Among RIM's recent batch of smartphone announcements was the BlackBerry Torch 9810. Unlike the Bold 9900, the Torch 9810 has a slider format, allowing it to offer a reasonably sized screen while retaining the signature mini-QWERTY keyboard. We've seen this design once before from RIM, in the Torch 9800, which appeared at about this time last year. This was also the first touchscreen handset from the company since the SurePress screen technology in the Storm and Storm2.
The black and sliver design is unmistakably in RIM's style, with silver trim around both the upper and lower sections of the phone providing continuity. The silver backplate is perhaps a little 'blingy' for RIM, although its crisscross patterning helps with grip. The plastic materials may upset those who prefer more metal in their smartphones, but overall the Torch 9810 feels tough and should take knocks well.
The 161g Torch 9810 has a 3.2in. touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard; it runs BlackBerry 7 OS, but doesn't support NFC
Like its predecessor, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 feels rather chunky in the hand — the slider format really doesn't lend itself to thin and light design. The phone, when closed, measures 62mm wide by 111mm deep by 14.6mm thick. When opened to expose the keyboard, it grows to 147mm deep.
Another result of what's effectively a two-piece design is extra weight. At 161g, the Torch 9810 weighs a full 30g more than the Bold 9900 we reviewed recently.
Despite its size and bulk, the Torch 9810 doesn't deliver an awful lot of screen space: top-end smartphones generally sport 4in. (or even larger) screens, but the Torch 9810's display measures just 3.2in. across the diagonal. We find this is a minimal size for comfortable web browsing, but RIM doesn't do the screen any favours by keeping the resolution at 640 by 480 pixels. That's an improvement on the Torch 9800, whose 3.2in. screen offered just 360 by 480 pixels, but it's low by today's standards.
The screen does auto-rotate, though, allowing you to take advantage of landscape format and get a little more width when web browsing or viewing images or video. The screen is also crisp and clear, and even small text is quite easy to read. RIM's system font designers have to take a lot of credit here.
RIM has played it safe with the side button arrangement, offering no surprises. The left edge is clear apart from a Micro-USB slot for power and PC connection. The right edge houses a volume rocker and a convenience key that launches the camera software by default, but is easily reprogrammed.
On the top edge are screen lock and mute buttons, while the headset jack sits on the upper right edge. We've noted before that we prefer the headset jack on the top, as a headset connector can snag in the pocket when it's on the side.
On the front of the chassis, beneath the screen, are buttons for Call, End, Back and Menu functions. The End button doubles as the power switch. These controls look as though they should be touch sensitive, but in fact they depress. The buttons are automatically backlit in duller lighting conditions.
Between the buttons is an optical trackpad that, in conventional RIM style, can be used to move through menus, manipulate a cursor when web browsing, move around application menu screens and so on. It works well on its own and in conjunction with the very responsive touchscreen.
We're not so sure about the keyboard. The design is very familiar, with a slight curvature to each of the four rows of keys, and shaping that helps with tactile feedback. The keys themselves are smaller than we'd like, though, and there's a fairly tall lip at the bottom edge of the chassis that makes it tricky to access the bottom row of keys. When used one-handed, the Torch 9810 is a bit top-heavy, and it can occasionally topple out of smaller hands.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 is powered by a 1.2GHz processor, supported by 768MB of RAM. It's not a dual-core CPU, but we found the device responsive enough, with web page rendering under both Wi-Fi and 3G fast and efficient. The Torch 9810's CPU and RAM specs are the same as the Bold 9900's.
Both devices also provide 8GB of internal storage, but the Torch 9810 has a better location for its memory card slot. In the Bold 9900, you have to remove the battery to get to the microSD card slot; the Torch 9810's slot is also under the backplate, but is accessible without removing the battery. If you need to swap memory cards frequently, this is a big plus point. Interestingly, support for Near Field Communication (NFC), present in the Bold 9900, is absent here. The camera at the back is a 5-megapixel LED flash-equipped unit.
Like the Bold 9900, the Torch 9810 runs the new BlackBerry 7 OS. We examined the major features of the OS upgrade in our Bold 9900 review, and there are no big surprises here.
Universal Search continues to shine. Carried over from BlackBerry 6 OS, this lets you start typing on-screen and search across apps, contacts, tunes, files and more locally; you can also search online across the web — particularly within Facebook, YouTube, BlackBerry App World, BlackBerry Maps, Google Local, BlackBerry Podcasts and the BlackBerry Music Store.
BlackBerry Balance support — a key feature of BlackBerry 7 OS — makes it easy to separate personal and business content. IT managers will appreciate this feature, which means that work-related data can be deleted if necessary, leaving personal data intact.
Despite advancing a full number, BlackBerry 7 OS feels more like an incremental upgrade than a major advance over version 6. We're also surprised and disappointed that Flash support has not been integrated — this is something we'd certainly expect in a major OS upgrade.
Returning to the keyboard, it's worth noting that even though there's a slide-out physical keyboard, RIM also provides on-screen tappable keyboards in both portrait and landscape modes. There may be times when you prefer this method — when typing out a quick, short reply to a text or IM for example.
However, the 3.2in. screen means that the keyboard is squeezed, even in landscape mode; anyone with large hands will probably find it too cramped. On the plus side, the predictive text system is remarkably accurate.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 has a 1,270mAh battery, which is slightly less capacity than the 1,300mAh unit in the Torch 9800. Despite the faster processor in the latest model, the battery lasted very well indeed: with a usage pattern involving regular mobile email, a fair bit of web browsing and some music listening, we regularly got through a day without needing an afternoon battery boost.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 sits a little awkwardly in the RIM smartphone lineup. The keyboard-equipped Bold 9900 has the serious business appeal, a full-frontal touchscreen Bold 9860 with a 480-by-800-pixel 3.7in. display is due to land very shortly, and the Curve line is more consumer focused.
The provision of both slide-out and soft keyboards might sound like the perfect way to keep everybody happy. But in fact both are rather smaller than we'd like, and the physical keyboard is hampered by the presence of a significant lip at the bottom of the chassis.