The five controls on the front panel are the typical BlackBerry set. You get two keys on each side of the optical trackpad (Call and Menu on the left, Back and End key on the right). The trackpad is as good as you would expect from RIM, or otherwise said – it’s perfect. The buttons all have solid stroke and adequate press feedback.
On top of the front panel we find the earpiece and a status LED to notify of missed calls and messages, low battery and charging. The proximity sensor, which takes care of switching off the display when you hold it next to your ear during calls, is here too.
The left side of the BlackBerry Torch 9800 is where the microUSB port is placed. There isn't a cover over it so dust is likely to accumulate over time.
On the right, we find the so-called convenience key, the 3.5mm audio jack and the volume rocker. Much like the microUSB port, the 3.5mm audio jack is exposed.
The convenience key’s default function is camera which means it will let you both start the camera and take pictures. You can set it to serve other functions though.
The BlackBerry Torch 9800 loudspeaker grill is located on top, between the two of the company’s trademark hidden keys. The Lock key is on charge of turning the screen on and off while the Mute key now acts as a Play/Pause button when playing music and videos to highlight the media slant of the phone.
The bottom of the Torch is completely bare with no functional elements whatsoever.
Sliding up reveals the four-row QWERTY keyboard, which is the typically good BlackBerry stuff. The tiny keys are carefully sculpted to be tactile and the overall setup is really making the most of the limited space. Typing on the Torch is by no means inferior to proven performers like the Bold.
The keys are clicky and solid to press, and there’s more than enough headroom for the topmost row. All in all we can hardly imagine anyone doing a better job with the keyboard so RIM deserves credit here. Now, if you factor in those side-sliders which give you so much space things might look a different but it’s comparing apples to oranges really.
Rearside, the Torch flaunts the 5 megapixel camera lens. A LED flash is right next to it, aiming to aid low-light shooting.
Below the ribbed cover is hot-swappable microSD card slot and the 1300 mAh Li-Ion battery. It’s said to last up to 432 hours of stand-by or up to 5 hours and 40 minutes of talk-time, which is hardly impressive. We squeezed a day and a half on a single charge but we were probably pushing the phone too hard.
The build quality of the Torch is excellent as we’ve come to expect from the Canadian company. The slider mechanism has its moments of wobble but nothing major. Many would go ahead and call the phone chunky. We prefer solid. The Torch looks good and the 161 grams are not so hard to handle.
If your cup is usually half-empty, you would probably go as far as calling the Torch a touch phone that could’ve done just as well without the touchscreen. Looking on the bright side – the Torch is a true BlackBerry with a fully-functional touchscreen. In the end though, we’ll know how bright it is, only after we’ve checked the refreshed user interface. So, shall we.