BlackBerry Torch 9860

6th Sep 2011 | 16:47

BlackBerry Torch 9860

Does RIM's first proper all-touch smartphone shine?

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Like:

Good build quality; Great screen; Generally well-designed interface; Excellent messaging options; Good signal strength and 3G speed;

Dislike:

Lack of polish in OS; Difficult keyboard; GPS issues; Browser is still below average; Too pricey;

Overview and design

It's taken a ridiculously long time to come, but this is it. This is the one. After the clickable screen of the BlackBerry Storm 2 and the touchscreen-with-slide-out-keyboard shenanigans of the original BlackBerry Torch, RIM has finally released a proper touchscreen smartphone.

This 3.7-inch touchscreen the largest RIM has ever made, it's also the highest resolution, with a handy 480 x 800 pixels on display. Which is good, because you want the new BlackBerry OS 7 to look its best, don't you?

If you're stuck deciding between this and the two other recently released BlackBerry phones, never fear - we've got an enlightening group test to pit the Torch 9860, Torch 9810 and Bold 9900 against each other to see which takes your fancy:

Powering this is a single-core 1.2GHz processor, not dual-core like the 1.2GHz processor humming along in the Samsung Galaxy S2. RIM's opinion is that dual-core is only necessary for tablets as it stands.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

That said, a single-core processor never did the iPhone 4 any harm. And since the BlackBerry Torch 9860 doesn't deal with HD 1080p video like many phones, including the LG Optimus 2X, have a whizzy 3D interface like the HTC Sensation, or do stereoscopic 3D images like the LG Optimus 3D, we suspect it'll get along fine with a single-core CPU for now.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

There's 4GB of on-board storage, although you can't use this any way you'd like, as we'll explain in the Apps section of this review. You can add up to 32GB more storage via the microSD card slot, which will be handy if you want to take a lot of videos with the 720p HD recording that's now available.

For the old-fashioned among us, you can take still photos with the 5MP camera, and there's a pretty powerful LED flash.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The usual wireless accoutrements are featured, with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi available, and 3G with a download speed of up to 14.4Mbps. Bluetooth is available, of course, as is cabling up with the micro USB connector.

The design of the BlackBerry Torch 9860 sits somewhere in between RIM's range and Samsung's Galaxy line. It's really quite appealing – sleek, but still obviously a BlackBerry.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Although it's mostly plastic – save for the metal back plate – there's no give in its build at all, and it feels high quality (although to call it premium might be being a bit generous).

Across the bottom are five physical buttons: Call, Menu, Select, Escape and End (which is also the power button).

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The middle Select button is also an optical trackpad, which might seem odd to have in an all-touch device, but you'll see why it's there in the Interface section of this review.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

On the left-hand side of the device is the micro USB port, while the right side houses the volume controls and mute key, and the lone Convenience key.

There's a new design for these that makes them very subtle, but still easy to press. The 3.5mm jack is also on this side, which isn't massively convenient (we really prefer to have it on the top or bottom).

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The top of the handset is the Lock button, while notification-light addicts will find this in its usual spot.

The back of the BlackBerry Torch 9860 features the 5MP camera's lens, and the LED flash. The metal backplate has a slightly matt feel to it that – combined with the overall shape and svelte profile – makes the phone very comfortable to hold.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The Torch 9860 actually measures in at 120 x 62 x 11.5mm, making it ever so slightly larger than an iPhone 4 across the board. At 135g, it's fairly middle ground when it comes to weight, too.

The BlackBerry Torch 9860 will be available free on contract for around £36 per month.

Interface

When you look at the list of changes for BlackBerry OS 7, it may not seem like a whole new operating system, but it's quite obviously different from what came before. What was once always black and serious now features colour and texture.

The icons on the BlackBerry Torch 9860's OS 7-powered Home screen look more like that which you'd find on the iPhone 4 or Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 or HTC Sensation.

We have to say it's distinctly more user-friendly – icon changes may not seem like a big deal, but the use of solid images with brighter colours makes each icon stand out from the others more.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Otherwise, the Home screen is very much like it is in BlackBerry OS 6. At the top is the status bar, showing the time, your network, your Wi-Fi network, signal strength and the date. Tap this and it brings up options to turn on and off, including Bluetooth, or to get shortcuts to setting alarms or switching Wi-Fi networks.

