Hands-on with Blackberry's new Torch phones

We wander into Blackberry's 'crib' and meet its shiny new OS 7 smartphones

With the constant drip-drip of Android, Windows Phone 7 and iPhone news inflicting a kind of Chinese water torture on poor old Blackberry, the Canadian giant finally cracked and announced three new UK smartphones at its 'biggest ever' event yesterday.

The Bold 9900 (its premium QWERTY messenger), Torch 9850 (touchscreen-only successor to the Storm) and Torch 9810 (follow-up to the original Torch, with a slide-out QWERTY) all run Blackberry's new OS 7 and will be available in the next month. But are they good enough to hold the Android hordes at bay?

Blackberry Torch 9850

Blackberry's first stab at a touchscreen smartphone, the Storm, was hamstrung by the limitations of Blackberry's OS 6. But its successor, the Torch 9850, feels much more like a modern touch-phone. Its capacitive screen, 1.2Ghz processor and the OS 7's 'liquid graphics' (a fancy name for graphical acceleration) all combine to create a slick and responsive experience.

The Torch 9850 doesn't feel as premium as its high-end rivals or Blackberry's own Bold 9900. Its casing is more plasticky, in the vein of Samsung's Galaxy series. But the 3.7in display is crisp and bright, and the web browsing experience a vast improvement.

Key specs: 3.7in screen, 1.2Ghz processor, 5MP camera (720p video), 4GB storage, Wi-Fi, GPS

Blackberry Torch 9810

Our main complaint about the original Blackberry Torch was its retro 480x360 screen. Luckily, its successor, the Torch 9810, goes some way to fixing that by boosting the 3.2in display's resolution to 640x480. As you can see below, that slide-out keyboard means the phone's still pretty bulky, but the keys offer a satisying thumb-typing experience.

A vastly more powerful processor (up from 624Mhz to 1.2Ghz) means the Torch 9810 carries off Blackberry OS 7's more satisfying features – web browsing, voice search and Blackberry Messenger 6 – without slowdown, and support for 720p video recording makes it more of a multimedia all-rounder.

Key specs: 3.2in screen, 5MP camera (720p video recording), 8GB storage, Wi-Fi, GPS

Blackberry Bold 9900

You'll already know from our previous hands-on with the Blackberry Bold 9900 that it has a fine, premium build with lashings of brushed stainless steel, and is fronted by what might just be the best smartphone keyboard in the world. It's also Blackberry's thinnest ever phone, at just 10.5mm thick and its first to launch with NFC.

But as interesting as the design are the improvements brought by OS 7. Blackberry Messenger now interacts with the built-in social networking apps, and a new Augmented Reality feature. Hold the phone up in a room and it'll point out fellow BB Messengers or, if you're outside, points of interest supplied by Wikitude. Nothing we haven't seen before, of course, but proof that the Bold 9900 is far from just a high-end emailing workhorse.

Key specs: 1.2Ghz processor, 5Mp camera (720p video recording), Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, 8GB memory