Blackberry Torch 9800

The iPhone has clearly infiltrated our culture. Its owners are rabidly loyal, and they’ll tell you that every other phone is inferior to theirs. Alas, the many people out there still devoted to BlackBerry can only look longingly at the iPhone, wishing for some of those cool features that Apple has become famous for.

The BlackBerry Torch 9800, made exclusively for AT&T (price varies, depending on plan and options; blackberry.com), is a quantum leap in that direction. Let me make something clear right up front: I wouldn’t say the Torch is better than the iPhone. But it is a radical upgrade that has closed the gap considerably.

Where to start? The first feature you notice is the touchscreen. It’s a nice, sharp 3.2-inch screen. Scan your e-mails using your finger, and pinch to zoom or reduce. (Man, it feels nice to navigate so fluidly on a BlackBerry.) I found using the touchpad keyboard to be a bit of a learning curve, though, so when I got frustrated, I merely popped up the slider screen to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. I love choices. (By the way, you can also use the optical trackpad, so you really have three different ways to navigate.)

The other enormous improvement is the operating system. The Torch comes with an operating system called OS 6, and it seems to have been designed to work with the touchscreen. It’s a little faster than its predecessor and has some very cool applications. One of my favorites is called Universal Search. Go to the home screen and start typing. As you type, it creates a search query. As each letter is entered, the search unfolds. For example, if you were to type in “Springsteen,” it would search all e-mails, calendar entries, text messages, etc., to find all the meaty Bruce-related info you’ll ever need. Results are immediate, too — you just touch the link you want, and you are there.

Another great upgrade is that the home screen is separated into categories. Instead of all your icons being bunched up on one page, you can now categorize them into different pages such as Favorites, Media, Frequently Used, and Downloads. It makes finding things so much easier. When I need to take a photo or video quickly, I just scroll to the Media page and the icons are front and center. In the past, I had to search through all my apps, and it wasn’t always so easy to find.

The Web browser is a little faster and has better rendering, and you can open multiple pages for multitasking. A 5-megapixel camera gives you choices of different scenes, like sports or close-up. It even has face detection.

Battery life seems good. I consider myself an average user, and I’m able to get through the day without the Torch dying on me. The phone is also a tiny bit heavier than I’m used to, but that doesn’t bother me. It actually makes the Torch seem sturdier and more substantial.

The music app shows album art, it’s easier to organize your podcasts, and uploading videos to YouTube is simple. None of these changes is dramatic, but the plethora of little tweaks makes this device more accessible and more — here’s a word I never thought I’d use about a BlackBerry — fun.

I’ve been using a BlackBerry for a long time, and I was starting to think that I needed to switch to a different company because I was feeling technologically impaired compared with all my friends with iPhones and Droids. Luckily, this new Torch has put me back in the game.

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