Below that is the notifications area. In the middle area icons tell you where your notifications are coming from (and there's still the red light on the front of the handset), which you tap to open up the full list of your notifications.

From there, you can tap any of them to open the applicable app.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

At the left of the notifications bar is a speaker symbol that you can tap to quickly switch between Profiles, while on the right is a search button, which brings up a search box to type into when tapped.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

You can now use voice search for this as well, but we found it to be hit and miss. It was never able identify "TechRadar", but did fine with most dictionary words.

The main problem with the voice recognition search is that it isn't a web search – it only searches the phone itself. This could be useful, undoubtedly, but in this day and age we expect instant Google access from every smartphone and connected device.

At the bottom of the Home screen is the tray of apps. It works much the same as in BlackBerry OS 6, with different trays when you swipe left or right (such as Favourites, Media and Frequent), which can be customised.

At any time, you can swipe up to make the app trays fullscreen – which you'll need to do, because you can't scroll up and down through them when they're not maximised.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The nice thing about the way this works is that you can make it as large or as small as you like – one row of icons, two, three, four, all of them, none of them... it's up to you. Combined with a decent touchscreen, it makes the Torch 9860 come off somewhere between iOS and Android.

In fact, handing it around seasoned iPhone and Android phone users, we found that many iOS users liked being able to hide the icons a bit, while many Android users often liked its simplicity. It seems that RIM has really found a good middle ground for the average smartphone user here.

That said, some sort of built-in widget system would be good for those who do opt to have a small or totally hidden app tray. It's a lot of space to waste, otherwise.

The BlackBerry OS interface is generally brighter and clearer than it ever was. Although it possibly isn't the most simple or intuitive around, we think most people would learn their way around the buttons before long.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Don't break out the credit card and/or champagne yet, though. Although we'd say that the BlackBerry Torch 9860 is probably the easiest-to-use BlackBerry yet, there are problems.

For a start, it feels like there's a lot of legacy BlackBerry bleeding through. It often manifests in menus from third-party apps that clearly aren't designed for touchscreen – especially navigating the file system. This is probably the single main reason RIM has kept an optical trackpad on the device, and it works as a solution.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

It doesn't change the fact that the problem is there in the first place, of course. But it does pretty much solve the issue, so we give RIM a pass on this one. Mostly.

Of more concern is the general lack of polish when it comes to touch interaction. Little things such as when navigating to a menu option where the only thing on the page is a text box (if you're entering a Wi-Fi password, for example), it doesn't bring up the keyboard automatically. You have to tap in the text box to bring it up.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Although most of the animations and scrolling are quite smooth, they still can drop frames here and there, and going from landscape to portrait (or vice versa) often has an irritating delay.

There are small elements like this all over the place that, while none will have you throwing your phone across the room in rage, show RIM is still lagging behind Apple and Google when it comes to touchscreen interfaces. It just feels like slightly more work to use than iOS or Android.

But there is one major flaw we really need to bring attention to – in one app, the autocorrect jumped in while we were typing our password. This doesn't only cause your password to go wrong, but it actually overrides the asterisks.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

We're really surprised the operating system allows this, given RIM's obsession with security.

Calling and contacts

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

When BlackBerry OS 6 rolled out on the BlackBerry Bold 9780, we commented that it was a shame there was no big change to the contacts functionality from OS 5. Now OS 7 is here on the Torch 9860 and it's pretty much the same again.

As we said then, there's not much that's functionally wrong with the Contacts app on BlackBerry smartphones, but it takes absolutely no advantage of the larger screen space or touch capabilities of the Torch 9860.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

You're given a simple long list of names, and you tap someone to go through to their full entry. Shortcut buttons at the bottom enable you to edit the entry, write an email, call or delete the entry. You can also tap the entered information directly to action them, but it's flawed.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

There's no shortcut to text someone, unless you hit the Menu key and choose the option from there. This is pretty basic stuff for a phone, regardless of how prevalent Facebook/Twitter/BBM use has become instead.

