing new OS features while keeping the familiar BlackBerry feel. In short, if you're upgrading from a dumbphone to a smartphone, be prepared. RIM knows its smartphones.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

The Torch features both a touch screen and a keyboard. BlackBerry users love their keyboard. Though at first glance, the keyboard seems small and cramped; once you use it for a while, you'll see how it's the perfect size for power texting. The touch screen uses an on-screen keyboard that takes some getting used to. In my experience, the trick is to trust the keyboard. I found that even more errors occurred when I was trying to fix a mistyped letter. The OS does a fairly good job of figuring out what you meant to type.

The important physical keys at the bottom are the BlackBerry (BB) key, the touch pad, and the Back key. While it's certainly possible to control the device using the touch screen alone, I find that I really like having the option to use either the touch screen, the physical key, or both. One notable exception, there is no touch screen control for Back; a control that I use quite frequently.

Learning to use a new phone can be a long and frustrating process. Add to that a device as advanced as a smartphone, and you could be looking at a very steep learning curve. BlackBerry has you covered. Found in setup, there are several tutorial videos to show you the basics of using your new device. There are no words, no lecture. Just watch, and you'll understand.

Smartphones are telephones; it's right there in the name. Not unexpectedly, the Torch performs well as voice communication device. Calls come through crystal clear, and signal strength almost always rebuilds itself quickly after falling.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

The user experience on the Torch is a very fluid and well-designed experience; though at times the BlackBerry lags, especially on those very fluid screen transitions. For the most part, the new operating system glides through screens, photos, messages and so much more. In many ways, it is a very elegant OS.

Changing the settings on your old dumbphone was fairly difficult wasn't it? Digging down into menus - some with cryptic names - is a thing of the past. With BlackBerry's Quick Access Area, all your major settings and setups are found with the touch of a thumb. Wi-Fi access, Bluetooth, service status, and all the other settings can be changed here.

Underneath the Quick Access Area is the Notifications Bar. Here is where the different icons for new and unread emails, voicemails, text messages, Tweets, BBM messages, FaceBook updates, Windows Messenger chats, and many, many others will appear. Touching the Notifications Bar opens up a drop down list containing links to whatever is notifying you. One major disappointment with this feature is the inability to customize this feature. Filtering calendar appointments would be a nice addition. Hopefully, this will be theme- or application-customizable.

One of the nicest additions to the new OS is Universal search. From the home screen, just start typing. Your BlackBerry will search messages, contacts, phone logs, social media, and even settings to find what you're looking for. If it's not on your BlackBerry, you can search using YouTube, App World, Podcasts, Google, Yahoo, and a number of other search providers; all with a touch of a finger.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

Keeping you connected is what BlackBerrys do best. For years, they've been top notch at getting your emails to you as quickly as possible. Now, the Torch comes ready to go with mobile apps for MySpace, FaceBook, and Twitter. Instant messengers aren't forgotten as the 9800 comes pre-loaded with five of them.

All of this Social Media could be quite overwhelming if there wasn't a way to organize them efficiently. The Social Feeds has you covered, organizing all of your social media in one timeline. Individual feeds, like FaceBook can be selected from the drop-down list. Social Feeds also manages RSS feeds on the device. RSS feeds give you a quick snapshot of news, articles, and events happening at your favorite websites. Feeds can be entered manually or even from a link in the web browser. With thirteen feeds (so far), I have a lot of articles to scroll through. A flick of the finger, though, and the articles go flying by. I can even "catch" one to stop the scrolling. All of this runs quite smoothly, except at startup. The app needs a few moments to fully start up and become functional.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

Ask any BlackBerry user what they dislike about their device, and you will almost universally hear, "the web browser." With the Torch and OS 6, those days are gone. OS 6 features a snappy browser that gets the job done. There's more on the browser in the video, but suffice it to say that the browser in this new BlackBerry is a vast improvement over the previous versions.

