BlackBerry Torch 9860 3 Stars

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been designed as a multimedia device but …wait for it…doesn’t have a QWERTY keyboard. Amazing isn’t it – we checked and it definitely is a BlackBerry. And there’s more – it has a Liquid Graphics touchscreen too. That’s right, the Torch 9860 is RIM’s third complete touch handset.

Chrome sweet chrome

While BlackBerry maker RIM has released touch handsets before – there were the Black Storm devices, for example – this is in a whole new league. The Black Storm phone has ‘piezo-electronic’ displays, but now RIM has fully embraced the capacitive screen. So much so that is has its own name – Liquid Graphics – for them. That display measures a full 3.7 inches and sits in a curvy, plastic body that has a modern touch added by its chrome edging, while its reverse side is a subtle matt grey.

Despite the fact that it is a fully-touch device the 9860 does still have a few buttons. There are five beneath the display for Call, End, Back, Menu and OK.

Screen freeze

Under the hood lurks a 1.2GHz processor that offers pretty fast and smooth performance, apart from the few times when the display froze on us. That screen, incidentally, is brighter and clearer than you’d expect from a BlackBerry. RIM has dubbed it the ‘Liquid Graphics’ WVGA – and while it is far superior to most screens found on RIM’s handsets, you do pay for this with the fact that it drains power from the battery (you’ll only get about 13 hours from one battery charge).

Despite that, it proves responsiveness in action – well, it does until you use the onscreen keyboard. If you’re a quick typist you’ll be caught out by the lag between tapping and inputting. Nor is the auto correct facility very impressive. It’s a shame – the keyboard is just too small and doesn’t live up to the performance of the usual BlackBerry keyboards

The display itself is somewhere between the iPhone’s 3.5in screen and the 4.3in one of the Samsung Galaxy S II. It’s not as bright as the Galaxy’s display, while the iPhone 4’s screen beats it on clarity, but it is still a very decent screen.

BlackBerry 7

Another difference between BlackBerrys and the iPhone and Android handsets lies with the operating system. BlackBerry 7 does not offer the facility to have apps on the homescreen, although you do have five swipeable panels – here you can place Favourites, Downloads, Media and All-Programs, while the Frequent screen automatically adds your most-used programs. These panels can be altered so that they fit the whole display, but the home screen cannot be changed, so you’ll want to ensure you’ve got a nice wallpaper to look at.

At the heart of the action is the Menu button, which offers most of the app options – in the Facebook app, for instance, the menu button offers all manner of action options – and incidentally this excellent app lets you access the kinds of features you’d expect from a desktop experience.

Open the box

BlackBerrys have always had messaging at their core – and the 9860 is no exception. There’s a wonderful universal inbox, which also includes email, text, apps and BlackBerry Messenger. The universal calendar shows your events from Facebook, Microsoft Exchange and webmail. The OK key makes emailing simple – just hit it and you realise its default setting is ‘Send’.

Candid camera

The 9860 boasts a five-megapixel snapper that is okay but nothing to write home about. Blackberrys have never been known for their snappers, and this one manages to autofocus and offers reasonable shots when using the LED flash. However, pictures taken outdoors proved to be too bright, while our indoor images had a yellow cast and faded colours. That said, they are perfectly okay if you’re just planning to upload to Facebook. We would have liked to see a dedicated snapper key, though – as it is you have to use the touch-shutter, which requires a really steady hand.

Multitasking

The video player has more to offer – it supports all manner of formats including the Xvid and DivX files you so often find on the net as well as H.263, H.263 and MP4. The only odd thing was that the volume is a tad low – we found we had to set it to at least 80 per cent to be able to listen to it, although once we could hear it bass was good and the overall sound seemed detailed and warm

It’s simple to transfer files – drag and drop or sync the phone and your computer – using USB. What we did find a little strange is that you have to use the shortcut icon if you want to get over to the music player to play some tunes.

Web surfing

OS 7 offers a much improved internet experience – pages are rendered so quickly (speedier than the iPhone 4 and the HTC Sensation) and there is support for full HTML and Flash. You’ll see your bookedmarked sites as thumbnails on the homepage. The address bar becomes a search field – and you can use voice input if you so wish by holding the bar down. There are also facilities for saving pages to your Favourites screen, opening tabs and sending or copying links.

App World

Where BlackBerry really falls down is with its choice of apps. App World just cannot compete with the hundreds and thousands of choices available to Apple and Android phone owners. Not only that but the apps themselves are costlier – and there are far fewer games and entertainment programs to download, although there are some useful office apps available.

However, one good thing is that apps have now been integrated into the chat program – you’ll find these have their own area on App World. This means that you can user BB to talk to friends while still using other apps or games and it is possible to share these apps as well.

Our conclusion

There are some great features on this handset – the touch display is smooth and responsive and messaging is its standout feature. However, it is let down by the onscreen keyboard, which is dogged by lag issues. And RIM doesn’t seem to be able to fully let go of its ‘business’ tag. While it has tried to embrace the touch technology, it has decided to squeeze in menu and OK buttons. This is a phone that doesn’t quite know what it is – it’s not a BlackBerry Bold, to be sure, and it’s certainly no iPhone.

Pros:
Swift navigation; speedy net navigation; top email and calendar facilities and a really useful universal inbox; Facebook app is also excellent.
Cons:
Disappointing virtual keyboard; touch-screen and keys aren’t a good combination; dearth of entertainment apps.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 3 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 3 Stars
  • Battery life 3 Stars

Final verdict: 3 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice