First Impressions: BlackBerry 9800 Torch Hardware

Research In Motion's latest smartphone, the BlackBerry 9800 Torch, goes after the consumer.
AT&T and Research In Motion took the stage in New York City Tuesday to introduce the 9800 Torch, a slider smartphone that has a touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard. The device is the first to run BlackBerry 6, and goes on sale August 12 for $199. This first impressions article focuses on the hardware. I'll follow up with a piece on the BlackBerry 6 operating system.

The device is slick. It is about the same size as a 9650 Bold, though perhaps a little thicker. RIM has always done a good job designing and manufacturing hardware, and the 9800 Torch looks to be no different. It feels solid in the hand and well built, with good materials.

It has a 3.2-inch capacitive touch display that was responsive, though I found the 480 x 360 resolution to be a bit disappointing. RIM's competition is firing off HD displays with 800 x 480 pixels left and right. RIM needs to step up the display tech. There are four physical keys underneath the display (Send, BlackBerry, Back, End), and an optical trackpad for on-screen navigation.

There are but two buttons on the right side of the device, one for the camera and a second for the volume controls. They both work well. There are also the two now-familiar silence and lock keys built into the top edge of the 9800. They work fine.

The slider mechanism is very solid, though getting it open with your thumb is a bit difficult. There isn't a good "ledge" for your thumb to catch hold of to help provide leverage. Once open, you have access to the full QWERTY keyboard.

About that keyboard... It is excellent. I'd rate it one of the better keyboards from RIM in recent memory. The additional real estate provided by the slider form factor gave RIM a little extra breathing room. It put that extra space to good use when designing the keyboard.

I am generally not a fan of vertical slider phones. RIM has done as good a job as it can with the 9800. The hardware is top-notch. Nothing about it felt cheap or under-designed. Those who like the idea of a touch screen but still need that physical keyboard should be happy enough. It's a little heavier and bulkier than previous BlackBerry hardware, but that extra size has been put to good use.

For AT&T customers, it will definitely be the best BlackBerry available when it goes on sale August 12.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer