RIM BlackBerry Torch hands-on (photos)

CNET takes a hands-on look at the RIM BlackBerry Torch for AT&T.


Bonnie Cha

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RIM BlackBerry Torch (AT&T)

The RIM BlackBerry Torch is the first device to run BlackBerry OS 6 and also RIM's first slider phone. It will be available from AT&T starting August 12 for $199.99 with a two-year contract.
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Slider design

The Torch is RIM's first slider device, combining a 3.2-inch half VGA capacitive touch screen and a full QWERTY keyboard.
Unlike the BlackBerry Storm models, the Torch's display does not use SurePress technology so you don't have to "click" on it. You can just tap and touch like a regular touch screen. During our brief time with the device, the touch screen was responsive, including the built-in accelerometer. The display was clear enough for reading text and viewing media, but it definitely paled in comparison to some of the higher-resolution screens on the market today.
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Thin design

In its open state, the BlackBerry Torch measures 5.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.57 inch deep and weights 5.7 ounces. Though it's a rather hefty device, it has a solid construction and is still thin and short enough to slip into a pant pocket comfortably.
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Right side

When designing the BlackBerry Torch, RIM wanted to create something that was both fresh and familiar. As such, you'll find some of the standard BlackBerry design elements like the volume rocker and customizable side key. The right side also houses the 3.5mm headphone jack.
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Top view

A couple of other familiar BlackBerry features include the mute and lock buttons on top of the phone.
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To access the Torch's full QWERTY keyboard, you simply push the screen upwards. The sliding mechanism is smooth and sturdy, and the screen securely locks into place.
The keyboard itself is largely like the one on the BlackBerry Bold, though it doesn't have quite the same high-quality feel. The buttons are a decent size, though people with larger thumbs might need a little time to acclimate. We appreciate that RIM left a good amount of room between the top row of keys and the bottom edge of the front cover so your thumbs mash up against the edge while typing.
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Onscreen keyboard

In addition to the physical keyboard, the BlackBerry Torch also offers an onscreen keyboard in portrait mode...
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Landscape keyboard

...and landscape mode. We found the portrait keyboard to be pretty cramped, but the landscape version was decent for typing out short text messages or entering a URL. One feature we'd like, however, is a ".com" shortcut for e-mail and Web addresses.
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Navigation bar

One of the new features of BlackBerry OS 6 is a new home screen. It includes a navigation bar at the bottom that organizes apps in five categories: All, Favorites, Media, Downloads, and Frequent.
You can swipe left to right and vice versa between the categories and expand the tray (pictured here) to see all the related apps. We found that this was a nice way to organize apps and provided a more user-friendly home screen than previous BlackBerrys.
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Notifications bar

At the top of the home screen is a notifications bar that alerts you to missed calls, new messages, and so forth. Like Android, you can tap on it to expand the tray and get more details, or go directly to the related app.
The left side of the bar also offers one touch-access to change your phone's profile, while the right side allows you to conduct searches. The BlackBerry Torch offers universal search, and it's actually one of our favorite features. The smartphone will not only search the contents of your phone, including contacts, messages, music, and photos, but it will also search the Web, YouTube, and third-party apps. It's truly universal search.
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The Favorites category can include more than just apps. You can also save contacts and Web sites to the home screen by going to the individual's contact page or Web page, pressing the menu key, and then selecting Add to Home Screen.
In addition, you can do a long press on a contact's shortcut to bring up a graphical contextual menu to quickly e-mail or text the person. Contextual menus are a large part of the operating system and allow you to quickly perform tasks relevant to the app.
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WebKit browser

It's no secret that the BlackBerry browser was RIM's Achilles heel. Slow and limited in functionality, it was no joy to use but it looks like things are a'changing.
BlackBerry OS 6 finally brings a WebKit browser that includes new and enhanced features like tabbed browsing, which is pictured here. We like that it minimizes the current site and presents you with thumbnails of all your other open pages so you can easily view and switch between the windows.
The WebKit browser should also improve rendering performance and thus make it speedier. We could definitely tell it was faster than the previous BlackBerry browser, but it still felt a little slow compared to the Android and Safari mobile browsers. Also, there's no Flash support here.
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Music player

Much like Android, the BlackBerry OS always provided an acceptable multimedia experience but there was definitely room for improvement in terms of user interface. We get that with OS 6 as it brings a Cover Flow-like interface, which you can use to swipe through album art to switch tracks.
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Social Feeds

Nowadays, access to social networking sites is almost a must on smartphones. The BlackBerry Torch comes preloaded with clients for Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, as well as a new app called Social Feeds. Social Feeds pulls in updates from all your associated social networking accounts, so you can see them in one place instead of having to open each individual app. It also acts as a RSS feed aggregator.

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