In the past few years, the smartphone market has basically been divided into two camps: iPhones and everything else.
RIM’s dominance in the smartphone sector was primarily in the corporate world, where businesses appreciate the BlackBerry’s ability to seamlessly integrate with Microsoft Exchange. In the corporate world, BlackBerrys have been handed out for years. But the iPhone has raised the bar in terms of what consumers expect from their handheld devices. It’s not just about e-mail and text messaging anymore; it’s about web browsing, social networking and apps.
When my outdated BlackBerry Curve died over the weekend, I was heartbroken, to be sure. But I recognized early that it gave me the opportunity to upgrade. And I love new gadgets.
As an AT&T customer, I could easily go the iPhone route. I’m an iPod Touch owner and love the device. But I know enough about iOS and the iPhone interface to know that I don’t want an iPhone. I don’t particularly enjoy typing on a touch screen. And I want a device that does what I want it to do; the promise of hundreds of thousands of “apps” does not impress me if 95 percent of them are useless. I despise having to use iTunes. And, frankly, the design of iPhone 4 is just not rugged enough for me. So I decided to stick with BlackBerry.
I had my heart set on a Bold. But at the AT&T store, the Torch jumped out at me. It’s sleek and solid. It feels good in the hand. The touch screen is responsive and pretty, and the keyboard, though it has taken some getting used to, makes typing so much easier. But the best part of the Torch? The updated BlackBerry OS and the much-improved web browser.
The first thing you notice about the Torch is its familiarity. BlackBerry die-hards will be happy that, unlike the Storm, this IS a BlackBerry, through and through. It takes a matter of minutes to acquaint yourself with the ins and out of the OS and you can get started messaging and making calls immediately. I’ve read reviews that the Torch’s processor is underpowered, thus rendering the OS sluggish. I haven’t had that issue. I find the phone responsive, quick, and a real pleasure to use. The added ability to create folders for your shortcuts means more organization and less clutter. My favorite part of the BlackBerry — the integrated inbox — remains. RIM has done a better job of handling popular social networking apps, and now includes a Social Feeds feature, which integrates feeds from social networks and RSS into one central place.
The new web browser is excellent. Again, I’ve read speed complaints. But anyone familiar with BlackBerrys knows the secret to web browsing was to immediately download Opera Mini. That’s no longer necessary. The new browser supports tabbed browsing elegantly, keeping the tabs out of the way until you want them. Pages render quickly and properly. Pinch to zoom is included. I’ve found myself actually surfing the web on this device — a near impossibility with BlackBerrys of the past, even with Opera Mini. Even YouTube is a pleasure on the Torch. With just a few seconds of buffering, video renders smooth and largely uninterrupted, even on a 3G connection.
The downsides? Not all apps from your old BlackBerry will run on BlackBerry OS6. Twitter and Bing do not have supported apps yet, which means you’ll have to run UberTwitter or some other client. And Google apps run smoothly, though I’ve found I prefer Bing’s mobile app. Screen resolution could be higher, but the Torch’s screen is bright and pretty.
In all, RIM did exactly what it needed to do with this device: It stepped up the game and proved it’s still a major player in the smartphone market — one capable of creating gadgets that aren’t just good for the corporate world, but are also enjoyable for consumers. This is, without a doubt, the best BlackBerry ever.
UPDATE: A couple of other little downsides:
To unlock the Torch, one need only press a single button at the top of the device. Unfortunately, that’s a little too easy, especially if you leave the Torch holstered most of the time. It seems to come unlocked a little too often when you don’t want it to.
RIM has gone from two custom convenience buttons to one. It’s not a huge problem, but those who’ve gotten used to two buttons will be forced with a difficult choice to make.
Call quality is good…sometimes even excellent. But from time to time, there is a small tinny sound. It’s bad enough to be a bit annoying, but not a dealbreaker.