The Video - Torch 9860 First Walkthrough
Everything you need to know about the BlackBerry Torch 9860 in 10 minutes! Well, maybe not quite everything, but you'll get a good look at the hardware and software in this video tour by CrackBerry Kevin.
Youtube Link (expand video for full view)
We love the amazing screen on the Torch 9860. The size and feel of the device is just right. Having more screen space means better media and web viewing.
There are sadly quite a few "bads" when it comes to the Torch 9860. It's not our favorite device, but it is still a good choice for those getting into BlackBerry and looking for the full-touch experience.
While the Torch 9860 isn't the best BlackBerry out there, it definitely still has some flair. If you're big into messaging and need to get things done quickly, the 9860 may not be for you. Media hounds and those that love to browse the web on the go will find the screen size to be just the ticket.
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 Review
Five new BlackBerry 7 Smartphones in three distinct form factors:
BlackBerry Torch 9810 (slider), BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 (full keyboard), BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860 (touch only)
While waiting for what seemed like forever for these new BlackBery 7 Smartphones to arrive, we were all pretty pumped to get our hands on all of them. While we were most exicted about the BlackBerry Bold 9900 given our BlackBerry fanboy ways, we also were super eager to check out the latest addition to the Torch line in that of the BlackBerry Torch 9860. With both GSM (9860) and CDMA (9850) versions of the device, there is plenty of carrier love to go around. The awesome 3.7" screen is definitely an eye catcher, and there is no question that at some point down the pipe the Torch 9860 would have fallen into the Storm line of devices -- but RIM was smart in moving on and keeping the popular Torch name flaming while leaving the Storm behind.
Keep in mind that while this review is centered around the GSM Torch 9860, the Torch 9850 for CDMA carriers is for all intensive purposes, identical. However, we have also given the Torch 9850 a hands-on look, so be sure to also check out our BlackBerrry Torch 9850 Review and our follow-up BlackBerry Torch 9850 / 9860 Review, Take 2!, which looks at the new Torch from more of a touchscreen-fan perspective. Be sure to keep tabs on our BlackBerry 7 Smartphone Pricing and Release Dates page to see where things are at for you.
BlackBerry Torch 9860 Hardware Impressions
At first glance the BlackBerry Torch 9860 doesn't look much like your typical BlackBerry. There is obviously no physical keyboard on the device, so without the shiny BlackBerry logo on top, you may not know right away this is a RIM device. The Torch 9860 breaks off from the design and form of nearly every other BlackBerry we've known. It doesn't show much of a resemblance to the BlackBerry Torch 9800, but rather feels closer to a mix of the BlackBerry Storm 2 and BlackBerry Pearl 3G when in hand.
The front of the Torch 9860 sports a hot 3.7" touchscreen that takes over most of the device. Left at the bottom are the four navigation buttons (Send, Menu, Back and End) with a trackpad stuck in the middle. While the glowing trackpad may not be as iconic yet as the BlackBerry keyboard, it *should* help to distinguish the Torch 9860 from the competition in what has become a market flooded with full touchscreen devices. I do like the fancy new illuminated trackpad, but I'm not the biggest fan of the raised buttons. I wish RIM has gone with more of an 85xx series styling with flat buttons across the board. This would have made them more a part of the device and not taken away from the looks at all. I argued previously that raised buttons were the way to go as they provide more tactile feedback allowing for better one handed-ease of use, but in this case I think form over function may have been better.
The way they are raised now feels a bit awkward and even the backlight on the buttons isn't nearly as smooth as on the Bold 9900. Hopefully if the rumored Curve 9380 sees the light of day we can wipe this off the list as we've seen the flush buttons in place already. I feel that they are what the Torch 9860 should have had, but maybe RIM wants to save them for a new device. It almost seems backwards in a sense and would have fit better if the Torch buttons were flush and the raised were saved for the future Curve.
Moving along to the sides of the device we have the standard BlackBerry fare. The right of the Torch 9860 has the 3.5mm headphone jack up top along with volume buttons and the device's only convenience key down the side. Here is where things start to go south for me. The volume buttons and convenience key just lose me this time. I always felt these keys on my Bold 9780 and Torch 9800 were a bit small, but they did work well and I never had any issues. As for the Torch 9860, I'm not sure where the "thinner is better" design came into the picture.
