BlackBerry 7 phones: 5 important things to note

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) this morning took the wraps off of three brand new BlackBerry smartphones, which, along with the upcoming Bold 9900/9930 devices, make up the bulk of the Canadian company’s upcoming 2011 smartphone portfolio.

These five new BlackBerry handhelds, the Bold 9900, Bold 9930, Torch 9810, Torch 9850 and Torch 9860, certainly don’t come as a surprise; in fact, I wrote a post detailing all of these devices back in April. But they’re official now, and each of them is notable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they’re the first smartphones to run RIM’s brand new mobile OS, BlackBerry 7–formerly referred to as BlackBerry 6.1.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the newly unveiled devices, followed by the five most notable facts and features about RIM’s upcoming smartphones.


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BlackBerry Torch 9810 Smartphone

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 looks just like its big brother, the Torch 9800, except for a few minor aesthetic changes, including a new silver-ish paint job and battery cover.

RIM says the device is “faster and more fluid” than the original Torch. That’s most likely a result of a significantly faster processor and more RAM. (The Torch 9800 packed a 624GHz processor, and the new Torch 9810 is expected to feature a 1.2 GHz processor.) The Torch 9810 should also feature 768MB of RAM, compared to the 9800’s 512MB, and double the original Torch’s built-in storage with 8GB. Both devices also support microSD cards up to 32GB.

Visit RIM’s Web site for more information and a detailed technical specifications list.

BlackBerry Torch 9850 and 9860 Smartphones

The BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860’s 3.7 inch display is the largest screen of any BlackBerry, ever. The 9850/9860 device is also the third BlackBerry smartphone without any “physical” QWERTY keyboard; this new Torch device uses only a touch-screen for text input and navigation. (RIM’s Storm 9500/9530 and Storm2 9520/9550 were the first two “touch” BlackBerrys. And the original Torch also packs a touch-screen, but like the 9810, it has a slide out QWERTY keyboard, as well.)

The new touch Torch comes in two flavours, not unlike the Bold 9900/9930: the 9860 for GSM networks and another version, the Torch 9850, which will presumably be a “world phone” with support for both GSM and CDMA networks.

Visit RIM’s Web site for more information and a detailed technical specifications list.

Five Notable Facts About RIM’s New BlackBerry 7 Smartphones

Now that you’re familiar with the five new devices RIM plans to release before the start of 2012, check out the following must-know facts and features about this new BlackBerry lineup.

1) All BlackBerry 7 Devices Pack “Liquid Graphics”

All of RIM’s 2011 BlackBerry 7 devices feature “Liquid Graphics,” according to RIM, though the company hasn’t really offered a concrete explanation of what exactly this term means. All RIM has said is that the technology helps enable “seamless touch screen navigation.” So these Liquid Graphics are a product of improved software and hardware, and they should provide a smoother, faster touch-based UI experience for BlackBerry owners.

I spent half an hour or so with the BlackBerry Bold 9900 at BlackBerry World last spring, and though it was difficult to truly gauge the UI experience in my short time with the device, it did seem quite speedy and the touch-navigation was smooth and easy to use.

You can bet you’ll hear the term Liquid Graphics a lot during the coming months as RIM further promotes and markets its latest smartphones.

2) Bold 9900 Only New BlackBerry with NFC?

There’s been a lot of chatter about wireless payments technologies in the mobile space in recent days. Support for one of the technologies that always seems to be at the top of the conversation, Near Field Communications (NFC), appears to be notably absent from all but one of the new BlackBerry smartphones announced today.

RIM’s product literature for the upcoming Bold 9900/9930 clearly states that the device supports NFC. And a RIM staffer even gave me a quick demonstration of how NFC works on the new Bold at BlackBerry World last spring.
But no mention of NFC is made at all in the press releases and product pages of the additional BlackBerry 7 devices announced today. I have seen a few references to “NFC support” in the new BlackBerry 7 OS, so I suppose the Torch 9810 and Torch 9850/9860 could also support the technology. But it seems rather odd that NFC wasn’t mentioned at all in connection with these additional devices.

NFC technology is currently in its infancy, and it isn’t really used for much more than scanning QR-like codes to open up a related link or provide addition information on a product or topic at this point, but NFC could truly “blossom” in the coming year or so, leaving these new NFC-less BlackBerrys looking slightly behind the times.

3) Bye-Bye Storm, Hello Torch

The BlackBerry Torch 9850 and Torch 9860 are successors to RIM’s less-than-popular BlackBerry Storm devices, but RIM wisely decided to do away with the Storm name and expand its Torch brand after some particularly painful device launches. In short, the first Storm was blasted by critics and generally hated by users, due largely to its awkwardly “clicky” SurePress touch-screen technology. Ask any BlackBerry user for their thoughts on the first Storm, and you’re likely to hear something like “Worst. BlackBerry. Ever.”

At first, RIM tried simply to ditch the SurePress technology that plagued the first Storm 9500/9530 devices, and it released the SurePress-free Storm2 9520/9550 in the fall of 2009.

Though the second Storm device was much more functional than the first, users were still hesitant to embrace it due in part to buggy software and in part to its predecessor’s poor reputation.

Today we know that like the SurePress technology, RIM has ditched the Storm brand for good, opting to go with the Torch brand name for its latest “all touch” BlackBerry.

I’m not sure just how these new devices will be received, since RIM has yet to prove that it can make a functional and enjoyable-to-use all touch device. But I’m certain that it was a good idea for RIM abandon the Storm name.

4) Still No Solid Release Dates for BlackBerry 7 Smartphones

When RIM first announced the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 in May, it offered little information on release dates, saying only that the devices would be available in “late summer.” Once again, RIM has dropped a ton of information on new BlackBerry devices, but mentioned almost nothing when it came to availability details. As for Torch 9810, Torch 9850 and Torch 9860 release dates, RIM said only that “[t]hese BlackBerry smartphones will be available from carriers around the world starting later this month.”

But RIM did not specify which devices will become available and when.

Based on leaked wireless carrier inventory data and other confidential information, we know that many global carriers plan to release the Bold 9900/9930 within the next few weeks. And we know that all four major U.S. wireless carriers plan to sell the Bold 99xx at some point. But few release specifics are available for the other devices beyond the “later this month” estimate offered by RIM. (AT&T also posted up new “coming soon” pages for each of the devices, with the Torch 9810 expected in August, followed by the Bold 9900 and Torch 9860. And Sprint just sent me a press release saying it too will release the Bold 9930 and Torch 9850 “this fall.”)

Bottom line: RIM has revealed most of its 2011 devices at this point, which suggests these smartphones are ready or almost ready for primetime. So now the onus is on the wireless carriers to finish testing the handhelds and eventually approve them for use on their respective networks. Unfortunately, this testing and approval process is often a slow one, and it may still be months before all of these devices become widely available.

5) Where are the Remaining BlackBerry 7 Devices?

Last month, RIM’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis announced during a quarterly earnings calls that the company plans to release seven new BlackBerry smartphones before the end of 2011. Even if you count the GSM and CDMA variants of the Bold 99xx and Torch 98xx, that still only adds up to five new BlackBerry 7 handhelds–1) Bold 9900; 2) Bold 9930; 3) Torch 9810; 4) Torch 9850; and 5) the Torch 9860.

So where are the remaining devices?

If Lazaridis’s word holds true–and it might not, this wouldn’t be the first time one of RIM’s co-CEOs announced a future release date it could not meet–we should still see at least two more devices announced and released before the end of the year…and possibly three.

Thanks again to a variety of leaked carrier information and even prototype devices, we know of three additional BlackBerry smartphones that are believed to be in the works, and RIM could potentially announce any or all of them in the not too distant future.

First up, two new BlackBerry Curve devices, the Curve 9360 and the Curve “Touch.” Both of these devices are revamped versions of RIM’s popular Curve smartphones, and both are expected to run the BlackBerry 7 OS.

The Curve 9360 will be a revamped, more powerful version of RIM’s current Curve 3G, with a BlackBerry Bold 9700-like-body and the traditional “Curve style” keyboard. The Curve touch, however, is expected to be the first all touch Curve device from RIM, and it will likely look a bit like the Torch 9850/9860.

Finally, there’s the BlackBerry Bold 9790, an upgraded Bold 9780 with more powerful internals and a touch-screen. (Read more about the Bold 9790 here.)

Though none of these three mystery devices have been officially announced by RIM, Lazaridis promised at least two more devices before the start of 2012, and it’s a fairly safe bet that we’ll see one, if not all, of these devices announced within the coming months.

Find more information on all of the official BlackBerry 7 smartphones on RIM’s Web site.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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