RIM BlackBerry Torch 9860 (preview)

BlackBerry Torch 9860 preview: Can RIM produce a full touchscreen BlackBerry smartphone that's actually worth using?

BlackBerry smartphones have always been synonymous with keyboards, but RIM still seems intent on delivering a full touchscreen BlackBerry smartphone. Its latest effort is the Torch 9860, which Optus has announced it will release in September. Can the new Torch avoid the ill-fated demise of the BlackBerry Storm?

Read our guide to the top BlackBerry smartphones on the market, and see the best upcoming smartphones in 2011.

It's no secret that RIM's previous full-touchscreen smartphones were a failure. The original Storm 9500 had a horrible "clickable touchscreen" and buggy software, and its successor, the Storm 2 9520, was an improvement, but remained well behind the competition. RIM will be hoping the Torch 9860 represents a third time lucky.

On first glance, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 has decent specifications. Its 3.7in touchscreen is the largest ever seen on a BlackBerry, and a single-core 1.2GHz processor and 768MB of RAM should certainly give the phone plenty of grunt. Its 5-megapixel camera with single LED flash can record 720p HD video, and there's a reasonable 4GB of internal memory available, in addition to a microSD card slot, too.

There is no doubt that these specifications are an improvement over previous BlackBerry models, but there simply doesn't seem to be a standout feature of the Torch 9860 that sounds compelling enough to consider it over popular iPhone or Android alternatives. Sure, the 3.7in touchscreen is large, but it can't boast Apple's "retina" resolution on the iPhone 4, nor does it come close to the sheer size or vibrancy of the Samsung Galaxy S II's super AMOLED Plus screen, either. The all-plastic design of the Torch 9860 also can't match the steel frame of the iPhone 4, and at 11.5mm thick, it doesn't come close to the svelte 8.5mm frame of the Galaxy S II. Apps? BlackBerry App World is certainly no match for both the App Store, or Google's Android Market.

We also think RIM will have a hard time selling the Torch 9860 to regular BlackBerry users, not just all smartphone users in general. Traditional BlackBerry smartphones are synonymous with physical keyboards, so the Torch 9860's on-screen keyboard will have to be near-perfect to gain any sort of traction with heavy e-mailers.

The on-screen keyboard will form part of the BlackBerry 7 operating system that ships with the Torch 9860. Key features touted by RIM include an improved, faster Web browser, voice-activated searches, the ability to manage personal content separately from corporate content with BlackBerry Balance, as well as a number of additional personal and productivity applications.

The BlackBerry Torch 9860 also includes an integrated Near Field Communications (NFC) chip. NFC is a short-range wireless communication technology; the same used in many new credit cards, whereby the card can be simply swiped across a smart chip to make a purchase.

The BlackBerry Torch 9860 will be available through Optus retail stores, online and other sales channels from early September. Pricing has yet to be announced.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
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