Tuesday was BlackBerry's big day. Anticipation had been building for it since WES 2010 in April when the company first teased BlackBerry 6, and BlackBerry enthusiasts have been waiting for it throughout 2010 as iPhone and Android amped up their smartphones and made BlackBerry look increasing outdated.
What AT&T and RIM executives proceeded to show off on Tuesday was the new BlackBerry Torch 9800 (right), which is the first smartphone to run BlackBerry 6, has a revamped multitouch interface, and features the traditional BlackBerry keyboard in a slide-down form factor.
AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega opened Tuesday's launch event for the Torch 9800 by saying, "Today, AT&T and RIM are introducing the best BlackBerry ever." That was a pretty high bar to hit and we'll be debating in the coming weeks about whether the Torch really clears it. However, the initial reactions from tech journalists and analysts have been lukewarm.
Here is a round-up of first impressions and initial observations from a variety of thought leaders and publications.
Michael Gartenberg / Analyst
"While RIM met the bar, they didn't do much to raise it higher or push the envelope in either hardware or software design. In world where every vendor is working to up their game, raise the bar and drive new innovation in hardware and software, it felt RIM barely stepped up. Among the things I'd have liked to seen would be a widget architecture for glanceable information, a front facing camera for video conferencing (which I expect to be table-stakes on leading edge devices by year end), hotspot capabilities, and a much larger and higher-res screen." (Read full article)
Bonnie Cha / CNET
"The handset itself is solid and is still compact enough to comfortably sit in a pants pocket. The combination of the touch screen and physical QWERTY keyboard gives you the best of both worlds, but we were really disappointed that it had a lower-resolution screen. The display is clear enough that you can read text and view media with no problem, but after using the high-res displays on smartphones like the Samsung Vibrant and Motorola Droid X, the Torch's screen looks pretty archaic... With a 624MHz processor, the smartphone felt a little underpowered and just didn't feel as snappy as some of the latest phones on the market. Though RIM made some great enhancements to the platform, it would have been nice if it had also improved the hardware." (Read full article)
Joshua Topolsky / Engadget
"We still feel like this device is a generation behind the market. Instead of meeting the rising stars of the smartphone world (Apple and Google) head-on, RIM has taken something more like baby steps toward innovation... The Torch seems sluggish, underpowered, and dated from a hardware design standpoint, and BlackBerry 6, despite its new features and polish, still feels woefully behind the curve. To call the Torch the 'best BlackBerry ever' wouldn't be an understatement, but unfortunately for RIM and the faithful, their best isn't nearly good enough." (Read full article)
Lance Ulanoff / PCMag
"The BlackBerry Torch is not an Apple iPhone killer--and that is okay... Unlike the ill-conceived BlackBerry Storm, there is no ridiculous gimmick in the BlackBerry Torch. Instead, it's the product of a lot of smart, clear-headed thinking about what existing BlackBerry users--like me--want... This is the device that, while it won't best the iPhone 4, should drag RIM away from its perch as a provider of cheap or free smart phones." (Read full article)
Harry McCracken / Technologizer
"Overall, the phone feels like the result of an array of decisions made to keep current BlackBerry owners comfortable. I suspect that RIM is also working on a BlackBerry superphone--a more potent, forward-looking device that may or may not have a physical keyboard--but this isn't it." (Read full article)
Rob Enderle / Analyst
"RIM's potential last chance to save itself came this week in the form of the new BlackBerry Torch... The Torch is a return to RIM's roots, and a nice advancement on what has come before. Much like Apple tends to be successful by improving on its own model and has stumbled when copying others, so has RIM in the past. The Torch represents what may be a very Apple-like strategy of being true to RIM's origins. People aren't all the same, and considering RIM has a higher market share than Apple does right now, that could work out well for them... In short, the Torch doesn't win any wars. It just assures that RIM remains in the fight, and will likely win a number of battles." (Read full article)
Jonathan Geller / Boy Genius Report
"On one hand, [BlackBerry] OS 6 is a much better UI leap from OS 5 than OS 5 was to OS 4, but it still feels a bit not thought out. On the other hand, the device seems like it will continue to excel at specific functions, mainly email, any sort of text-based messaging, etc. My personal thought so far is: This is a stop gap device for current BlackBerry users... iPhone 4 or recent Android owners won't be lusting after the 9800." (Read full article)
"The Torch and BlackBerry OS 6 take what BlackBerry's already doing and move it forward slightly-they're not reinventing, overturning, or blowing up things. Even the sorta kinda half-crazy slider design of the Torch feels fundamentally like a BlackBerry... in a way-existing BlackBerry users who just want the same thing will probably love this. But is that enough anymore? Here's the question: Do people simply want a better BlackBerry or do they want something else, something completely new that also happens to be good at all the things BlackBerry is good at?" (Read full article)
My full review... coming soon
So the general consensus from the tech press was that the BlackBerry Torch 9800 might be enough to satisfy loyal BlackBerry users so that they don't jump to another platform, but it might not be enough to win over consumers and business professionals who are buying a new smartphone and are comparing the Torch to the iPhone or the top of the line Android devices.
I think that's a fair assessment, so far. But, I will say that throughout the day on Tuesday I had a running Twitter search on the the term "BlackBerry" that I followed in order to gauge the public's reaction. Most of the comments were posted by existing BlackBerry users who were clearly enthusiastic about upgrading their current BlackBerry phones to the Torch. There were probably 20 positive comments to every one negative comment, and most of the negative comments were around the device being limited to AT&T or BlackBerry 6 not being available on more of the legacy BlackBerry devices.
I'm expecting a review unit of the BlackBerry Torch in the next week. And then, I will spend some quality one-on-one time with the device and write up a thorough review of the pros and cons from a business and IT perspective.
Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.