A year ago, BlackBerry fans were salivating over the release of RIM's first hybrid phone. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 was a touchscreen handset with a built in keyboard too - albeit one that slid out from underneath.
What on earth was BlackBerry playing at? And it rocked Blackberry OS 6 - the brand new BB system. It was almost all too much.
Twelve months on and now the Torch 9810 is in the wild. As you can see by the name, it's only an incremental upgrade - but nevertheless, RIM seems to think it warrants release. So we took it for a spin!
Design and Build
The Torch 9810 is definitely what we would call a 'substantial' handset. It's not massive but at 111 x 62 x 14.6 mm, you'll definitely know its there. And with a 161g profile, you'll feel it in your pocket. As before, the top slides up to reveal a physical keyboard. It's all very well constructed with little give on those sliders but this is a handset that doesn't feel like it will withstand many drops on the floor.
On the front, you'll find the four standard BlackBerry soft keys plus optical trackpad which feels a little redundant considering you have that touchscreen. You'll also find things like the headphone jack, volume rocker and convenience key around the side.
To look at the Torch 9810 with the screen off, it's very similar to the 9800. In fact, it's almost identical at 3.2-inches. But when you turn it on, you'll notice the change. The resolution here has been enhanced and jumps from 480 x 360 on the original to 640 x 480 which makes a massive difference.
It's capacitive, not resistive (do they still make resistive screens these days?!) and responsive to the touch. Hitting the keys on the keyboard is tricky if you have anything larger than minuscule sized fingers though.
Interface and OS
The big difference here is the OS. The Torch 9810 is one of the first few of the batch to be powered by the brand new BlackBerry OS 7. We can't say we're overly impressed by the OS. Not because it is bad. But because it is just such a minor change. It's more a small upgrade and should probably have been called OS 6.1.
There are some big visual differences though. For example, the icons which now resemble those of the BlackBerry Playbook more than older OS versions. We can't say we're fans. The reason is that they all look a bit busy and it reminds us of the layout from way back in OS 4. At least OS 5 and OS 6 gave us some uniformity which is lacking here.
Icons are, by default, displayed in rows of four when you hold the Torch 9810 in portrait mode. When you turn it into landscape mode, you still get four in a row but they're more spread out with big gaps in between. It looks like a bit of a waste of space.
The various app drawers introduced in OS 6 are there (i.e. frequent, downloads etc.) but can now be disabled which is a welcome move. Some users liked the ability to categorise but others were fairly vocal on forums about their uselessness.
The Torch 9810 comes equipped with a 5MP snapper on the back. It's adequate but not exactly revolutionary - especially since nowadays, the trend is moving towards 8MP and 12MP shooters.
You can't move for scene modes and will find plenty in the options although, if we're honest, they made little difference to the photographs we were taking. Same with face detection mode which is included but appeared to make little difference.
One thing we did notice and liked a lot is the camera start up time. This phone is fast. Almost before you've even pressed the button, that camera is up and rolling. It really is that quick.
You may notice photos don't look that great on the display but panic not. For some bizarre reason, they look a lot more vivid when viewed back on a computer screen. Heaven knows why but at least you can sleep easy in the knowledge that your snaps won't look too bad.
Thankfully, there is an LED flash and it really works hard to illuminate piccies. We tried it in a variety of pitch black situations and it picked our subjects out well.
If you fancy movie-making, you'll be pleased to know that unlike the 9800, the 9810 now shoots in high definition. All your videos are piped out at 1280 x 720. It's fluid and crisp and makes one heck of a difference.
Apps and Browser
Being a BlackBerry OS 7 handset, the Torch 9810 has the WebKit browser that's been around more than a year now and it renders pages exactly how they were meant to be seen.
Well, almost. There's no flash still. But then again, we've given up hope of ever seeing that on a BB device.
Pages load quickly and fill up that screen estate well. You can browse multiple pages and the tabbed viewing works a treat with mini versions of your pages displayed in a cover-flow style.
App-wise, the usual suspects are there. The likes of Calendar, Tasks and Password Keeper all report for duty. As does the extremely pointless and ugly BlackBerry Maps (why does RIM still bother shipping this app which hasn't changed much in years?!) Newer additions include the full version of Documents to Go and a Compass app.
We do wish BlackBerry would give us some new games, though. BrickBreaker and Word Mole have been around forever. At least you can download more from the BlackBerry App World but do exercise caution as apps in here tend to be way overpriced compared to the Apple and Android markets.
Performance and Battery Life
For some reason, RIM has kitted the 9810 with the same battery as the 9800 - a mere 1300mAh. Not that it actually seems to make a practical difference. With better power management abilities in OS 7, the Torch 9810 can keep going all day even with fairly heavy usage. We managed to get a good 17+ hours out of ours before it packed in and told us it was off to bed.
- Admirable battery life
- Great screen
- Improved on-screen keyboard
- Unrivalled contacts management
- Great stills camera with effective image stabilisation
- No Flash support
- Turning the light on when shooting video is fiddly
- Poor speaker compared with the Bold 9900
- Not a huge step forward from the Torch 9800
- No NFC
Verdict: We find it hard to get excited about using a handset like this, especially when the newer Bold 9900 and Curve 9360 appear to offer so much more in a better chassis. That's not to say the Torch 9810 is a bad phone, it's just not particularly exciting or memorable. And that's half the battle.
More info: BlackBerry Bold 9810 spec
Price: From free on contract; £430 SIM-free