Its been a time with loads of exciting stuffs to me, first Nokia N9 and then BlackBerry Torch 9860, Two totally new platforms with a contrast nature. Like I usually been doing with my review units, I was required to immerse myself into one of them totally as my main phone to know about things more than skin deep, but it definitely was tougher this time. But still, Blackberry grabbed my attention in many ways and definitely left a very good impression for a first time Blackberry user. A lot to say, but will try to keep it compact.
BlackBerry and me:
It should come up as a strange fact that despite of being called as a workaholic, I been far away from the BlackBerry World till now.
My first short encounters were with models like BlackBerry 8800 two years back, when we purchased around a dozen for our office. The same model never strike me about its looks or QWERTY (didn’t liked that in comparison of likes of Nokia E71/E72 etc). So, it was a sort of first impression that left me with a bad taste just by looks\ design even when I didn’t tried the services part.
Secondly, as far as services part is concerned, then in those days, I wasn’t much into social services/facebook etc (just created those accounts after that time period) and push mails were not that big concern to me so obviously paying a premium amount for BIS/BES services was out of question, when I never felt any particular need of timely delivery.
But things changed over time. I started “regular” blogging by Feb 2009 and later on joined Twitter/Facebook etc by end of 2009 I guess. Mails/ Twitter/ Facebook feeds kept on finding their ways deep into my life and now I generally take part into dozens of twitter communications with roughly 100 tweets/mentions per day and similar about the mails. Now was the time, when timely delivery was important, now was the time, when I was ready to pay premium was accurate services and that’s now it was about time, when I dig into and explore the BlackBerry world, which been a legacy about service delivery till now.
Thanks to twitter and @kaushaldivya5 that I got a chance to take a look over the latest of BlackBerry’s adventure with Full Touch.
Let’s see what I felt about my first BlackBerry …
Blackberry Torch 9860: The content inside the box
Knowing the reputation of BlackBerry about their focus toward core, I wasn’t expecting any marketing gimmick like some fancy colors, lots of cables or any other thing like that and things came out to be the same about the content of box. Not much to expect of, its the usual business.
This is all you find inside the box:
1. One BlackBerry Torch 9860 Unit.
2. One Standard battery JM-1, Li-Ion 1230 mAh
3. One USB Cable (Small one). Same kind of standard jack as we see on Nokia ones.
4. A set of Headphone.
5. A fancy looking charger with separable component (Not sure on fast charger part)
I am sure I always seen a leather pouch coming from the BlackBerry Boxes that got delivered in my office, but this should be a first for BlackBerry, where we do not see any leather pouch inside the box. Also I would miss the presence of a Bluetooth handset in box here considering the premium price of the phone for Indian Market, but that’s the way, BlackBerry is.
Blackberry Torch 9860: The Exteriors
Look wise, BlackBerry Torch 9860 definitely looks bigger than usual 3.7” handsets in the market and though it has managed to keep the dimensions on slimmer side like 120 x 62 x 11.5 mm (As far as I know, it’s the thinnest BlackBerry Full Touch till date). I would say that its a propriety BlackBerry looks which is somewhat similar with their earlier touch models like Storm 2. Weight wise, its exactly same as Nokia N8/Nokia N9, that is 135g. Not a lighter one like Samsung Galaxy S, but I guess one will like how solid it feels in hands.
I definitely would have gone irritated about the fact that it posses a toughen plastic screen rather than some Gorilla glasses, if it was a Nokia or Samsung, but somehow I seen that BlackBerry handsets fare better over time even with that kind of screen.
But at the end, that’s what we got here, a toughen plastic front, which really don’t feel cheap and goes from edge to edge, leaving places for four HW buttons, optical track pad and speaker slot
The edges are curvy, so no standing position possible for BlackBerry Torch 9860 like its been for Nokia N8/N9 likes.
The bottom edge also makes room for speakers and microphone.
The top edge has the room for Display lock switch which seems to be a touch by looks but considering the haptics, we know that its a HW key again. Would love to know that how this design fare over longer periods but seems a solid fit to me.
Coming from Nokia, Samsung and Apple, the side keys on BlackBerry Torch 9860 and on some other BlackBerry models, looks very different. In fact, from a distance, you wont feel that it has keys there. I had some issues with my fingers finding the camera keys natural in start, but it grows upon you over the time and may be a good thing about the design rather than being a con. One side carries raised Volume keys, Camera key and 3.5mm jack.
While the other side comes with standard USB port (same as on Nokia/ Samsung ones, so one can use the same cable).
The top right corner has a notification light, which I would say that should be natural place for notification light on all platforms means at top portion of device rather than hiding it at bottom place. The notification light here has an interesting nature as well. It blinks as red light, once any notification is left unread and blinks as green if you allowed it to show network signal reception that way and blinks as orange if the device on low charge (not sure, if it has more colors as well). Also there is proximity center somewhere inside at the same place.
The five buttons at the bottom that are slightly raised above the screen (why?), are Call Key, Option Key (with BlackBerry logo style), Optical track pad, Back Key and Call End\Power key. Keeping the looks strictly professional, Blackberry Tocrch 9860 keeps it away from colored keys and all are painted as backlit white. Adds a kind of quiet elegance. Also I will say thumbs up for the raised keys part as having used those HTC ones, I know that how confusing it might be to have tiny buttons placed at surface level.
The back of the device is an interesting mix of metal and rubber. I avoided removing the sticker covering the whole back, but you can get an idea from pics above from CrackBerry.com. Borders are steel, then rubber part contains LED Flash and 5 MP camera (capable of AF Video at 720p). The angular shape might not be making some poetry for your eyes, but does a superb job about the grip either you handle it in portrait mode or in landscape mode.
Blackberry Torch 9860: The Interiors
For the people looking for details, BlackBerry Torch 9860 comprises of following ten specs mentions:
1. 3.7" WVGA (800×480) display (~252 ppi pixel density)
2. TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
3. 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Scorpion MSM8655 SoC
4. Adreno 205 GPU (Liquid Graphics GPU)
5. 2.5 GB User Storage
6. 768 MB RAM
7. MicroSD Card support, upto 32 GB
8. Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
9. HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps, Bluetooth 2.1 (can send files) and Wifi
10. 5 MP Auto Focus Camera capable for 720p video recording with very effective continuous Auto Focus
One of the things about BlackBerry Torch 9860 that been pleasantly surprising to me is its Display. I almost had assumed that a great display should be consist of some SMOLED and Gorilla Glass combination essentially and then here came a BlackBerry with toughened Plastic TFT display to surprise me again.
I was really not aware of the fact that it’s a kind of plastic otherwise I would have been more careful with it, but still in last 4-5 days, while I kept it in my jeans pockets uncovered/ unprotected, no sign of scratches anywhere.
Second thing is about its sunlight visibility and crispiness. I am keeping the fonts on twitter app at around 5 only, but its with such small fonts, the characters are visible in damn good manner. Same about sunlight visibility , which is exactly like some hard core business device should posses.
I was never needed to change some brightness settings or theme when I was moving out under Sun, that is exactly what I felt about Nokia N9’s CBD display. Damn Good.
The third great thing about BlackBerry been its Sound Quality. It doesn’t attaches itself with any name like Dolby or Beats, but just take a call or put the phone on loudspeakers and see yourself. I don’t claim tests or numbers, but I can definitely claim that call quality\loudspeaker volume is much better over Nokia N8\SGS\Nokia N9\Nokia Oro, I own. This is one of the core thing to interest many of the users and impresses you for sure. Placing of the speaker also plays a good role in it.
But I would like to add that I am talking about call quality\ speakerphone loudness here, when coming to Music volume\quality, Nokia N8 likes take the cake again.
The angular design of the back makes it not only fitting naturally in hands, but also protects camera from touching the plain surface and at the same time, places no hindrance for the bottom speakers.
On the con side, with common features, we miss the front camera here, we miss the magnetometer, we miss the ambient light sensor (hence no auto-brightness adjustment) and we badly miss the FM radio (leave the FM Transmitter). As about advanced features, we miss TV-Out, we miss HDMI, we miss anything kind of USB OTG and we miss any kind of Wifi Hotspot inbuilt (though upcoming Q4 update might bring this feature). Also like Android, BlackBerry OS 7 also doesn’t respond to Nokia Joikuspot Wifi connection.