Contacts can link through to your Facebook friends in the included Facebook app.

But you can't force the issue – it's just a tickbox saying that you'll allow the information to be connected "periodically". So you can push someone's information to your phone from Facebook, or add a new contact on the Torch 9860 and search for their Facebook profile to pull down a photo.

It's really all rather basic in the face of what Microsoft is doing with Windows Phone 7, or the extra features HTC brings to Android in its Sense phones, such as the HTC Sensation or HTC Desire S.

Adding a contact hasn't changed, really – there's the usual bevy of input options, ranging from simple name and mobile number to information such as birthdays and notes about people, and you can add your own custom field.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The BlackBerry Torch 9860 finds signal really well, and this translates to very good call quality. The caller comes through nice and clear, and both the earspeaker and loudspeaker can go quite loud to be heard over any ambient noise.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Messaging

You will be shocked – shocked! – to learn that messaging is something of a forté for BlackBerry phones. Who knew? It's a tradition that continues on the BlackBerry Torch 9860, with more options than ever before, tweaked to make better use of the touch interface and screen space.

There's a Messaging app, which brings together your messages from emails, text messages, Twitter DMs and Facebook messages.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

There's also a separate text messaging app, but we expect most people will be content with the universal Messaging one. It divides your messages up by date, and greys the logo out when they've been read. It's highly responsive, easy to understand and totally foolproof to set up.

When you tap on a message, you get a different interface depending on which app you're taken through to. The text message and Twitter apps both use speech bubbles to communicate threaded conversations, for example, while Facebook just puts one message on top of another without much in the way of decoration.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The text inbox is fairly easy to follow – one colour for the other person, a different one for you. There are shortcuts at the bottom to bring up the keyboard, send a written message, add a new recipient, attach something to the message and a way to skip to the oldest unread message (which can be very old if you've just linked up something like your Facebook account).

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

So onto the keyboard. We don't like it. It's too fiddly. We'd like to say there's some single obvious flaw, and it would be fine if they'd only fix that one thing.

But it's not that simple. RIM has stuck to the layout of the traditional BlackBerry physical keyboard as much as possible, with numbers in a grid and the @ key stuck out at the top-right. It's totally different to the rest out there, and we think the keyboards in iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 work better, to be blunt.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

It also doesn't automatically customise itself well enough, not offering the @ symbol when entering an email address field, for example.

More than that, it's just screen-snappingly difficult to type anything legibly at all in portrait, even with the autocorrect.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

And to compound the frustration, even trying to hit the backspace key usually results in tapping L. It's better in landscape, as you might expect, but still feels a lot harder to use than its competitors.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Writing an email generally has changed very little on the new screen, with just a big blank canvas on the screen and a bunch of options, including adding attachments, available from the Menu key.

But when the keyboard's driving you nuts, hasn't the point of owning a BlackBerry phone been diluted somewhat? Perhaps you'll be better off if you write shorter messages, which is a clunky, groaning segue into the Social Feeds app.

It brings Twitter and Facebook updates in one place, along with BBM, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.

BBM, Twitter and Facebook are all integrated throughout the OS, so sharing things via your network of choice is easy.

In fact, BBM is getting more integration with other apps, the showpiece being integration with the Wikitude augmented reality browser, so you can see BBM users near you and strike up a conversation.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Whether you find this creepy or a revolution in interaction is up to you. We make no judgements here at TechRadar. Well, except in reviews and stuff, obviously.

Internet

RIM's promised an upgraded browser for the new range of BlackBerry phones, including the Bold 9900, Torch 9810 and Curve 9360.

With 802.11n Wi-Fi (the fast kind) and 3G on board, the new 1.2GHz processor and Liquid Graphics engine raring to go, the Torch 9860 promised to be the best BlackBerry phone for browsing yet.

And it is. But is still isn't good enough.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Speed-wise, the browser itself is adequate, without really impressing that much. The decent signal strength translates to very good 3G speeds, though.

On most sites (but not all), it can be bested in a straight race to load quickest by the iPhone 4 when both are on Wi-Fi, even though Apple's phone is over a year older and has less horsepower.

