In the vast steppe of touchscreen smartphones, the handsets from BlackBerry with their QWERTY keypads have remained like a tree, recognisable from afar with their distinctive looks and features. This exclusivity, for some time now, has been on a downward spiral due to the ever enticing looks and overall experience of using touchscreen mobiles. Though RIM tried to arrest the trend by rapidly revamping the BlackBerry OS and launching half baked BlackBerry Torch with resistive touchscreen with lofty SurePress technology, the response was lukewarm. Meanwhile, RIM went on to launch more handsets in QWERTY and touch+QWERTY configuration, mainly because of non-suitability BB OS for all-touchscreen handset. But the Canadian company seems to be on a course correction now with BlackBerry Torch 9860. The all touch phone is powered by a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm processor and runs snazzy new BB OS 7. Will the new handset manage turn fortunes for RIM in highly competitive smartphone segment? We'll find an answer to that one by the end of our review. In the meantime, let’s have a quick rundown of handset specifications.
- 3.7" TFT capacitive touchscreen
- Quad-band GSM/HSDPA support
- Qualcomm 1.2GHz QC8655 processor
- 768 MB RAM
- 2.5GB of inbuilt storage
- BlackBerry OS 7
- BlackBerry Email service
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- GPS, BlackBerry Maps, digital compass
- 5MP camera with autofocus and LED flash
- HD video recording, 720p@30fps
- Optical trackpad
- Native DivX and Xvid codec support
- 3.5 mm audio jack
- Smart dialling
- BlackBerry Internet Service must to use Internet
- No video calling
- No front camera
- No Flash support for web browser
- No FM radio
Look n feel:
First looks, the new Torch 9860 does manages to impress with uber cool looks and solid built quality. Front panel of the phone is dominated by a 3.7 inch TFT capacitive touchscreen, which is the largest we have seen in a BlackBerry till date. The screen is quite responsive. The brightness is good and hence legibility in daylight is not an issue at all. Furthermore, due to high pixel density of ~252 ppi, the images appear quite vibrant. On the downside, the screen is a fingerprint magnet and prone to getting scratches.
The front has a glossy finish while the battery cover is made of solid metal with matted finish. The sides are ringed by chrome metal strip, adding sophistication to the device.
You can easily access any part of the screen while operating the handset with single hand. Though you can access the menu by tapping on the homescreen, the BB menu key is still an integral part of menu navigation. Below the screen are four hard keys along with an optical trackpad for call, menu, back and call end functions.
A 5MP autofocus camera has been placed on the upper half of battery cover, along with LED flash. Side controls include volume rocker and camera key, given on the left side panel.
The build quality of handset is traditional. We didn't exactly like the front glossy finish of the phone though, which adds a dash of regular stuff in the device. It is kind of contrasting to a BlackBerry, which is all about exclusivity.
OS and UI
BlackBerry torch 9860 runs on BB OS 7, which made its foray with Blackberry Bold 9900. The OS 7 release is supposedly the last update of the Blackberry OS. All the future phones are expected to run on QNX OS, which made its debut with BlackBerry Playbook.
The OS7 is essentially a new platform, based on a 1.2 GHz processor and newer hardware graphics accelerator to ensure fluidity of user interface. The device surely doesn't disappoint on this count. It also brings several new features into BB phones like NFC capability, augmented reality and HD video recording.
Tapping on the status icon placed on top of the screen opens the notifications menu, which gives quick access to connectivity options like network, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. We were not able to get the NFC listed here so this device doesn't supports NFC for now, which is another letdown. Apart from the connectivity toggles, it also lists alarm clock and settings menu for easy access.
Active tone profiles can be accessed by tapping on the loudspeaker icon while the universal search tab adjacent to it will let you search the handset for content. The best part is that OS 7 supports voice search too. So you can just tap on the mic icon and quickly run through the desired content.
An app bar has been placed at the bottom of the screen too, which houses the main menu. You can pull it up by swiping your finger vertically across the screen. The default menu houses all the apps while swiping horizontally reveals panels that list the menu as all, favourites. Media, Frequent etc. You can manually arrange the menu icons too by long pressing the menu icon or by pressing the menu hard key given below the touchscreen.
Navigating across the menu is a breeze, thanks to the super smooth user interface and excellent touchscreen response. You can also try the trademark BlackBerry optical trackpad to run through the menu, in case you are not very much comfortable with touch navigation.
Voice and TxT:
Even in a data intensive world where a major part of our communication is in form of SMS, IM or Email, voice calling still remains a paramount feature in mobile devices. The BlackBerry Torch 9860 performs exceptionally well in this regard too. The voice call quality is crisp and no issues were found during our review. Of course, much of it depends upon the network strength too, but even in less than optimal network reception, this phone saved the day. The phone comes with smartdial feature, so you just need to enter a first few alphabets of a contact to pull that up from the heap.
For messaging, you can either use the universal inbox, which places all your SMS, MMS, IM, Email and SNS feeds into one convenient space or go to individual applications. However, we suggest that you use the former as it really cuts down on time. The SMS are listed as threads for your easy reference.
