Thursday, 24 November 2011

BlackBerry Torch 9860 Review

BlackBerry may have had a bit of a set back lately with the whole “outage” issue but that hasn’t really stopped them from pushing the sales of their new products. One of the latest devices to make it out of the Canadian manufacturer’s domain is the totally-touchscreen enabled BlackBerry Torch 9860. Here’s a closer look at the device that might just help you decide if it’s worth your while. 

Form Factor
Taking its cue from the Storm series of touchscreen devices previously launched by RIM, the Torch is quite unlike its predecessor and the current updated model of the same the Torch 9810. The 9860, although quite chic is a little heavy (135g) and features a 3.7-inch capacitive touchscreen with a 480 x 800 pixel resolution. The display itself is unfortunately far from resistant to scratches. After a couple of weeks of usage the handset already looks quite “used”. The simple removal and placement of the handset from my pockets was the primary cause of the display getting scathed. That being said, the 9860 is however quite a sturdy device and has managed to withstand some rather hard knocks and falls. The falls also left a few scars on the display but the handset on the whole is still quite intact and relatively damage free.
Slick as they come
Slick as they come

The top portion of the device serves as a screen lock. On the right hand side are the 3.5mm handsfree socket (the new bundled handsfree kit is of top notch quality), followed by volume keys with a tiny play/pause button in between. At the bottom, on the same side, is the BlackBerry Convenience key that can be assigned to any specific function available with the handset which include – camera activation and shutter release, Voice Dialing, etc. The rubberized, slim keys are quite easy to access when holding the device in one hand.
Elegant and sturdy
Elegant and sturdy

A micro USB port for charging and USB connectivity is located on the left hand-side. RIM has provided four physical buttons below the display for answering and disconnecting calls, a return key and pop up menu option. The optical trackpad might seem redundant to some but can be quite handy in some web-browsing instances. A microSD hot swap slot is just under the hood and the 9860 also comes with 2.5GB of internal storage as well. 

Features and Performance
The OS du jour for the 9860 is BlackBerry OS 7 running on a 1.2GHz processor that was not as impressive, in terms of functioning, as we hoped. The OS is well designed and so much better than the older versions, but for some reason didn’t seem to function as well as it did on the Touch and Type Bold 9900. Although there was a smooth flow to the access and navigation of the menus etc., the more the handset was used, - and we used it a lot - we noticed that it kept hanging while trying to download apps for App World and in certain other spaces.
Keypad is a little small
Keypad is a little small

The on-screen keypad was a little bit too small and kept closing quite frequently whenever anyone with stubby fingers tried accessing the top row of keys. In landscape mode though it was a little better. The integration between the phone book, your email and SN accounts makes it easy to keep track of information. All that being said, BlackBerry users looking for a slightly different feel and a definite upgrade to an OS they were looking to see go up a notch or two will find BlackBerry OS 7 on the Torch 9860 quite a good option. It’ll take a while to get used to the keypad though, unless you’ve got slender digits. 

As usual, RIM has ensured that most of your media needs are met with satisfaction. The music player is excellent and with the added support for Audio Boost and presets you will thoroughly enjoy your music experience on the 9860. The video player supports 720p HD files as long as they’re in MP4 formats. We did expect 1080p playback though considering the 1.2GHz processor supporting the devices functionality.
Excellent auido quality
Excellent audio quality

The handset is equipped with enough codec support to read most formats. However with an upgraded system and RIM’s recent issues, to sell this product better to those looking for a better media offering, we feel the 9860 could have had support for more codes. As is though most AVI files will playback without the need for conversion, but not all.
BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) has definitely got everyday old EDGE and GPRS beat silly. Mails will, in most cases hit on a few seconds before it hits your Outlook accounts. Setting up accounts is simplistic unless you require Enterprise support of course. Nevertheless all connectivity options for this 3G, Wi-Fi enabled device work without a hitch and you’ll want for nothing save perhaps a Wi-Fi hot swap option. Using the 9860 via BlackBerry Bridge for the PlayBook also works out well enough. Bluetooth with A2DP support and USB 2.0 are also part of the connectivity set up.
Speedy Web access
Speedy Web access

The App World is a still a bit of a disappointment as apps are a little too pricey and low in volume compared to iOS and Android. Thanks to BIS your social networking functions work quite quickly and allow you to always stay connected posting what you will anytime, from anywhere. The presence of BlackBerry Maps on their device is sheer redundancy as even this far down the line, RIM has still failed to roll out options for India.
Chaat Apps
Chat Apps

The Google Maps that’s available via is just about basic and nowhere near as user friendly as the options available for Android, iOS or Bing Maps for WP7. BBM is about the only saving grace for the device but the UI is still rather stale with no signs of a more attractive option coming up. Other chat apps like WhatsApp are also nowhere as well designed or visibly attractive as what you’ll find on other OS’. Window’s Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and Gtalk. 

Misc. Features
The extras that feature on the 9860 include Documents to Go, a Memo Pad, Wikitude for an AR experience, a Pass Word keeper, Digital Compass and BlackBerry Protect amongst the regular apps like a calculator, task manager and a calendar. RIM has included their now rather mundane games viz. BrickBreaker and Word Mole. You’d think it was about time they’d upgrade to something a little more graphics heavy for the mobile gamers who could also be business style users. 

The 5MP camera with an LED flash strapped to the rear is capable of taking some pretty decent images and also videos in 720p. Suffice to say, it’s an asset. Features include Continuous autofocus, scene modes, geotagging and image stabilization. Image quality is a little grainy but details are all very visible.
Little grainy but clear
Little grainy but clear

In our video drain test, the 9860 ran for 6 hours and 10 minutes nonstop with no connectivity active. In our tech2 Loop test with BIS running downloading emails and other notifications we successfully completed one loop which comprised of 2 hours of music, 2 hours video in SD, 2 hours of audio streaming and 1.5 hours of talk time. In the second loop test we barely got much usage i.e. just about 10 minutes worth of music before the battery was drained dry. That totals up to just about 7 hours and 40 minutes of continuous usage. That’s not too bad but not too great either, as real time usage had us charging the handset on a daily basis. 

The Bottom Line
With a price tag of Rs. 26,500 for a totally touchscreen BlackBerry that’s way better than anything the Storm series was able to offer, the Torch 9860 does seem like a good option. However, it does have chinks in its armour and one tends to expect a little more from a 1.2GHz processor. It’s a decent handset, sure, but you’d be better off with the Bold 9900 that offers a full QWERTY physical keypad and manages to function just a little better than this device. The lack of volume in apps available for the OS is still a bit of a downer though so you might wish to consider another OS if you’re not a BES user.

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