Research In Motion unveiled its second attempt in the touch-screen market this week with the launch of the BlackBerry Torch.
V3.co.uk went along to the UK launch event in London and managed to get a very quick hands on with the slider model, also dubbed the 9800. Our first impressions are that for BlackBerry fans it's a good alternative to current models but it's not going to tempt any iPhone or Android fans away from their beloved smartphones.
Headline features of the Torch are that it runs BlackBerry OS 6, and that RIM has carried on with its efforts to offer the market a decent touch-screen/physical keypad combo. Most smartphone vendors have shied away from going down this route, and for those that have tried it such as Sony Ericsson with its Vivaz Pro the results haven't been that successful.
And in good news for RIM, the 480x360 3.2in touch-screen is a vast improvement on its previous effort with the Storm. The Torch retains the capacitive touch-screen but has lost the Surepress technology, which made a click sound for every press on the screen.
I found the touch-screen on the Storm models to be difficult to use, needing to press down quite hard on the screen or press twice to type or access applications, and then often accidentally opening the wrong application or typing the wrong character through hitting the wrong key.
From my initial experience of the Torch, the screen is now much more comparable to leaders in the market for a touch-screen experience such as Apple and HTC. It was a smooth experience scrolling up and down, and side to side while browsing web pages and the pinch to zoom worked well. It also requires a lighter touch than on the Storm.
RIM has included a favourites screen, where users can create icons for any web pages that they visit most. The device can also house a huge range of apps on the home screens, which can be scrolled through as is standard with many touch-screen models.
However, the browsing experience still had a slight lag compared to other devices, with pages not quite as speedy to load up as I'm used to. This was not expected, as RIM made a big deal of the new WebKit browser during its launch presentation - perhaps it's not helped by the addition of a 624MHz Marvell processor, compared to the 1GHz included in models such as the iPhone 4 and HTC Desire.
Torch users get a range of text input options: full Qwerty, SureType and multi-tap in portrait mode, and Qwerty in landscape mode. And for those times when you're typing a long email or for users who don't like touch-screen for text input, it's handy to be able to slide open the touch-screen to use the physical keypad.
But that physical keypad comes with a price. The Torch feels quite chunky and weighty, especially compared to other available handsets.
The Torch measures 111 x 62 x 14.6mm, and weighs in at 161.1g. Compare this to the slimline iPhone 4's 115.2 x 59.6 x 9.3mm dimensions and 137 grams weight, and another touch-screen/slide-out keypad combo, Sony Ericsson's Xperia X1, at 110.5 x 52.6 x 17 mm and weighing in at 145g.
So while smartphone buyers will expect some increase in size and weight for the slide-out keypad, they might not be prepared to shell out for the Torch when it weighs more or is larger than models in the same category.
At the launch event, RIM was keenest to show off the social and multimedia features. We didn't really get to try out the new social media functions during our quick hands on, but from our initial look it's a useful addition to the BlackBerry, pulling all feeds from your contacts' social apps into one place.
Video playback was quite speedy to load, and fairly clear but not up to the standard of devices such as the iPhone with its 960x640 resolution or Google's Android Nexus One at 480x800. RIM has also included a 5MP camera with flash, and the ability to record video - but video calling hasn't yet been added.
We'll be posting a full review of the Torch shortly.
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