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Hands-on with the BlackBerry Torch 9800

ZDNet UK takes a hands-on look at the first BlackBerry smartphone to include both a Qwerty keypad and a touchscreen, plus the new BlackBerry 6 OS
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1 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

Research In Motion announced the BlackBerry Torch 9800, its first slider phone, on Tuesday.

The device takes its name from Torch Mobile, a mobile browser company that RIM bought around a year ago. Accordingly, it is the first BlackBerry to use RIM's new WebKit-based browser. The browser forms part of the new BlackBerry 6 operating system, which also makes its debut on the Torch. The new OS will be available as an upgrade for two older devices only, the Bold 9700 and the Pearl 3G.

The Torch is also the first BlackBerry to ship with RIM's App World application store preinstalled and the first to have 4GB of internal memory — although only half a gigabyte is available for the installation of apps.

The device will be available exclusively on AT&T in the US from 12 August. Vodafone and Orange will carry it in the UK, although it is unclear how much they will charge or when they will release the handset.

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2 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

The Torch 9800 features both a Qwerty keypad and a touchscreen.

The handset does away with the clickable touchscreen — an idiosyncratic RIM technology — that the company used in its Storm handsets. At the phone's London launch, a spokesman for the company said RIM is not dropping clickable touchscreens altogether. However, as can be seen in the next picture, a standard capacitive touchscreen was needed to fit the design of the Torch.

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3 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

This shot shows the relative dimensions of the body and slider screen of the BlackBerry Torch 9800, along with the USB connector on the side.

The 3.2-inch screen has a resolution of 360 by 480 pixels. The handset is 112mm long when closed and 147mm long when open. It has a width of 61mm and a depth of 14mm. It weighs 161g.

The Torch uses a 624Mhz processor and has a 1,300mAh battery. Connectivity options include GPS, tri-band HSDPA, quad-band EDGE and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. The Torch supports tethering, so it can be used as an external modem.

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4 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

This picture shows the Torch, closed this time, from the other side.

The placement of the 3.5mm headphone jack remains the same as in earlier BlackBerry models. One person at the launch complained that the jack would be more useful on the top of the phone, so as to make it easer to listen to music when the handset is in a pocket. However, a RIM spokeswoman pointed out that a large part of the target market for the Torch is female and that the existing placement works well for phones kept in handbags.

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5 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

This shows what the back of the slider screen looks like on the BlackBerry Torch. It also shows the 5-megapixel camera, another first for RIM.

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6 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

One of the biggest potential draws of the Torch is its use of the new BlackBerry 6 operating system.

Designed for use both on touchscreen phones and track pad-only phones, BlackBerry 6 closely resembles its immediate predecessor, BlackBerry OS 5. The big changes lie in the operating system's integration of various web, social-networking and messaging feeds. Other adjustments have been made, such as the inclusion of cover art in the redesigned media player.

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7 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

This shot shows the BlackBerry 6 notifications screen in action on the Torch. Text messages, appointments, Facebook notifications and RSS feeds are all viewable in the same place.

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8 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

BlackBerry 6 integrates feeds from different social networks — in this case, Facebook and Twitter — into a unified client.

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9 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

Another key feature of BlackBerry 6 is universal search, which moves RIM's user interface away from its legacy, folder-driven nature.

Available on the home screen, this unified feature lets users search once through email, messages, contacts, music and video on the phone. The function can be extended to take in the internet and App World, too.

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10 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

A longstanding complaint about BlackBerry smartphones has been the relatively poor browsing experience, compared with rival platforms such as the iPhone and Android.

BlackBerry 6 addresses that to some extent, by including a browser based on WebKit, the same rendering engine that underpins Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome. The browser, which includes tabs, offers two methods of zooming: double-tapping zooms in while wrapping text in a column to enhance readability, while pinch-to-zoom brings BlackBerry smartphones in line with the multitouch capabilities of their modern rivals.

According to a RIM spokesman at the launch event, the new browser scores 100/100 on the Acid3 test. It also provides an "exceptionally high score on the HTML 5 experience", he added.

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11 of 11 David Meyer/ZDNet

Another enhancement in BlackBerry 6 is its range of shot settings, which have arrived just in time to take advantage of the Torch's new 5-megapixel camera.

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