Smartphones

BlackBerry Torch 9800 review: Everything you need to know

BlackBerry's latest answer to the iPhone and Android challenge has arrived. See how the BlackBerry Torch 9800 measures up.

BlackBerry's latest answer to the iPhone and Android challenge has arrived. It's called the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and it is the first of Research in Motion's new smartphones running the BlackBerry 6 OS. There are some critical improvements to the platform that make BlackBerry a more viable competitor to iPhone and Android, and there are still some things BlackBerry does better than any other smartphone.

This is a far better product than BlackBerry's last "iPhone-killer," the Storm. But, there are also some key flaws that are holding it back.

Rather than overwhelming you with a long narrative, TechRepublic product reviews give IT and business professionals exactly the information they need to evaluate a product, along with plenty of photos, a list of competing products, and links to more information. You can find more reviews like this one on our Product Spotlight page.

Photo gallery

BlackBerry Torch 9800: Unboxing and photos next to iPhone, Bold, and EVO

Specifications

  • Carrier: AT&T
  • OS: BlackBerry 6
  • Processor: 624 MHz
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Storage: 4 GB built-in + 4 GB microSD (expandable to 32GB)
  • Display: 3.2-inch 360x480 capacitive touchscreen
  • Battery: Lithium Ion 1270mAh
  • Ports: Micro-USB
  • Weight: 5.68 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.37(h) x 2.44(w) x 0.57(d) inches (the height is 5.83 inches when open)
  • Camera: 5.0 megapixels, autofocus, 2x zoom, image stabilization, face detection
  • Sensors: GPS, accelerometer
  • Keyboard: 35-key QWERTY backlit slide-out keyboard; and both portrait and landscape virtual keyboards
  • Networks: GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 MHz; UMTS 2100/1900/850/800 MHz
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1
  • Tethering: USB
  • Price: $199 (with 2-year contract)

Who is it for?

BlackBerry has the reputation for being a corporate device, which has as much to do with its backend BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) as the smartphones themselves. With its focus on security and full synchronization with Microsoft Exchange email, calendar, contacts, and tasks, BES makes devices such as the BlackBerry Torch 9800 a business communications powerhouse.

However, in recent years, BlackBerry has also made inroads with consumers who primarily want a smartphone for text messaging and/or instant messaging. BlackBerry excels at those tasks because of its legacy for developing excellent smartphone keyboards for professionals who wanted mobile email. BlackBerry has also created its own IM platform called BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) that is arguably the best IM service/software for mobile devices.

What problems does it solve?

BlackBerry has been virtually synonymous with the smartphone industry itself for over a decade. However, while its sales have continued to grow in recent years, it has been under a massive innovation attack from iPhone and Android, both of which infused smartphones with touchscreens, usable Web browsers, and tons of third party apps. BlackBerry 6 is RIM's answer to the iPhone/Android challenge, and the BlackBerry Torch 9800 is the first BlackBerry 6 device.

Standout features

  • Touch + hardware interface - The unique value proposition of the BlackBerry Torch is that it combines a full touchscreen with a hardware keyboard. Other devices have tried this -- most recently the Palm Pre and the Motorola Droid -- but the Torch is the first one to truly pull it off. BlackBerry knows how to make great keyboards and the one on the Torch has a great feel to it, unlike the Pre or the Droid. The difference is that on the Torch, I found myself naturally moving between the touchscreen, the keyboard, and the touchpad, depending on which one was most effective for a given action.
  • Email and IM prowess - The high quality hardware keyboard makes the Torch a great device for email, text messaging, and IM because it gives most users a lower error rate for typing than a touchscreen keyboard. BlackBerry's built-in BBM is an awesome mobile IM client and service. And, BlackBerry 6 does some excellent unified inbox tricks -- it can even bring IMs, Twitter DMs, and Facebook mail.
  • Excellent build quality - When it comes to smartphones, some devices just feel solid in your hand while others feel cheap or plasticy. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is one of the best devices I've had in my hand in 2010. I'd rank it right up there with the iPhone 4 and the Motorola Droid X as the current smartphones with the best build quality.

What's wrong?

