The launch of RIM's latest phone the Torch 9800 certainly wasn't a secret and although I haven't had time to test the device as of yet, I am impressed with much of what the Canadian company has packed into its new gadget. Blackberry's have always excelled at e-mail and text messaging and you can expect this new phone with an integrated and very real keyboard to carry on that tradition but those people who prefer a touch-screen experience can benefit from the capacitive variety built into this device.
Some of the biggest challenges facing RIM as it competes with the iPhone 4 and Android devices are the lack of a really slick device, poor browsing, limited apps, poor camera, limited search and poor download speeds. Most of these challenges are gone as the new gadget has a tabbed WebKit-based browser which is the basis for both Chrome and Safari. In addition, this could be company's slickest phone to date but it still would be better if the screen was larger and it was thinner.
The camera boasts 5 megapixels which is the same as the iPhone but there is no word as to quality of photos versus the Apple product. Moreover, RIM skipped the forward facing camera which is a real shame because this omission does put the phone at a disadvantage to some users of video conferencing on the go.
There is now universal search built-in thanks to the new Blackberry 6 OS which can also be loaded onto the Bold 9700, 9650, and Pearl 3G. Download speed speeds have improved as well thanks to HSPA support the device is faster over 3G than an iPhone according to Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal. In addition, he says this device is generally slower than the iPhone 4 and its WiFi speeds are slower than Apple's phone as well.
The reason for the slow speed by the way is the processor which is rated at 624 MHz. Now it is very possible to have a slower process than the competition and have a faster phone based upon hardware and OS design factors, screen resolution, etc. But while Apple and Motorola have processors running at 1 GHz in their respective iPhone 4 and Droid X devices, RIM's choice is certainly underwhelming. And when you factor in the smaller screen size with anemic 480x360 resolution you realize RIM is playing catch up but is still behind. Wilson Rothman at MSNBC thinks the poor choice of technology in this phone actually spells doom for RIM but the reality is the device maker can quickly come out with an even newer smartphone with sporting a better processor and screen if it so chooses. Still, Rothman's point to RIM is roughly, "Guys, what happened here?"
But the challenge for RIM is one I have mentioned before and that is the rapid proliferation of devices by companies like it and Nokia - you need departments of people to keep track of it all. Compare this to Apple who has more or less one architecture for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. It seems the logistical challenges of all these devices make it tougher to perfect each gadget in the stable.
So yes, the Torch is a solid phone but it's more or less a refresh of existing devices and it's pretty obvious the company should have gone farther. The good news is RIM did get fancy with software and included the ability to sync your PC music library over WiFi. This is a great new feature and puts RIM more in the company of SONOS than traditional; smartphone companies.
But music innovation certainly won't stop with this feature and many are patiently waiting for the fruits of the Apple acquisition of music streaming service LaLa to ripen.
Another RIM software improvement - the company has added better social networking features which will allow you to have more smooth interactions with your friends and colleagues on various networks.
The phone is available only on AT&T and will cost $200 when it is launched on August 12th in AT&T stores, Radio Shack, Wal-Mart and Best Buy locations. I expect we'll see this phone on Verizon's network soon as well and the company really needs to get a solid competitor to the Droid X on Verizon soon because even though the Android-based Motorola device has no physical keyboard its 3.4 inch screen allows someone with fat thumbs like me to type with minimal errors.
The bottom line is RIM is still in the smartphone game with the new Torch and while the iPhone is a better all-around device and the Motorola Droid X has a faster processor and far bigger screen, only RIM has a Blackberry Messenger app and the security of BES and of course a real keyboard many users will never give up. This Canadian-designed smartphone is no iPhone killer but it will instead provide enough of an excuse for the Blackberry faithful to remain loyal until the newest Blackberry device appears on the scene which will hopefully sport a 2GHz processor, a better screen and 4G connectivity.
TMCnet's Marisa Torrieri has even more on the specs and features of the new Blackberry Torch 9800.