It may not come as much of a surprise, but Research In Motion on Tuesday introduced its latest stab at an iPhone killer -- the BlackBerry Torch 9800.
The new slider phone, which features both a multi-touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard, is the first RIM device to run on the BlackBerry 6 operating system that the company hopes will keep it atop the smartphone game. It's too early to say definitively, but at worst it looks like RIM doesn't have another Storm debacle on its hands.
No one, however, is going to confuse Research In Motion with Apple in its ability to keep its launch details secret. Engadget has been posting photos of the Torch slider since June, and the FCC posted an approval of the phone prior to the Tuesday press conference. Not to mention the fact that AT&T accidentally went live with its Torch page before the event.
It's hard to blame AT&T for being excited, though. The new smartphone, which will become available Aug. 12 for $199.99 and a two-year contract, is an AT&T exclusive. And with the iPhone possibly popping up on Verizon this winter (or T-Mobile even earlier), the much-maligned AT&T could use a hot exclusive to ensure that it doesn't fall on hard times.
So a lot is riding on the Torch, which has a 3.2 inch screen, 4 GB of memory and a 5 megapixel camera. The phone measures 4.4 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.57 inches when closed, and it weighs 5.68 ounces. It has a removable battery, which RIM says is good for 5.8 hours of talk time.
But as important as the hardware is -- and at this point, it is very important for RIM to come out with a successful touchscreen phone -- the operating system is at least as important in this case. BlackBerry 6, which we've been hearing about seemingly forever, will finally make its debut.
"BlackBerry 6 is the outcome of RIM's ongoing passion to deliver a powerful, simplified and optimized user experience for both touchscreen and keyboard fans," said RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis. That's about as close as we'll get to an admission that the Storm and Storm2 touchscreen phones pleased almost no one.
In addition to iPhone-like touch gestures and a customizable interface, BlackBerry 6 features "action menus," which let a user pull up common tasks in an application by touching the screen for an extended period of time (or clicking and holding the trackpad). Universal search and integrated social networking are also a couple of important additions. But the one that will likely most excite long-time BlackBerry users is the Webkit-based browser, which should bring the Internet experience on the device up to speed with the iPhone and Android platforms.
In addition to the Torch, RIM says the new OS will also become available for the Bold 9650, Bold 9700, Pearl 3G -- and whatever else may be rolling out down the road. BlackBerry tablet, anyone?
The early reviews are ... early. But for what's it worth, PC Magazine got a little time with the Torch and noted that the screen, while bright, isn't up to snuff in terms of resolution, and there is a "bit of a delay when swiping."
Engadget, meanwhile, called the hardware "quite nice," but added that "it definitely feels like the OS overwhelms the hardware a little when it's really cranking."There will be plenty more media reactions in the coming days, but for RIM and AT&T the really important reactions will begin Aug. 12.