BlackBerry ‘Torch’ Re-Lit: New Specs and QWERTY-Free Design

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Last year’s BlackBerry Torch was supposed to catapult Research in Motion into the age of modern smartphones, but sluggish software and rusty specs left the Torch looking like an another product from a bygone era.

Now, RIM’s trying again with a few new BlackBerry Torch models that use faster processors, bigger screens, better cameras and the upcoming BlackBerry 7 operating system.

(MORE: BlackBerry Torch Review: Too Little, Too Late?)

First up will be the BlackBerry Torch 9810, which will launch later this month on AT&T. Like its predecessor, the Torch 9810 will have a 3.2-inch touch screen in front of a vertically-sliding QWERTY keyboard, but its 1.2 GHz processor has nearly double the clock speed the previous Torch. The new model also sports 720p video capture and support for HSPA+, which AT&T refers to as “4G” while it prepares its faster LTE network.

Later this year, RIM will chop off the Torch’s QWERTY keyboard, expand the touch screen to 3.7 inches with 480-by-800 resolution and create the BlackBerry Torch 9850 and 9860. The 9860 will be AT&T’s first all-touch BlackBerry phone, while the 9850 will operate on CDMA networks (either Verizon or Sprint). Specs will otherwise remain similar to the Torch 9810.

In addition to the new Torches, RIM is readying the BlackBerry Bold 9900 — with the traditional BlackBerry aesthetic of screen on top, keyboard on bottom — for later this year. AT&T says it’ll have a 4G version, but no other carriers have been announced yet. (Update: Sprint says it’s getting the Blackberry Bold 9930 and Torch 9850 this fall)

At the core of these new phones is the BlackBerry 7 operating system. I haven’t seen it in action, but it’s supposed to be faster and easier to use than previous versions of the software, with features like voice-activated search and HTML5 support in the web browser.

I still get the feeling that RIM is treading water with these BlackBerry 7 smartphones. The company has made clear that it’s planning to put QNX — the operating system that powers the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet — into future phones, marking a fresh start for the once-revolutionary RIM. Whether that’ll be good enough to stop the company’s market share from sliding further is debatable, but for now, RIM just needs to keep its loyalists on board. Hopefully the new Torches will do a better job than their predecessor.

MORE: The Tragic Decline of BlackBerry