The iPhone is certainly the fairest test for it, since they're both based on the WebKit browser engine, and both lack Flash.

Yes, unlike its dual-core tablet brother, the BlackBerry PlayBook, the Torch 9860 can't play videos in Adobe's popular format.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

This makes the frequent laggy operation when browsing more irritating – we're used to that sort of behaviour from Android phones on Flash-heavy sites, but the Blackberry Torch 9860 frequently suffers from unresponsive scrolling and zooming for no apparent reason.

We should stress that it's not all the time though, and when it's behaving itself, websites look great on the vibrant, 480 x 800 screen.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

But there are too many rough edges compared to the competition. Text reflow is a particularly bad offender. Zoom in and it'll do its best to fit the text better for you, but success isn't guaranteed.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Double-tap on a column and it will reflow, after a delay. Sometimes it'll leave the edges of the last words cut off. Zoom in further in the hope it will reflow further, and it seems to give a half-hearted effort, then give up and leave the text roughly how it was.

Most annoyingly, it doesn't redraw the fonts as you zoom, so if you want nice big text, you'll find the words badly pixelated.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

RIM is still making steps forward when it comes to overall browsing, but it's well behind where all the other big players are.

However, there are plenty of options in the browser, as you'd expect from a BlackBerry smartphone. You can swiftly create bookmarks, share pages on Facebook and Twitter and add sites to the Home screen.

You can have multiple Tabs open at once, with a slick 3D carousel to browse between them (although it did once just close all of ours without any warning).

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The only gripe with browsing these options is that it has some problems with the touch interface. It can be quite fiddly to get the URL bar back up just by touch, because the button is absolutely tiny.

It also seemed to misread quite a few taps there, opening the bookmarks section instead of entering a new URL.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

We don't think the accuracy problems were with the touchscreen, because we didn't notice them anywhere else in the operating system.

Camera

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The Blackberry Torch 9860's 5MP camera hasn't changed in basic spec from the first iteration of the Torch, but it has had some tweaking in the software.

What you get is five million pixels, an LED flash, autofocus, several modes (including Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Night and several others) and a new Face Detection mode.

Why the face detection isn't built into the Auto mode, we don't know, but there it is.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The Convenience key can be used as a shutter, and pressed halfway to autofocus. It's actually a little difficult to press fully, so you'll find it easier to use the on-screen photo button (not something we usually say).

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The shutter is instant, though, producing a photo onscreen in a fraction of a second – no lag. And the quick shutter speed means there's very little blur in the photos too, which is always a good sign.

The live view screen can distort a little if you move it quickly, but it doesn't seem to affect the photos at all.

BlackBerry torch 9860

OUTDOORS:On an overcast day, the colours here look a little washed out compared to real life. The amount of detail isn't bad, although there's a fair amount of grain and noise in just about any solid colour.

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BlackBerry torch 9860

COLOUR:Same as above, all the colours here look a little duller than they should. And, once again, there's a lot of digital noise across the whole image. But everything, including the paintings on the van, is fairly crisp and clear.

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BlackBerry torch 9860

CLOSE UP: Lots of the scratches and moss on this sign have been picked up, but many areas of the image look a little soft, and the black is full of noise, once again.

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BlackBerry torch 9860

LANDSCAPE MODE:The greens are strong in this image, but taking is was a bit of a faff – the camera really struggled to expose correctly for both the sky and the grass.

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BlackBerry torch 9860

INDOORS:The flash came on for this photo of an Argos display, and it was probably for the best. It's only just bright enough, and although it looks decent when small, making this image larger reveals the whole thing is rather soft.

See the full-res image

BlackBerry torch 9860

LOW LIGHT:In low light (the camera will warn you if the light levels are low), the camera has managed to make the picture bright enough, but there's a severe loss of detail, and the whole thing just looks blurry.

See the full-res image

BlackBerry torch 9860

FLASH:The flash does a great job of illuminating the (fairly close-up) candle, bringing back all the detail, although the flower at the front has become overexposed, if anything. However, you can also see the limitations of the flash here – it barely reaches the end of the table the bowl is sitting on. It's bright, sure, but the range is limited, meaning that the photo overall looks darker than the one above.

