Despite BlackBerry's continued popularity around the globe, RIM has been on the receiving end of some bad press in the past year. iOS and Android handsets are dominating the market, leaving RIM in the dust as it struggles to catch up with the competition. BlackBerry OS 6 was not the savior it was supposed to be, and though the Torch 9800 was not a bad device, it didn't quite win the hearts and minds of those not already in the BlackBerry fanbase. It was clear that BlackBerry needed a substantial upgrade to not only its operating system but its hardware as well.
Which is why the Torch 9810 is rather disappointing. The hardware design is very similar to that of its predecessor, with the same size touch screen and similar portrait sliding keyboard as before. Under the hood, it offers a number of improvements like a faster 1.2GHz processor, a crisper display, 720p HD video recording, upgraded apps, and BlackBerry's new OS 7, but it's an incremental upgrade on the whole. We do think the Torch 9810 will please those already entrenched on BlackBerry's side, but not so much everyone else. Still, for only $49.95, we think it's an absolute bargain for budget-conscious consumers who want an alternative to iOS or Android.
While the Torch 9800 debuted a brand-new form factor for RIM, the Torch 9810 is mostly a repeat performance. When placed side by side, you can't tell them apart unless you take a closer look. The Torch 9810 has the same portrait slider design with a touch screen dominating the front, and its measurements are the same as well: 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick. Indeed, the only noticeable difference at first glance is that the Torch 9810 has a silver paint job instead of black. If you flip it around, you'll also notice the Torch 9810 has a textured plastic back instead of the soft touch finish that was on the Torch 9800. The Torch 9810 still has a nice solid heft in the hand, but the plastic backing cheapens the otherwise premium feel of the phone.
The display on the Torch 9810 is where it starts to set itself apart from its predecessor. It still measures 3.2 inches diagonally, but it now boasts a 640x480-pixel resolution instead of the 480x360-pixel resolution of the Torch 9800. OS 7 also promises a new Liquid Graphics technology that RIM says allows for improved graphics, and we have to say we agree. Graphics simply look smoother and sharper, and text is crisper than before thanks to the improved pixel density. The display is not quite as glamorous as the Super AMOLED Plus displays we've seen lately, but the vibrant and colorful display is clearly an improvement from the previous Torch.
We found the touch screen to be remarkably responsive, perhaps thanks to the aforementioned Liquid Graphics technology in conjunction with the Torch 9810's new 1.2GHz processor. We experienced zero lag when navigating the phone and launching applications. Scrolling felt zippier and more fluid than before, which was especially noticeable in long Web pages. It takes only a split second for the accelerometer to kick in. For basic navigation, we thought its speed was on par with Android smartphones that have dual-core processors. As with the previous Torch, the Torch 9810 has a proximity sensor and supports pinch-to-zoom gestures. Located right underneath the display are the Send, Menu, Back, and End/Power keys with BlackBerry's traditional optical touch pad in the middle. While it might seem redundant to have both a touch screen and the optical touch pad, the touch pad allows for finer and more precise control in certain applications. Still, we found that the touch screen alone worked well enough most of the time.
If you want to type up a quick text, you can choose to use the onscreen keyboard. It works both in portrait and landscape mode, and is surprisingly spacious, with large keys and sufficient room between each key. Our only complaint is that the screen's smaller-than-usual size reduces the text input area significantly when the onscreen keyboard is on display. The OS 7 keyboard boasts improved text prediction, and indeed, perhaps because of our proclivity toward onscreen keyboards, we actually found it faster and easier than the physical version.
But if you insist on using the latter, fear not, as the Torch 9810 slides open vertically to reveal that famous BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. The slider mechanism is smooth, solid, and springs securely into place in either the open or close position. As we mentioned earlier, this is the same form factor as on the original Torch 9800. Yet, the keyboard is just a touch wider on the 9810, and it's not quite as thin as before. We still think large thumbs might need some time to acclimate to it, but on the whole, we found typing to be quite comfortable. The keyboard is roomy enough for a portrait slider, and though the keys are small, they're raised so it's still easy to text by feel.
The rest of the phone's external controls mirror that of the Torch 9800. You get the lock and mute buttons at the top of the phone, the Micro-USB port on the left spine, and the 3.5mm headset jack, volume rocker, and customizable convenience key on the right. The camera lens and LED flash are on the back, while the microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover.
AT&T packages the Torch 9810 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, a polishing cloth, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
User interface and software
Much that is different about BlackBerry OS 7 lies under the hood, and is not visible at first glance. Indeed, OS 6 and OS 7 feel incredibly similar. The user interface is the same, with the Quick Access area (it houses the date, time, and connection settings) at the top, the notification bar below that, and the navigation bar that leads to apps and content in All, Favorites, Media, Download, and Frequent categories. The navigation is the same as well--you can collapse and expand each of these areas, and you can swipe left and right between the different categories.
We've already mentioned the most noticeable OS 7 change, and that's the new Liquid Graphics interface that promises richer graphics and performance. OS 7 also improved upon existing OS 6 features like adding a voice function to universal search. Simply tap the microphone icon to the right of the search field, and you'll be prompted to speak with a "Listening..." dialog box. After you're done speaking, tap the Done button and it'll display the spoken text in the search field. As with OS 6, you can search the entire contents of your phone, plus you can extend the search to Google, Facebook, YouTube, BlackBerry App World, and third party apps.