The browser makes it easy to save favorite web pages. Sure you could bookmark your websites, but adding links to your home screen allows you to launch web pages with a single press. It's like adding your own mobile launcher for whatever web address you desire. Sharing those addresses with others is simple and effective. Send Page Address sends the page address via email, text message, BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter, FaceBook, and any other messaging app available to your Social Feeds. So much simpler than copy & paste.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

Like most phones nowadays, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 features a camera - a 5 megapixel camera with a very bright LED for lighting. Able to record video as well as still photographs, the camera offers a number of scene modes. These modes allow for capturing images in a variety of locations and conditions. All of this means that the digital camera I bought just 3 years ago is now merely one feature among many on the Torch 9800. The Torch also supports geotagging, a controllable option to embed your GPS location into every photograph.

After you've taken that photograph, you'll want to view it on your device. The Media tab is where that action is at. Scrolling through photographs (and other images of your device) by flicking your fingers is fun, and the BlackBerry can even show a slide show. Cue up a song in the music player and you've got a music slide show.

The music player is a fully-functional app; allowing you to search music on your device and quickly scroll through songs based on album; artist; or genre. The tunes don't stop when you switch to another application. Pull up a song and give your BlackBerry-time a soundtrack.

Have you ever tried to format a video that plays just fine on your computer to one that would play on your phone? Difficult, time-consuming, and watching the finished product on some devices is almost painful. The Torch has none of those troubles. Supporting seven video formats (.avi, .mov, .wmv, .mp4, and others), there's no reason to ever convert a video. For those who are wondering, yes; it plays DivX-encoded files.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

Applications for BlackBerry are a curious thing. The Apple App Store boasts some 200,000 downloadable apps. The Android Market serves 30,000. BlackBerry App world has less than 10,000. This certainly does no good for RIM as it works to find itself in the new smartphone market. There are two factors I think play a role in this.

Many applications for other smartphones, and indeed BlackBerrys as well, address some missing element in the smartphone OS. Research in Motion has a history of making advancements in the operating system to add those missing elements. BlackBerrys didn't have an RSS reader; now it's a part of Social Feeds. Podcatching - automatically downloading podcast episodes - required third-party applications on previous devices. Now - to be cliché - there's an app for that.

A second factor is AdMob, a respected analyzer of mobile statistics. AdMob also serves mobile ads and collects device data while doing so. When the numbers are crunched, BlackBerrys barely show up on the radar. One reason, the web browser experience on previous BlackBerrys has been imperfect to say the least, and thus wasn't used very often. Less use means less ads. And that means with a casual glance at AdMob, there aren't that many BlackBerrys in use. The first-time or struggling developer is going to go where the ad company says the money is, and right now, AdMob doesn't say the money is in BlackBerry.

All that aside, there are some fantastic apps for your new smartphone. Many of them are free. Google Maps (with voice search), instant messengers, streaming media are all available at no charge. There are hundreds of business and productivity apps; some free, some not. Games are available for the BlackBerry, but nothing like the speed and excitement of Low Grav Racer 2 on the iPhone. Then again, is your phone a handheld communicator or a toy?

BlackBerry Torch 9800 Review

In your online reading, you've probably come across several complaints about the Torch. Chief among them is that the Torch's processor (624 MHz) is not fast enough. This is a valid complaint; at times, the OS does run slowly. But the other 80% of the time, the Torch and BB OS6 run smoothly, giving a rich visual appeal to the device.

The Torch's small faults - like this and others that you'll find -add up to one glaring annoyance. It's like taking a thumbtack to the Mona Lisa. Sure you can still see the painting and marvel at da Vinci's work, but the tiny holes in the canvas take away from the overall picture until all you can see are the pinpricks.

Please don't get me wrong. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is an amazing device, filled with a brilliant OS; solid social messaging; and a responsive web browser. It is a smartphone I will continue to use and enjoy for some time. But it could be better. I can see the pinpricks, RIM, but I can also see powerful OS beneath them. If Research in Motion listens to its audience, fixes the idiosyncrasies, and continues to support app developers; there's no limit to how awesome the BlackBerry Torch 9800 can be. And it's a pretty awesome phone as it is.

Reader comments

BlackBerry Torch 9800 review from the perspective of a BlackBerry Newbie


Kevin (aka Ryan Seacrest): Third up in our final round of CrackBerry Idol is Joseph, tackling the Torch from the perspective of a new to BlackBerry owner. The competition is heating up! Let's see what the judges thought of Joseph's BlackBerry newbieness.

