Playing with my new BlackBerry Torch

I’ve had my BlackBerry Bold (9000) for a few years now and it was starting to show some signs of age (besides its rather beat up case), dropping calls more and more often and rebooting spontaneously during the day.

So I put in for the new AT&T BlackBerry Torch (9800), being the BlackBerry administrator for your company does have a few perks and occasionally testing cool equipment for use at the company is one of them.

A while ago I had the Storm 2 in my hands for about 1/2 hour when I gave it back saying there is no way I’d recommend that device in our organization and I kept my venerable Bold. Of course some poor souls went ahead and ordered the Storm 2 anyway. I think it was one of the more “swapped” devices in our company as people quickly realized that it was a miserable end user experience unless you spend your entire day consuming “Youtube” videos.

I had the chance to briefly play with a Torch device early last month when a RIM rep came by the office to introduce himself and I was suitably impressed. Having the keyboard as a fallback is ideal because I create a reasonable amount of content with my device and my emails are not just one liners but often span a couple of paragraphs of detail. Not something lightly undertaken with a screen keyboard.

I’ve had the device for a little over a day now and my opinion of it is mostly positive. The Bold is sitting mere inches away from me in case I should change my mind, but the Torch is winning me over.

I had a couple of hiccoughs getting the device set up. After the device transfer wizard and enterprise activation were completed I noticed that none of my email filters had come across. I ended up calling RIM and working with them. Eventually a battery pull and a slow synch resolved that issue for me. Probably the biggest mini nuisance is the fact that OS 6 changed out all the sounds. My beloved “Sonar” was gone and all the dings and tones to which I’d become accustomed were replaced with new ones. While I’ve kept some of these new tones I was able to find a zip file that lets me get many of my favorites back. “Sonar” is short and poignant and has yet to be rivaled as an alert that one of my servers is in distress.

Something that surprised me – and this seems to be OS related rather than anything else – is that all the sounds are initially VERY muted. This can be remedied by going into your profiles and raising them from the “inaudible in a business environment” 2 (which was what “low” seems to have been translated to) up to a 6 or 7. Then things are fine. But I thought my alarms must be failing at first because I was not hearing them above the every day hubbub of my co-workers.

The large screen is really nice. I’ve been using FaceBook and Twitter for a while now and was singularly unimpressed with that experience on my Bold. On the Torch the same apps have much more breathing room and they really lend themselves to the touch screen.

And even over the same network and with a reportedly lackluster processor, moving through posts in either of those apps is very satisfying. I used to just forward any posts that contained links to my email account because reading the linked-to items was annoying. The zoom of the Bold browser (this was with the 4.5 OS – the 5 OS was *just* released this past week by AT&T for the Bold 9000 – laggards) invariably ended up making the text a little too wide to be seen on the screen without swinging the cursor from side to side to see the ends of the sentences. The OS6 browser (combined with the length / width of the Torch screen) AND the infinitely controllable pinch zoom makes that a thing of the past.

And the rendering of web pages appears to be much better as claimed. “Nearly Perky” would be my characterization. In spite of the purportedly overloaded AT&T network and the commoditized processor, the web experience is satisfactory.

The only places where this unit does not shine are:

1) Periodic lapses in performance in the screen interface handling. Sometimes you press a dialog button with your finger and nothing will happen – no feedback, nothing – and then several seconds later that buffered input plus the several other attempts to hit the button will manifest – to your displeasure. And flicking the menus screens with your fingers is often a little sluggish. Not a show stopper but definitely a point on which I will agree with reviews that I have seen that is a low-light in an otherwise satisfactory product.

2) The Keyboard is actually a little hard to slide open. There is no notch or any readily apparent place to easily slide the screen to reveal the keyboard. Maybe I’ll figure out a technique for this but I use Google Voice and HAVE to press 1,2,3 or 4 to acknowledge a call before I can talk to the other party. I’ve set my phone to answer on sliding out the keyboard which speeds up the process but opening the phone with one hand is not an easy prospect. I somehow think a slight notch just below the trackpad would simplify this, but then I’m not a usability expert.

Overall still very happy with this unit and I believe I’ll be recommending it as our “Go To” device (as much as my folks will listen to their technical support services folks…). The acid test will be next week in the business environment. Can I use it as handily as my old unit? I’m confident that it will be up to the task.

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