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BlackBerry's Torch Is On Fire

The long-awaited BlackBerry 6 operating system running on the new Torch 9800 phone is a major step forward for Research In Motion.
The web browser is dramatically improved. It is now officially a webkit browser. A comparison done by Crackberry demonstrates how much faster it is on the Torch than on the Bold 9700, but Crackberry's comparison to browsers on other phones shows it to be a bit slower, likely because of the Torch processor. Still, BlackBerry users will feel like they've gone from a dirt road onto a major highway. The browser includes tabs, so you can easily and quickly look through the pages you have opened, as well as add book marks, add the site to your home screen, or share it (via e-mail, text, Facebook, Twitter and more). Naturally, viewing all of this on a bigger screen, in either portrait or landscape mode, with double-tap, pinch-to-zoom and other common gesture features finally turns browsing content to less of a nuisance; in fact, it's finally reasonable. I've spent hours on a variety of sites, including this one, ESPN, CNN, Google's RSS Reader, The Wall Street Journal and more.

The Torch has also finally gotten social. Its Social Feeds app brings together BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, AIM, Google Talk, MySpace, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. While that might seem overwhelming, you don't have to choose them all, and there are options to view each separately or to filter by social network (and probably very few people will use more than a handful of these). But culling all of these events into one place has been very handy. There is also an RSS feed within the app.

Research In Motion includes universal search as part of the entire BlackBerry experience, and it's pretty powerful. I don't yet have enough content on the device to truly give it a run for its money, but it has worked pretty well so far. Just start typing. That's it. As you start to type, it brings into view the apps where your search should take you -- say to a contact name (the contact app), or the subject of a message (the message app), or an actual web search (a "search Google" browser icon).

The device includes a 5 megapixel camera, which can also shoot video. The camera includes a flash, autofocus, image stabilization and geotagging (which didn't work all that well for me; while in Southern California, it showed that I was on the Central Coast, at least 150 miles north, and alternatively in Anaheim, which was miles away; sometimes, it got my location exactly right). It also provides different scene modes (sports, portraits, etc). A finger swipe lets you zoom in and out.

There's plenty more, including: the ability to add social network messages to your universal inbox, the ability to do group texting (will this lead to group sexting?) and group BBM for more collaboration, and included apps like BlackBerry podcasts, with a decent beginning lineup of podcasts to download. And yes, the phone part works just fine too. Of course, this is only available through AT&T. And it continues to support all of the mobile device management features supported by BES, BES Express, and BlackBerry Protect, depending on your carrier plan.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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