The BlackBerry Torch 9810 is the successor to last year's 9800 and boasts an improved screen, faster processor and the very latest iteration of the BlackBerry OS, version 7.
You can pick up the Torch 9810 on a two-year deal for around £25 a month. Alternatively, if you've just won the lottery then you can grab a SIM-free unit for £450.
Should I buy the BlackBerry Torch 9810?
Launched alongside the keyboardless Torch 9860, the 9810 should appeal to traditional BlackBerry fans as it boasts a keyboard as well as a touchscreen interface.
It's not, however, a unique proposition. In fact, it's more of an update of last year's Torch 9800, rather than a big leap forward. Sure, it's faster, has a new operating system
and can even shoot 720p video, but it feels like too little, too soon.
Nevertheless, if you eyed the Torch 9800 with interest in 2010 but didn't take the plunge, this sequel could be for you.
Like the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and Torch 9860, this handset is rocking BlackBerry OS 7, the latest and potentially greatest edition of RIM's mobile operating system. It's an upgrade from the OS 6 which we saw on the Torch 9800, and offers colourful menu icons that appear to have been inspired by the likes of iOS and Android.
Everything is laid out in touch-friendly grids, and the main screen is split into different touch-friendly sections. The top of the display opens your settings menu, while the space below that handles notifications. The largest space is concerned with your apps.
This area can be swiped left and right to reveal categories such as 'most used applications', or ones you've downloaded from the BlackBerry App World. You can tinker around with these categories if you so wish.
Swiping up and down enlarges or shrinks the app drawer, allowing you to fully expose your phone's attractive wallpaper.
For all of its finger-friendly prowess, the Torch 9810 still relies on the traditional BlackBerry optical trackpad when it comes to making precise menu selections. While OS 7 has made massive strides into the world of touch-screen mobile UIs, it's clear that there are some elements of the past that RIM's software engineers are reluctant to leave behind.
Unlike its close relation the Torch 9860 -- which sports a 3.7-inch, 480x800 pixel resolution display -- the Torch 9810 has a 3.2 inch screen, with a resolution of 480x640. Despite the smaller size, this TFT (thin film transistor) display is no slouch and offers a clean, crisp picture -- although colours look noticeably washed out when compared to the 9860.
The other good news is that it's capacitive, meaning you can perform all those lovely ‘pinch to zoom' gestures that iPhone and Android lovers are always banging on about.
Arguably the centrepiece of any true BlackBerry handset (we'll ignore the keyboardless 9860 for a moment), the Torch 9810's physical interface consists of a slide-out Qwerty arrangement -- the same that graced its direct predecessor, in fact.
Although apps such as Swype and SwiftKey X have taken touchscreen typing to new levels of speed, accuracy and prediction, you simply cannot beat the feel of real buttons under your fingertips. Bashing out an email, status update or Facebook message on the Torch 9810 is a joy, although we do feel the buttons are little too close together for comfort.
We'd also have preferred it if the numbers were on a separate line of keys, rather than being ‘alt' commands on existing letter buttons, though that would have meant expanding the size of the keyboard vertically, creating a larger handset.
Although the Torch 9810 looks much like last year's 9800 in terms of design, it is granted its own personality by the fetching chrome finish. The entire device is clad in shining silver, but it's worth noting that only the edges of the front panel are metal -- everything else is just coated plastic.
Despite the eye-catching chrome,everything aside from the front surround is plastic.
The back of the phone has a grid-like texture which aids grip, but we're not totally taken with this patterned effect. It's also disappointing that the battery cover isn't made of metal, like the one on the Torch 9860.
The Torch 9810 is practically bristling with physical inputs. As well as the aforementioned optical touchpad there's the usual bank of commands at the bottom of the screen. Although these rest flush with the display and initially appear to be capacitive touch-sensitive buttons, they're actually physical keys under a thin layer of plastic.
On the right-hand side of the phone you'll find the volume rocker and convenience key. The latter can be used to snap photos when running the phone's camera application, among other things.