As you can see, the buttons are super thin and don't feel well at all under your fingers. If you rub them side to side a bit it almost feels like they could snap right off. They are a bit thinner than the edge of a dime, and without much surface area, at times I was almost afraid to push too hard on them for fear of damage. But wait - there's more! I nearly forgot to meniton the Mute/Play/Pause button that is so neatly nestled between the volume buttons ... because it's that small. I played with the device for nearly two full days before I found the button. It's super small but surprisingly is the sturdiest of the lot.
The left side of the device looks a bit lonely as the only thing that resides there is the microUSB port. The port is directly in the middle of the device which does make for good charging pod placement. It could have really ended up anywhere on the side without interfering, so dead center works for me.
The top and bottom of the Torch 9860 are pretty much part of the flow of the front given the curved design. Nothing super special to note along the bottom aside from the microphone - no frills, no nothing.
The top of the device holds the lock button which was worked very nicely to be one solid piece. It's not really a separate button, yet it's more like the Bold 9700/9780 and is all one happy piece of the pie. Very nice to see that it's integrated and not a separate piece like the front buttons.
The back of the device is plain and simple. Notably lacking however is the Torch branding we'd expect to see. The name isn't anwywhere on the device which just seems a bit odd. All of the last few devices RIM has cranked out have the branding right smack on the device, yet this time it's mysteriously absent. The 5MP camera and flash sit over the top of the all-metal battery door. Interesting to note is that the only place the device is branded is here on the battery door. There is no carrier branding on the front of the Torch 9860 (note, the Torch unit photoed is completely free of carrier branding).
The battery door brings back the metal of the Storm series and I actually like it quite a bit. It doesn't feel cheap at all and is very firm in place without any looseness. While I feel the metal door may be more prone to get scuffed up than some other devices, I think it fits well and was a good choice on the Torch 9860. I did have a few issues popping it off at first as I wasn't sure which way the release button should go, but once you pop it a few times it's smooth sailing.
Under the hood we have the new JM-1 battery that is also in the Bold 9900/9930. The microSD memory card and SIM care both have their own parking spaces. The mircoSD card can be freely inserted or removed from the device with the battery in place, however the SIM card slot is only free when the battery is removed. I did have a decent amount of trouble with the fancy SIM card slide (that we first saw on the Pearl 3G). I couldn't quite get a grip on it with my fingers, so it took a bit of doing to get it so slide enough to pop out the SIM card.
Coming back finally to the overall feel of the Torch 9860, once thing I didn't mention is just how good the Torch 9860 feels when held in landscape. The way the back of the device has been sculpted makes the ends of the phone easy and comfortable to grip, much like the controller on a gaming console (maybe beter). It really feels great. You can comfortable hold the Torch 9860 in only your right hand and easily use the BlackBerry navigation buttons that are present. Bring on some 3D racing games for the Torch 9860, as I can't wait to do some air driving with it.
Processor / Chipset / Performance
All of the newly-announced BlackBerry 7 Smartphones, including the BlackBerry Bold 9900, are running the Qualcomm Scorpion MSM 8655 processor clocked at 1.2GHz on the Snapdragon chipset. An Adreno 205 GPU (graphics processing unit) is also onboard, powering BlackBerry 7's hardware accelerated graphics, which RIM has trademarked "Liquid Graphics." At 1.2GHz, the processing power is more than double the speed of previous full touchscreen BlackBerrys (yes, we mean the Storms). In addition to more speed, this hardware platform upgrade addresses a lot of the other nagging wants we've had for a while now, including 3D graphics support (has been lacking to date on GSM BlackBerrys), HD video recording and more.
The new chipset makes using the 9860 pretty awesome. As BlackBerry users, we're fairly ok with seeing the dreaded hourglass from time to time and just getting over it. With the new hardware that is a thing of the past. Everything is snappy as it should be and even if that little hourglass shows it's face, you can most times carry on within a few seconds and go about your business.