To use the Email and IM, you'll have to activate your BlackBerry Internet Service account as usual. Without it, you won’t be able to use any of BlackBerry speciality services it is famed for.
The stock Email client lets you send and receive attachments, which you can view and edit through document editor. You can create labels, specialised folders, colour code Emails etc.
Photos can be resized for sending, emails can be flagged and filtered by request, color and status, while folders can be created, edited and deleted on the device itself, which is expected anyway since this is what RIM is famous for!
Data connectivity and Internet browsing:
Coming to the connectivity, the Torch 9860 is a quadband GSM/3G phone and supports HSUPA/HSDPA speeds of 14.4 Mbps/5.76 Mbps respectively. Being a quadband phone, you can use this baby anywhere in the world, which especially comes in handy if you are a frequent globe-trotter.
The Wi-Fi connection is easy to configure through the Wi-Fi manager. You can also turn your device into Wi-Fi hotspot as the device supports this feature too. Bluetooth v2.1 to sync your files with other wireless devices and a USB port pretty much sum up your connectivity part.
One major issue we had with this device was its lack of NFC despite ample hardware and software support for it. With so many smartphones coming out with NFC support, we can only wonder what RIM engineers were thinking while writing specifications for Torch 9860.
The phone's stock Webkit based browser is a definite improvement from the previous versions, something, which RIM promised and we expected, especially after noticing phone's spec sheet. The new browser is fast, with lower loading times and supports multi-touch input too. However, you are in for a downer here too. The browser lacks Flash support, hence you won’t be able to view streaming videos or other Flash based content. Not much of an issue as there are tons of video streaming apps available in the BlackBerry App World nowadays.
Apps and utility:
BlackBerry Torch 9860 comes loaded with applications and other utilities. For starters, this tech device comes loaded with full version of Quickoffice, so you can start making and editing documents off the bat.
The calendar can be viewed in three modes – weekly, monthly or daily and you can easily add your reminders too. Then you have a calculator, unit converter, voice recorder, alarm Notes, stopwatch, timer etc for the usual organiser app suite. BlackBerry also provides a password keeper to keep your passwords secure and Blackberry Protect to remotely lock and wipe your BB in case it gets lost or stolen.
There is not much to expect on the SNS front. Only Facebook and Twitter apps come preloaded on the device along with a stock aggregator app, which lets you see your SNS feeds on a combined platform.
For navigational needs, the handset is equipped with BlackBerry Maps app. Built in GPS receiver with A-GPS support works neatly even in semi covered areas. You can search maps, get directions or sent your location via Email or SMS to your friends.
You can download more apps from BlackBerry App World, which lists both free and paid apps. However, being a business class phone, everybody expects you to pay a premium if you are using a BB device. Same applies to App World to and the apps you'll find here are generally costlier than those found in Android Market or iTunes. But if you can pay, you have a world to own! Payments can be done through credit cards or PayPal account securely.
Though BB phones are not exactly known for their refined cameras, the 5MP autofocus snapper onboard Torch 9850, which is incidentally the highest resolution camera you can find in a BlackBerry, works like a charm. The camera interface is pretty basic and there are not many settings you can tweak. The camera can either be activated by pressing the camera shortcut key given on the left spine of device or tapping the camera icon on the homescreen.
The camera comes with usual assortment or features like Geotagging, digital zoom, LED flash, Face detection, scene mode etc. The image quality of device came across as excellent during our review. The images are detailed and there is no pixilation to be found. Here are some samples we clicked during our day out with the BB torch 9860.
You can also record HD videos with this device at 720p resolution. The quality of video recording is again impressive. LED light automatically lights up while recording videos, which is somewhat helpful in low light conditions. But don’t expect much. Zoom feature is not supported in video recording mode, so you'll have to move around if you want to do some serious videography.
Coming to the last leg of our review, we finally analysed the multimedia capabilities of BB Torch 9860. The stock music player boasts a new look, mostly because of a revamped UI. The music player supports a wide range of file formats for playback, so you'll have relatively less visit your PC expressly for converting your favourite tracks in supported file formats. You also have some equaliser presets thrown in. Further options include automatic track sorting on basis of artist, albums, genre etc.
The video player also supports a plethora of HD video file formats like DivX, XviD, H.264/MPEG-4, WMV etc for playback. We tried playing some Xvid files on the device which it played with ease. As there is No FM radio, which is not unusual in a BB phone, you can satiate your FM needs by downloading internet FM radio apps available at BlackBerry App World.
The audio quality of the device is great on both headphones as well as on loudspeakers. The availability of 3.5 mm jack is another bonus. The volume is controlled through physical volume rocker given on the left spine of the phone.
RIM has some really hard lessons learnt over the past year with the battering it took at the hands of new age smartphones. Despite the initial setbacks, RIM has been firmly backing their own device configurations, as there is still a huge loyal customer base vouching for BlackBerry devices. Though it did experimented with touchscreens in past, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is the first regular touchscreen phone from RIM. If you are looking for smartphones with touchscreens and 3D gaming, you have a formidable array lined up from likes of Samsung, HTC, Nokia etc. But if you are a BB fanatic or in need of BlackBerry Enterprise services, the deal won’t be getting sweeter than this one in near future.