BlackBerry Torch Review: Too Little Too Late?

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You won’t be the world’s fastest texter with the virtual keyboard on the Torch. I’m not really sure why anyone would want to use the virtual keyboard when the physical QWERTY is far superior. The quality of the physical keyboard is somewhere between the low-end Curve and the high-end Bold 9700. It works great but my first impression was that it felt somewhat cheap. I’m a bit of a snob, though.

Does it make phone calls? Yes. Do they drop? No. How’s the speakerphone? It’s so-so.

The BlackBerry 6 dialer nav is simple, useful and fast.

(BlackBerry OS 6 Coming To a Handful of Existing Devices)

Fact: every major iteration of the BlackBerry OS comes with a learning curve. The jump from 5.0 to 6 is even steeper. You look at how Android and iOS software upgrades work and you basically get a few new features that don’t typically cause you to relearn the OS in any drastic manner. I’ve owned or used every new BlackBerry device for the last four years. Jumping from OS 5.x on my 9700 to the 6.0 on the Torch has been rough.

(Video: Is BlackBerry 6 Enough To Keep You Around?)

With OS 6 comes universal search, a social networking aggregator, multi-touch gestures, a WebKit browser (with tabs), long press gestures and a few other things.

The way you navigate BlackBerry 6 on the Torch is, to say the least, confusing at times. You no longer have a home row of icons. Instead, you have a drawer of apps that can be pulled up from the bottom ala Android 1.0. Swiping left and right reveal favorites, downloads, frequent and media drawers. At any point in time you could have four shortcuts up to 12 icons depending on how far up you pull the drawer. It’s redundant, confusing and annoying.

Tapping the clock at the top of the screen reveals a shortcut to the connections management menu, alarm clock and a few key shortcuts to things like Options and set up menus for network, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Sounds like Android again, huh?

Well, there are few more touch components on the homescreen that are rather helpful. You can access Profiles and Universal Search, as well as an interactive notifications bar for e-mails, text messages, social network updates, etc.

My philosophy on mobile operating systems is that you shouldn’t have to relearn something you’ve been using for more than four years. Why am I struggling with the Torch and BB 6 when my own personal phone is a BlackBerry?

(BlackBerry 6 User Interface Demo Video Emerges)

Something RIM actually knows how to do well. The Torch’s battery life is commendable, if not outstanding. It can survive a day’s worth of wrath from even the heaviest of users.

I want to love the Torch. This was supposed to be the device that all BlackBerry users have been waiting for since the iPhone launched and the Storm(s) flopped. The fact of the matter is, it’s not easy to use. It can be confusing and overwhelming.

Longtime BlackBerry owners are on one side of the fence or the other. None of them are on the fence. One even said he’s ditching his BlackBerry for good and going with Android. Android and iPhone owners who were once BlackBerry users didn’t seem that impressed with the Torch and none were willing to switch back.

The Storm was an acceptable mistake that came to market far sooner than it should have. The Torch is a fairly ho-hum device that does nothing to excite anyone but the BlackBerry purists who simply refuse to jump ship. I get it, but I’d rather wait for the next iteration of the Bold 9700. If RIM screws that up then I’m done forever.

The BlackBerry Torch is available starting today from AT&T for $199.99.

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