Pass on the Torch

Is Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Torch exciting enough to draw new users? Is it good enough to retain existing BlackBerry users?

The so-called “CrackBerry” became a staple of business in the last decade and remains the leading smartphone based on market share. But whatever advantage BlackBerry once had is quickly slipping. Android phones and the iPhone have captured our mindshare and our business.

Still, the Torch is the most interesting BlackBerry I’ve tested. If you work for a company that demands you use a BlackBerry, it’s a good choice. But if you have a choice, put the Torch at the bottom of the list.

The Torch, sold through AT&T Wireless for $199 after contract, is all business and little fun. The biggest problem is a lack of apps. Sure, you can use Facebook and Twitter on the Torch, or listen to Slacker’s streaming music service, but BlackBerry offers only about 10,000 apps. Compare that to roughly a quarter-million for the iPhone and nearly 100,000 for Android phones.

The touch screen is good. RIM increased the type size on its text menus, improving navigation. For traditionalists, the Torch offers a physical keyboard that slides out. Other improvements speak more to the BlackBerry 6 software upgrade than the phone. A nice touch is the Android-like notification bar at the top of the Torch. You are notified when you have new e-mails, new mentions on Twitter or when there’s a new score in the game you can’t watch.

Another useful tool is called Social Feed. The app gathers all your social media accounts and puts them in one place. Also, it is much easier to access BlackBerry App World from the Torch, making it more likely owners will browse the store to find apps.

Those improvements matter as RIM leaps into the modern world of smartphones. But unless the boss says so, I won’t be buying the Torch.