The Torch is a different BlackBerry than anything you've seen. Its developer, Research in Motion, has clearly put a great deal of thought into the device design, operation, and even its packaging.
This smartphone boasts a touchscreen, optical trackpad, and slide-out QWERTY keyboard giving it a unique form factor. It also features a revamped operating system complete with new browser designed to be more social media centric.
At $200 on AT&T's 3G network, the BlackBerry Torch is designed to be RIM's flagship device.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Torch is a touchscreen slider with a full keyboard and optical trackpad, a design that Research in Motion has never used before.
Like all of the newest harvest of BlackBerrys, there is plenty of faux chrome finish to go around. Also like the current generation of BlackBerrys, the styling becomes boring after approximately one second of looking at it.
This is RIM's first slider, and the company has done a fairly good job with this design. The sliding mechanism is smooth with the right amount of resistance. But there are a couple of issues: the device lacks a designated touch point to slide open the device, resulting in thumb smudges on the screen, and using the mute/lock rocker button on the top is awkward when the screen is extended.
Despite these minor detractions, RIM's designers did a good job of allocating enough space above the top-row of the keyboard with the slider open, which has been an issue on other sliders.
Overall the Torch feels well built, and is about as heavy as the competition. With the slider closed, it's 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.6 (111 x 62 x 15 mm).
The 480x360 3.2-inch touchscreen is lacking in both size and resolution. It's about par for the course compared to other BlackBerrys, but compared to Android OS devices and the iPhone 4 the quality of the screen seems almost an afterthought. If there were one deal breaker about the Torch, it might be the screen.
The touch aspect is comfortable. It is not as responsive or as smooth as the iPhone 4, but it proves usable for any application. Unlike RIM's failed attempts at touchscreens with the Storm and Storm 2, the device is more responsive when shifting from landscape to portrait, and is otherwise reliable and predictable.
The portrait-oriented sliding QWERTY keyboard is reminiscent of one on the the BlackBerry Bold 9700 -- it's a joy to use, and has almost no learning curve. Typing speed and accuracy is phenomenal compared to the virtual keyboard of other devices, like the iPhone.
Its virtual keyboard, on the other hand, is less impressive than other devices'. Despite offering interesting customizations such as AZERTY, QWERTY, QWERTZ layouts and predictive, corrective, and direct input modes, the Torch's on-screen keyboard's typing speed and accuracy pales in comparison to the competition. Still this isn't as big a deal as you might think -- beyond the occasional website or email address, I found myself switching the physical keyboard for almost all of my typing.
Other Buttons & Controls
The optical trackpad below the screen works as promised with no surprises or complaints. While some may wonder why it's included at all, I find it enhances productivity and efficiency while using the device. While scrolling through long lists is easier with the touchscreen, quickly and accurately selecting a few characters to copy is made easy via the trackpad. Furthermore with the option of using the keyboard and the trackpad exclusively the Torch suddenly becomes a great reading platform for longer emails or web pages.
The Torch retains the traditional volume buttons and convenience key on its right side, and a mute/lock rocker button on top. There is no left-hand convenience key which is a little frustrating -- how else will BlackBerry nation accidentally trigger the "Say a command" prompt?