We've spent a few hours with the new BlackBerry Torch 9860, RIM's newest top of the line, touch-only BlackBerry smartphone which boasts BlackBerry's latest OS (7), a 3.7in touchscreen, and an impressive spec sheet. It's a smartphone designed to compete with the Apple iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S II, but while it's equal in some areas (and superior in a few ways) we think its appeal might largely be limited to the BlackBerry faithful.
The Torch 9860, like almost every other RIM product we've had our hands on, is well built. Just like the iPhone 4 the Torch 9860 doesn't flex if the chassis is twisted, and the five tactile buttons at the base of the screen feel solid. The phone's rear cover is metal with a slightly rubberised finish and although the 3.7in touchscreen is a fingerprint magnet it feels good to the touch. At 11.5mm thick it's thicker than an iPhone or SGS II but not unusably so. We initially thought it would be built and feel inferior to its competitors but it doesn't. The thickness is actually reassuring compared to the Galaxy S II's paper-thin body.
The touchscreen is very slightly stickier than the screen on the iPhone 4 but this doesn't seem to affect smooth scrolling through apps and the Web browser. The tactile touchpad is a feature that we think should sell the BlackBerry Torch 9860 — it's a great way to navigate through Web pages and works excellently in conjunction with the large 3.7in screen; you don't need to zoom in on Web pages to select small links when you can control an on-screen mouse with the touchpad. We've never been entirely sold on touch-browsing Web pages and the combination of large touchscreen and tactile on-screen mouse control is a great solution.
The on-screen keyboard, however, isn't perfect. We don't think it's as good as the iPhone 4's or the Samsung Galaxy S II's — it's near-identical in size but the keys are slightly thinner. We also occasionally had some trouble hitting the correct keys — typing 'Simpson' twice returned 'simoson', for example — but this could easily be user error. In any case, the missing physical QWERTY keyboard that the BlackBerry Bold 9900 has is a much better choice for text-heavy users. If you're going to be using a lot of BlackBerry Messenger or sending a lot of emails or text messages, we strongly advise you to give the Torch 9860 a test-run before committing to it.
We'll be posting a full review of the BlackBerry Torch 9860 with our thoughts on software and usability in the upcoming weeks.