The BlackBerry Torch AT&T launch event was one of the largest press events RIM has hosted. RIM is launching a new device that could redefine high-end consumer smartphones with its long-time partner AT&T. A lot of network TV crew as well as dozens of independents were in attendance hoping to catch a glimpse of RIM’s answer to heightening smartphone competition.
RIM and AT&T speakers both mentioned past collaborations that have yielded solid RIM products. AT&T was the first carrier to launch an Edge BlackBerry as well as GPS enabled devices. They debuted two (now 3) entire product lines, the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Curve series. They were also the first to launch BlackBerry Messenger, a bold move for AT&T considering the potential loss of SMS revenue.
“The Best BlackBerry”
The BlackBerry Torch is an interesting new device that combines popular feature phone form factors and RIM’s shiny new revamped OS: BlackBerry 6. RIM is billing the BlackBerry Torch as the World’s first touchscreen QWERTY slider.
BlackBerry Torch feels great to hold, it’s heavy enough to know it’s in your pocket, and small enough to not be considered a brick. The slider feels great, it won’t accidentally open and there’s absolutely no side-to-side wobbliness to speak of. The battery door has ridges in it and has a rubbery texture, which makes it hard to imagine anyone dropping it when they are sliding the screen.
Having the choice of all the different inputs is a nice touch. When the device is closed, it’s easy to reach all parts of the screen even when you’re holding and controlling the device with one hand. When the keyboard is open, there is enough weight on the bottom-half of the device so it sits well whether you’re holding it with one hand or two. I found that switching between the trackpad, touchscreen and keyboard to be very intuitive even though I’ve never used a touchscreen BlackBerry before. I thought that the trackpad would not be that useful in this new design, but whenever my thumbs were finished typing something I would naturally go to the trackpad to navigate away. The keyboard portion of the slider feels only a little bit recessed and probably won’t take a lot of getting used to if you’re migrating from a regular QWERTY device.
The camera is rated at 5 megapixels and the video is a VGA-sized 640 x 480. The camera felt about as quick to take a picture as the Pearl 3G, which is pretty quick for a mobile camera. The video is neither HD nor widescreen, which isn’t all that future proof the way video standards are going.
RIM staffers spoke a lot about the smooth interface and deeper integration to the web, media management, and social networking. There seems to have been a lot of work put into the presentation and sorting of a lot of information without the feeling of a cluttered screen. The interface also feels unmistakably BlackBerry even though it also feels brand new. This is in part thanks to RIM’s BlackBerry 6 design philosophy: fresh, but familiar.
Device compatibility: We all knew that BlackBerry 6 had some strict minimum tech specs. They’ve announced that the Pearl 3G, the 9700 and the 9650 will be the only BlackBerry devices that you can upgrade.
Notifications: BlackBerry 6 handles notifications in social network sort of style: putting them all into a unified feed that can be accessed by pushing the notification bar. I love how this is always front and center and really adds to the usefulness of the unified inbox.
Search: OS 6 has taken the “dial from home screen” features and created a whole new input for doing anything on your BlackBerry. The new search is easy to access, just start typing in the menu and your search will start to show results as you type each letter. This new browser-style method of navigation should all but eliminate looking for things you don’t know how to click you way to.
Context clicking: Done by clicking and holding any item in OS 6, brings up a menu asking what to do with the selected item. This is not all that different from clicking the BlackBerry button except instead of being presented with a full menu, you instead have a few items based on the nature of what you have clicked.
Multiple selections: By pressing items with two fingers you can select more than one item. I always found that emailing multiple items to be an unnecessary pain and I hope that they come up with a non-touch solution for trackpad devices.
Photos: Whether synced or taken on the device there will be a lot more going on with photos on a BlackBerry Torch. OS 6 will use the GPS to tag your photos with location info so your photo folder will look less like a long list of sequentially numbered photos, and more like a list of places you’ve been. You can also sort, tag and share photos with ease.
Social Networking: there is a new social networking feed that is sure to make the browsing of your favorite social networks a smoother experience. Over the past few years, RIM has been developing first party clients for the major social networks so the integration of these into the core of the OS has been in the works for a long time.
PodCasting and RSS: Podcast listening and RSS reading utilities are a big part of BlackBerry 6’s web integration. You can add your favorite sites without having to know the exact feed address, thanks to a powerful search function.
WiFi Music Sync: This features gives you a list of all your sync’d PC’s music. If you want a song to be added to your device, just tag it and you’ll be synced up when you connect to WiFi. This feature could have been pitched a little better as they said “let’s say you want to listen to Lady Gaga tomorrow”. The fact that syncing doesn’t work anywhere (not just on WiFi) isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but mentioning listening to music the whole next day after wanting to hear it is not an exciting use case.
Stay tunes to BlackBerryCool for more BlackBerry Torch and BlackBerry 6 news.