RIM’s past when it comes to full screen touch based devices is a bit shaky at best. The Storm and Storm II never gained mass public adoption and many loathed the quirky click screen.
Up for review is another attempt by RIM at the full screen touch based device. The device is the Blackberry Torch 9850 but in an extremely competitive field, can this Blackberry hold its own?
On paper, the 9850 looks to be a decent device:
- 3.7in Touch screen,
- 800 x 480 resolution,
- 5 MP camera,
- 1.2 GHZ cpu
- Micro SD
- 4 GB onboard storage with 16 GB micro SD included
- 768 MB of RAM
- Dimensions (H x W x D) 4.72 ” x 2.44”x0.45”
- BBOS 7
- 3G (no LTE on this device)
The full list of specs can be read here but the above list hits the highlights. At first glance, the specs give a good impression that the device should be a contender to most on the market.
In your hand the device feels solid and there aren’t any rough corners, which gives the impression that the build quality is of a premium device. The back of the device has a unique material that we love. It feels a bit like suede but does not scratch easily and is quite grippy.
The hardware buttons along the bottom are a nice change from the usual touch sensitive buttons that we see on many other devices. The travel distance when pressing is adequate and has a firm clickiness to them. The center button, which also is a trackpad from the traditional Blackberry, is a bit finicky to use if you have anything other than small hands.
There are also two buttons in a rocker like setup on the side and a third down below. The buttons are shark fin like and are possibly the worst buttons we have ever seen on a cell phone. Not only are they awkward to use, they feel like you are pushing a penny down into mashed potatoes (not a good feeling, by the way) and provide little assurance when pressing to change the volume up or down.
Blackberry devices have always had adequate call quality and this device is no different. Little issue was had placing or receiving calls or communicating with the other party. The speakerphone was a bit shallow in its output but acceptable.
The screen is a not a bad implementation by RIM either. Viewing angels are acceptable and the colors are a bit warm but not inhibitive. The 3.7in screen is an appropriate size but the bezel is a bit larger than we would like to see in a device that this class aspires to be.
Under moderate usage we were getting more than a full days use out of the device. We didn’t pound the device with heavy downloads like we have on some other test units (more on that below) but it is suffice to say that sending emails, web browsing and a few phone calls will leave you with enough battery to still go out on the town on night. But as we say with every smartphone, it’s probably best to charge each night as you will not get two full days of use out of the device.
Here's the problem with the phone: it’s not that it has poor battery life, poor screen or call quality, it’s that BBOS is such a poor experience in the touch environment that it’s really hard to recommend this device. The touchpad/center button constantly gets rubbed when dragging your finger along the bottom to hit one of the buttons sending an on screen cursor (really?) God only knows where when surfing the web. In fact, the touchpad is a bit pointless on an entire touchscreen based device.
Getting over the touchpad woes, you are left using a responsive touchscreen on an OS that still doesn’t feel built for touch. Unfortunately, putting a touchscreen on top of the OS doesn’t make it touch friendly.
There are speed issues with the constant spinning wheel showing its ugly face on frequent occasions. The only consistent experience is opening the application area which only shows the dismal amount of poorly constructed third party applications that are, again, not looking like they were designed for touch.
It’s because of the awful touch experience that you begin to see why the touchpad is on this device, was RIM really thinking you should use the touchpad frequently on a touchscreen based device? It would appear so because at some points you need it to navigate certain applications as having large fingers makes navigation difficult.
One could really go on about how awful the experience is, which is such a stark contrast to the BB 9930 we reviewed not too long ago.
Moving on, the camera and all 5 MP are a decent implementation but unfortunately you have to use the awful shark buttons on the side which make it rather hard to determine if you are taking a picture, trying to focus or if the damn thing is counting to ten before it lets you know what is going on. You also have the option to use the touchpad but if you accidently slide your thumb up it will zoom in or you can actually touch the screen to take a picture, which is the best option, but most awkward solution.
Once you get an image, it’s a decent representation for a mobile phone camera but the flash came on nearly all the time and tended to wash out images.
Video capture, even though touting 720p, was grainy and many Android based devices we have tested beat out this device on any given day.
Really, the problem here is not the hardware, the network reception or anything other than the awful OS. It’s a rare occasion that we say avoid a product but here you have it. A beautifully built phone that got sandbagged by an OS clearly not built for touch. The worst part of all, this device sells for $199.99, the same as the iPhone 4 and LG Revolution (that has 4G), both of which are far superior options at this price point.
If you need a Blackberry, the 9930 is a much better option. We loved that device for Blackberry addicts but this one, this is a pass.