Tactical Advice

Review: BlackBerry Torch 9800

RIM adds commercial touches to its latest smartphone, the Torch 9800.

Without fail, Research in Motion produces solid smartphones, and the BlackBerry Torch 9800 is no exception. But the Torch is something of a crossover: It’s still the type of professional corporate device you’ve come to expect from RIM, but it also has many features you typically find in smartphones aimed at consumers.

End-User Advantages

The 5.68-ounce Torch just feels right in your hand. The 3.2-inch touchscreen makes full use of the device’s small form factor (4.37 by 2.44 by 0.57 inches).

What’s more, a full QWERTY keyboard slides out from the base. While it takes a good push, the keyboard slides smoothly and makes a satisfying click when fully open, in a way that makes you believe you could do that a thousand times and it would still feel solid. There’s also a handy lock button at the top left, so you won’t accidently dial the office when you sit down for the subway ride home.

And did I mention (if you hadn’t already heard) that there’s a touchscreen on this BlackBerry? You can do all the things you might have seen on more consumer-oriented phones, such as tap to push, scroll and “pinch” to resize. The screen also automatically rotates when you tilt the phone. But, if a touchscreen isn’t your thing, the Torch still has a friendly trackpad just below it. In fact, for fine navigation, I’d highly recommend staying friendly with it.

Sporting RIM’s new BlackBerry 6 operating system, the Torch supports a number of audio and video formats, including MP3, AAC, MPEG4, WMA and WMV. I easily set up a Wi-Fi connection at home on both 802.11(g) and (n) networks, and I had no issues connecting a Bluetooth headset.

As I’ve come to expect from BlackBerry devices, the phone never dropped a call over two weeks of usage. The battery life seemed to last a day or two, and I measured a solid average of 6.2 hours of talk time between charges.

One of the cooler new features is its Universal Search. Imagine having Google Desktop right on your phone. You can easily search all of your applications, e-mail, contacts, notes, music — just about any data that exists on the phone. Universal Search is a one-stop shop for finding anything. I even used it when I knew where something resided because it was simply easier to find it that way.

Why It Works for IT

Simply put, BlackBerry devices are still the corporate standard for IT departments. Whether using a full BlackBerry Enterprise Server or the new free Express product, syncing and configuring the devices with organizational data is easy and secure. You can enforce policies such as personal identification number length to help secure data or wipe phones remotely if they become lost.

Users in your agency might not appreciate some of its features, but you will. The Torch packs 512 megabytes of memory, so it’s not likely users will hound the IT team for a bigger “phone” anytime soon. The rear of the phone is covered in corrugated soft rubber, which should help keep it from slipping off desks and dashboards. The device, from the keyboard slider to the screen, is well-built —which means that the Torch should have a much longer and usable life, and you’ll be buying new phones less often. That’s one of those hidden total-cost-of-ownership things CIOs love to hear about.

Disadvantages

The first thing that jumped out at me was the screen quality and 480x360 pixel resolution.

After using some new consumer phones with high-definition and HD-like screens, the Torch’s standard screen seems a bit blurry. It’s not uncomfortable to look at though, and if you’re moving from an older BlackBerry model to this one, it won’t be as noticeable.

RIM also still chooses to put all of your messages (e-mail, SMS, MMS and BBM) in one unified messaging box. That’s great if you want that, but some users prefer having their text messages and e-mail stay separate. The BlackBerry operating system doesn’t seem to let you make that choice.

Finally, although you can turn the device sideways and rotate the screen, keep in mind that the sliding keyboard only comes out lengthwise. I had to rotate it back to portrait mode so I could use the keyboard, and then I would flip it to landscape to watch a video clip. For most users, this will probably be little more than a minor inconvenience.

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About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Sheen

Dr. Jeffrey Sheen

Jeff is tasked with separating the “gee whiz” factor from the truly useful when it comes to the latest tech gadgets, and oh, he holds a Ph.D. in physics. He currently works as the supervisor of enterprise architecture services for Grange Mutual Casualty Group of Columbus, Ohio. His biggest challenge is being an avid Wolverine fan while living in the midst of Buckeye country.

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