Revisited: BlackBerry Torch 9860

Daniel Bader

November 30, 2011 6:59 pm

When I reviewed the all-touch BlackBerry Curve 9380 (which I didn’t much like) I decided to take a stab at using its bigger brother the Torch 9860, a device released back in August. This much-maligned device didn’t receive nearly the same amount of press as the flagship Bold 9900, and was overshadowed by the familiar form factor of the Torch 9810.

But the Torch 9860 is a really nice device. I’ve been working feverishly over the past few days to get used to its software keyboard — a serious liability for a BlackBerry if I ever saw one — and through trials and tribulations it’s turning out pretty well.

Let’s just get something out of the way: this device will not be for everybody. It’s an easy device to dismiss, and easier to make fun of — “you mean it’s a high-end BlackBerry with no keyboard?!” — but RIM has done a very nice job with its design, and with BlackBerry 7’s fluid touch support, not having a physical keyboard rarely feels like a hindrance to productivity.

The big screen is sharp and vivid, and probably the phone’s biggest advantage. BlackBerry 7 made huge improvements in speed and quality to the browser, and the Torch 9860 reaps these rewards more than any other. Reading long emails is no longer an exercise in scrolling, and many of the other first-party apps such as Twitter and Facebook look and work great on the big screen.

Media also looks great on the 9860. Photos and videos can actually be viewed in landscape mode without squinting, and with the 1.2Ghz processor and 14.4Mbps baseband, it’s finally possible to use a BlackBerry to enjoy 720p HD content. The camera itself, a 5MP EDoF autofocus sensor, isn’t up to par with many of its 8MP peers, but the BlackBerry 7 interface is intuitive and enjoyable to use. I did find that it produced shots that equaled or surpassed any other BlackBerry device.

Finally, the keyboard is really the only roadblock to choosing the Torch 9860 over another BlackBerry. The virtual keyboard takes a lot of practice before mastering, and even then it is liable to make more mistakes than you’d like. It would be one thing if the virtual keyboard was better than that of iOS or Android, but it’s not. Sure, it’s capable of predictive text and autocorrect, but that doesn’t mean it works all the time. With practice, and by adding dozens of words to the custom autocorrect dictionary, I was able to keep from correcting every word manually, but it took a while to get to that point.

I found that instead of trying to type as quickly as possible and trusting the autocorrect to fix the errors, it behooves one to type at a slow, steady pace. At first this may seem like a hindrance, but it ends up saving time and avoiding undue frustration. After using the keyboard for around twelve hours, I can reasonably say I no longer fear the Torch 9860.

For someone who wanted a BlackBerry experience again without sacrificing size and function, the Torch 9860 suits me well. I can’t type as quickly on it as on the Bold 9900, and I doubt I ever will. But I can scroll through web pages, flip through photos and watch YouTube videos without feeling like I’m missing out on the whole picture, and, coupled with the decent screen and awesome build quality, makes the Torch 9860 one of the underdogs.

Do you use a BlackBerry Torch 9860? Why did you buy it? Has it held up over the past few months? Let us know in the comments.

  • dannykavs

    Yup its funny you touch on the new os 7 virtual keyboards. I was just using my torch 9810 virtual KB and when I just trusted that the autocorrect would do its job, I flew through messages. Although I still prefer my 9900 KB, its a much improved input experience on their os7 virtual keyboards

  • Awkward Turtle

    Personally, I don’t see what’s so great about the blackberry keyboard. I don’t have fat fingers, but i find it extremely difficult to type with any speed on it. Phone’s with sliding-landscape QWERTYs are so much better. Blackberries on a whole are all right, but their keyboards are overhyped.

  • steve o

    had it and went back to the bold 9900 which i had befor the torch 9860, the typing was the killer for me the keyboard is the shits

  • Pahech

    It’s one of those untraditional phones released by RIM. They actually do try something else.

    Unfortunately, all their bandwagon detractors (many of which never used a BB) starts criticizing them every time they release a more familiar device, such as the 9790.

  • Adam

    I’ve used this phone a fair bit, and it’s not bad, but I’d agree, the keyboard definitely take ssome getting used to. I just don’t like the square grid style keyboard. Needs to be offset keys like every other keyboard.

    For those that like blackberries and need their BBM, this is actually a really good device. For those expecting an ios or Android experience, not the phone for you.

  • Tharan

    Daniel, I gotta say…I really enjoy your reviews.
    Nice job man!

  • Andrew

    Please review the Lumia 800!

