Today BlackBerry and AT&T launched their most powerful BlackBerry yet. The new BlackBerry Torch 9800 is RIM’s first touch QWERTY device slider. The phone was developed with AT&T as a partner and seems to be an exclusive, and wow, are we sick of carrier exclusives! Putting that gripe aside, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 is looking very sweet, especially since it is running the new BlackBerry OS 6. The hardware itself features a precision optical napped, the same BlackBerry keyboard that BlackBerry users have come to know and love, a 5MP camera with flash, a 3.2″ 360 x 480 capacitive touch screen display, 512MB Flash memory, 4GB on‐board memory, a microSD/SDHC memory card slot (4GB card included, cards up to 32GB supported), 3G with support for HSDPA and UMTS, as well as built‐in GPS and Wi‐Fi (802.11 b/g/n). The device measures approximately 4.4” x 2.4” x 0.57” closed and 5.8” x 2.4” x 0.57” when open.
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One notable hardware spec that the device seems to be missing is an accelerometer, but that doesn’t seem to be a deal breaker. Also, none of these hardware specs are quite cutting edge, but what is most exciting about this new BlackBerry handset is the BlackBerry OS 6 which sports a ton of new features and U.I. improvements. For starters, just like on the iPhone, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 now sports universal search which lets you search everything – including contacts, calendar events, text messages, and music. The OS also has universal inbox, which integrates Facebook, Twitter and all your social feeds. And just like on Android, once you read a message, it disappears form the universal inbox so that there is no accumulated clutter.
New Web Browser:
The web browser has been vastly improved and is running on the web kit engine. A new feature called Auto-wrap text zoom makes it easier to read websites. All you need to do is double tap on the text on a web site, and the font automatically grows, while the page reformats itself so you can read comfortably.
Redesigned Home Screen:
The home screen has also been redesign. It now sports notification previews, similar in concept to the notification previews on Android. A tap on the top notification preview bar shows information about your recent notifications, right on your home screen. For example, you can see the subject of an email. Plus there is now more content on the home screen and you have the ability to add additional content and views by swiping to the right or left, again, this is similar in concept to Android’s multiple home screens.
Enhanced Media Experiences:
BlackBerry OS 6 now offers users the ability to view pictures by folder or date, and you can even rearrange folders all on the device. Multiple selections can be accomplished using a two finger tap that enables you to select multiple pictures at once. The camera also now automatically names pictures by location using geo-location. So anything you take in New York City, will automatically be named New York City.
OS 6 also features WiFi Music Sync when you install Desktop Software 6 on your computer. Beyond the individual songs that you synchronize, you can also see your entire computer’s music catalog on your device so that you can sync other songs at a later time, even if you don’t have room for them on your phone at the moment. The multimedia app also displays album art. Plus, a podcast app is also preloaded. The podcast app lets you download podcasts wirelessly, without syncing – via 3G or wifi.
New Unified Social Feeds allow you to see all of your social activity at once. You can seamlessly flow from one app to the next – from Twitter, to Facebook, etc. You can use multiple social applications and jump between them seamlessly.
Many popular apps will be available from the home screen right out of the box, without even going to BlackBerry App World. Some cool and notable apps, includes Slacker which features caching and multitasking, MobiTV for watching live TV shows, whether on 3G or wifi, and PrimeTime ToGo that will automatically download episodes after they air so you can watch them even when you don’t have a wireless connection. These apps also integrate with Universal Search, so that you can for example, search for an artist and end up in Slacker. There is also a preloaded RSS feed reader. You can also search App World by topic using Universal Search.
BlackBerry Torch goes on sale August 12th for $199 with a two year contract with a data plan. Overall, the new BlackBerry Torch brings many welcome an much needed improvements to keep RIM afloat as a serious player in the smartphone space, and it should help keep current BlackBerry users from having a wandering eye. However, it’s unlikely to tempt current multimedia driven iPhone or Android users enough to make a switch.