Research in Motion (RIM) is beginning a global rollout this month of two updated BlackBerry cellular phones and one new model, all incorporating its new BlackBerry 7 operating system. Because of RIM's roadmap, IT departments will face some of the toughest decisions they've ever had about purchasing new BlackBerrys.
I've been testing one of the two updated versions, the Torch 9810, which is an updated BlackBerry Torch 9800. It has basically the same design, a 3.2-inch touch screen, and a slideout keyboard.
RIM also is launching the
Bold 9900 and 9930, updated versions of the first Bold. The new Bold also uses basically the same design as the previous version, and it keeps the best physical keyboard RIM has ever produced. However, the new Bold's 2.8-inch screen is now touch-enabled, and the phone is thinner.
RIM's third phone is something of a variation of its Storm line, which features a 3.2-inch touch screen (no physical keyboard). The newest phone, which RIM is calling, confusingly, a Torch (9850 and 9860), sports a 3.7-inch touch screen, without a physical keyboard.
Although all the model numbers might be confusing, the specifications are basically the same. They include a 1.2GHz single-core microprocessor, a microSD card slot, a five-megapixel camera on the back, 720p video recording, 8GB of internal storage, 768MB of RAM, 802.11 a/b/g/n, GPS, an accelerometer, a compass, and an optical trackpad. There's no front camera, so forget about video calls.
From a hardware standpoint, the specifications would be good for 2009, but they can't compete with today's higher-end smartphones, especially Android. These Android handsets include such features as 1.2GHz dual-core processors, eight-megapixel back cameras, two-megapixel front cameras, 1080p recording, and screens that are four inches, 4.3 inches, or even 4.5 inches with resolutions of up to qHD (960x540). Viewing business forms and Web pages is a much better experience with larger, higher-resolution screens.
From an operating system standpoint, RIM originally considered naming the upgraded OS BlackBerry 6.1. But RIM's executives said the OS was so spectacular that it deserved its own whole number upgrade. BlackBerry 7 is definitely better, but I'd peg it at about version 6.3.
BlackBerry 7 looks the same as BlackBerry 6, so IT departments and employees shouldn't have any problems getting used to it. Some icons are slightly different, but not in any artsy way that screams, "This is classy."
That said, the new OS/hardware combo is noticeably faster for downloading Web pages. You won't see much of the (in)famous checkerboard pattern that appears on BlackBerry 6 devices when they sluggishly open pages. I've had a few problems with the Torch 9810 not correctly opening a handful of sites, but mostly it performs about at well as other smartphones.
In addition, the 9810 is smooth and responsive when scrolling and opening applications, although I'd still like some apps to open faster. Unfortunately, not all the apps I wanted were available, and it's a significant problem with BlackBerry 7. Although many existing apps will work in that OS, some will not and will require rewriting.
Some apps weren't available or supported when I tried downloading from RIM's App World online store or a company Website. Some apps worked when I used BlackBerry Desktop Software on my computer to transfer existing apps from a BlackBerry 6 device to the 9810. Enterprises might find apps that work well on BlackBerry 5 and 6 will have to be rewritten for 7.
But do enterprises want to do that? RIM will incorporate its new QNX operating system -- which is in its PlayBook tablet computer -- into phones in 2012. There's a rumor RIM is desperately working to release a QNX handset this year.
RIM's betting its future on QNX. For companies with limited resources that don't have to upgrade phones, perhaps it would be better to wait to evaluate a variety of QNX handsets next year, rather than investing in BlackBerry 7 hardware and software. One problem with waiting will be a scarcity of applications, because BlackBerry OS apps must be rewritten for QNX.
This is why IT departments will have make some of their toughest decisions ever about upgrading BlackBerrys.