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BlackBerry torch 9860

ZOOM OUT:Ducks! They aren't all that detailed at this distance, so let's zoom in a bit.

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BlackBerry torch 9860

ZOOM IN:All the digital zoom does is actually crop to a smaller part of the image, so zooming in all the way, as we have here, produces an image that's 640 x 480. However, the noise levels don't increase dramatically.

See the full-res image

Video

The BlackBerry Torch 9860 can record videos at 720p (1280 x 720), 640 x 480 or 176 x 144. It records in 3GP format.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The video is 30 frames per second, with a fairly high bitrate of 14Mbps, which combine to mean that motion is very well captured in the two outdoors clips. There's little motion blur, and almost no artefacting.

BlackBerry torch 9860

There's a decent amount of detail in these outdoors shots, but the skateboarding clip shows that there can be issues with the autofocus wandering around – having focused on the skateboarder, it then switched to one of the skaters in the foreground as they went past, before settling back on the first skater.

The low light shot is an order of magnitude poorer, however. The LED flash can't be turned on to use with the video camera, so anything slightly low light indoors will incur the huge amount of digital noise visible in the third video. It totally destroys any detail there might have been.

You can upload to YouTube straight from the video recorder if you want, or send the file over Bluetooth.

Media

The BlackBerry OS media functions all had an upgrade in version 6, and with the introduction of Liquid Graphics in OS 7, the apps should run more smoothly than ever on the Torch 9860.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

There's 2.5GB of built-in storage for media, and you can expand that with a microSD card.

The media apps are all cunningly grouped into an app folder called Media, and you'll find separate apps for different things: Music, Pictures, Videos, Podcasts and Music Store.

Music

The Music app is still fairly simple, although it comes with an intriguing option to "Explore Music Apps", which takes you to the music section of App World to add features such as internet radio.

You can add your own music in a fair old range of formats, but the important ones are all supported: M4A, MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, AAC, AMR, WAV and more.

You've got the expected options of browsing by artist, album, song, genre and so on. These are all just long lists, with thumbnails for album artwork. Some can come up a bit small for tapping – particularly when viewing tracks on an album in portrait mode. We found ourselves hitting the wrong track a lot.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The Now Playing screen lets you see the artwork of the next few songs coming and flick between them.

You've got the music controls at the bottom, and you can tap the artist or album name to see the other songs in that list.

It's all slick and smooth – the lists scroll quickly, the album art animates nicely when you're flicking it around on the Now Playing screen, and it's simple to navigate.

You can also create playlists on the phone, which is always a nice option.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The audio quality is very good. It doesn't crush the high end too much – no more than most other phones – and it gives the bass plenty of kick. There's lots of detail overall, as well.

You can buy more music with the Music Store app, which is just a BlackBerry-fied front for Amazon's MP3 store, and so has a good selection and lots of special offers.

Videos

The Videos app is comparable to the Music app, but with fewer options – it's just one big list of videos you've loaded on yourself and those recorded on the phone. It'll support MP4, AVI, WMV, 3GP and ASF.

Since the BlackBerry Torch 9860's screen is RIM's largest phone screen ever – and highest resolution – we had high hopes for it. And video does indeed look great. Everything looks really natural, and colours are totally crisp.

Motion is perfectly smooth, and it does a really good job of upscaling any lower-quality videos.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

It can play video up to 720p, and does so perfectly smoothly. It's nothing too unusual these days, what with the dual-core 1080p, HDMI-outputting wonderphones appearing, but it's a step forward for BlackBerry, and all works really well.

Pictures

The pictures app on the Blackberry Torch 9860 is nothing unusual for a gallery app.

You can view your photos as thumbnails or as a list. You can go straight into slideshows (which has a really poorly applied Ken Burns Effect, so we wouldn't recommend it), scroll through one by one with a swipe or upload to various services, including Facebook.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Photos look great on the screen, and colours really pop, but most impressive again is that it's really smooth going between them. It's obvious this is the sort of area where RIM's new Liquid Graphics technology is designed to shine, and we were suitably impressed with the speed and slickness of the animations.

