Technology

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from the L.A. Times

RIM rolls out BlackBerry Torch with touch screen and slide-out keyboard

Blackberry-torch After creating a few sparks in the touch-screen arena, Research in Motion is burning its old e-mail-centric formula and focusing on a more fully featured BlackBerry Torch smart phone.

The Torch marries RIM's thumb-loving keyboards with a 3.2-inch touch screen -- smaller than the iPhone's 3.5-inch and the Droid Incredible's 3.7-inch displays.

It's the first BlackBerry with both a touch screen and a keyboard. With a slide-out keyboard, the hardware looks (and, according to some earlier testimonies, feels) like Palm's Pre, the portable hardware veteran's own touch-screen-driven reinvention.

During RIM's announcement Tuesday, the Canadian phone maker left no ambiguity about the Torch's importance to its product lineup -- "It is the best BlackBerry, ever," RIM says in its marketing materials.

Convincing the self-proclaimed "CrackBerry" addicts to leap into the world of touch screens won't be easy, especially after a few missteps with RIM's prior attempts at touch-screen phones. A combination of weak hardware and feeble software plagued the BlackBerry Storm, initially touted as Verizon Wireless' answer to Apple's and AT&T's iPhone.

Like the iPhone, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 will be available exclusively on the second-largest wireless network. AT&T stores will begin selling the Torch on Aug. 12 for $199 with a two-year contract, and the shops will have demo units available starting Tuesday afternoon for customers looking to try one out.

The Torch is the first phone to include BlackBerry 6, an overhauled version of RIM's mobile operating system.

Adding to the stellar BlackBerry e-mail and messaging client, this software adds a Web browser based on the same technology that powers Apple's Safari and Google's Android mobile browsers. With tap- and pinch-to-zoom features, the Torch looks to be a fully capable Web surfing device, unlike some of its BlackBerry brethren.

The Torch's software also includes Visual Voicemail for quickly scanning messages, integration with social networks and downloadable apps. Of course, the BlackBerry App World is noticeably more barren than the Apple and Android stores, which have garnered greater interest from third-party developers.

The device has a track pad for scanning e-mails, 8 gigabytes of storage (expandable up to 32 gigabytes), a 5-megapixel camera with a flash, headphone jack, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. The internal processor is slower than many competing smart phones.

Check back in the coming weeks for The Times' full review.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Photo: BlackBerry Torch. Credit: Associated Press

 
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