Web browsing on the Torch 9860 is pretty awesome
The touchscreen on the Torch 9860 is where it's at. By that I don't mean "it's the greatest touchscreen ever", I mean that really all there is to the device is the touchscreen. Without it you'd have a few buttons and a trackpad and couldn't get very far. 3.7" is a great size for a device like this. It's big enough to get things done, watch videos and enjoy browsing the web; but at the same time it isn't overkill like some devices with larger 4.3" screens. The screen on the Torch 9860 breaks away from the hardened glass of other devices like the Torch 9810 and Bold 9900 in favor of a hardened, scratch protected plastic display. This allows for the shape of the device and also makes it a bit lighter. The screen does feel a bit "sticky" compared to the glass screens however. I noticed more than a few times when scrolling my finger would get hung up a bit. This isn't anything to go crazy about as once you use the device for a few hours you get used to it, but it's interesting to note the different feel of the screen.
At 480x800 resolution the 9860's display is awesome for viewing media and web browsing. At 253ppi you get amazing clarity and everything looks bright and bold. Having that extra space when using the web browser is a huge bonus, and it definitely makes watching movies more pleasing than on the more square screen of a BlackBerry like the Bold 9900.
The keyboard works, but it does prove difficult at times for me... many of you will love it
Typing on the virtual keyboard of the Torch 9860 is where things start to stray a bit more for me. I do like the feel of the device and having all that real estate is a huge bonus, but when it comes to actually communicating -- be it BBM, SMS, email or what have you -- the BlackBerry virtual keyboard still doesn't cut it for me.
The virtual keyboard on the Torch 9860 isn't terrible, but it does have it's quirks. Some typos could be attributed to my lack of BlackBerry touchscreen typing experience I suppose, but I still think there is room for improvement. When using the device I actually had to think about what I would want to type as far as emails or messages, just so I could limit my typing on the keyboard and cut down on errors. I do like having the trackpad available for when mistakes are made though as you can much more easily scroll to where you need to correct rather than pecking at the screen with your finger trying to get the cursor where it needs to be. Overall I just had a difficult time using the keyboard and I'm not fully sold on it currently. Keep in mind this is ME talking. Other members of the CrackBerry team think the BlackBerry virtual keyboard is best in Business, and I know of a few RIM people who've been using the 9860 exclusively for a while now and just absolutely love the keyboard and device. I guess it's all about priorities and what you get used to. But for me, while I do enjoy the larger display of the Torch, losing the ability to type what I need to, when I need to just doesn't weigh enough to part with a full QWERTY keyboard.
The Torch 9860 is rocking 768MB of RAM and 4GB of on board storage. This is a huge step up from previous BlackBerry devices and really makes a difference with BlackBerry 7. Everything runs smoothly and "hourglassing" is really non-existent on the 9860. I really love how much better the new devices run thanks to bigger processors and the added RAM. The devices still have large OS' so it does take away from the leftover free space, but BlackBerry applications aren't all that big so having more free space isn't really necessary at this time (and remember, developers can make big apps - they just need to offload the creative to the memory card to get piped in from there).
I haven't had the Torch 9860 for long at the time of this writing, but so far it appears there's nothing spectacular to report on in regards to battery life. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a BlackBerry. I found the Torch 9860 could last an entire work day for me with no issues. The device was running on Wifi all day and I'd say my usage was average. BBMs, emails and a few phone calls. I fear that times when I'm away from the office will be much worse however. Running off Wifi and using cellular data combined with higher usage may push the battery life down a great deal (think Torch 9800 battery life). Obviously rocking out any media for extended periods of time will cut that number down tremendously as well. Overall it's not the greatest battery life (viva la 9700!!) but it's not close to being the worst either. We'll give it a few more real world spins and see if we can pin down the real daily average battery life.
Phone & Audio
Call quality on the Torch 9860 is on par with most BlackBerry devices. I made a few test calls and had no problems through any of them. I was told I was a bit tough to hear at points when using the speakerphone, but aside from that I can't say I have any complaints on the phone end of things.
Audio I'd give a 7 out of 10 on the 9860. Watching videos was great as things were super clear and overall the audio was good. I did find that having the device down on a table the audio actually sounded better. Due to the position of the speaker, the audio seems to get lost a bit and sounds tinny when holding the device up. Of course using a set of earbuds or headphones helps the cause in this case, and the audio scores much higher depending on your choice of ear wear.
HD Video recording is a welcome addition
The camera on the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is actually much better than I had expected. Using the phone in landscape to take photos almost felt more like a small digital camera than a phone. The 9860 has a 5MP continuous auto-focus camera that also records video in 720p HD (which is sweet!). I had few issues taking photos and even got some great closeup shots with few adjustments. Overall I'm super impressed with the camera on the 9860. Stay tuned to CrackBerry - we'll be following up with some great photo comparison shots soon.
Voice-activated Universal Search
Voice Activated Universal Search
One of the extremely pleasant surprises was the Voice-activated Universal Search. In my tests is was nearly 100% on everything that I threw at it. Having this option when there is no keyboard is a huge plus -- if you use Universal Search much at all you will find the same. I varied my queries from names to help options to the more complex phrases for email and the Torch 9860 was quick in snagging each one and really gave me no errors or "mis-hears" at all. So it's by far one of the best features of the device and once you learn to master it you'll be able to search like a champ with just a few taps. It's so good in fact that I wish there was built in speech-to-text for every app on the device. That would be a game changer for me and I'd have to scrap 80% of this review and start fresh. Keep in mind the radio does need to be turned on for Voice Universal Search to work (the translation doesn't happen on the phone, but in the cloud). Kind of funny - on my Bold 9900 review I said I'd never use Voice Search. Why would you with a keyboard always there? But on the Torch 9860 I think it's a great feature.
Other Internals - Bluetooth, GPS, WiFi , Other Sensors
Bluetooth: The 9860 has Bluetooth. It's there and it works. It's pretty standard on all devices now, so it is what it is.
GPS: The 9860 has GPS and works surprisingly well. In the apps I tried it found my location quickly.
WiFi: 802.11 2.4GHz b/g/n is present. The Torch 9860 doesn't get the addition of 5GHz a/n that is in the Bold 9900.
BlackBerry Torch 9860 Accessories
I'm a big accessories fan, so can't let a review go by without addressing them. The BlackBerry Torch 9860 is an all new form factor of BlackBerry, so once again it means most of your accessories will be in need of replacing, with the exception of microUSD cards and microUSB charger. We'll be getting lots of BlackBerry Torch 9860 Cases and Torch 9860 Accessories in stock, so be sure to keep it locked to ShopCrackBerry.com and the blogs here as we review everything new. If you're reading this and live in Canada, be sure to check out the CrackBerry Canada Store.
BlackBerry Torch 9860 Hardware Wrap-Up
Ultimately the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is a great device. If you're used to a touchscreen phone then transition to BlackBerry by way of the Torch 9860 will be an easy task. You'll have to adjust to the keyboard (depend on what platform you're moving from) but aside from that it's all very straight forward. Current BlackBerry users that know and love their QWERTY keyboard may have a bit of trouble picking up the 9860 and expecting to be right where they left off. Will you have trouble with the virtual keyboard? It's hard to say as everyone is different. I really don't think full touchscreen phones are for me.... yet. I have a feeling that wll change with the first QNX/BlackBerry SuperPhone that is rumored to be a full touchscreen device. When it comes to the BlackBerry OS, I love me some keyboard and at the end of the day, not having one held me back a bit (and I keep tablets around for that big touch experience). I don't want to think about replying to messages based on how much I'd have to type, I want to respond what I what knowing I can crank out what I need on a solid keyboard. Will it kill off other touchscreen devices? I doubt it. RIM knows what they do best in their full QWERTY devices like the Bold 9900, but they still need to branch out and get those users that want the touchscreen experience. The Torch 9860 goes the distance and is a HUGE improvement over the BlackBerry Storms, but for seasoned BlackBerry vets it still has its shortcomings. At times the device seems sluggish in comparison to the Bold 9900. Having the same internals it doesn't really make sense, but I'm thinking we can chalk it up to the processor pushing a bit more to drive the higher resolution screen of the Torch 9860.