There's a YouTube app on the device, although all it does is load the mobile YouTube site, so it's a bit of a cheat. Still, when you open it, it also offers you the opportunity to upload to YouTube, which is always handy to have.

There's no FM radio, but having the "Explore Music Apps" option is designed to point you in the direction of the likes of TuneIn Radio, so there are great substitutes.

Alas, media output isn't an option here. There's no external video port, and no DLNA functionality for streaming wirelessly.

Battery life and connectivity

Battery

Battery life has always been a strong point for BlackBerry phones, but they don't usually feature a screen this big with a resolution this high.

Battery life and connectivity

In the end, the battery life of the Torch 9860 is pretty average for a phone of its kind. This may disappoint purists but it isn't bad going, all told. The 1230mAh battery should easily last you a day, or even two or three if you watch your consumption.

The quoted talk time of 4.7 hours seems about right to us, and six hours of video playback also seems to be in the ballpark.

Use the phone for all of your social networking all day over 3G and you'll swiftly chew through the battery – it's inevitable.

Still, as we said, it has a pretty average battery life, so we're not counting this against the Torch 9860.

Connectivity

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Wirelessly, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 has generally got it going on.

Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, 3G up to 14.4Mbps, Bluetooth and NFC support.

There's a GPS chip and digital compass, although as we mention in the Maps and Apps section, we had problems with the GPS.

Connecting to a computer is done using the micro USB port and BlackBerry Desktop Software. You can use this to load media onto the phone, or to transfer contacts, notes, tasks and calendar appointments.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The microSD card slot is another way to load media. We had to reformat ours for the Torch, even though other phones had no problem recognising it. This adds a BlackBerry-specific folder structure, but appears to just be standard FAT32, so you shouldn't have any problems mounting the card on your PC later.

Both the memory card and phone memory can appear on your computer as mass storage, for file dragging and dropping to and from them.

Maps and apps

Apps

Although the BlackBerry Torch 9860 comes with the usual array of pre-loaded apps (which we'll come to), the App World is the place to top up your collection.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

It hasn't had much of an update for BlackBerry OS 7, but we should point out that it does quite a good job of making your old apps available for easy download.

The selection is still rather paltry compared to the Apple's App Store and the Android Market, and the quality of many apps is lower, but there are still lots of gems, including A+ Picture Editor and cross-platform classics such as TuneIn Radio.

Downloaded apps can be organised into folders, or you can leave them in the main apps list.

Pre-loaded you'll find the usual communication suspects we've talked about in the other sections – dedicated Twitter and Facebook apps that tie into the Social Feeds and Messaging apps, apps for each instant messaging and a range of organisation tools.

The Twitter app is pretty typical, offering a long stream of tweets and tabs at the top to see your mentions, messages, lists, trending topics, search and your profile.

It responds quickly and smoothly, and is easy to get around, although some interface elements still have the problem of being a bit small for tapping.

The Facebook is also pretty much the standard RIM Facebook app you might remember from such smartphones as the BlackBerry Bold 9900, but taller.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The main view is your news feed, and you can quickly Like or comment on an update using the plus buttons at the side. At the top are shortcuts to write your own status update, add a new friend and check into Facebook Places.

It seems odd that there's no obvious photo upload button, even though you can do it straight from the Pictures app.

The usual range of organisation tools are is here, including the colourful and slick Calendar app, which can integrate with Facebook. The interface for adding events is still much as it was for trackpad-focused phones, which means lots of tapping on drop-down menus and selecting what looks like plain text to change the time and date.

The Clock app hasn't changed a bit, and still comes on when you charge the phone.

Documents to Go is included for viewing files, and will quickly dig up any that you've downloaded or are lurking on your microSD card. BlackBerry Protect is standard, for backing everything up to RIM's servers and tracking the phone remotely.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

And there are a couple of included games: BrickBreaker and Word Mole. They are mildly diverting, at best.

Maps

Mapping on the BlackBerry Torch 9860 was something of a disaster.

For a start, although BlackBerry Maps is there somewhere, it wasn't accessible from the main apps list on our handset. Searching for it turned it up, but RIM stashes it away deep within the OS.

