Research In Motion (RIM) has taken a baby-steps approach to entering the touchscreen smartphone market, with its first two attempts, the Storm and Storm 2, sporting clickable displays followed up by the Torch 9800 and 9810 with slideout keyboards. Now, though, we finally have a normal, all-touchscreen BlackBerry. And to an extent the softly, softly approach has worked.
Firstly, let's establish what the BlackBerry 9860 isn't. It is not a super-slim designer handset, sporting as it does a thickness of 11.5mm. Neither is it a mega-screened behemoth, offering a modest 3.7in display and overall dimensions of 120 x 62mm. It's also not a speed demon thanks to its lack of a dual-core processor, and it only has a 5-megapixel camera. So, if you're looking for the biggest and best when it comes to specs, this isn't your phone. However, for the most part, it's a competent mid-range device.
The styling nicely combines BlackBerry's signature chrome strip with its similarly trademark black elements, creating a curvy, ergonomic handset. The various flowing lines make for a device that sits very comfortably in the hand, unlike the angular harshness of the iPhone 4S for instance. Also helping is the soft-touch finish on the metal backplate of the BlackBerry Torch 9860, which not only feels nice but provides a secure grip as well. We do miss the carbon-fibre back of the Bold 9900 a little, but we'll happily take this more practical alternative.
One downside of all these curves is that the screen has had to be made out of plastic. This makes it much less hardwearing (when it comes to scratches) than the glass panels of most alternatives. As such a case in an absolute must, and unlike on many other of its handsets, RIM doesn't provide one in the box.
Another slight annoyance is how RIM continues to put the headphone jack on the side of its BlackBerrys, which makes it more difficult to pocket the device when you're listening (just as well our current earphones of choice, the ACS T15, sport an angled jack plug). Otherwise, the BlackBerry Torch 9860 does well on the hardware front.
On the left edge is a microUSB socket for charging the phone and transferring files to and from it. The right edge houses that headphone jack, a shutter button for the camera and the volume rocker, while in between the rocker is a mute button too. All four of these buttons are a bit small and stiff so can be a little tricky to pinpoint but with a bit of practice you get the hang of how to recognise them unsighted.
Up top is the screen-lock button, which is incorporated into the entire top surface. This makes it quite easy to unlock the phone one-handed as you can just vaguely press anywhere up there – it's still a bit of a stretch though.
Prize the back cover off and there's a microSD slot, which should come filled with a 4GB card. This is enough storage to get your music/app/video collection started but if you want a serious amount of data on your handset you'll need to buy a larger card (up to 32GB are supported). Even without a card you get 2.5GB of storage built-in, which is again enough to get going.
The BlackBerry Torch 9860's battery is also accessible and replaceable but is only a 1230mAh unit. We'll talk more about battery life shortly, though.
The four standard BlackBerry navigation buttons sit beneath the screen along with the optical pointer. Technically speaking, this is as redundant as it was on the Bold 9900 (you just use the touchscreen instead) but it's surprisingly intuitive to occasionally use this to fine tune the cursor location. It also provides backwards compatibility with certain apps and games.
The buttons have a nice firm action and are encircled by white glowing strips - a somewhat unnecessary addition on a handset that's so easy to feel your way around, but it's a nice touch. Incidentally, we do rather like the elegant way the phone powers off, reducing the screen brightness then the button brightness until all is dark - very poetic. Arguably some of the buttons on the Torch 9860 are a bit superfluous, but along with the pointer it does allow those used to BlackBerrys to more easily transition - it also makes it a bit quicker to reach some basic functions like the dialler.