  • Web inferiority - One of the biggest things that needed to be fixed in the BlackBerry platform was the abysmal Web experience. Up through BlackBerry OS 5, the buit-in Web browser was cumbersome to navigate and painfully slow to use. That's why RIM bought Torch Mobile and then integrated its Webkit browser into BlackBerry 6. The result is a much more usable Web experience on the BlackBerry Torch, but it's still not as good as iPhone or Android. Pages don't load as fast (that could be partially due to the Torch's underpowered CPU) and a lot of Web pages still recognize this as the old BlackBerry Web browser and so they display (crippled) text versions of their sites optimized for the legacy BlackBerry experience.
  • Underpowered hardware - The biggest disappointment with the Torch is the underpowered 624 MHz CPU. Since it's in the same price bracket as devices that almost all have a 1.0 GHz processor of one flavor or another, the Torch simply doesn't match up in this department and it shows in the sluggishness of several apps and menus. The same goes for the Torch's LCD display. It is solid, but not nearly as spectacular as the displays on the iPhone 4, HTC EVO 4G, or the Samsung Galaxy S -- all smartphones in the same price bracket
  • Minimal apps - BlackBerry has a long history of friendly relations with third party developers, which have built tens of thousands of business-specific apps over the past decade. Unfortunately, the platform itself and its development tools have a reputation for being less friendly for the actual coders. RIM is trying to change that -- it recently released a new Java SDK to support BlackBerry 6 and is launching App World 2.0 to compete with the Apple App Store and Android Market -- but it's got a lot of catching up to do. Some popular services (Evernote, Kindle, Yahoo Messenger, for example) have released BlackBerry apps but for many of the most popular and useful mobile apps, the BlackBerry platform is still an afterthought.

Bottom line for business

If I had gotten the BlackBerry Torch 9800 in my hands 12 months ago, I would have been dazzled by it. In fact, I probably would have made it my primary business device. However, that was before Android 2.0. It was before iOS 4. It was before the iPhone 4 and its impressive screen. It was before the Nexus One and the HTC EVO and the Samsung Galaxy S all raised the bar on Android devices. A lot has happened in the smartphone market in the past year.

Today, the Torch is pretty great, for a BlackBerry. It can rightly be called the best BlackBerry yet, but its best still doesn't quite measure up to iPhone or Android devices, especially in the critical areas of Web browsing and third party apps. The Torch is the best messaging (email, texting, and IM) device on the market. And, it's the best business smartphone for those companies that are still tied to BES for security and IT reasons.

So, in that sense, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and the BlackBerry 6 OS should offer enough of a step forward to keep a lot of BlackBerry fans loyal to the platform, at a time when many of them have been considering whether they should jump to iPhone or Android. And, for those attracted to the Torch who don't want to use AT&T, you should expect to hear about more next-generation BlackBerry devices like the Torch on other wireless carriers in the near future.

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About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

30 comments
aschelborn
aschelborn

GOOD DAY I LOVE MY BLACKBERRY TORCH9800 BUT I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW HOW DO I TRANSFER CONTACTS THAT ARE STORED IN MY PHONE TO MY SIM CARD.THANK YOU.


Derteufel
Derteufel

Buts its getting harder to explain to everyone that even know its lacking in the fun side of the business, its still the best for getting work done. Everyone realizes but the appeal of the shiny new phones are pulling at their imaginations.

mvonderlinn
mvonderlinn

I think it looks like a great phone... I'd switch to it if my Curve was worn out.

Slayer_
Slayer_

If not... I see no reason to upgrade from my current BB.

evilwon
evilwon

Standout features, Really?? What makes Blackberry's IM standout? is it that it's fully compatibile with no other im messaging software out there? I think it hard to be the best when you can't even be compatible with ANY other IM packages. And with Blackberry relying on their enterprise server, it really can't compete with the iphone, Evo, or the Droid line. HARDWARE: " Other devices have tried this ? most recently the Palm Pre and the Motorola Droid ? but the Torch is the first one to truly pull it off" - Again, Really? Have you held a Palm Pre. When that phone sits in your hands you feel sexy. That is nothing I felt about any other phone. Unfortunately for the Pre (well several things actually) the screen is too small to compete. But I had no issue with their keyboard. From your blog I seriously think you've never picked up a Pre. Excellent Build Quality Really??? Now I question if you ever picked up a DroidX. The DroidX comes with four plastic clumsy buttons on the front face unlike the EVO which are touch sensative buttons that are integrated into the touch screen. I think the DroidX is a cool phone but I would be careful about bragging about it like it's a high build quality. And I'm not knocking the Torch either. It looks like a great phone but I personally haven't had any experience with it yet. Where my problem lyes is with your weak arguements for the blackberry. If your stong points are strong and backed with real world experience then you have a more believable review. For the record: I personally own an EVO which I do like but as with all smartphones on the market, it has its own list of shortcomings. That being said: The torch looks like a great phone for the "must" blackberry users out there but until they ditch the server and become compatible with the other competitors, blackberry will never again be on top. BUT, that's just my opinion.

seven2seven
seven2seven

AT&T = the reason why I don't have an Iphone...therefor, won't bother getting this device either.

Vicious Circle
Vicious Circle

I used to be a BB user, but am now on Android and love it. I always hear how BB is better for corporate users, but I cannot seem to figure out why that is. I've found nothing that I can't do on my droid, and the overall experience is much better in my opinion. So, I'd like to know why people seem to think that BB is a better corporate option. The last couple of BB users here are thinking of switching to android, but have asked why BB is better, and I don't have a good answer for them. In fact, it would also allow us to get rid of BES at that point.

cguella
cguella

I couldn't decide so I bought both the Droid 2 and BB Torch and like them both very much. This review above is accurate to what I experienced in my few days with the Torch. In the end - I will likely stick with the Droid as the Exchange integration went ok and the third party apps were very easy to use. In fact I was aggravated by a few small things on the Torch. For example, sign in to download from AppWorld and some apps I had working on my Tour are not on the Torch yet. But the BB Torch is a great device and will make most who upgrade to it very happy. I will miss the Torch, BBM, and BES but am, after 10 years, looking forward to the experimentation with the D2. Oh and at half the price $99 D2 on Verizon with upgrade Torch was $200 on ATT no incentives.

gboyce
gboyce

As a current BB Tour owner, I simply enjoy the end-user experience. My wife has the EVO4G on Sprint (I am also on Sprint) and she loves it. However, for my use, BB still has my heart. I have tried to use the EVO, and YES, it's a cool phone! Does many things very well. But I am stuck in this old school world of Blackberry. I may try the Torch if it comes to Sprint. George Boyce Stony Brook, NY

SMparky
SMparky

Yes, it's like when MS released a Windows based server. Suddenly Netware didn't seem so appealing even though it had useful features and cool security that is still missing from Windows. I'll get a new Blackberry when my old one has finished its life. I'm not a child with unlimited money to buy the latest toy every month.

deltaecho959
deltaecho959

Actually the blackberry messenger does stand out. It has more capabilities than any IM on the market (delivery confirmation, recipient read confirmation, file / picture transfer, location awareness, group chat, ect, ect). And market share(at the moment anyway), there are more blackberries in use than iphone or andriod. Since no other vendor as come up with a suitable mobile messaging/IM platform, RIM has come up with their own. However, since RIM understands that bb users need to communicate with non bb users they also offer push email and IM clients for gtalk, yahoo, msn, and icq. The task of checking for emails is handled by RIM?s servers and not on the BB device; email messages are instantly pushed out to the device from RIM's servers when they are received. This greatly increases reliability, reduces network traffic, and improves device battery life. Their non BB IM clients do not have all the features of BBM, but are also based on the same BB network protocol and hands down are the BEST mobile IM clients out there bar none. I am constantly connected to all my messenger accounts, without missing a single message; all while making phone calls throughout the day, checking 4 email accounts, receiving updates on twitter and facebook, browsing the web ; and yet I have more than 50% battery life left before I go to bed at night. Blackberry has chosen to focus on the messaging experience, one that in my opinion neither iOS nor Android can touch (yes I've used them both). That is what the blackberry network is about, something a non-bb user reviewer really can?t grasp on a 1 or 2 week trial period. It is something you can really only start to realize when you've used one for a while. One last comment, a Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) is not required and totally optional. The BES (and BESx ? the free version) allows a company to hook their blackberries into their private network that offers end to end encryption between company servers and the BB device, again no other platform has this capability. The Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) is what you are referring to and is comparable to a iphone or android data connection in terms of capability and pricing except for one thing. The BIS offers a network connection tailored to BB devices, optimized for reliability and battery life.

doug.montgomery
doug.montgomery

With BB, you can accept a meeting, lookup users in the Global Access List, have zero minute reminders, create a meeting.... The functionality of calandaring on Android doesn't match Outlook very well. I know there are other products that can supliment that, but BB has BES, and that functionality is very mature.

jhoward
jhoward

I just switched to a Motorola Droid X from a BB Curve a few weeks ago. So far the BB was much better at promptly notifying me of new messages with folder redirection that worked with my dozens of Exchange rules for sorting my mail. This could be user error - I am still learning - but the Droid is somewhat casual about notifying me of new mail even in my main inbox - forget about other folders. On the other hand accessing my mail sub-folders is much easier on the Droid so it is kind of a trade off I can live with. That being said I won't go back to BB until there is a usable browser. Email is my primary use but being able to follow links from email without minutes passing by has really shown me what I was missing.

cguella
cguella

For example, I have a Droid 2 and to start the day my formerly full Inbox is empty and I am getting an error "Unable to connect to " In ten years of using a Blackberry I am pretty sure that never happened. The messaging on the BB through BES is superior to the alternatives. More secure and more reliable. And after years of hearing about how there are solutions out there that are "just as good" that is simply not true. So for reliable corporate secure use - BB is still king.

mbrown
mbrown

We have a Quote application written by a 3rd party software company that runs on the server (BES), so if you want that app, you have to use a BB. In addition, we (IT) only support Blackberry devices because two people can't learn everything out there (yep, tiny IT shop!), and Blackberry rocked the business world long before anything else came along.

gmmoon
gmmoon

The BB platform is still the best business smartphone platform primarily because of the extreme level of security built in (it performs a properly designed, true PKI secure connection with the BB network and inter-corporate mail is transferred securely), secondly the device can be provisioned for users in a centralized, controlled efficient manner, the platform is extremely reliable and near real-time in terms of mail transfer, and another security bonus is that data on the device can be encrypted and if the device is lost, can be data-wiped or even bricked by remote command. To do this on other platforms, you need to install a hodge-podge of solutions that may or may not work, and in the case of most data encryption solutions, they don't actually encrypted all parts of the phone's storage, leaving many areas vulnerable. The form factor, the hardware keyboard and the reliability add up to it really being the best solution for business mobile e-mail.

ScottLander
ScottLander

BlackBerry devices are very secure, in terms of data communications.

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

I'm parroting others, I don't have personal experience ... but I'm told that BES lets you manage provisioning and security for BBs in a way that resonates well with corporate IT (esp. security) depts. E.g., on my work-provided BB, they've set (and can enforce in ways I can't circumvent) corporate policies for screenlock, password entry (and pw strength), encryption of everything on the phone, etc.

lrhodes
lrhodes

Regardless of features, BB's choice of carrier will keep me away from this phone. AT&T claims to have 97% of the US covered, which is not true. When I travel with co-workers who have AT&T, they are constantly losing signal, while my Verizon phone is always connected. Bottom line - as soon as I saw the dreaded "AT&T," I lost interest in this phone.

RogerP728
RogerP728

Hi I've read that the BB could have issues with a corp exchange server. Since the co. I work for uses M-S exchange and outlook it's a concern. Do you have any comments? Is the rumour true?

Vicious Circle
Vicious Circle

We've got several people here with android phones and not one of them had any issue connecting, nor have they had any issues having their email stay connected on the phones. We had an old 2003 server/exchange that was being used, now it's server 2008 and exchange 2007 and still no problems.

TaxNerd
TaxNerd

My understanding is that all cellular traffic is now encrypted. Is my understanding correct, and if so, what is the value of BES' security?

Vicious Circle
Vicious Circle

We don't have a huge user base (only 2 BB users left), and possibly the BES security controls are why BB is noted as better for corporate users then. For us though, we have enough control via the mobile device management built into Server 2008/Exchange 2007. So, possibly that is why we don't really see the advantages of the BB platform. Thanks for the info!

answers
answers

I was excited when I saw the Blackberry, but only ATT...please. That's why I don't have an IPhone. Manufacturers I am not going to jump companies because of your phone.

Spirdione
Spirdione

I totally agree with the "AT&T" problem. I love Blackberry, but feel the total opposite with AT&T. It doesn't interest me in getting the phone as much because of that!

anjinsf
anjinsf

As soon as AT&T took over Cingular, I wound up constantly losing signal in my house, in the subway, @ work, you name it (God I miss Cingular). AT&T will never have my business. I love Blackberry and will continue to use it with Verizon.

JayInJersey
JayInJersey

I have 100% the opposite experience with VZW users. They seem to have "dead zones" where my AT&T phone always has a signal. However we don't jump the pond so I can't speak for international access.

M.Smith
M.Smith

I have been unable to get a Verizon signal in my house for the past two years. I jumped at the chance to move the four phones on our family plan to AT&T. I also got the best BlackBerry ever made (the Torch) as part of the deal. I'm a very happy camper now

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