BlackBerry Torch Review: Too Little Too Late?

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To say that Google and Apple have left RIM in the dust is a bit of an understatement. While RIM has the lion’s share of the smartphone market in the U.S., that number is beginning to decline while Android’s and Apple’s continue to grow each quarter.

RIM has always been focused on the enterprise side and only marginally dabbled in the consumer market. In 2006 or maybe 2007, they started to change their tune with the introduction of the camera equipped Pearl and Curve. It was a start, but aside from the pink coloring, the BlackBerry was still an enterprise device. It wasn’t very consumer friendly. In 2008, the BlackBerry Storm rumbled onto the scene to combat the iPhone. It fell flat on its face. And so did the Storm 2.

The latest and greatest from the Great White North should have been the first touch-screen BlackBerry, but it wasn’t. The Torch isn’t a revolutionary step forward for RIM. It’s more of an evolutionary step. Is it enough to satiate the so-called CrackBerry user? Maybe. Will it lure anyone away from their iPhone or Android device? Read on to find out.

(Two Minute Video: The New BlackBerry Torch in a Nutshell)

In the vein of the current Bold 9700, the Torch’s hardware is solid, albeit chunky. An assisted slide reveals a keyboard that is no better or worse than any other BlackBerry that’s currently available. The rubberized corduroy battery cover is fairly ho-hum and doesn’t really evoke high-class in any way. The optical trackpad works like it has any every other BlackBerry device. The four distinct BlackBerry buttons are a different story. They work, sure, but they’re attached to each other, making it difficult to discern which button you’re pressing unless you look down. And they’re kind of small.

RIM tends to change a lot of things with each model. One BlackBerry might have the headphone jack and microUSB on the right side, for example, while another splits them up on either side. It’s never the same and the Torch is no different. The microUSB is in the lower left corner while the headphone jack has been moved to the upper right corner. There’s also no convenience key like there is on the BlackBerry Bold 9700. Volume and camera buttons, however, are still on the right-hand rail. The lock and mute buttons are awkwardly placed, as well.

The internals are marginally better than previous BlackBerries but pale in comparison to other smartphones. We live in a world where 1GHz processors are now the norm. The Marvell 624MHz processor gets the job done but it can chug along during heavy usage.

One of the few things RIM managed to do right with the Torch camera is revamp the UI. It probably has more to do with BlackBerry 6 but it’s pretty darn good. Have a look for yourself. You’re presented with shortcuts to the gallery, geotag, shutter, flash and scene modes (Auto, Face Detection, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Close-up, Snow, Beach, Night, Text). Options are always great but maybe RIM went a little too far here? You can review images before they’re stored to memory, which is nice, I guess.

Does it shoot HD video? No. RIM decided to go with measly 640×480 resolution.

Thank you, RIM. Thanks for getting rid of SureType but why is the resolution on the Torch only marginally better than the iPhone 3GS? A device that’s more than a year old! The display on my Bold 9700 is much, much better. The Torch’s 3.2-inch screen renders text and images horrifically. Icons are often too small and even for someone with relatively small fingers, I found myself tapping the wrong thing more often than not. Nothing pops off the screen. Browsing the web is, well, not that great.

The WebKit browser is leaps and bounds better than previous BlackBerry browsers but the display’s low resolution can water down the experience. In its current state, RIM can’t compete with Apple or Google in the Web browser arena. However, it displays Web pages as if you were viewing it on a desktop and pinching to zoom in and out works as expected. It’s a start but RIM has had room to refine and tweak before it competes with everyone else, which is a shame considering how long it’s taken RIM to move to a WebKit browser.

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