BlackBerry Torch 9800 review: Living the Olympic creed

GSMArena team, 24 September 2010.
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Retail package

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 comes in a compact box in line with recent trends. A polishing cloth is the only accessory inside Ė unusual for BlackBerry, the Torch omits an in-box holster.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 BlackBerry Torch 9800
Whatís going on in the box

The supplied memory card is 4GB, not bad. We have to admit though, the supplied one-piece headset looks second-rate. The other items in the box are a charger and microUSB data cable. There's also a user guide and a CD with the software required for syncing your handset with a computer.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 360-degree spin

The BlackBerry Torch measures 111 x 62 x 14.6 mm, which is by no means compact by modern standards. The slider form factor has added a few millimeters around the waistline. The Torch is quite a handful but thatís fair for what you get Ė a 3.2Ē touchscreen and a full QWERTY keyboard.

Although the comparison isnít quite fair, the Torch does appear big and chunky next to some of the slim (10 mm, even less) touch-only phones it might compete against. At 161 grams of weight, the handset is rock-solid, bordering on intimidating.

BlackBerry Torch 9800
The Torch next to the iPhone 4

Of course anyone who doesnít like their phone tearing a whole in their pocket (and the Torch does that in more than one way) might disagree. But the phone handles quite comfortably and feels like holding a solid piece of machinery, not a plastic toy.

Design and construction

Alright, itís a touchscreen-on-QWERTY portrait slider Ė a rare though not extinct breed. In a crowd of side-sliding QWERTY messengers, the Torch and the Palm Pre will meet few of their kind.

The form factor isnít the only thing to make the Torch special. This isnít the first touch berry weíre dealing with but the presence of a hardware keyboard makes things a lot different.

The most important thing about the Torch is you can pretend thereís no touchscreen. We know this isnít the point at all, but you can control and navigate the phone with the trackpad and buttons just like you would with any regular BlackBerry phone.

So, what was it? Trying to make it less of a shock for long-time BlackBerry users or giving potential new adopters a choice? Weíre not sure but the Torch works we think. You get a trademark BlackBerry keyboard and the handling is comfortable and familiar with the standard BlackBerry controls. On top of that, thereís a good capacitive screen Ė complete with multitouch Ė to use for handling media and browsing.

BlackBerry Torch 9800 BlackBerry Torch 9800
Despite the new form factor the Torch has BlackBerry written all over it

Equally important, thereís no mistaking the authentic BlackBerry pedigree of the Torch. The phone is shyly hiding a keyboard underneath a touchscreen but the styling has RIM written all over it. Which is actually good news, because those Canadians are quite good at making sleek phones.

The only part of the Torch which we arenít quite sure about is the rubbery ribbed back. Itís the kind of phone that does need a secure grip. Itís a heavy (but certainly well balanced) portrait slider that gets taller when open.

The special finish at the rear does well to let you comfortably handle the device. Maybe it just doesnít fit the overall styling all too well. Or at least thatís what some on our team think. Others among us find it better than the faux leather you get on some BlackBerry phones.

Anyway, the Torch isnít a phone you see everyday but it has preserved the distinct BlackBerry feel. Most of the people who saw it seemed to genuinely like it.

The front panel of the BlackBerry Torch 9800 is taken by the 3.2" capacitive touchscreen. The image quality isnít too bad but neither the size nor the resolution can be considered top notch as of late.

360 x 480 screens were great a few years ago and good enough last year but are now decisively starting to look outdated. There is a whole load of phones with more than double the pixel count (the iPhone 4 more than triples it) and that inevitably reflects on image sharpness.

BlackBerry Torch 9800
The display is not exactly screaming high-end

Not to mention those AMOLED displays (and even more so Super AMOLED), which beat the Torch screen hands down in terms of contrast. At least, the BlackBerry Torch can match the best for brightness and sunlight legibility.

We did notice quite a lot of on-screen color banding too, which we cannot quite explain as the Torch is said to support 16M colors. It could either be that RIM werenít perfectly honest or that the single-color gradients rendering is imperfect.

The capacitive touchscreen is performing very well in terms of sensitivity (though we now consider this the standard rather than a great achievement). The good news is this time with the latest BlackBerryOS 6, thereís multi-touch (and thereís even pinch-zooming) so not all is lost.

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