  • kevin

    I stick with the slider Torch

  • Sid V

    I have had the 9860 since launch day and can’t say enough good about it. Photos and video look great, and I don’t miss the keyboard at all (after four BB’s with keyboards over the past 10 years.) Battery life is good – not great – I can get a couple of days between charges in typical use. Oh, it is great as a phone, too – call quality, reception, and bluetooth are top notch.

    Contrary to the review, I am pretty sure the 9860 does not have EDoF – it pulls in focus before snapping a photo. This is the first smartphone I have owned that has the picture quality to use as a “real” camera instead of my point-and-shoot. It doesn’t replace an SLR, but plenty good enough for using at parties and to grab a quick informal photo.

  • awesomeP

    about time BB got some love. They make good phones. not everything has to be Android. (that would be a really boring world)

  • aka

    I agree, the keyboard on this thing is horrendous, I hope RIM improves on this in future upgrades. not really fond of the squares keys, they should elongate them like everyone else. this is one area where being different definitely isn’t helping.

    also the browser experience is better than previous versions, but still room for improvement. they need to make it more responsive. it’s often quite slow and non-responsive when rendering a web page in the background.

    finally if BBX is released, hopefully they make a 4″ screen model, anything less is getting to small these days.

  • dixonba

    The 9860 has an auto-focus camera. I own this device and its by far the most comfortable virtual keyboard of all the devices I’ve tried, at least in landscape where you’ll do 90% of your typing anyways.

    • Daniel Bader

      Thanks for the clarification, I have updated the post to reflect that fact. For some reason when using the device I did not get the impression it was auto-focus capable.

  • MaxPayne79

    there are some fundamental problems with this phone that make it worse then the curve 9380. 1, there is no app support. out of the 24 apps i was using on both the 9800 and the 9780, 11 are available after manually sideloading 5 therefore, officially making only 6 apps available for this resolution. that is pathetic. also no themes are being developed for this phone. majority of new themes that come out, don’t support this res. 2, battery life is a disaster. For what is supposed to be a media phone, the battery life is extremely poor. 3, weight. too heavy. i owned the wp7 Samsung Focus Mango and that phone to me had the prefect weight of a phone with a 4″ screen mind you was nearly half the weight of this phone. you also need two hands to operate this phone and that is a problem. Non of these are present in the curve 9380 which i now own after selling this irrelevant phone…along with the entire useless 98xx line of bbs.

    When it comes to the 9380, the two drawbacks are screen and no autofocus cam. i too would’ve loved the 9810s rez on this little bad boy, but aside from that(and no autofocus), the phone is a perfect alternate to the keyboard blackberries. it is light, fast, battery is awesome and much better then the 9860, the keyboard is also a little wider and because the phone is significantly lighter, it’s much easier to type on. you don’t feel you have it on you whereas the 9860 is a brick and very awkward to handle with one hand.

    the 9380 is a awesome little phone. and regarding the autofocus, if you need detail pics you can always take a step back and zoom in. kind of a manual workaround the no focus problem. :(

    • Daniel Bader

      I have yet to find an app that is incompatible with the Torch 9860. Can you give me specific examples of apps that do not work? My retinue of must-have apps, including Socialscope, Poynt, Foursquare, WhatsApp, Globe & Mail, Evernote, Vlingo, Nobex Radio, Pageonce, Slacker Radio, Rdio, TuneIn Radio, Flixster, TripIt, Bubble Bash 2, all work great.

      As for the weight, I completely disagree. The Torch 9860 is not heavy, but solid. It is 135g to the Samsung Focus’ 120g, which is one of the lightest phones on the market. If you find the Torch heavy, that means you’ll find the majority of phones on the market unaccessible to you.

      As for the battery, I have found the two devices (9860 and 9380) get around the same battery life.

  • Eric van der Beek

    I bought this phone as soon as it came out. Was a little concerned as there were really no reviews of the 9860. I was also coming from the Curve so the lack of a keypad did make me think. Since getting the 9860 I have been very happy. The touch screen works great and I didn’t have any trouble getting used to the virtual key pad (I do have to use it in landscape mode). Camera is wonderful and viewing pictures is a pleasure. My i-tunes library is synced to the phone and listening to music is easy. I am not an APP guy but I have started getting more and more of them. So far Concur does not appear to load properly for my screen and Drivesafe.ly did not initially either but since has been fixed. g-mail works great. Call quality is great. I just bought the Playbook and look forward to getting that and using it with my phone. I can’t comment on other phones and their capabilities but the 9860 works great. I don’t know anyone else who has it which is too bad but I am very happy with it.

  • dk

    hey daniel, i dont know if you used the torch 9810, but which one would you prefer, and also out of 10, what would you give this phone??

    and this goes to anyone else that has used both the 9810 and 9860 let me know which one you guys would prefer.

    thanks