You really have to empathize with BlackBerry to understand why updating the entire BlackBerry platform has taken so long. On one hand, it caters to an audience of serious business customers that have chosen RIM for both its unwavering dedication to device and information security, and enterprise support. On the other hand are end users that are purely regular smartphone customers - people that don’t care about things like FIPS compliance or BES - they just want an awesome smartphone. 

Therein lies the problem RIM has been saddled with for the entire BlackBerry platform - there are simply too many BlackBerry users for a total platform reboot to be feasible. Change too much about BlackBerry, and the platform would no longer be appealing to businesses that would have to retrain users or reconsider the platform entirely. On the other hand, if the BlackBerry platform is left unchanged and not drastically modernized, it faces losing potentially huge swaths of market share across virtually every carrier to quick-innovating platforms like Android, iOS, and WebOS - at least among ordinary smartphone shoppers with a choice. 

So the logical choice is exactly what we get with BlackBerry OS 6. It’s an evolutionary step from BlackBerry OS 5, one which brings a new WebKit based browser that RIM acquired from Torch Mobile, a slicker UI, and multimedia improvements that hopefully make the BlackBerry platform a little more pleasant on the eye. 

RIM has launched BlackBerry OS 6 with a new device, the BlackBerry Torch 9800. It’s an apt name for both the huge change in web browser (Torch Mobile was the name of the company RIM acquired for its WebKit based Iris Browser), but also no doubt as the symbol of hope RIM needs the new device and platform to be for continued relevance in the smartphone market. First, the specifications:

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 Apple iPhone 3GS BlackBerry Torch 9800 HTC EVO 4G Motorola Droid X
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 115 mm (4.5") 111 mm (4.4") closed, 148 (5.8") open 121.9 mm (4.8") 127.5 mm (5.02")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 62.1 mm (2.44") 62 mm (2.4") 66.0 mm (2.6") 66.5 mm (2.62")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 12.3 mm (0.48") 14.6 mm (0.57") 12.7 mm (0.5") 9.9 mm (0.39")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 133 g (4.7 oz) 162 g (5.7 oz) 170 g (6.0 oz) 155 g (5.47 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz Apple/Samsung A3 @ 600MHz Marvell Tavor PXA930 @ 624 MHz Qualcomm Scorpion @ 1GHz TI OMAP 3630 @ 1GHz
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX 535 (?) Adreno 200 PowerVR SGX 530
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 16 or 32GB integrated 4 GB integrated, 4 GB microSD preinstalled 1 GB integrated, 8 GB microSD preinstalled 8 GB integrated, preinstalled 16 GB microSD
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 3MP with autofocus 5 MP with LED Flash and autofocus 8MP with dual LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8MP with dual LED Flash
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 3.5" 320 x 480 3.2" 360 x 480 4.3" 480 x 800 4.3" 480 x 854
Battery Integrated 5.254Whr Integrated 4.51Whr Removable 4.7Whr Removable 5.5Whr Removable 5.698 Whr

With that out of the way, let’s dive into it.

SoC Sidebar

Based on the table above, you'll note that the BlackBerry Torch 9800 uses an SoC that we're not used to seeing: the Marvell Tavor PXA930. We actually approached Marvell wanting to talk about the PXA930 in great depth however Marvell declined all opportunities to talk about the SoC. This is slightly unusual as Marvell has been more than forthcoming in the past with its new Armada SoCs. What it most likely implies is that the PXA930 isn't much to talk about.

Marvell is an ARM architecture licensee, meaning that its CPU cores implement various versions of the ARM ISA but in Marvell's own custom manner. Generally these custom designs are faster and/or lower power than the generic ARM designs at the same process node, however the PXA930 appears to be a couple of years old at this point - it's not a Snapdragon/Hummingbird/OMAP 3630 competitor.

Unfortunately that's the extent of what we're able to say at this point. While we normally like going into the nitty gritty on the SoC in our smartphone reviews, we weren't able to this time around. 

Meet the BlackBerry Torch - Part 1
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  • Kamen75 - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    Rim needs two different BB lines to meet the needs of the two different types of customers they are selling to. They should have a BlackBerry Professional version of there os for corporate clients and then a "fun" version to sell to the average consumer. These two os's only need differ on a few security points and each gets a different ui, one to look business like and one to look flashy and bright. Underneath they would be the same os and run the same apps. Their current middle of the road, one size fits all approach is turning all customers away.

    Add in some decent hardware and you would have a competitive BB again. Two year old hardware specs impress nobody.
  • Zensen - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    that's what themes are for...

