Smartphones

BlackBerry Torch 9800: 'Best BlackBerry ever' fails to create buzz

Executives called the BlackBerry Torch 9800 "the best BlackBerry ever" at its launch event on Tuesday. However, journalists and analysts weren't so sure. Read their reactions.

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waiting for it throughout 2010 as iPhone and Android amped up their smartphones and made BlackBerry look increasing outdated.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)

Gizmodo

"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.

About

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.

15 comments
Carlo_Francis
Carlo_Francis

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WDMilner
WDMilner

There are those, especially "enterprise" users, and those with solid, no-nonsense requirements for reliability, stability and security who really don't need their phones to be a "cult object". They need them to "Just Work". The new Blackberry gives that, while updating and upgrading things that are needed and useful - not just for "show". At least it doesn't need a special case to stay connected.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

I like having a keyboard, and have been generally satisfied with my Blackberry. I have no interest at all in getting an iPhone, but was hoping to hear a lot more excitement about the new model. I'll probably eventually upgrade to this one, but am looking forward to your full review. The reviews don't leave me dying to head to the AT&T store for an upgrade.

broscoe
broscoe

Are you kidding me? The iPhony and Drudge are consumer toys. Corporate IT, generally, (at least the 2 dozen I have talked to) does not see value add outside of the Blackberry. The apps for Droid and iPhone are time wasters and productivity killers and beastly to support. Whereas the Torch will be the new corporate must have.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Lance Ulanoff said that RIM provides free/cheap phones? Maybe in the US but in Canada it's still $100 for a Bold 9700 on a 3 year contract. Only the old Blackberries are next to nothing. At least Mr. Lazardis [sic?], the co-CEO of RIM, didn't have to tell the audience to turn off their phones so he could connect! [unlike Mr. Jobs] I guess a big mistake was limiting the Torch users to AT&T in the US especially how much iPhones will be rubbing their hands in a few months when AT&T's iPhone exclusive disappears. In Canada [and probably elsewhere] there at least is a choice of providers.

QAonCall
QAonCall

You were saying you could run a small PC on the chips in the newest mobile phones? Analysts are already complaining they are underpowered? That is kind of funny. For me, I wouldn't use a free blackberry or iPhone or Droid on the ATT network. My business is too important!

desrosiers.martin
desrosiers.martin

It has created a lot of buzz within our organization...we are a 100% iPhone shop but have become annoying with its shortcomings...Therefore, our entire executive is moving back to the Blackberry world as soon as the 9800 hits the Canadian market. The iPhone, as trendy as it may be, still cannot touch the Blackberry OS on these key features: 1.) Battery life: the iPhone, with its weak battery life cannot be considered business-class, especially for a road-warrior. Blackberries trump the iPhone x 3 when it comes to all aspects of battery life. 2.) Contact Management: iPhone has weak contact management, whereas with the Blackberry I can quickly bring up a contact and choose which number I want to dial, it takes patience with the iPhone. 3.) E-mail client: The iPhone is decent from this perspective, but the Blackberry still wins in my opinion. With the introduction of BES Xpress it's easier to make the shift back to the Blackberry world, without the need for a BES plan from you carrier, the costs are on par and I still feel that RIM makes a superior business-class device and OS.

HumZ
HumZ

I'm curious why is it that these self-proclaimed tech pundits are always seeking a single device that can satisfy every taste. Two words, Happy Gilmore.

ScottLander
ScottLander

I can respect what *some* of these folks have to say. But not all of them are leaders in 'thought'. Lol! I'll bet some of those folks don't even know how to correct basic problems on their own PCs. Most executives and people at this level of 'thought leadership' are totally useless when it comes to PCs and technology. They are good at reading/writing email, basic use of MS Office (er, Word), and visiting web sites. That's about it. Everything is more or less theory, zero application.

stoneyh
stoneyh

This is not the apple store. For me and the BlackBerry users that are not considering an android or an iphone either because of BB loyalty (brand loyalty is childish - get what works the best for your situation) or for corporate compliance (meaningful) there has been and is a LOT of buzz. For outstanding email/calendar collaboration and security blackberry IS the innovation that the others are still chasing. The innovation beyond that will be the process of marrying those uniquely superior capabitlities with solid browsing and multimedia. "IF" this phone accomplishes this without diluting the core value of the phone (ie not turning it into hackable toy - see iphone -) then mission accomplished.

spookyone1
spookyone1

As an avid hacker of my devices, who stayed with the original PalmOS after BlackBerry came on the scene BECAUSE the OS was so wonderfully hackable and thus could be customized to do EXACTLY what I wanted it to do, I fail to see how hackable could be a negative thing nor why this makes the device a "toy." My Treos could do exactly what I wanted and look exactly like I wanted because I was able to hack the OS pretty freely. My current Android phone offers a great deal of the hackability of the old PalmOS, and I can't imagine a BlackBerry in my life until the functionality of BlackBerry equals that of Android.

TrajMag
TrajMag

There is a zillion Blackberry users on Corporate networks that are not AT&T. I'm thinking Sprint in particular. All we have is Curves and Bolds no touch screens. Probably a Sprint thing. Just try and load the latest 5.0 on a Sprint Blackberry. 6.0? Until all the fancy Blackberry stuff is available on CDMA the rest of us will just view it as PR.

tracy.walters
tracy.walters

The slide out keyboard might be nice, but it's just another thing to break. My Storm just works...for Voice calls, for corporate and private email, Internet Access, apps (the Verizon Navigator is wonderful), Kindle, Camera, Movie Camera, Instant Messaging, MP3 player, etc. The battery life is days not hours like the iPhone. If the Torch was on Verizon, I might consider it. AT&T service in most of the areas I go to is poor to non-existant. But honestly, I do not see why the Storm has not done much, much better in the smartphone market.

MichelliL
MichelliL

I've had both the first and second eidtions of the phone (currently on Storm2 with VZW) and neither has been a good phone. I have no clue how you're able to make your battery last more than a few hours. I'm lucky if I make it through the entire work day without a recharge, and I'm diligent with proper battery care. I'm beyond angry that I've basically been a paying Beta tester for Verizon for the past two-plus years just so RIM could run into the arms of the iPhone carrier. Unfortunately, unless Verizon gives me the opportunity for an early upgrade I'll be stuck with this piece of garbage for another year and a quarter. If BlackBerry doesn't blow me away with something by then the choice to jump ship to Android won't be difficult at all.