When my nearly new unreleased Pre 3 gave up the ghost my grand obsession with webOS drew to a sad and unexpected close. So, where to from there? I really don’t like Android, webOS is done, at least for now, I just can’t seriously consider Windows Phone 7, a personal hang-up, and I want a keyboard and don’t like the microsim, or inability to permanently unlock iPhones. This left my favourite beleaguered Canadian tech company: Research In Motion.
At first I bought a Bold 9900. It looks great but the camera is rubbish and I found the screen too small to be enjoyable to use. Luckily, I found someone selling a 9810 and was easily able to sell the 9900 for what I had paid. I’ve had the 9810 for less than a week but I already much prefer it. With the big screen and keyboard, I find the 9810 to be the same perfect balance of fun and function that the Pre 3 was, albeit without the elegance of webOS or the decent game selection.
The 9810 is the spitting image of the previous model, the original Torch 9800. Aside from a lack of colours on the keys and a brighter silver finish, the two are indistinguishable at a casual glance. This is good and bad. On the down side, the unchanged outward appearance has been responsible for many mediocre reviews. Many reviewers seem to value change over actual progress. On a more practical level, it means that despite significantly improved specs and software, 9800 cases, peripherals and docks all still work. It also means that users can upgrade, get a significantly better user experience, and have no real adjustment time to the new device. They keyboard is the same, button placement is the same, etc.
Beyond the superficial appearance of the new 9810, this is a significantly upgraded device. The CPU speed has been better than doubled, RAM has been upgraded, the screen has been upgraded from 480×360 to 640×480, so text is clearer. All of this has been done without sacrificing battery life, which is quite a feat.
I know it’s a minor cosmetic point, but the black back of the 9800 looked and felt fine. The silver plastic back of the 9810 is a step back. This is my biggest complaint of the new phone. (Not bad.)
Once again, the 9810 is very well built, giving the overall impression of subtle quality. The understated looks are less likely to draw attention than the new Bold 9900 but if you’re more interested in actually using the device than just looking at it, I can’t imagine being disappointed with the build quality or keyboard that the 9810 sports. Many reviewers gush over the 9900’s keyboard. I actually prefer the keyboard on the 9810.
Not much has changed between BlackBerry OS6 found on the 9800 and OS7 found on the 9810. There have been minor UI refinements and the browser is more capable, with a newer version of the webkit engine underneath, but things are mostly the same. In fact, OS7 is a bit of a mixed bag, as not all apps are compatible. This is improving over time but I’m still missing key apps like QuickLaunch due to bugs found in my particular version of the OS. I am looking forward to the eventual release of OS7.1, as it finally brings wifi hotspots to the BlackBerry.
All told, the BlackBerry OS continues to offer a well-thought-out, cohesive, and consistent OS. Albeit one completely lacking the UI flourishes found in competing platforms. RIM needs to get their act together and move to QNX fast. The PlayBook OS, which will form the basis of the new phone OS, is a breath of fresh air. OS7 is adequate for the moment but RIM is kidding themselves of they think that it is keeping pace with iOS. That said, the current app ecosystem for BlackBerry OS is decent and the PlayBook app situation appears to be improving, though it still lags behind what webOS offered, and we know how that worked out for Palm.
Room to Improve
I quite like the BackBerry Torch 9810. However, there is always room to improve. Should RIM release a sequel to the 9810, I’d like to see them make the screen a bit bigger. If they dumped the black bezel surrounding the screen, they bring it up to about 3.5″ and could bump the resolution up to 800×480. If they could also slim it down a bit without sacrificing battery life, camera or build-quality, that would be a bonus too. They may as well integrate a mirror into the rear of the slide-out portion of the phone Palm-style. Why not? It’s more useful than the black metal there now.
Otherwise, the new Torch is pretty much perfect for me. It’s a high-quality pocketable computer that is fast, has a great browser, great keyboard, and pairs beautifully with the PlayBook. Having used both the 9810 and 9900 I can say without a doubt that I much prefer the 9810. It isn’t radically different from the older 9800 but the faster CPU, newer OS, and better screen are excellent upgrades. I was able to sell my 9800 and buy the 9810 for about $70 in the end. This was easily money well spent.
If you’re in the market for a new phone, don’t count the BlackBerry out. RIM has very different priorities than Apple and Google. The result is a device that is very consistent, very well-made, has great attention to detail, and great battery life. BlackBerry OS7 paired with a fast CPU means that real games are finally coming to the platform. RIM is down but they’re certainly not out.
Oh, one more thing: I typed this review on the 9810 using the excellent WordPress app. I probably could have done so a little faster on a desktop, but found the time to do it here and there with the 9810. I can’t imagine typing this much on-device with anything other than a BlackBerry.