I love the 9860 for media and web browsing without a doubt. The large 3.7" screen is amazing for watching videos and even amazinger (I know it's not a word) for browsing the web. Something about that landscape view just makes it so much easier to get lost when browsing on the 9860. The phone is fast, light and well designed. I won't contradict what I said earlier about the convenience keys and front keys, but I do like the look of the 9860. It lacks a bit in certain areas, but it's got the juice in the tank to get things done like only a BlackBerry can.
BlackBerry 7 OS Impressions
The BlackBerry OS got a major overhaul last year with the debut of BlackBerry 6 on the Torch 9800, which modernized the user experience and optimized it for touchscreen displays (see our in-depth BlackBerry 6 Review). In addition, it introduced a WebKit rendering engine that addressed BlackBerry's historically poor web browsing experience.
While BlackBerry 6 fundamentally changed the homescreen and user experience, BlackBerry 7 refines it and adds new features based on the capabilities of the updated hardware platform. This is the primary reason RIM re-branded what was originally BlackBerry 6.1 to BlackBerry 7. Because many of the improvements found in BlackBerry 7 are tied to the hardware -- hardware that doesn't exist on the current in-market BlackBerry Smartphones -- BlackBerry 6 Smartphones won't be able to update to BlackBerry 7. Distancing the OS numbers helps deliver this message. Plus BlackBerry 7 just sounds cooler than BlackBerry 6.1.
The biggest hardware-related software change is the implementation of "Liquid Graphics," a term RIM has trademarked that reflects the hardware-accelerated graphics experience of BlackBerry 7. While it seems a bit silly to brand something that's been on other platforms for years, we love the results - this is a much more responsive, smoother BlackBerry interface.
There are plenty of little tweaks within BlackBerry 7 as well. Perhaps the biggest is the added ability to hide the (annoying) home screen panes. We were never really big fans, so this is a total win. Also snuck in are a few menu options and other functions that add to the BlackBerry 7 goodness. You can now add names/email address to existing contacts, the advanced Gmail options like starring and archiving are available in the Inbox app and plenty of other hidden gems. We'll get a full walkthrough of BlackBerry 7 soon, but for now trust that the updated OS certainly picked up some pieces where 6 left off.
BlackBerry Torch 9860 Conclusions
A full touchscreen experience on a BlackBerry that finally works as intended
So what's the concensus on the BlackBerry Torch 9860? It's a smooth device that will certainly be a seller. How big of a seller is yet to be seen. Users that want the big screen and don't mind not having a physical keyboard will be in BlackBerry heaven. Once you adjust to using the virtual keyboard there really isn't much bad to be said about the 9860. But if you're like me, you want to get things done efficiently and in my opinion, having a keyboard really helps that cause, even if I have to sacrifice potential display real estate for a screen. I know I'm in the minority on that one these days - you should definitely head t your local store and try out the Torch 9860 and come to your own conclusions. If playing videos, viewing photos, snapping pictures and web browsing are tops on your list, then I can say the Torch 9860 may be just what you're looking for. With the boosted processor and increased RAM, the OS trucks along fast enough to keep up with pretty much anything you can throw at it.
BlackBerry Torch 9860 Summary
Processor is snappy
Feels good in the hand
The large screen makes for awesome web browsing
The camera is sweet and HD video just adds to the fun
Love Voice-activated Universal Search
Raised front buttons seem "cheap"
Convenience keys aren't what they should be
No physical keyboard could hold back some users
Will take some more time to get a real feel for the battery life
WiFi Hotspot - please, please, PLEASE show up.
A display like this demands apps and games. Get to work BlackBerry devs!
We know CrackBerry Kevin is a long-time user of BlackBerry Smartphones with physical keyboards, as are a lot of BlackBerry users, and this review reflects that device usage history. If you're more of a touchscreen person who doesn't have that physical keyboard history, be sure to read our PART II Review of the BlackBerry Torch 9850 / 9860, from our resident BlackBerry virtual keyboard lover, Joseph Holder.