While Blackberry has an unrivalled cabinet of QWERTY smartphones, it’s had a hard time shaking off its businessy rep. The Storm and Storm 2 were its first attempts at providing an alternative to the iPhone, but still felt like a CEO awkwardly wearing a party hat and schmoozing with the company freshers.
The Torch, though, is a different beast. It’s the Canadian company’s first slider phone, combines a full QWERTY keyboard with a 3.2in capacitive touchscreen and brings a fresh new Blackberry 6.0 operating system.
The incredible bulk
Stowing a QWERTY keyboard beneath the touchscreen deck means the Torch is quite a bulky unit. Girth aside, the slide action is smooth, satisfyingly heavy and, like the rest of the device, as solid as they come. That button panel, like the rest of the design, won’t surprise anyone who’s seen a BlackBerry before.
Front of house duties are taken care of by a responsive 3.2in capacitive touchscreen. This has a disappointingly low 480x360 resolution and an average onscreen keyboard, though there's the slide-out QWERTY for heavy duty typing. This is a tad more cramped than previous incarnations, but if you’re used to those BB keys your thumbs will quickly feel at home.
On the back, there’s a tactile, rubberised battery cover above which sit a decent 5MP cam and LED flash. A dedicated shutter button turns the cam on, then the one-touch settings mean getting good results is a doddle. The pinch-to-zoom pic browser is also slick and simple.
In a world of 1GHz powerhouse smartphones, the Torch’s 624MHz processor is a bit weedy. It zips along happily enough most of the time, but there are moments when it struggles to keep up with itself and that shiny new BlackBerry 6 OS. That said, every other smartphone will envy the Torch’s battery life, which can see out two days in moderate use.
But what of that new OS? Well, while the layout of the new homepage won’t surprise anyone with recent Blackberrys, there are plenty of new features under the surface.
The Android-esque notifications and slide-out icon screens are new. The latter can be filtered by category with a sideways swipe, while changing from a full screen layover to a select few icons is totally intuitive. Everything is where you expect it to be, and if it’s not the universal search is among the best we’ve seen.
BlackBerry hasn’t had a happy history with web browsing, but this time around there’s a freshly-minted Webkit browser that’s finally caught up with the mobile web. Tabbed browsing, simple homepage icon bookmarking and decent rendering are all present and correct, though it can be slow to load, probably owing to the last-gen processor rather than the software.
BlackBerry 6’s media player won’t win any prizes for originality, but why fix what isn't broken? There's a Cover Flow-style music browser, tesselated picture library (you can also swipe through images on the touchscreen) and a stacked video library with screenshots. BlackBerry’s desktop software is on hand for syncing (limited to music if you use a Mac), but it’s almost as easy to drag-and-drop files.
Blackberry also has its own version of Social Hub, Friend Stream and Timescape called Social Feeds. This helpfully pulls updates from social media services to a single message box.
Its ace card is the ability to integrate your BlackBerry Messenger account, but if you’re not into piling all your messages into one place, the Torch comes with dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps installed. Easy, effective and the end of your productive life if you can’t ignore the BB’s blinking red light.
This greatly improved OS and solid if bulky build make the Torch one of the best Blackberrys we’ve seen, and the best if you want its renowned messaging power served with a healthy side of multimedia smarts.
But ultimately the last-gen processor, low-res screen and comparative dearth of apps cost it that fifth star.