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Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the BlackBerry Torch 9810 for AT&T Wireless.
The RIM BlackBerry Torch 9810 for T-Mobile is the first Torch handset we've seen for the second largest nationwide GSM carrier. It is essentially the same as the Torch 9810 that was released for AT&T earlier this year, with its 3.2-inch touch-screen display and slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The overall design is very similar to the Torch 9800 from a year ago, and the look and feel of the BlackBerry 7 OS is similar to OS 6 as well. Of course, the Torch 9810 for T-Mobile has a few carrier-specific touches like apps and the support for T-Mobile's HSPA+ network. Unfortunately it does not offer UMA-based Wi-Fi calling like the Curve 9360, or much else that sets it apart from the AT&T version. That's why we're disappointed that it's priced at $249.99 after a two-year service agreement with T-Mobile when you can get the same phone from AT&T for $49.99.
If you place the Torch 9800 next to the Torch 9810, you won't be able to tell them apart unless you take a closer look. The Torch 9810 has the same portrait slider design, with the same measurements as well: 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick. The only noticeable difference is that the Torch 9810 has a silver paint job (or "zinc grey," according to RIM) instead of black. It also has a textured plastic back instead of the soft-touch finish that was on the Torch 9800. The plastic backing cheapens the otherwise premium feel of the phone.
The 3.2-inch display on the Torch 9810 is very attractive. It boasts a 640x480-pixel resolution, and OS 7 promises a new Liquid Graphics technology that RIM says allows for improved graphics and a more responsive touch screen. Graphics and text look smooth, sharp, and crisp thanks to the improved pixel density. We experienced zero lag when navigating the phone and launching applications, perhaps thanks to the phone's 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor as well. For simple navigation, we thought it was on par with Android smartphones with dual-core processors.
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 closed 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 those 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.
One of the key features of the Torch 9810 is that it ships with BlackBerry OS 7. The user interface is the same as OS 6, with the Quick Access area, notification bar, and navigation bar with multiple menu screens. You can collapse and expand each area, and swipe and left to switch categories. Aside from the Liquid Graphics technology we mentioned earlier, OS 7 also adds a voice function to universal search, a revamped BlackBerry browser with HTML 5 video support, 720p HD video recording, and support for augmented reality apps. OS 7 also supports NFC, but the Torch 9810 does not have that. For more on the browser, check out our review of the Torch 9810 for AT&T.
The rest of the phone's features are to be expected on a BlackBerry. It has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, visual voice mail, and text and multimedia messaging. You can combine all the messaging systems into a single universal inbox if you like, and it supports threaded conversations and group chat.
BlackBerry's strength has always been its strong e-mail integration and it's no different with the Torch 9810. It's able to sync with BlackBerry Enterprise Server as well as Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, and Novell GroupWise for all your corporate e-mail needs. You can also use a free but limited version of BES that lets you sync your Exchange calendar, contacts, and tasks. If you want to check your personal e-mail, the Torch 9810 lets you access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts in either separate or combined in-boxes via BlackBerry Internet Service. There's a handy setup wizard that walks you through the process of setting up your BlackBerry ID and connecting that to your e-mail address.
If you use a web mail service like GMail, Yahoo, AOL, or Windows Live, it's as easy as entering in your login information--you can also set up your own POP3 and IMAP4 account if you wish. We were able to get our Gmail account added in just a few steps, but it did take almost 20 minutes for the phone to sync up our inbox.
RIM is keen on social network integration with its new BlackBerry handsets, so it's no surprise that the Torch 9810 comes bundled with the latest BlackBerry editions of the Facebook and Twitter apps. You also get Social Feeds 2.0, an app that houses a variety of RSS feeds, podcast subscriptions, BBM, Facebook, Twitter, Google Talk, and more into a single hub. BBM has also been updated to BBM 6, which features tighter integration with apps like Foursquare or games so you can let your BBM contacts know of your check-ins and high scores. You can also start a BBM chat within any of those apps.
Other preinstalled apps include a memo pad, a file manager, a compass, a voice notes recorder, a calculator, a calendar, a tasks list, a premium version of Docs to Go, BlackBerry Balance, BlackBerry Protect, Password Keeper, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and Google Talk. T-Mobile also included its own Web2Go browser and its own T-Mobile Mall store app to supplement the BlackBerry App World.
The Torch 9810 has pretty decent multimedia offerings for what is still a corporate-friendly handset. You get a dedicated YouTube app, Slacker Radio, and a new dedicated podcast app. The built-in music player also has a decent interface, with a Cover Flow-like presentation of albums and tracks. It supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, FLAC, and OGG audio formats, and the video player supports MPEG4, H.263, H.264, and WMV video codecs. To get media files on the phone, you can either load up a content-filled microSD card or drag and drop them to a connected BlackBerry like it's a mass storage device. You can also use the BlackBerry Desktop Software to sync your media libraries. The Torch 9810 has 8GB onboard memory, but the microSD card slot can take up to 32GB cards.
We're mostly pleased with the 5-megapixel camera on the Torch 9810. It has a slew of settings like image stabilization, up to three resolutions, autofocus, geotagging, flash, and lots of scene modes that include face detection, night mode, and one just for capturing text. The result is pretty good photo quality for the most part. Images looked sharp and colors were accurate, especially in bright sunlight. Low light shots suffered a little bit, and looked softer than usual.
A big upgrade from the first Torch 9800 is that the Torch 9810 now supports 720p HD video. We took a few short video clips and were impressed with what we saw. Video was crisp and colorful, though we did encounter some graininess with indoor shots. We would recommend you disable auto focus, as the video camera kept trying to refocus the shot every time we moved the phone.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) RIM BlackBerry Torch 9810 in San Francisco using T-Mobile's service. Call quality was quite good overall. We heard our callers clearly with plenty of volume, and their voices sounded clean and natural as well. However, we did detect a bit of background noise at times.
On the other end, callers also reported good call quality. However, they did say our voice sounded slightly scratchy and a bit distorted. Still, we managed to carry on a conversation without many problems. Speakerphone quality was good, with loud volume and not a lot of echo on our end.
RIM BlackBerry Torch 9810 (T-Mobile) call quality sample Listen now:
The Torch 9810 has HSPA+ speeds, which boasts improved data speeds with a theoretical maximum of 14.4 Mbps download speed. We loaded the mobile CNET page in 10 seconds, while the full CNET site loaded in around 25 seconds. We experienced a little bit of buffering when viewing YouTube videos, but only for a few seconds.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 has a rated talk time of 6.5 hours (2G)/5.9 hours (3G) and up to 12.8 days (2G)/12.3 days (3G) of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the Torch 9810 has a digital SAR of 1.44 watts per kilogram.
The RIM BlackBerry Torch 9810 makes for a decent midrange smartphone for BlackBerry enthusiasts. You get a snappy 1.2GHz processor, 720p HD video capture, HSPA+ speeds, a sharp and responsive VGA display, a decent keyboard, and BlackBerry 7 OS that brings voice-activated universal search and improved apps to the phone. However, it doesn't set itself apart from the AT&T version of the same phone, which is a shame when it's almost $200 more at the time of its launch. For only $50 more, we would spring for the Bold 9900 instead.