Blackberry Torch 9860: The walkthrough of BlackBerry OS 7
For existing BlackBerry owners, BlackBerry OS 7 would be an OS bringing the following main changes:
1. Liquid Graphics Display Not sure about the technical details behind the term like I don’t get the deal about Retina Display, but I definitely like the Glossy feel of the entire OS and quick response of the touch screen coupled with decent animations.
2. An updated browser A new browser that though doesn’t supports Flash, but gives a HTML5 score of 260 that definitely should be called as a decent score.
3. A new social experience via Augmented reality An app named Wikitude that sure seems to be one of its kind and brings all kind of local information at your fingerprint. This app is definitely not one of those legacy community apps depending on user’s participation, but utilizes info from various sources like Foursquare and our own BBM community.
4. Voice activated universal search Another fancy term it might be, but this does what it says by the name.
But I am sure that over Layman’s Take, you are not looking for these official features, but a rather long walkthrough, so let’s begin …
1. Startup and Shutdown of a BlackBerry
With lots of smartphones around, now we have moved past to slow startups but BlackBerry OS takes the things a little differently. First it tries to avoid the complete shutdown in most of the cases (unless you pull off the battery), like by shutting down the antenna completely in case of extreme low battery and then it general operations, it relies more over the server side push notifications rather than keeping the screen on all the time. With the faster SOC, the cold boot up time has definitely reduced but its still larger than Nokia N8/SGS etc. though for the defense, we get a nice animation showing the progress of boot up rather than keeping some clueless video or animations on.
Even shutdown asks you options like shown above. Obviously, the OS by nature doesn’t want a complete shutdown (that’s why known as Always On devices). Does this nature a sign of some weakness? I don’t think so that as I seen\heard about almost no crashes in BlackBerry OS, no matter how abruptly someone keeps on pulling out the battery,
2. Connection with PC
Once you connect it with PC, then you get greeted with options like connection mode and then options to set the alarm in Apple kind of wheel clock way. After the two prompts, it leaves you one professional looking big clock. I think this behavior could be controlled from somewhere in options, but haven’t tried it myself. Btw.. we can definitely use our BlackBerry Phone as a modem.
3. BlackBerry Internet\Enterprise Services subscription is a must
BlackBerry is unique about its focus toward work and accurate service delivery which asks for a premium, activation of BIS/BES services. BIS/BES provides your phone a unique BBM pin and rest of BlackBerry related services start from there. BIS takes care of your social feeds like Facebook, Twitter and takes care of enterprise/personal mails as well. In fact, in most part, people can agree that BlackBerry been a scale that measures the accuracy of push messaging. You do not check for your facebook\twitter\mail alerts but they follow you instead.
Unfortunately, Twitter/Facebook like apps do not function at all on BlackBerry with mobile data unless you subscribe to BIS/BIS. Only WiFi is available as an option but I don’t think that provides push.
The charges I paid was Rs. 100/- for a week EDGE based plan that makes it roughly Rs. 400/- expense per month for actually experiencing a BlackBerry in BlackBerry way. The charges may be different for your region but the point is, if you coming BlackBerry way, then it is a premium that you have to pay for other than the premium price of handset itself.
Is it worth it?
My short experience says it is, if your needs are like mine or like some core workaholic. One remains assured that he wont miss a mail and whenever a mail will come, his phone will buzz him about its presence. Same about social feeds, twitter mentions etc. Then comes the unique services like BBM that takes the experience even higher than others. Will come over it.
4. The home screen
The above pictures might give you a little idea about the home screen part of BlackBerry OS on Torch 9860, which basically consist of six parts.
I really like the glossy way of handling the things. All the operations go snappy and require a very little learning curve. High resolution display and GPU always keep the experience on premium side. It’s never like tap and misses.
1. Services panel
Brings a drop down when tapped, where you can find all the options related to Network Services, Alarms and other device specific settings.
2. Sound profile
Tap on the sound icon and it brings the popup in center like the above screen. We can also make changes in these pre-set profiles or can add your custom profiles here. It is possible to set MP3’s as ring tone (Not sure about videos though) and you also set different tones for different people for either phone call alerts or even message alerts.
