Review: RIM Blackberry Torch 9800

rim blackberry torch 9800 at&tWhen Research in Motion released its latest and most sophisticated smartphone to date in August it was met with mixed reviews from critics. But over-enthusiasm for the latest product from the world’s dominant smartphone manufacturer is to be expected. A month later when I received a Blackberry Torch (9800) to test as an AT&T brand ambassador, I immediately noticed people staring, knowing exactly what I held in my hand.

Complete strangers were coming up to me at the bookstore and I was getting glared at while filling up the car.

“Is that the Torch? Can I see it?”

“That’s the new Blackberry, isn’t it? Is it awesome?”

I would respond to such unexpected queries a question of my own. “What do you want this Blackberry to do that your current phone can’t?”

As a dedicated Blackberry user for the past few years I was anxious to try out the latest operating system – 6.0 – which is currently available exclusively on the Torch. My reason was similar to the answer I got to the question above: I want to be able to browse the web and access more than just stripped-down-for-mobile versions. Blackberry OS 6 introduces a WebKit browser to a RIM device for the first time. Using open-source languages and technology, WebKit enables faster browser speeds while rendering better displays for mobile. It’s the engine powering Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS browsers.

First thing I did was open the browser to find that some pages that wouldn’t open in my Blackberry Bold (running OS 5.0) would open without a pause on the Torch, thanks to the upgraded browser. I was always impressed with the vivid display on the Bold’s screen and the Torch provides the same 480 x 360 resolution over a larger area. The screen switches quickly between portrait and landscape navigation depending how it’s held.

The slideout keyboard is full QWERTY and should be very familiar to any Bold or Curve user, although it is slightly recessed into the body — it took a little getting used to before I could thumb away emails at full speed. The virtual keyboard, which appears when the keypad is not out was a bit tentative at first, but its response quickened — as did the browser speed, with the recent firmware upgrade pushed over-the-air (6.0.0.695 — check at AT&T or RIM to make sure you have the latest update).

I’ve never been a fan of virtual keyboards but I did find that I had as much success typing (with medium-sized fingers) on the Torch’s on-screen virtual keyboard in its standard or wider (landscape) form as with iPhone or Android keyboards.

Photos taken with the Blackberry Torch 9800.

The browser can be navigated with the trackpad (identical to the trackpad on the newer Curves and Bolds), with the touchscreen, or both. Throw in a 5 megapixel camera with flash and video recording capabilities (see end of post) and it’s the only gadget you need.

blackberry torch 9800 social feeds app os6What I love most about the Torch is where Blackberry remains best-in-class: email, SMS, Outlook server integration, Blackberry Messenger, and the tactile full-QWERTY keyboard. It’s every bit as much for the Blackberry purist as it is for the consumer who seeks more, and at the same price as a Bold, I’d definitely recommend it.

The Torch is also the first Blackberry phone to have an integrated app to manage your online social networks. This gives you the option to have updates from Twitter, Facebook, and instant messenger clients like AIM and Google Chat, interspersed with your other messages, or — as that may be a bit overwhelming — within the Social Feeds app, which can also aggregate RSS feeds and display (or sound off) alerts. Personally, I prefer to manage these apps and services separately and I’ve disabled the Social Feeds feature — opting to take advantage of the Torch’s multitasking capabilities and with 512MB of RAM – double that of my Bold 9700 – it’s been a breeze. A few of the apps that I use on the Bold, such as Viigo, are not yet available for OS 6.0 but that is changing. I just downloaded the OS 6 version of Socialscope and am impressed with how much more can be done with apps customized for 6.0 (most other Blackberrys use OS 5.0).

The Torch is not meant to revolutionize the smartphone as a gadget — there are other smartphones available that shoot video in HD, have larger displays, and can be co-opted as video game controllers. The Torch represents a broad leap in RIM’s Blackberry evolution with the new browser, operating system and form factor and should satisfy consumers that have been waiting for the right time to buy a Blackberry — and die-hard aficionados alike — for months to come.

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10 Ways Geolocation is Changing the World

This post was written by Rob Reed. He is the founder of MomentFeed, a location-based marketing, strategy, and technology firm.

Location technologies are transforming how we experience, navigate, and ultimately better our world. From the global to the local, here are #10Ways geolocation is a positive force for good.

Social media has changed the world. It has revolutionized communications on a global scale, and the transformation continues with every status update, blog post, and video stream. The global citizenry has become a global network.

Since becoming widely adopted just a couple years ago, social media has supercharged social action, cause marketing, and social entrepreneurship. Indeed, the true value hasn’t been the technology itself but how we’ve used it. Today, a second wave of innovation is defining a new era and setting the stage for change over the coming decade.

Mobile technologies will extend the global online network to anyone with a mobile device while enabling countless local networks to form in the real world. We’ve decentralized media production and distribution. We’re doing the same for energy. And we’ll continue this trend for social networking, social action, and commerce.

