Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blackberry Torch Review

I am a Blackberry virgin no more. For years, my Blackberry virginity remained intact. I resisted Blackberry's advances. To me, RIM phones had always been synonymous with work, the office. And now that my BB cherry has been popped, I have to say that I like it!

Here's the Blackberry that I got my hands on, thanks to my friends over at Virtusio PR, the Torch 9800 -- also known as the fancy sliding one with the touchscreen. It's been around for a while, but it's still king of the Blackberry world. Compared to the iPhone (and I'll be doing a lot of iPhone comparisons since that's my everyday phone), the Torch is about the same size, but somewhat chubbier. This is no surprise as it comes with a full QWERTY keypad. I really miss those. The keypad is simply a joy to use and one of the primary reasons to consider buying this phone. There's still a place in the world for non-virtual keys.

The Torch runs Blackberry OS 6, which does better social media integration, better browsing, better everything. 

You can actually get around without using the touchscreen. The little trackpad is plenty useful. It works so well, you may wonder why it has a touchscreen in the first place. More on that later though...

Here's a snap from the Torch's camera. You be the judge!

What really sets this phone apart though is the Blackberry Messenger. It's now old-hat and a lot has already been said about it, but this feature is really gangbusters, letting you get emails via push with minimum fuss. Once I had the Torch set up with my Facebook, Twitter, Calendar, Contacts, GChat, Gmail and work mail, I was in bliss. Everything works seamlessly together and it's fast and easy. Messages and alerts are where they should be. This integration with everything is the phone's reason for being and its strongest feature.

Soon, I found myself doing actual work independent of my laptop. And there are Office apps available too. Everything is synchronized, so you don't get duplication in your mail or FB accounts. I found myself seriously tempted to ditch my iPhone (and the expensive bloated plan attached to it) in favor of a cheaper BBM plan because, well, this is all I really use a phone for. And it's all a lot of people use phones for.

The thing is, the Torch plan isn't much cheaper than an iPhone 4 plan. The two are in the same range.

Here are Globe's prices. The Torch is free at Plan 3799. You have to put some cash up front for cheaper plans:
• P7,263 with the Business Plus 2499 plan
• P16,091 with the Business Plus 1799 plan
• P21,958 with the Business Plus 999 plan
• P28,076 with the Business Plus 499 plan

There's surfing too of course, which is a large chunk of what smart phones are for, and the screen did an ok job of displaying websites, but it's no Retina display. Annoyingly, mobile sites showed up where available, but otherwise, browsing wasn't too shabby. You can pinch and zoom too -- finally, a use for the touchscreen!

And then there are the apps. There are hundreds of apps to be found in each category, which doesn't sound like a lot if you're used to the iTunes app store. You'll find all the basics covered, and more apps are always being made, but it's not the  app-crazy environment that Apple has created. If apps are your thing, this probably isn't the phone for you. At least not yet. Right now, it's still a far third to the iPhone and Android.

This is a smart phone that just works. It manages to find a place in your life where other smart phones may have lost their luster. (I haven't played an iPhone game in months, preferring console gaming and iPad gaming instead.) I can see this phone remaining useful -- not to mention a core part of my productivity at work -- for a long time.

The Torch is a super slick smart phone, and it comes with the matching price tag. If only it had hundreds of thousands of apps, it would be a real threat. Maybe in time. It's great for work because hey, it's a Blackberry! Make no mistake, this phone is still essentially the same Blackberry as the Bold (which I also got my hands on) except with a touchscreen, and that's a good thing actually. But the Torch is also trying to be great for so much more. Fabulous social media integration aside, it stumbles in this task a little bit. Still, I came away from this first experience with a Blackberry suitably impressed. That Playbook thing they're coming up with is starting to look mighty interesting!

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