A comfortable mid-point between touchscreen and keyboard.
When I think of using a BlackBerry smartphone, the only thing that comes to mind is how good the keyboard feels. Having a touch based BlackBerry feels as alien a concept to me as having a physical keyboard on an iPhone. Still, being an iPhone 4 owner, I cannot deny the ease of use that comes with a touchscreen. Realizing how important both of these aspects are to me, today I’ll be reviewing the new BlackBerry Torch 9810.
From the outset, the Torch 9810 looks like a nice chunky mobile which gives it a very solid feel, weighing in at 161 grams. The bottom edge, where the QWERTY keyboard slides out, has a very suave finish. On the top you have the similar bar which has the ‘lock’ and ‘silence’ keys on the left and right side respectively. The left side just has the USB charger while the right side has the 3.5mm audio jack, volume control buttons and the customizable BB key (set to camera by default).
Once you slide out the keyboard, it fills the entire pad from edge to edge, with no spacing between the buttons, but slight grooves on each key which makes typing easier. The rear side has a large battery cover inlaid with square blocks, with the 5MP auto-focus camera and LED flash near the top. The internal 8GB of memory is good enough for the 720p video recording capability of the Torch 9810, but it is expandable up to 32GB via microSD card should you require. Strictly speaking there’s not much physical change from the Torch 9800 to the 9810., it’s the insides where all the difference comes out.
The 3.2 inches touchscreen feels just about adequate for somebody who’s been using touchscreen smartphones. The 480×640 resolution gives the Torch 9810 a very respectable 250ppi pixel density. Pretty much any image and text on the screen looks clear and rich in color. The touchscreen response itself is precise and fast, although that’s likely attributable to the 1.2GHz processor, 768MB RAM and the new BlackBerry OS 7.0 with its smooth animations and transitioning from one app to another. We have already covered the new OS7 in our review of the Bold 9900, so you can check that out for more details.
Yes, that’s faster than the Bold 9900 and the dual-core Galaxy Note! BlackBerry must have done one hell of an optimizations for their browse.
Now you may be thinking that this much performance will eat up a lot of battery, but the Torch 9810 comes equipped with a slightly bigger 1270 mAh battery compared to 1230 mAh on the Bold 9900. While rated talk time on 3G is said to be 5 hours and 50 minutes, with Stand-by time of almost 300 hours; I got an understandably middle-of-the-road 3 days of battery time. This included roughly 30 minutes of talk time, WiFi always on but connectivity set to 2G. On EDGE, I was able to get almost the same experience when loading emails, Twitter, Google Talk or BBM. With 3G on all the time, battery life fell down to just over 48 hours which is good enough for a device this powerful.
Now the 5.0MP auto-focus camera on the Torch 9810 is somewhat of a mixed bag. The amount of detail while taking pictures is much sharper than the iPhone 4, which itself is a pretty decent 5MP camera. However, when it comes to low light conditions, the iPhone 4 is clearly a superior camera. Just the amount of noise and banding you get in low-light conditions is abysmal on the Torch 9810, a problem that’s even more obvious when trying to record videos. Also, the iPhone 4’s camera manages to produce more realistic colors and light compared to the rather dull colors from the Torch 9810’s camera.
Now let’s talk about the keyboard a little bit, the one thing that makes the Torch 9810 a perfect combination of a proper touchscreen smartphone, and one with a full sized QWERTY keyboard. The keys, as I mentioned earlier, have slight grooves on them, which makes the typing experience similar to that of the Bold 9900. However, the keys aren’t as nicely spaced out, nor as big as the Bold, resulting in the Torch 9810’s keyboard being as small as that of the Curve, while retaining the form factor of the Bold.
It felt peculiar in the beginning, as I’m comfortable with both the Bold’s big keys and the Curve’s small, but nicely spaced keys. Using a tight keyboard like the Torch 9810 didn’t feel like an ideal experience at first, but I adjusted to it very quickly. Still, given a choice of just keyboards, I would rather go with the Bold or the Curve rather than the Torch.
Another thing I noticed with the Torch 9810 is that because the top center of gravity is slightly more skewed towards the top half, typing for a prolonged period became somewhat tiring. Because of their shorter height, this is never an issue on the Curve or Bold models.
One peculiarity I experienced is that while typing the password for my email, I couldn’t use the ‘space’ key; it functioned as a dot/period/full stop. Even with the onscreen keyboard I was faced with the same issue. This wasn’t a problem I faced with the Curve 9360 or Bold 9900, so I’m guessing it’s a software glitch that BlackBerry needs to sort out.
Ultimately I think the BlackBerry Torch 9810 is a brilliant combination of a touchscreen device and a fully hardware based version; so a good combo of the Curve 9360 and Torch 9860. Of course, the highest end version, the Bold 9900 is similar in functionality, but the form factor of the Torch 9810 is much more appealing to me. It’s a solid performer as far as hardware is concerned. And if we overlook the disappointing camera, the Torch 9810 is one of the best BlackBerry smartphones created to date.