3. Universal Search
Always present universal search bar serves a great purpose of having things on your fingerprint, whenever you need them even (in later part, you will find that even app panels are designed that way to keep you tapping less and less). Also the Universal search is coupled with voice search option which actually I haven’t gotten used to with. May God help Siri
4. Notification bar
We have seen a lot of ways of notifications on Android, Symbian and iOS, but BlackBerry keeps it plain and simple and also focused to core. A notification panel that brings you all the alerts with their respective icons. Not only that but the notification goes deep into the app notifying the event itself.
Means if there is a twitter notification, then you will see a blue birdie on notification panel telling you that there is a mention that is waiting for you and same time, if you check the twitter app icon, then it will be showing a cross sign on top right to let you know that it needs your attention there. Same about calls, messages, mails, foursquare alerts or anything. Also the notification LED on top right will keep on blinking red unless it gets your attention.
There is a con side of notifications as well. You can not clear them, not in bulk, not in individual. It gets annoying when you receive some annoying messages like those Web push alert messages from operator and find no way to clear it without opening it. May be there is some workaround for this, but I couldn’t find one (obviously a naïve BlackBerry user I am).
Don’t know why I am mentioning it here, but It is one of those places, where you feel that how reluctant BlackBerry was about entering the full touch segment. Whole of the UI is accessible by HW buttons even if it can be operated by Touch operations alone and places where only touch could have worked, have been intentionally left off like here. No long tap on wallpaper area works for bringing any popup options. No swipe actions on wallpaper area itself. Kind of non-interactive place.
No live wallpapers as well, neither do any option for widgets. As I said earlier, focused about work and work only.
6. App panel
App panel on the bottom of the screen has many tricks of its own. You can pull it up in stages like shown above.
Also you can swipe it by sides to scroll through five panels: All, Frequent, Downloads, Media and Favorites. The names themselves give you an idea that what they do.
App panel do have folder support, you can create folders, move various icons in them, rename them.
But like I said in wallpaper part, it feels quite visible that BlackBerry intentionally kept the UI mostly HW key driven. There is an option to move icons but you can move it via track pad only not via fingers themselves.
An interesting option is Hide Icon, which hides the particular icons from viewing unless you select show all icons via Menu or select Unhide icon option on the same icon.
5. The Call Screen
No fancy looks, but no nonsense UI either, BlackBerry call screen seems very well maintaining the same elegance that you find in rest of the UI. I would have been annoyed by the white background thinking of battery consumption, but as I have seen with it, battery life never been an issue for BlackBerry.
There are some fancy options as well like voice dialing. Not any kind of uniqueness over other platforms, but is to the point and works.
On the con side, no smart dialing here. I never understood what issue companies have in implementing smart contact search by number/ name like the way Samsung Galaxy S do. On technical side, its definitely not one of those highly challenging task to implement the same but don’t know what stopping them.
Obviously, no video call option here considering no front camera neither I found any kind of service integration here for Skype/ Gtalk.
6. The Browser
There was a time, when BlackBerry Browsers were known to be worse about the Java Script performance and with BB OS7 here comes the time when it is told to be walking ahead of its competition from Android and IOS camps.
From the layman point of view, I found the browser snappy and performing well, even if Flash support is not there or the kinetic scrolling is not that smooth in comparison to Opera on Symbian or Android browsers. Even the design does so well for watching multiple websites at once (At least much better over the stock browsers on Nokia or even Android). Pinch to zoom is smooth, though on the con side, Text reflow doesn’t seem to be behaving that way. One tap does the text reflow, but zooming further leaves you without text reflow.
But still the best part of BlackBerry browser is its usability with kind of display land resolution it has. No matter how small font I use, I never felt any issue about readability either in-house or outdoors.
Calendar application on BlackBerry been always an example for work centric phones and the calendar on BB OS 7 doesn’t disappoint either. All the accounts like Google, Facebook etc get integrated into calendar naturally. No separate app required.
8. Photo Gallery and videos
Nothing major about the Gallery and videos here, but it contains all the basics as found on any major touch platform. But yeah better part about it sharing with other services like Android.
Usual pinch to zoom, swipe to navigate and tap and hold for options popup.
