updated 11:20 am EDT, Tue August 3, 2010
BlackBerry Torch launches as RIM's best hope
As expected, RIM at its still live event today launched the BlackBerry Torch. Also known as the 9800, it's the first BlackBerry to combine a touchscreen with a hardware QWERTY keyboard and still has an optical trackpad. It's likewise the first phone to use BlackBerry 6, a major overhaul of the mobile OS that brings a fast WebKit browser, integrated social feeds from Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, and multi-touch input.
The new OS also enables syncing music over Wi-Fi rather than just using the Media Sync conduit app with iTunes or Windows Media Player. Messaging fans are served by a new version of BlackBerry Messenger that supports up to 10 simultaneous people and locations. The phone is the first BlackBerry to finally have App World already pre-installed, catching up with access to a built-in store much like Android and iPhone devices have had since 2008. Previous models had to download the app afterwards.
The phone is a mild upgrade in some areas with a five-megapixel camera, 802.11n Wi-Fi and 8GB of built-in storage across both built-in memory and a bundled microSD card. The SurePress click-down screen criticized by some has disappeared in favor of a more conventional surface.
RIM ships the Torch on August 12 to AT&T, which will have a US exclusive on the smartphone and is already taking registrations of interest. It should cost $200 on contract.
The Torch is increasingly considered a make-or-break device for RIM, which has been losing share for the first time in years as the iPhone and especially Android have eaten away at its once secure place. An aging OS and a lack of truly advanced touchscreen devices has led many to say they won't opt for a BlackBerry again as Apple, HTC and Motorola have been making more compelling hardware.