It quickly becomes clear why it might be hidden though: we couldn't get it to work at all. It just didn't want to know. At all. It just said: "Unknown Error".

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

There's definitely a GPS on board, so we delved into the App World and picked up Ultimate Maps, which we'd run without incident on a Bold 9780 in the past.

This at least ran, but had its own problem. When it couldn't get a GPS lock, it started loading the map images fine. As soon as the GPS fixed, it stopped loading the map and just showed our position.

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Now, the dot looked roughly accurate judging by its position relative to the small chunk of map that had successfully loaded, but the whole thing was pretty unsatisfactory.

You could either see the map or know where you were. Not both. Bonkers.

Comparison

The obvious alternate options for the BlackBerry Torch 9860 are RIM's own new touch handsets: the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and the BlackBerry Torch 9810, which still has a slide-out physical keyboard, like the old Torch 9800.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review: front view

But since the Torch has gone all touch, it lands much closer to the likes of the iPhone 4 than it ever has before. As we said, the iPhone's iOS operating system is generally more touch-friendly than BlackBerry's, and the App Store bests BlackBerry App World by a good margin for quality and quantity. But the extra customisation options BB OS 7 has over iOS will no doubt tempt many.

Apple iphone 4 review

Of course, tinkerers are generally better catered for with Android, although the current trend for Android phones is to have pretty hefty screen sizes – see the Samsung Galaxy S2, HTC Sensation and especially the new Samsung Galaxy Note for proof.

The Torch 9860 is a modest 3.7 inches, closer to the iPhone 4. For something of a comparable size, check out the HTC Desire S. Running Android 2.3, it's a smooth operator, and is available for cheaper on contract.

HTC desire s

Actually, the price of the Torch 9860 does make it more expensive than the dual-core, 1080p-recording LG Optimus 2X, and generally puts it in range of the similarly powerful HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S2.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Although we'd recommend those phones over this one in general, the BlackBerry is smaller and lighter, and for those who want to use BlackBerry services, such as BBM, this is the only way to get them.

Windows Phone 7 is an option that's getting better all the time, thanks to the Mango update. Keep your eye out for the new handsets coming out soon, including the HTC Radar.

Hands-on gallery

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

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BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

Verdict

BlackBerry torch 9860 review

The BlackBerry Torch 9860 marks RIM's first foray into pure touchscreen control, without any of the SurePress shenanigans of the Storm 2 or the slide-out keyboard of the Torch 9800 and 9810.

With the improvements of BlackBerry OS 7 and better specs across the board, the result is largely a success. Certainly, it looks like RIM has laid the groundwork for a strong touchscreen operating system.

The problem is that everyone else was laying this groundwork two or three years ago, and they've since ironed out the sort of little issues that plague the Torch 9860.

We liked

The BlackBerry Torch 9860 is a really nice bit of hardware. It feels well made, the screen is detailed and vibrant, and it's got a decent spec list.

The Liquid Graphics technology lives up to its name, making most of the interface quite fluid, and the continuing integration of social networks and IM services make messaging on the device as slick to use as it is to look at.

Videos look great on the screen, and this is a good showing as a media phone.

We disliked

Whereas its competitors seem to be releasing something close to the finished article these days, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 feels in need of a raft of updates.

It's got interfaces lurking that clearly weren't designed for touchscreen phones, great internet integration in some areas that's marred by poor integration in others, a browser that's improved but still inconsistent and many more little niggles.

In particular, we found the keyboard to be just horrible in portrait, with nearly every other tap going astray.

The GPS problem was really galling, and the issue with apps being able to use autocorrect in the password field seems downright bizarre.

The price is too high, as well. We know RIM considers this a premium phone, but better phones are available for much cheaper, and much better phones are around for the same price.

Final verdict

It's a slick package from afar, but using the BlackBerry Torch 9860 after the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2, HTC Sensation and iPhone 4 feels like going back to 2009.

There's lots to boast about on this phone, no doubt, but we just can't recommend it over the rest out there for anyone other than those desperately tied into RIM's services who want a slick new all-touch experience.

BlackBerry trbcextra
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