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BlackBerry Bold, Torch: Hands-On With RIM's Newest

RIM's three new BlackBerry models deliver sleek hardware and an improved OS. How do they stack up against iPhone and Android rivals?

BlackBerry Torch 9810
(click image for larger view)
BlackBerry Torch 9810
Research In Motion has done a superbly smart, necessary thing: It has taken two of its best smartphones (the Bold and the Torch), and made them better--which is to say faster, sleeker, and more versatile. RIM has also taken one of its most visible failures--the BlackBerry Storm (1 and 2)--and expertly revived it under the Torch moniker. I dare say they're all a little sexier.

Each of these revised devices runs BlackBerry 7, an optimized operating system that is demonstrably faster, with an updated, speedier, more HTML5-compliant web browser, and augmented reality support. You'll also find the integration of BlackBerry Protect, Balance, the new BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), and other native BlackBerry applications.

I've been testing all of these devices, and the new OS, for a short period of time. Everything lives up to RIM's claims. Everything is, in fact, better.

But none of it is strong enough to withstand the inexorable march of the iPhone or the barrage and variety of today's Android devices. Although Apple hasn't even discussed the iPhone 5 publicly, its presence looms. Samsung's Galaxy II phone, also expected soon, is the absolute slimmest, lightest, most stunning Android phone I've seen to date.

The next consolidated version of Android (4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich) also looms on the horizon. Plus there's the long-anticipated upgrade to Windows Phone 7 (Mango, or 7.5), perhaps on a newly-enhanced set of Nokia phones, and HP's Palm 3 (with a keyboard that might make you forget how good the BlackBerry's is.) That all adds up to the fact that these three new BlackBerry phones seem destined mainly for BlackBerry diehards.

Variety and consistency have to count for something, though, and for now that's enough. RIM calls this its biggest global launch ever as it rolls out these new phones to 225 partners worldwide, and on Sprint and Verizon in the United States. I'll take a Torch 9810, myself, and await what comes next from other players.

In-Depth With The Phones

There are actually just three new phones, but five new model numbers, which reflect the mobile carriers options (CDMA and GSM.) Each is powered by a single-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm processor, with graphics acceleration. Previous BlackBerry phones have clinked and clanked with 624 MHz processors. While many high end smart phones are now sporting dual core 1.2 GHz processors, and quad-core processor phones are coming by the end of the summer, these new BlackBerry phones performed without hiccups, in my limited experience with them.

All of them support 24-bit color and have 5 megapixel cameras with image stabilization, face detection, geo tagging, 4x zoom, flash and so on. Each has a digital compass. Each is capable of shooting video (all of this was available on the Torch 9800), but also doing so in high definition (720p). Although you can zoom with the still camera, you can't with the video camera. Many of the high end phones are now coming with 8 megapixel cameras; some have 3-D video capture and playback.

Despite loading up these phones with a faster processor, higher resolution and bigger screens, RIM has committed to maintaining BlackBerry battery life standards, which were pretty good in the first place. Each phone rates more than six hours of talk time, and standby of 11 days or more, depending on the model. I'm a fairly heavy mobile phone user, consuming apps, content and taking multiple lengthy conference calls each day, and by mid afternoon, I find my phone needs a boost; these three phones were no exception. Just as a point of reference, the original Torch 9800 rated 5.5 hours of talk time on GSM, whereas the 9810 rates 6.5 hours.

All of the phones have 768 MB of RAM. The Torch 9850 has 4 GB of storage on board, expandable to 36 GB, while the Torch 9810 has 8 GB on board, upgradeable to 32 GB. The Bold starts with 8 GB, and maxes out at 40 GB.

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