The BlackBerry Torch 9850 marks RIM’s third attempt at a touchscreen-only phone with no keyboard. Though you might think of it as a Storm 3, RIM’s gone with the newer (and arguably less infamous) Torch brand for this one. The 9850 isn’t anything like the first Torch 9800, and aside from nearly identical guts on the inside it’s far different from that device’s followup, the 9810. So, just what is this new mysterious BlackBerry about, and where does it fit in the lineup? Read along after the break as we shed some light on those questions and more.
Design-wise, RIM’s third iteration of a touchscreen-only device generally looks to be from the same bloodline as the Storm and Storm 2. Of course, it has redesigned buttons and a trackpad up front, but overall there hasn’t been much significant change in the device’s footprint. The entire front facade is wrapped in shiny black plastic, with tapered edges along the top and bottom. A shiny metal band wraps around the back and sides of much in the same way as the Bold 9700, but in my opinion it’s just a tad overdone and makes the device look cheap rather than classy. Still, its thinness (0.45 inches) and ample weight give it a sturdy feel, and it rests nicely in the hand.
The earpiece and LED status light sit above a silver BlackBerry logo, while the standard set of BlackBerry navigation keys occupy the lower edge below the screen. Those keys do represent a marked change from the past Storms; the original Storm had physical keys aligned right next to each other, and the Storm 2 had fully capacitive ones. The 9850′s navigation controls, meanwhile, are four separate buttons and function as real hardware keys that remind us of the more rigid Curve keyboard. They do seem to be slightly on the smaller side, especially given the device’s 2.44-inch width.
Located in the middle of those four buttons is an illuminated optical trackpad that’s now become a trademark on all recent devices out of Waterloo. I still don’t quite see its utility with all the touchscreen real estate available, and its positioning at the extreme bottom means that you can’t really use the trackpad comfortably while the device sits in your hand. Another side effect of its positioning is that when you scroll up, you can inadvertently touch the screen causing unwanted input. I found this to be particularly frustrating when swiping downwards. There are cases in which the trackpad’s accuracy is needed over touch input (selecting text is far easier using it), but RIM almost seems afraid to axe the mouse-like navigation method in fears of scaring off customers — much like the backlash that occurred when the company first axed the thumbwheel that preceded it. At least on the other Torches that marry a touchscreen with a trackpad, the trackpad slides up to a more appropriate central location for use.
There are more buttons and ports along the outer rim of the device, including a micro USB port on the left side and 3.5mm headphone jack on the opposite one. That right rail also has a volume rocker that seems oddly thin, and a separate convenience key at the bottom whose positioning doesn’t make much sense until you flip the device into landscape to take a photo (its default setting). The entire upper edge of the device serves as a lock key, replacing the separate mute / lock layout from Blackberry devices of yesteryear.
On the back, the 9850′s gray rubberized battery door doesn’t match the other dark gray and chrome trim surrounding the 5-megapixel camera and LED flash. The two-toned design highlights the device’s less flattering curves; it would definitely be sleeker if it was all uniform. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the 9850 is an “ugly” phone, but it definitely boggles my mind that RIM would out a device like this when it clearly still has the chops to develop classy, handsome devices like the Bold 9930 and Torch 9810.
Internals / Display
This latest trio of BlackBerry devices all pack essentially the same circuitry under the hood. A 1.2GHz, single-core Snapdragon CPU serves as the brains of the operation, with 768MB of RAM and a paltry 4GB of internal storage. Our review unit did come pre-loaded with an 8GB microSD card, but the 9930 has double the internal storage right off the bat. There’s also Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, and an AGPS chip just like the 9930.
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