The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is RIM's answer to the Apple iPhone 4: a touchscreen slider smartphone built for multimedia and web browsing. But can BlackBerry claw back market share and cool? Read our BlackBerry Torch 9800 review to find out.

When you have a product that has been successful for several years, but has fallen somewhat behind the times, it can be difficult to figure out what to change and what to leave alone. With its new BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone, RIM seems to have navigated this line successfully. While it's unlikely that the Torch will draw consumers away from their iPhones and Google Android devices, at least BlackBerry users won't be completely left in the dust.

UK pricing and availability for the BlackBerry Torch 9800 will be announced by individual operators"in the coming weeks".

BlackBerry Torch 9800: Small and solid

The new BlackBerry smartphone offers a 3.2in, 480x360 resolution touch display. While it's clear and fairly sharp, the BlackBerry Torch 9800's display isn't really comparable to the leading consumer smartphones - for example, the iPhone 4's 3.5in display boasts a 960x640 resolution, while the Google Android-running Motorola Droid X has an even larger 4.3-in display with a resolution of 854x480.

On the other hand, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 weighs 162g, about the same weight as the Droid X, and is, at 61x14x112mm, about the same size as the iPhone 4. We found it very comfortable to handle and use, and it is small enough to drop into a shirt pocket without a second thought.

The phone features a slide-out vertical keyboard - bringing it to a length of 147mm when open - that still has the rounded look and small but well-engineered keys typical of BlackBerry devices. We found the BlackBerry Torch 9800's keys a little too tiny for comfort, but as is typical of BlackBerrys, we were able to "thumb-type" short messages with relative ease. Current BlackBerry users should be pleased.

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 also includes four hard keys, including one to begin and one to end a call - which we've often wished for. Other features include a 5-megapixel camera, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi along with 3G broadband, a 4GB microSD Flash card, 512MB RAM and 4GB built-in storage.

BlackBerry Torch 9800: Introducing BlackBerry 6

The new BlackBerry 6 OS is elegant and simple to use and understand. All your apps reside on a "tray" that can be raised or lowered over your home screen. Your main apps are represented by icons on the home screen (you can also have icons for individual contacts and bookmarks). You swipe left and right to see other screens, including Favorites and Recent (for recently used apps).

One of the new OS features is the universal search. Just start typing, and the BlackBerry Torch 9800 will look for apps and information both on and off your phone that might be a fit. For example, we tried typing "weather" and got icons for a weather application and links to several weather-related websites. We started typing the name "Michael" and by the third letter, we were seeing relevant news items and contact names.

Another feature that really did work nicely in our tests is the BlackBerry Torch 9800's universal inbox. All email, social network messages, etc. are visible on one display - touch on a specific message, and it opens it in the application pertinent to that message. Hit the back key, and you're back in the inbox. Swipe sideways, and you have access to your RSS feeds.

According to RIM, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 has full multitasking so that, for example, music downloads can occur in the background while you're in the browser or working in other parts of the OS.

BlackBerry Torch 9800: Adding apps

No self-respecting smartphone today would dare to show its face without some kind of apps store. In the case of the BlackBerry Torch 9800, additional apps can be obtained using BlackBerry App World, which is accessible through an icon on your home screen. The phone comes preloaded with a number of apps, including the Weather Channel, CNN, Bloomberg, Web Video Search and Slacker Radio Plus.

OUR VERDICT

For business users who want something lightweight and practical, but with the multimedia and apps featured in the newest generation of mobile devices, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 could be their next smartphone. The emphasis here is on access to information; because the display is smaller and the resolution less powerful than most consumer devices out there, this can't compete with the more multimedia-centric consumer smartphones. But it should offer enough flexibility and ease-of-use to keep most BlackBerry users from leaving the fold.