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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  • lewchenko74 - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    Great Review. The best of the Torch reviews so far. I really wanted to love this phone, but I don't. It concerns me greatly that the tech under the hood seems to be a generation behind, even if the software experience is generally OK.

    To put it into perspective, it would be like buying a Palm Pre today - with a decent WebOS but ageing computing power so to speak. You just wouldnt do it.

    Im a current HTC Hero owner and cant wait to get rid of it. I was hoping the Torch may be enough, but its not.

    Im glad you informed us about BIS as well. I didnt realise it contributed so much to the performance degradation of surfing the web. There really ought to be an option to browse with BIS disabled. For me, that is one of the phone's biggest flaws. Plus in the UK you normally pay about £5 more to have Internet and BBM enabled on blackberries per month too.. paying more for less it would seem, especially as most contracts these days are unlimited texts, thus rendering BBM almost useless.
  • Zensen - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    I dont think you'll read this again but doesn't your plans in the UK also include extra data?

    Without BIS, you dont get the secure emails, the 'unlimited' internet and BBM. I dont ever notice the slowness when it comes to emails and BBM but i can understand the 'slower' response due to the encrypting and compressing of the data through RIM servers.

    Having said that, blackberry plans here also come with extra data that doesn't use the RIM servers and as such runs quite well using an alternative browser such as opera mini. I'm not sure if BIS can be turned off within the blackberry browser itself but I always assume when i change browsers im using my data plan and not BIS.
  • bwj - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    It doesn't seem right to me that you test all phones with 50% brightness setting, while acknowledging that some phones are much brighter than others. Wouldn't it make more sense to set every phone to the same absolute level of brightness? 200 nits would be convenient.
  • dusteater - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    Well, I dumped RIM for one reason. The BB Tour. I have been using BB's for 6+ years and always loved them. Then came the Tour, which obviously had no quality control during manufacturing. The phone is so poor, I am on number 5. It has killed any confidence I had in RIM as a company able to produce a working phone. So, I will not buy the 9650 Bold like they want me to. I shouldn't have to buy the "fixed" version one year later.

    Off to WP7 for me.
  • spunlex - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    Just wondering if you will be adding a shoot of the light box using your D80 any time soon.
  • djc208 - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    BB is the only company that was making non-camera smart phones. But even most of their newer devices, this one included don't seem to have non-camera versions.

    I've been seriously considering a smart phone but for the same price point I'd much rather have an Android device. But then I'd have to remove/destroy at least one camera (in many cases two) and void any warranties. This would have been a decent option if it was available as a non-camera version.
  • Zensen - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    What’s tricky here is that pressing the hangup button is often my way of getting out of applications and back to the launcher. In a call, when I wanted to look something up, I hit this and was disconnected - like what is supposed to happen.

    Is this a good or a bad point? it starts off like its about to be a negative then you finish it off by saying this is whats suppose to happen... ERR DUH!? lol

    I also use the disconnect button to get out of applications ASAP but i mean the point of the hang up button is to... you know... hang up calls lol. so I'm not sure why you stating this at all. it's pretty damn obvious

    Also i'm not quite sure if the speakerphone test is really as accurate as you try to make it but it is an interesting test nonetheless. It's nice to know the screen isn't as bad as people are making it out to be and as for the text messaging. im pretty sure threaded smses and the distinction of sms and mms has been around a lot longer than iphone and android. You make it sound like iphone and android created this approach.

    Good to see this blackberry excels as a phone with signal attenuation. Even as 'spartan' as the keyboard is to you, unless you trying to say its simple because thats what it is, nothing flash nor does it seem to come across as harsh and rough around the edges.

    I wonder if the clarity of the phone calls, volume etc have anything to do with how long you can speak on the phone otherwise its definitely not as long as the 9700 but again the battery is a lot smaller than the storm too which is surprising.

    You're right about the camera, without even using it i could see how having touch for autofocus would have been great here. the hd video doesn't worry me too much but RIM took forever to put a camera on their phones to begin with so to have LED flash and a higher megapixel camera with movie is pretty good :P Still the lack of it in these times is sorely missed.

    The pictures actually look quite decent on the torch, not heavily vivid as the iphone 4 looks nor as red as the nexus 1 or desaturated as the palm pre. The palm pre looks the worse when it comes to detail.
    I like the HTC evo as most i think it looks more natural though leans towards the warms.
    The droid 2 looks decent when it comes to blacks but its exposure is stronger and lacks a colour cast of sorts

    I wonder how accurate to the still life it really is when taken by these smartphone. is the yellows more greenish as the torch and the droid seem to lean towards (but then you see the dark warm yellow of the book below which seems normal) or is it a far warmer studio shot that the rest seem to lean towards?

    the strong vivid (saturated) shots of the iphone 4 will appeal to those who want it to be as eye popping as possible but its hardly realistic. the HTC evo 4, droid 2 and the torch probably rank as the ones i enjoy the most with the droid 2 and torch looking decidedly more sharper than the evo 4 which seems to have had some noise reduction applied to it.
    I think the torch photos were dragged down quite a bit by this review as i think its one of the better cameras of the ones reviewed here.

    great review though!
  • Disorganise - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    If only there could be an android version... I use blackberry for work and they're great at what they do - be even better if the corporate policy hadn't turned off the memory card so now you can't listen to mp3s :(

    I've been wanting a combo touch screen/physical keyboard phone for ages and want it to be android based. The droid 2 looks good but I'm not sure about having to flick the phone to landscape to use the keyboard - ditto the galaxy s pro; plus I live in Australia so it'll be 3 or 4 years before they hit our shores - if ever.

    I like this torch -it seems to have everything except the OS. Theoretically the OS shouldn't matter (it should be transparent) but reality is that it *has* to be more restrictive with the customisations you can make and the apps you can install, simply to keep it's high security perception.

    I agree with one of the previous posters - RIM could consider two distinct lines; the business phone that connects to BES etc, and a consumer phone that does not. The consumer phone could be android base and run on the same hardware - eg you have torch 9800 and torch android. this only works if RIM want to sell devices of course
  • Zensen - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    sure if they want to make more sales, slap on a android os but again that is fragmenting their business and pulling unnecessary resources away from their primary business and OS. Also the QNX OS that they have acquired.

    other manufacturers do this for sure but look at the fragmentation that is happening with Android - that surely isn't a good sign.

    But yes, they would certainly sell more phones to consumers if they marketed it as a multimedia device and something not sorely for business users. But to take away BES makes it just another me-too android phone and how is that differentiating between their other phones. Will these android include BIS and thus BBM and push email?

    I can't see how they can't just make a multimedia device and a business device in one?

    Unless there's a need for a no frills business phone then yeah a higher priced multimedia device running OS 6 would be great. this was soo close, yet so far from competing in that realm. Sony tried valiantly to produce a walkman phone and a camera phone. nowadays they are just combined.

    One things for sure, they will open themselves up a lot more if they joined the android party. What's stopping them from taking advantage of the windows phone 7 operating system as well...
  • vision33r - Sunday, September 5, 2010 - link

    Android sucks for enterprise and iPhone also too. Nobody makes a better enterprise phone than Blackberry. Even Microsoft's own Windows Mobile isn't good enough as enterprise managed devices.

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