So you’re on the go and want to stay connected to your business information and communications. Well what better choice for both security and ease of use than the new BlackBerry Torch? It’s a touch screen world phone featuring the new BlackBerry 6 operating system, minus SurePress, plus a slide-out qwerty keyboard.
Whoa, that sure was a mouthful.
In this review, I am looking at the Torch as an experienced business user might. I will be tapping a more corporate perspective and covering not only my first impressions, but also how the Torch holds up with messaging, phone use, and other industry applications all in the name of greater productivity. Or so we shall see ...
My goodness, this thing is heavy. And then, my goodness, this thing is tall! Those were my first thoughts even before powering the device on. It’s great to see more consumers choosing BlackBerry for the speedy email, well-connected BBM, and superb call quality, but yikes, this thing is a brick! Open the slider, throw it overboard and anchor your boat.
Okay, okay. Personal preferences aside, the Torch’s size and weight are similar to that of the Storm 2. And while the Storm devices have never been my favorites, they are still BlackBerry. You know, once in the family, always in the family. It took a few days to get used to the Torch, but after giving it the ol’ college try, I realized it wasn’t all that bad. Let’s dig deeper...
Keyboard (Physical) - The keyboard felt a little cramped and sunken, or deeper, when comparing it to the Bolds and Curves. Be aware that it is actually on a lower plane than the sliding touch screen. You might have to stretch tendons and retrain your fingers before achieving a normal typing accuracy. Also, you may need to be double-jointed in order to type on this thing while it’s is plugged in to the USB cable (see photo).
Trackpad - The trackpad is perfect for anything that requires precision like doing a copy and paste, as well as navigating text while editing. The lack of a tracking mechanism on other touch screen smartphones is one reason I prefer not to use them. I simply cannot facilitate doing business in a functional format when fumbling to highlight specific characters on the screen.
Keyboard (Virtual) - Two words. SureType FTW! If you’re going to use the virtual touch screen keyboard in portrait-mode be ready for it to feel cramped. I suggest making the switch to using SureType in this instance. To change this setting go to Options > Typing and Input > Keyboard > and then change the Portrait Keyboard Type: to Reduced.
Also, using the on-screen keyboard would be a clever, stealth-like choice during important meetings where the less clackity-clack the better.
Slider Mechanism - As shown in the video above, the slider works very well and feels solid enough. You essentially get two styles of BlackBerry packed into one! And when asked, I find myself describing the Torch as Storm-like with a “surprise” slide-out keyboard. The downside to this form factor is that it takes some getting used to and I found myself constantly pressing the screen by accident.
Accelerometer - I don’t recommend even pretending to use the Torch while driving or lying down. The accelerometer is highly sensitive to positioning, especially when compared to the Storm. It is nice, however, to see this level of responsiveness, and too bad there aren’t some awesome 3D games to go along with it. As noted in other reviews, when the slider is open, exposing the keyboard, the display is locked in portrait mode.
BB6 - I’m disappointed to be forced into using the default screens. Who really needs another page that mimics the Media or Downloads folder? Creating an icon for a special contact, BBM group, or app on the Favorites screen might be useful, but checking the Frequently Used screen for an auto-generated icon, never. I say just rearrange your All (or Home) screen with the icons you want.
And maybe it was a design choice, but I found the operating system to be sluggish and buggy, especially when swiping. Speaking of bugs, sometimes the keyboard shortcuts worked; other times I was forced to use the touch screen. This was lame and inexcusable. I’d like to assume RIM will fix these, but maybe they’re only specific to the Torch experience.
Phone Calls - The video above shows how the slider mechanism can handle calls by sliding open to answer or closed to hang up. It’s kinda neat, but oh so very 10 years ago. As seen in the screen shot, the new BB6 phone software looks very similar to a Storm and gives you easy touch access to Dialpad, Notes, Home, Calendar and Contacts while on a call.
Unfortunately, the speakerphone is far too quiet. I had to max out the volume, even when using the handset. If you are going to be making business calls in a boardroom, this won't fly.
Messaging - Scrolling between messages with a simple flick of a finger was a joy. However, I was unable to copy and paste while reading specific emails.
I had to forward the message first, then copy my chosen text from the sent email. This frustrating process negates even having a smartphone. Note this as another necessary bug fix.
In today's fast-paced, global business environment, professionals must make quick decisions from any location. Being able to access information in the field is imperative, and with the platform RIM offers, you’re better equipped to do so. The always-on, always-connected BlackBerry Torch smartphone is not about killing time. It's about getting stuff done.
Boy, that sounded way too much like a commercial.
Brilliant copy writing aside, did you know that if you’re on a corporate BES, you can potentially access your company’s private intranet? You are practically able to surf the internal network, even look up names in the server address book, just like sitting at a desk in the office ... except all from your BlackBerry.
Here's where the Torch's additional 4 GB of internal memory is a real bonus, especially when you’re looking to do document editing on the device. I tested this using DataViz Documents To Go products to remotely download and view files stored on a business intranet site. The 3.2 inch touch screen was certainly welcomed real estate. In this one instance, having both a large touch screen, trackpad, and full qwerty keyboard allowed the Torch to shine in all its glory.
Real World Views
Let’s face it. Businesses today have more choices when it comes to choosing a smartphone platform, but I’ve consistently witnessed them stay with the BlackBerry platform, and for good reasons.
Speed of Messaging - especially when their business relies on the internet or email for filling orders.
Calendar & Contacts - collaboration among staff when using RIM’s corporate BES or free BES Express.
Extra Apps Need Not Apply - sure, the iPhone and Android smartphones currently offer a larger pool of apps, but the BlackBerry device is an instant connection to your network.
The Torch doesn’t stray from this BlackBerry experience; it may actually offer you more, but to what end? From a technology support standpoint, no matter how enamored you are with the Torch, I don’t think having all the bells and whistles equates being more productive. And if a client asked for help with their Torch, I may even cringe. I feel the less options you give a user, the better.
After listening to the latest CrackBerry Podcast (episode 057), I feel my experiences with clients are consistent with what the CB Team had to say. Whether or not you like the Torch is based on personal smartphone preference and expected usage. It comes down to a device vs. operating system vs. usage debate. What is too big or heavy for one person might be perfect for another. And how some consumers handle email, text, and IM is completely different from others.
Personally, I want to experience BB6 on other BlackBerry models. And I agree with other enthusiasts who are still on the lookout for a 9000 sized device plus touch screen. The rumored 9900-Pluto-Magnum whatever-you-want-to-call-it would/will be one sweet BlackBerry. Then again, simply having BB6 on a Bold 9700 appears to be awesome, even without a touch screen. This particular OS/device combination, from a business use perspective, gets my professional recommendation. And if you haven’t seen what BB6 looks like on a 9700, go check out this post: http://crackberry.com/blackberry-6-blackberry-bold-9700-video-walkthrough.
I used the Torch as my main device for five days before switching back to a 9700. Two days later I picked up the Torch again and realized it’s not as bad as I originally experienced ... until I started using it. Overall I found it heavy and the BB6/Torch combination too bug-laden. BB6 aside, the Torch in concept is a cool BlackBerry, and shows RIM is capable of producing a unique piece of hardware. From a business standpoint, it is capable of doing all the things a BlackBerry should do across multiple industries. I just feel RIM has crammed too much into one device all at the same time, and in reality, it’s not one I will regularly use or recommend.
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