The BlackBerry RIM Torch will be the first device to run BlackBerry OS 6, but you won’t necessarily need a new smartphone to take advantage of the revamped operating system.
RIM said BlackBerry OS 6 will be available for a number of older models in the coming months, including the
Below you’ll find some of our hands-on impressions of the BlackBerry OS 6, taken from our full review of the BlackBerry Torch. While the Torch might not be the smartphone for you, you can at least get an idea of what the new OS has to offer in case you want to upgrade your Bold or buy a BlackBerry in the future.
When redesigning the platform, RIM wanted something that was both fresh and familiar and that popped up as soon as you hit the home screen. The interface looks like a BlackBerry but acts differently.
The top of the screen features the quick access area where you can see the date, time, signal strength, battery life, and where you can manage your wireless connections. Below is a new notification bar that includes direct access to edit your phone’s profile and perform searches. It will also notify you of new messages, missed calls, upcoming appointments, etc. Tap the bar to expand the tray where you can view more details and jump directly to the appropriate app.
Most of the action, however, takes place at the bottom of the screen, where you’ll find a new navigation bar. It makes good use of the touchscreen as you can swipe from left to right and vice versa to access apps and content based on five categories: All, Favorites, Media, Downloads and Frequent. In addition to swiping sideways, you can tap on a category to expand it and see the full list of related apps.
The categories themselves are pretty self-explanatory, but we should note that favorites aren’t just limited to apps. You can also add contacts and websites by going to an individual address book entry or website, pressing the menu key, then selecting Add to Home Screen and selecting Mark as favorite (should be checked by default). Meanwhile, the process of adding favorite apps just requires you to long-press and then select Mark as Favorite from the pop-up menu.
Overall, this system makes it easier to access and manage apps and improves the overall user experience. With contextual menus and improvements to the web browser and media features (more on that below), we felt like RIM really took advantage of the touchscreen capabilities this time around, while the Storm models seemed a bit half-baked.
RIM does a good job on the “universal” part, as the search function scans almost everything on your phone, including contacts, messages, calendar, music, and pictures. Plus, you can expand your search to Google, YouTube, BlackBerry App World, and third-party apps, so you get a very robust search experience here. It was rare that we couldn’t find what we were looking for using the universal torch search.
Messaging and social networks
Text and multimedia messages are now combined in a single inbox and support threaded chat view, online addressing, and group chat. You can also instantly connect with your friends via the popular BlackBerry Messenger.
Nowadays, e-mail is no longer enough. People also want access to their social networks, and RIM now offers a Social Feeds app, which consolidates updates from these sites, as well as instant messaging clients, into one place. You can pick and choose which sites you want to include in the feed, and also adjust notification and display settings. That’s quite in light of HTC’s Friend Stream widget and Motoblur’s Happenings widget, but Social Feeds isn’t a widget per se, so you don’t feel like the information is in your face all the time. Moreover, the app also acts as an RSS feed aggregator.
It’s no secret that the BlackBerry browser was RIM’s Achilles’ heel. Slow and feature-limited, web browsing on a BlackBerry was no picnic. To its credit, the company recognized the problem and acquired Torch Mobile in August 2009 to develop a WebKit-based browser for the BlackBerry platform, and we’re finally seeing the fruits of their labor.
In the real world, we really felt that the browser was much more functional than the previous version. We really liked the tabbed browsing setup because it minimizes your current page and shows thumbnail versions of all your open pages, at which point you can browse until you find the page you want. For the most part, the text reflow feature works as advertised, but if there are any type of inline tables or graphs, some scrolling may be involved; there is also a slight refresh delay when zooming in using the pinch-to-zoom gesture.
We also saw an increase in speed, but there is still room for improvement as the BlackBerry browser was not as fast as some of the other mobile browsers. To be fair, part of the slowness could be down to the BlackBerry Torch’s processor.
Much like Android, BlackBerry has always offered an acceptable multimedia experience, but provided a rather lackluster user interface. All of that changes with BlackBerry OS 6, as you now get a Cover Flow-like layout that uses the touchscreen to navigate through tracks and playback. It’s both attractive and functional, so we were pretty happy with the changes.
We were also pleased to see a new podcast app and improved camera options. The camera’s additional scene modes helped us shoot in a variety of environments. The video player also gives you more playback options, ranging from full size to full screen.
BlackBerry App World 2.0 has over 9,000 apps, which is nothing compared to iTunes and Android Market, but the advantage is that the store now supports carrier billing and the new service BlackBerry ID, which keeps track of your downloads and purchases. When you get a new BlackBerry, you can enter your BlackBerry ID and password and automatically reload your apps on the new device.
RIM has also released a new SDK for developers to take advantage of new features in BlackBerry OS 6, such as universal search. RIM said most existing apps should work with BlackBerry OS 6, but initially there could be variations on how all of an app’s features work with the new platform.
Some Final Thoughts
In general, BlackBerry OS 6 brings much needed and welcome additions including a better browser, improved multimedia experience and improved user interface. Granted, none of this is new and at this point RIM is just playing catch-up, but at least it gets RIM back on track. The company will have to keep pushing hard and fast if it wants to try and overtake Android and iOS, and hopefully we’ll see better hardware from them in the near future as well.