The combined forces of smartphones, mobile broadband, and location-aware applications will connect us in more meaningful ways to the people, organizations, events, information, and companies that matter most to us—namely, those within a physical proximity of where we live and where we are. Can location-based services (LBS) change the world? Here are #10Ways:

1. Checking in for Good: If Gowalla and Foursquare have taught us anything, it’s that people respond to simple incentives. By offering badges, mayorships, and other intangible rewards, millions of people are checking in to the places they go. Apps like Whrrl take this a step further and enable like-minded “societies” to form on a local basis. The next step is for these apps to add greater purpose by encouraging more meaningful checkins and offering corresponding badges and stamps, thus mapping the cause universe. Or for a dedicated app to be developed that rewards conscious consumption, social responsibility, and civic engagement. Yes, the CauseWorld app features a cause element, but it’s not about cause-worthy places.

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The Sprint HTC Evo 4G: Fun Toy; Great Distraction; Much Too Big

htc evo spring 4G android phone mobile cellphoneI was thinking about trying the HTC Evo — Sprint’s latest offering which was rumored to rival iPhone. And I’ve never had iPhone nor do I care much for the platform (not to mention the principle of needing to plug something in to iTunes). So I walked into the Sprint store on June 5th and heard about the Sprint Free Guarantee. 30 days. Try it out. You don’t like – you get everything refunded (new Sprint customers only). We’ll see if this is actually the case – I still have about ten days left to play with this toy — and it really is a toy.

I still have two devices (a Blackberry and a Sierra Wireless Laptop Connect 3G USB card) on AT&T that I would add up to about $200 in ETFs so it’s just not practical to switch. Not for the Evo. The Evo is less than perfect.

1) It is too big to function as a phone. I feel like I’m walking around with a mini-iPad and STILL

2) I can’t type as effectively with a virtual keyboard as I can with the Blackberry Bold’s physical QWERTY.

3) The battery life is unconscionable. Completely unacceptable and unheard of. This is simply not a portable device — it must always be plugged in or on its way to being plugged in. A two battery approach MIGHT get you through the entire day with minimal internet and app use. NOTE: The software update pushed out this week has improved battery life quite a bit (relatively speaking). I was lucky to download it OTA before it was halted.

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Apple iPhone Finally Gets Official $5 Video App

Somehow Steve Jobs always makes it a big deal when he announces something that for some reason or another his company had been holding back on for years. This time, I’d be surprised if many journalists and consumers alike bite on today’s Apple iPhone 4 announcements from WWDC.

So yeah, you get to record video — on Apple’s iMovie software which will run you $4.99. It’s about time. recording video has been a native function of nearly all semi-smart and even some stupid-phones since before the original iPhone was announced in 2007. But somehow, this is a revolution.

The only thing relevant to me — which I demonstrate in the video below (shot and livestreamed via the Qik app on the HTC Evo) — is that AT&T is so desperate to lock customers up for another 2 years that it is offering nearly everyone new contracts on the spot (meaning new, subsidized phones). Dial *639# from your phone wait a couple minutes and you’ll likely get the same plea message from AT&T:

As a valued customer we can offer you an upgrade with a new 2-yr commitment and an $18 upgrade fee.

Yes, I can re-up as well, despite never having owned an iPhone — now if only AT&T has a killer Android phone I might consider extending my contract. Of course — I used to take advantage of this shortcut-to-upgrade for $18 quite frequently, first when it was freely allowed as an employee of USC and later when I worked for WMG. Although Sprint’s service has been very good in the few days that I’ve been testing the Evo — much better than 5 years ago when I tested phones from all carriers and found that not one could make calls from my house. Sprint is also matching the corporate discount I received for years from AT&T.

Anyway, as I typically say about overly dramatic Apple releases: WHATEVER. But there is one more thing: FaceTime?!? WHATEVER 😉 Get yours June 24th. Or get a phone that runs Android, don’t be restricted by Apple, impress your friends, and be happy.


 

TechCrunch Disrupt Day 2

mike arrington vic gundotra tcdisruptFull house of tired startup geeks and aspiring entrepreneurs and VCs at 9am for the first panel — The Mobile Disruption–What’s Next? — with Chris Cox, VP, Facebook, Dennis Crowley, CEO, FourSquare, and Vic Gundotra, VP, Google. Moderated by Mike Arrington, Editor, TechCrunch.

Proclaiming the panel and 1,000 or so in the audience are not waking up, Arrington cues the YouTube video of Gundotra with Conan O’Brien when O’Brien visited the Googleplex earlier this month. Arrington then gets the crowd involved by declaring Facebook needs a better Android app and then prompting a Question Queue in which 3 HTC Sprint Evo phones are given away to the best questions. Only about 10 people line up to ask questions. Second question elicits some great under-breath commentary from the stage:

Q: “Is facebook evil?” Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley to Facebook VP Chris Cox: “this is where you shoot laser beams from your eyes.” Cox, after a long pause, answers “no.”

Later, Arrington interviews Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL. “I got a little down yesterday,” Arrington slips in. “Something happened on this stage.” “Oh really, what happened” counters Armstrong… “do you want a hug?”

Steve Case and Mike Arrington:
steve case mike arrington

Click here for the Day One post. Follow the action live below: