Thankfully these days software is more important than hardware and RIM has made major steps with BlackBerry OS 6. Style and swagger has never been the main selling point in buying a BlackBerry, but now it does have a visual polish which eclipses Android – even if webOS and iOS designers won’t be having sleepless nights. Welcome changes include a fully customisable home screen with multiple views based on content type (All, Favourites, Downloads, Media, etc.), fewer menus, new icons, slick transitional animations, and a media player which no longer feels like an afterthought – complete with Coverflow-style album art. Media syncing can also be done via drag and drop, iTunes or even over WiFi.
As for RIM’s first attempt to implement multi-touch, it has both hits and misses. As contact is made with the screen initial sensitivity is good, but the reaction to pinching and pulling to zoom doesn’t feel natural. By the time your fingers have left the screen you’ll typically find what you are left with has either zoomed too far or not far enough. Adjustments can be made in settings, but despite a lot of fiddling it never felt as easy as Android or as smooth as WebOS or iOS. Hopefully future software updates will bring improvements. At least SurePress is nowhere to be seen, though the basic virtual keyboard is cramped and doesn’t make the best use of its context sensitive abilities meaning most BlackBerry addicts will likely stick with the physical Qwerty.
One major plus point for BlackBerry OS 6, however, is the introduction of Universal search. Like the Palm Pre, just slide out the physical keyboard and start typing. Apps, music, contacts, notes and emails are all checked and can be filtered in or out via user preferences. Operation is fast and while most mobile OSes have this functionality already it is easily as good as the competition.
Less successful is the long awaited Webkit browser. Yes it finally brings desktop quality web page rendering to the BlackBerry platform and yes it is a vast improvement on what went before, but both Flash and HTML5 video support is missing. The limited horsepower in the Torch means complex pages are slow to render and zoom (via multi-touch) as well when compared to Android or iOS. Like much of BlackBerry OS 6, it may be the best RIM has done to date, but it doesn’t close any major gaps on the competition.
That said what RIM continues to excel at are core elements of the phone: call quality (sharp and clear), BlackBerry Email and Messenger. For many these are the most important aspects of buying a RIM handset and from that perspective the Torch will satisfy. Then again those who have yet to pin their colours to the good ship BlackBerry are unlikely to find them strong enough reasons to convert.
The BlackBerry Torch symbolises RIM’s attempt to move into a new era. A combination of new form factor and overhauled OS suggest it is keen to prove it can keep pace with the breakneck momentum behind Android and iOS adoption. The problem is while some lessons have been learnt others are painfully ignored and the age-old BlackBerry office functionality remains the primary pulling point. Consequently the Torch is an odd beast: potentially too radical for the boardroom yet unappealing to the high street. I still expect great things from RIM, but the Torch isn’t it.