At the top of the handset you'll find the lock button on the left side and the mute key on the right. The mute button cannot be used to force the phone into your silent profile, however -- it only seems to work when you receive a call (and wish to silence the ringer) or you're listening to music or watching a movie and want to cut the sound.
Processing power and internal storage
One of the biggest issues people had with the original Torch 9800 is that it was running an underpowered 624MHz processor at a time when 1GHz dual-core CPUs were starting to hit the market.
The good news is that RIM has listened to the grumblings of discontent and has duly boosted the Torch 9810's chip to 1.2GHz. The bad news is that it's still a single-core affair. RIM is adamant that dual-core chips only benefit large-screen devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Given that the Torch 9810 occasionally makes you wait while it loads up an app, we're not entirely convinced this is true. Still, the phone feels pretty nippy, especially if you're a BlackBerry veteran who recalls the occasionally sluggish performance of past RIM handsets. Menu navigation is smooth, the screen is responsive and 720p video playback runs without a hitch.
With 8GB of internal storage, the Torch 9810 is offering double what its direct forerunner did. You can also augment this total with a microSD card, which is hot-swappable, meaning you're not required to power down the phone to change it. Sadly, there's no card included with the phone.
Browsing the Web on the Torch 9810 is a surprisingly fast experience. The lack of Adobe Flash support is a puzzle though, especially when you consider that RIM saw fit to squeeze it into its PlayBook tablet.
Pages are quick to render and look superb on that 3.2-inch screen, although we noticed that text tends to look a little rough when you're zoomed right in. Text reflow also behaves oddly on some complicated sites, but this issue tends to afflict most mobile Web browsers.
Camera and video recording
Image capture -- both of the static and moving variety -- is handled by the phone's 5-megapixel camera. Still imaging remains largely unchanged from the Torch 9800, which is a bit of a disappointment. Having said that, the image stabilisation and LED flash are decent enough, and even rank amateurs will be able to take a half-decent snap with this device.
After suffering VGA video recording on the Torch 9800, we're pleased to report that 720p capture has made the cut on this new handset. It's hardly groundbreaking when you consider that top rank Android handsets are rocking 1080p video these days, but it will suffice.
Connectivity and battery life
The Torch 9810 has an almost full deck when it comes to connectivity options -- no mean feat when you consider that not so long ago, RIM was still banging out phones that lacked 3G data transfer.
Whether its via Wi-Fi or 3G, we noticed encouraging download speeds on this device. It's just a shame that NFC support (which allows short-range wireless connection between two devices) wasn't factored in, as both the Bold 9900 and Torch 9860 feature it. Still, the dream of contactless payments is a long way off yet, so few are likely to lament its omission.
Despite possessing a relatively humble 1,270mAh battery, the Torch 9810 offers the usual story when it comes to smart phone stamina. If you're careful with your power consumption then you'll get it to last longer than a day, but watching videos, playing music and indulging in a spot of gaming will all drain the power cell with alarming speed.
Unlike the Torch 9860 -- which feels like a fresh new direction for RIM and the BlackBerry lineage -- the Torch 9810 is more of a slight improvement on what has gone before.
It takes the core template of the Torch 9800 and gives it a lick of paint, as well as some more powerful guts and a slightly modified OS. For all of these improvements, it doesn't feel like the big leap many were expecting.
When placed next to the competition, the Torch 9810 looks even less striking. A 1.2GHz processor might represent big news in BlackBerry circles, but before the year is out it's highly likely that we'll be seeing Android phones with 1.5GHz dual-core monsters beating at their hearts.
Still, in the past BlackBerry has enjoyed a surprising degree of success by updating its portfolio in small increments. If you're a staunch traditionalist who isn't sold on the idea of the keyboardless Torch 9860, then this blower could be the one for you -- assuming you don't already own a Torch 9800 and are still a year away from getting an upgrade on your contract, that is.