CrackBerry Idol Judges

Dieter: In every round of the competition you have delivered CrackBerry Idol worthy videos and written reviews, so my expectations for you coming into the finals were almost unfairly high. I didn't like the video in this review. You get marks for trying something different and pulling another person in front of the camera -- I know it's not not easy to convince others to get on the youtubez for something like this -- but it just didn't work here in the context of a device review. The written review was much more compelling. The Power Newbie perspective isn't as clear cut as the other review roles in the final round, which makes it tricky to know what to include in the review, especially in 2000 words or less. If I was in your shoes I would have taken a different approach, but can't really fault the way you tackled this one. Good job!

Georgia: Joseph, your written review was a pleasure to read from start to finish, eloquent and yet did not distance the reader. The video was a bit long and could have been edited. You have been quite a competitor in this competition, thanks.

Craig: Joseph, the video was long and seemed disorganized. It was a lot of things on the screen with a tiny bit of talking in between. I was bored by it. Your written review was better and you covered the devices points well, however I'm not sure I got the perspective of the Power Newbie.

I've noticed a trend lately of videos presenting a complicated topic as simple. I thought the perfect way to show the device from the newbie perspective was to actually interview a newbie and then let the device speak for itself. Perhaps I should have explained what each segment was, but I felt it was a lot more effective to just show what was happening.

It was a bold choice for the style of the video, but I thought it worked. From the feedback, that doesn't seem to be the case. Terribly dissapointing to me as you can imagine.

If you've followed me through the CrackBerry Idol contest, you may have noticed that I've apopted many of the suggestions and criticisms given to me throughout the competition. Rest assured, I'll take this criticism to heart.

I haven't watched your video but will, eventually. But I read your review to the end and found it interesting. Despite the length you never lost me.

I agree, it was a great written review. I'll admit that the written review holds more weight in my opinion. There are times you just can't watch the video but can read the write-up.

very original and simple, and it's pointing how easy this is to use and OS 6 is really a time saver, and if the same processor can get such a boost from the OS I know the reputation on rim will live on, it has always bin a dedicated OS even from v5 and now v6. I really never liked the torch at first site but it shows try something even thou you dont like the looks of it, theres nothing missing of the candy bar, call it what you like the thing sticking up or out, it gets the job done and it snaps back into place nice and easy. the best of both worlds touch and type and the ease of finding what your looking for when in a rush, feeds integrated with all info, but will like to see a bold stand out in new and normal when read. theres more to love than hate on the torch, and it will just get better over time. rim should bring out a light version of OS 6 that can run on older phones take out some options if it slows the phone down, and keep things like search but then again people want all they can get on there berries.
I got no complaints on the torch since its new with a new OS 6 being the first to sport it, what would you expect, i think rim done a dam fantastic job on this thing working this fast and still putting out solid OS, things work as they should, I only hope they dont make the same mistake 2 times, but they prove to me that you can still squeeze fresh juice out of the same hardware by improving the software and that is impressive. If this were in the gig hz I know people will still complain about this and that, you could never satisfy everyone, but at least there is potential for improvement and its being handed out.
Still not a moth yet and the phone feels like i just got it yesterday, its always a pleasure to use and getting work done rapidly with my super busy schedule's where the 9700 falls short the torch picks up, the screen size is a large welcome, reading more covering more space gets more done faster, wifi N always connected on my N router VPN emails over 3G is also fast, syncing, uploading and downloading, if people are complaining now well ill be even more happy when things gets fixed up, the battery isnt all that better but it gets things done and lasts well under heavy use.
cheers, thanks guys.

This is the first review that I've read from start to finish without skipping sections. Well thought out, clear and concise. I can't see the video so I can't say how you did

I think you did pretty good. The video was the weaker portion of the review (was that the music from final fantasy 10 in the background). The video was still much better than the business one.

Estimates for the number of apps vary depending on your source. In my research, the only number I felt comfortable reporting was a number north of 30,000.


- 25,000 copy cat apps
- 15,000 spyware infested apps
- 15,000 malware infested apps
- 15,000 virus infested apps

= 30,000 real applications

You have, by far, been my favorite contestant. Your headset review was fantastic and extremely useful.

I enjoyed reading your review, which I did read from start to finish. I will say that it took me a minute to dumb it down a shade so I can try to appreciate your review from a newbie perspective. The Written review does an okay job at informing a smartphone newcomer. I do fear, though, that it's starting to walk the edge of a marketing writeup when a newbie is looking for an informative review to help make a large purchase and committment that they have been living without so far. In any case, i did enjoy the written review.

The video I'm a little torn on. I see where you were going with it, and I think it's a valid angle to play. I think it was important to get a true newb perspective like you did. But I also think that the video assumes the viewer is not a newb by not explaining the screen action more thoroughly . I understand there's a find line between thorough and boring, of course. Also, perhaps showing the new user's initial reactions to using the Torch, and then maybe at the end of the vid show her using it after some experience. ithink a big reason taht keeps most BB newbs newbs is the anxiety associated with feeling overwhelmed with a complex product. showing evidence of someone coming out on top of the product and mastering it may help a potential new user make a decision.

In conclusion, I'd love to see you make it as the big winner in the end. I believe you are looking to keep your contact with us interesting and worth while. If invited on board, I'd look forward to your blog entries.

Best of luck.

p.s. Oh, and your use of semi-colons and commas at the beginning proves you're grammatically competent and promise to keep the annoying grammar nazis at bay.

I thought this was a tough category. I liked the different approach. It was good to be reminded how a new user is looking for very basic things. It wasn't long ago I had a Motorola Razor on Verizon(which meant it was crippled). All I wanted was a usable calendar. Now, a short time later, in the grand scheme of things, my Tour feels under powered, and I unreasonable demand perfected from dozens of app's like any other addict.

The video was oddly compelling.

Somewhat irrelevant to the video, but the audio music used, is from Final Fantasy X! :D
(Just had to get that out there)

This is the best review I've seen yet on the CrackBerry Idol contest!! I have to admit, at first I wasn't sure. The longer I watched, the more I really thought that Joseph pulled it off. I really thought I would be pulling for another contestant, but I was really disappointed. Joseph put this together like a pro and I think this review of the 9800 might be better than what I've seen from the CrackBerry staff. No joke.

I have to agree with you.

That being said, I am still wishing this round was just straight up reviews. These darn profiles makes it so you are comparing apples to oranges. Yes, it does show each person's style and capability (which is important), but we have no way to compare how well they stack (no comments here) against each other.

Sorry that was just too funny with the "stack (no comment)" line that I had to chuckle.

Would the viewing community really have read 5 of the same device reviews if we hadn't been assigned profiles? Or would they just wait for their fave Idol contestant's and declare it the best? Kevin has already done the main review and anything we may have done probably would have paled in comparison.

Good luck Joseph!


The written review was excellent! The video was ok, not your best work, but passable, and certainly not as bad as some folks are saying. At least not in my opinion. :)

The writing style and grammar distracted me from the content of the review (both need polishing). I wouldn't read CB if all the posts were written like this.

You must not be used to reading complex sentence structure. I think his grasp of grammar far exceeds a large majority of bloggers. His punctuation (while not perfect) makes his point simple to understand without making me have to work at deciphering what he means. It's scary how many people have no idea how to properly use a semi-colon. I know people who hit it by mistake when reaching for the apostrophe more often than using it by any sort of command of English grammar.

His punctuation and grammar is an important part of why most commenters here are saying they loved the writeup.

Of course, that's just my opinion. i could be wrong.

Actually, my profession requires exactly that. I think that the writing is unsophisticated but if it sounds Pulitzer Prize-worthy to you then by all means enjoy. :)

Your hyperbole takes a little of the fun out of a discussion between two people who have differing viewpoints.

In any case, I've read much worse at Crackberry where poor grammar and word choice make it difficult to get through. By no means is this review the worst I've read here, nor do I think the writing style in and of itself warrants abandoning crackberry if it were to be the new consistency.

For the most part, he has a basic grasp of grammar and punctuation. He blows it a few times, but for the most part he uses semi-colons a few times. And while the word "plethora" should be abolished from any intelligent person's vocabulary repertoire, his writing is otherwise intelligent.

I don't think this entry is indicitive of Pulitzer Prize-writing, or even a respected periodical for that matter, but I do appreciate the conversational voice in this context.

I also worked in a field where English and grammar were rammed down my throat and of utmost importance. The trick to enjoyable day-to-day distractions is to draw the line between what is reasonably acceptable and what is abhorant to anyone who respects intelligent verbal communication.

