updated 05:00 am EDT, Wed August 3, 2011
BlackBerry Torch 9850, 9860 bring fast full touch
RIM greatly widened its smartphone mix on Wednesday with two more BlackBerry 7 devices. The 9850 and 9860 are the first touch-only phones from RIM to get a high-resolution screen: either has a 480x800 LCD that finally makes them competitive with modern Android hardware and more comparable to the iPhone. The two likewise drop the often criticized click-down SurePress screen from the Storm and use multi-touch instead, much like the Torch 9810.
It slips in the 1.2GHz processor of the Bold 9900 and other BlackBerry 7 phones so far, and should be much faster than the three-year-old chip from the Storm line. Also like the Bold, the five-megapixel camera can now shoot 720p video. BlackBerry 7 contributes its own share by invoking hardware graphics boosts both for 3D and for the interface itself.
Data speeds revolve heavily around the network, with the 9850 running on CDMA for voice and EVDO for 3G while the 9860 uses GSM voice (on 2G) and considerably faster 14.4Mbps HSPA for 3G.
AT&T is one of the first US carriers to pick up the 9860 and plans to ship it sometime later in the year. Sprint is already known to be lining up behind the 9850. Canadian carriers and others worldwide should sign on to the 9860 as well with their own schedules coming soon.
Both new Torches should be RIM's most advanced phones for the year and in many ways represent the company's biggest hopes for returning to competition. BlackBerry phone shipments have dropped rapidly in the past several months and, even with phones like the Torch 9810 now factored in, could drop to no more than 12.5 million units during the summer. The 9850 and 9860 are not just much more contemporary but also drop the Storm name, which many had commonly associated with RIM's struggling, first-generation touchscreen phones. Once pitched as the ultimate challenger to the iPhone, the Storm quickly tapered off in sales and went without any update last fall as RIM rethought the concept.