If anyone vaguely remembers the BlackBerry Storm and Storm 2, you might also remember how we felt about BlackBerry's first foray into the touch screen arena. Back then, with little experience in touch screen technology, the use of its SurePress feature on the Storm was a usability disaster. Moving a year ahead, the Storm 2 arrested the problems faced by the clicking problem of SurePress, but it just wasn't enough to combat how the BlackBerry OS wasn't optimized for touch screen user interfaces just yet.
Fortunately, Research in Motion (RIM) is no quitter. Its latest BlackBerry Torch 9800, announced in August 2010, is a testament to that. The Torch was a big leap for RIM, showing how it is much more prepared than its BlackBerry Storm and Storm 2 predecessors.
Before we had our hands on the Torch, the general impression was that it could be bulky and cumbersome to use with a weight of 161g. Being proven wrong upon testing the phone was definitely a blessing in disguise, since the Torch manages to distribute its weight quite evenly. To prove this point, the Torch didn't feel off-balance when we slid the display up, which typically makes a device slightly top-heavy. The one grouse we had was when we pushed the slider up, it was apparent that our thumb tends to slip and rub across the optical trackpad.
On the whole, the Torch is easy on the hands. The QWERTY keyboard isn't a burden on its profile, keeping it reasonable at 14.6mm in thickness. Its left profile is kept simple with just a lone microUSB port. This leaves most of its buttons on the right, including the 3.5mm audio port. Like most of its BlackBerry designs, the crown of the device is saved for the lock and silent buttons.
Traditional BlackBerry users would rely mostly on its optical trackpad to interact with the Torch. But for us, we find the touch screen to be a better option with its responsive and comfortable size. The 3.2-inch touch screen display, by itself, is competent enough for you to interact with the Torch. Right below that, are the usual physical buttons, such as the optical trackpad that's flanked by the call/end, menu and back buttons. What lies beneath the display when we slide it, is a physical QWERTY keyboard, much like the ones we see on the BlackBerry Bold 9700. Differences are apparent, and we noticed the keys are more flushed into the body than usual.
Nonetheless, what both camps can agree on is the usefulness of its physical QWERTY keyboard, the trademark of any BlackBerry device. While it is still relatively easy to type quickly and accurately on the keyboard, the top rows could be slightly restricted by the Torch's display. If that doesn't sit too well with you, there's still the on-screen keyboard to fall back on.