I did like having a newbie perspective coming through in the video. It's nice to hear how someone outside the BlackBerry world perceives the Torch. I think we, as veteran users, sometimes overlook things and expect our devices to operate in a specific fashion. I think the video was pretty well done, although maybe a bit long.

The write up was good. The one thing I noticed was no screen shots. Even though you had images to break up the different sections, there wasn't any actual screen shots for each section. Screens on the video are small, so you don't get a full view of things. It just made the write-up seem more like one long article. The article was good - just felt it could use a few visuals.

I think we need to hear from newbies to smart phones on this. Joseph is a very serious contender. I felt a little bored by the video, tho overall I liked it, and am no longer a newbie. OS6 has so many components, would this video have helped point the way to key features without overwhelming? It is hard to be objective. I have noticed as I spend more and more time on CB I tend to skim and am choosier what I spend time on. At first I watched/read everything. I really do believe my experience of the S2 would be stunted w/out CB and I might not even like it.

So what do you think newbies? Don't be intimidated. We all had to start somewhere and this is a pretty generous crowd.

You have me vote! Your written reviews have been rock solid! That being said, you really did try to do something original and creative in the SUBSTANCE portion of all your videos. At first viewing of your last video, admittedly, I didn't get what you were going for. I wonder if, in "dumbing " it down for a newbie, you made it too "smart" for a season BB user to fully appreciate!!! Talking about all the features, apps, OS's and Webkit's is cool on CB, but it can be a bit daunting to a newbie. You K.I.S.S ed it hard, but maybe a little too hard.

Thinks this is a great review. Loved the style...It's difficult to do a "newbie" review when one is soooooo far from a "newbie". Great job. You got it did. lol

I think the concept of having device reviews based on a certain perspective was a bad idea. All these reviews are touching on the same exact things, regardless of what perspective it's coming from. The Torch came out weeks ago and we already read the bad the reviews. Sorry CB, but this final round is boring and unappealing.

Just like with the other two finalists before you I watched the video and then read the review all the way through. I have to say this video did not have the WOW factor that I felt Kerri did but it was the whole experience.

After reading the comment before mine, I am inclined to agree, this wasn't a great idea for the final round, and this particular view point was really shitty... If you are in CrackBerry Idol I really don't think you should be a BlackBerry Newbie... Anyways, I thought having someone else give REAL LIFE examples of moving from one device to the Torch was excellent.

The review was great in terms of breaking things down and relating it to the prospective of BlackBerry Newbie... Based on how the competition, in my mind is supposed to work I think that your review was just as complete as Kerri's review but for whatever reason I enjoyed reading your review more. Maybe it was the writing style, maybe the setup or content, I don't know, but after your review my personal vote standings are:

1. Joseph
2. Kerri
3. Dave
4. TBD
5. TBD

Good job man! Even if you do not win, I hope the CrackBerry team retains you to do some work, you have really, really impressive content... Which is why I am a member of this community.

Great job on making it this far! You earned your place in the final 5, so congrats on that. I don't know where i stand on this one, you took a very different approach, and i kind of like it. I think your images are awesome, and really show you put thought in the process. Your writing style is fun, but I can't say i enjoyed your application section, something about the games just didn't seem to sit right. Anyways, good job!

I got knocked off line for a few days, but I am back online now, so I wanted to share a little feedback. I have now seen all 5 reviews. I think your video is cheating. I wonder how well Brittany or Aloha Joe would have been received had their had in a vocal narrator. I don't mind your concept of interviewing a real noobie, but you should be the one doing the talking. I loved your written review, however I think that was way too long. I liked how it was broken up into readable sections, good pics, just too long for me. I thought you did a great job of showcasing the device. Having read Aloha Joe's review, which obviously came after yours, I appreciate that you did not put down the device. You listed the shortcomings, but I like how you kept the positive spin on the device. Say what you want about it, but to many BlackBerry users that device is better than any BB they have used so far. It's good not to insult those users. There's also that segment of the market that will buy the device because it's cheap, so they'll put up with its shortcomings because the other phones way more expensive. It's not all about buying the latest and greatest, and I think your written review showed respect to those users who find the Torch to be an exciting BB for them.