The simplistic camera app on BlackBerry is nothing like something that should be taken lightly. This would be one of those camera apps that provides two separate UIs for landscape and portrait modes.
I been particularly impressed with video recording performance of Torch 9860. Autofocus works perfect and I found it focusing every very well over objects as close as 10 cm too. LED video light feels insufficient though.
Some random camera still shot samples.
A random Autofocus sample
10. BlackBerry Messenger
BBM,, the lifeline of BlackBerry as people call it often and it definitely has some tricks of its own. The first part is deeply integrated social experience, second part is a big community rooting up for it, third part is accurate delivery and SMS kind of experience. Nokia users will say that its something like whatsapp, but its definitely more than that.
First the integration itself gives it a huge edge over whatsapp, when you find your neighbor BBM buddies via other apps like Foursquare or Wikitude and even if that’s not enough, BBM goes one step further from any other IM service of this kind by adding acknowledgement of delivery.
Firstly, it sends the message via BlackBerry’s propriety secure servers, then the “D” icon on the left top of the message tells you that it got delivered on the other end. If you thought that only security is a plus here, then it shows a “R” sign on the left top of the message in place of “D” sign earlier, acknowledging the fact that the message got read by the other party (so, one better not refuse that he\she didn’t read the message and missed it.). It definitely takes BBM one step beyond the conventional SMS\Email\IM system.
11. BlackBerry Mails\ IM Accounts
As I haven’t used myself so I wont be able to comment on the BlackBerry Enterprise Services, but one finds the email experience on any BlackBerry a satisfactory experience always. If your company has the BlackBerry server hosting then you enjoy easy communication between your employees and also a very effective contact/calendar sync and collaborations. Even if it doesn’t then you can always configure personal emails in the same way and it gets integrated into the core of OS (Calendar\Alerts\Contacts\IM etc) in similar way.
Yes! IM experience on BlackBerry is definitely beter than Nokia ones I have experienced till date. May be the credit goes to operator support or may be the UX is like that, but I couldn’t find frequent disconnection of IM services issues here.
12. BlackBerry App World
I would probably require a little more time to explore about the App World on BlackBerry but as little my exposure been with BlackBerry till now, its been sufficient about resources. Definitely better over early Nokia experience as various app updates notify you once the update arrives.
After Symbian\Meego\Maemo etc, only BlackBerry would be a non-Nokia mobile platform that provides the user a complete multi-tasking experience. Switching between running app is just the same as Symbian and fits perfectly into the need of a business person. Its not impossible to make it lag at time (even though very rare), I found over all experience smooth and glossy.
13. Battery Life
Battery life been always the core concern about designing any BlackBerry OS and BB OS7 seems to doing much better than just fair in the same reference. Can’t exactly say about the numbers, but it always seemed to be living much better over my SGS or N8.
But the reasons lie in usages pattern as well. Due to very reliable notification system, BlackBerry allows one to be careless about checking\following things means one will find himself interacting the touch screen lesser than other platforms, which always been the main draining factor about any platform. I yet to check out its battery performance with long Gaming or Video viewing but with my kind of usages, I had no complaint with Battery which lived up all day long for me.
14. Common apps and surprise goodies
I might look harsh, when I say that Quality on apps on this touch phone is kind of mediocre or not optimized for Touch Screen at all, but it is somewhat close to the truth. BlackBerry apps definitely are backed with an UX at par with the best of platforms, but the UI never seems to be centered around touch experience. Ultra tiny buttons, Java based apps ruins the experience of the glossy feeling of the core OS. Though will write it again that this is about the looks only, function wise, UX of app rivals the best in market apps.
There are some positives as well. Facebook apps includes the chat option in same way as some IM, we can send status updates on all the services at once via Social Feeds and the Hindi Touch Keyboard, that is probably the best one I ever seen on any platform. There are definitely lots of positives as well.
So, this was all what I explored about BlackBerry Torch 9860 till now. Definitely a lot more to explore about it and the short encounter has definitely tempted me enough for buying one myself. The premium price and half hearted apps is something that will hold me from buying a full touch though. Sometimes I really think that if BlackBerry experience is best described by HW QWERTY only? What you say?