    RIM just needs to work on better tools for developers since what they've managed to do on the business level is second to none and I feel the overall improvement of OS 6 has done just enough to grab enough of the spotlight to be fresh yet familiar without being burdened by the lower specs that have dogged it since the its release.
    There are still quirks in the OS 6 model that needs addressing such as in the social feeds but nothing that can't be solved via updates and UI changes. OS 6 has thrown away utilitarian menus and brought it up to speed with the other Operating systems. It hasn't leaped over like a triple axel but it's more like a combination of moves that will culminate in a much more successful Blackberry phone in the eyes of the average consumer, hopefully dispelling some of the noise that RIM can't do a touchscreen phone to save themselves.

    I'm glad anandtech have finally covered this phone. Good or bad you can rely on these guys for great technical review without putting in ridiculous remarks or bias towards a product that reviews like engadget have seemingly perfected.
  • zorxd - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    I am disapointed that Acanac fell into the Apple marketing trap which is PPI. Who cares about PPI? Do you really think that it's better to have a 1" 320x480 display than a 4" 480x800? The first one have higher PPI.
    Apple started to talk about PPI (even before pixel count) when they realized that the competition was going with larger displays. Larger display, with the same resolution, means lower PPI, even if it's better.
    What looks sharp is not PPI. It's pixel count. Just hold your 4" 480x800 farther away if you think that pixels are too big. A 1x1 pixel 1000000000000 PPI display is useless.
    So please, stop making graphs about the useless metric which is PPI and start comparing what we actually care about: brightness, size, resolution, etc.
  • raulr - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    Have you actually looked at the iPhone 4 display. It really is quite fantastic. And especially since this review is about the Torch, your display size argument is pointless since the torch is both physically smaller and lower resolution. The point they were making is that the Torch display, while not bad, really doesn't stack up with the current generation of devices.
  • zorxd - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    The iPhone 4 display is one of the best, I agree. Why? Because it has the highest resolution. The PPI have nothing to do with that. The iPhone display would be even better if it was larger, even if that would mean lower PPI.
    Of course, the phone would probably get larger too, which is a downside.
    What I mean is that the highest PPI is never, or at least should never be an priority for any consumer.
    The iPhone display would suck if it was 2" instead of 3.5".
  • MacTheSpoon - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    He is right, though -- nobody cared about PPI before Apple started their marketing. Now suddenly it's the standard by which screens are judged. Weird.

    I have looked at the iPhone4 screen and while it's nice, it's nowhere near as nice as all the marketing and buzz make it out to be. I cannot read all that sharp yet incredibly tiny web page text without a magnifying glass. I'd say it's about 20% as nice as all the hype. A large screen that lets you see more of your web pages in an actually readable way is certainly nice, too, probably a little bit nicer -- and yet for some reason the iPhone4 gets a pass on this readability issue from all the reviewers, just as Apple hoped. Honestly, having seen the iPhone4 screen, its main benefit is in browsing photos, which look really smooth, but who uses their phone mainly for browsing photos? Not that many people, I'm sure.

    I believe that the whole PPI thing came about because Steve Jobs realized his 320x480 screen was getting long in the tooth compared to other phones but a) didn't want to change the dimensions of the current iPhone and b) wanted to make the existing iPhone layout and apps easy to port by simply doubling the screen resolution. So he pushed the PPI angle hard and zombie reviewers got in line.
  • bplewis24 - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    Great post.

  • synaesthetic - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    Lots of people care about PPI, just not so much on smartphones.

    I hope Apple's obsession with PPI and the Retina Display pushes the trend into *laptops,* so I can finally stop seeing 15.6" laptops with 1366x768 horrible LCDs.
  • Jabroni444 - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    I'm confused by conflicting statements in this review. Half way through the conclusion he says, "I’ve described the Torch as anywhere from a quarter to a half generation behind - I think that’s the best way to describe performance." But, the last sentence is, "The Torch is what RIM should have launched years ago in their stead."

    Combined with the fact that the Torch both statistically and measured performance wise is no better than the iPhone 3GS or other last-gen phones I don't get the quarter to half generation behind comment.

    I'm not sure whether even hardcore RIM users are going to be able to accept weak attempt at getting up-to-date.
  • tech6 - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - link

    A very balanced review. This device isn't for techno snobs or people who like to show off apps - it's still a business communication device. While anecdotal, I know a number of BB users which looked at Apple and Android but decided to go with the Torch instead. Without exception they are happy as it gives them the new functionality they wanted but without leaving the BB strengths and advantages behind.

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