Official-blackberry-torch-9800-2 The BlackBerry Torch, Research In Motion's new slider phone, is the company's most ambitious recipe to satisfy both its user base and those tempted by the iPhone and Android phones.

Take a BlackBerry Bold, add a larger touch screen, a slide-out keyboard, toss in an improved OS and a new browser, and mix it all together. The result is a product that operates much like its existing devices yet offers some of the advantages of the iPhone. Is it a recipe for success or a half-baked concoction?

While BlackBerrys still have no equal when it comes to e-mail, users have moved on and are demanding more from their phones. I'm one of those, having used five generations of BlackBerrys, and now using an iPhone and Android. So I was eager to try the Torch.

Physically, the phone maintains RIM's familiar look, a black chrome plastic housing and a nonslip back in an attractive rubber-coated ribbed pattern. The keyboard slides out from the bottom with a feeling of precision. You can open it with one hand, but there are so many buttons on the surface as well as a touch screen, that you're likely to accidentally navigate to a screen you don't want. Using two hands solves that problem.

The phone is larger and heavier than the Bold, and slightly thicker and shorter than an iPhone. The keyboard looks and works much like those found on other BlackBerrys. While a hair narrower, it's still one of the best keyboards found on any smart phone. There also is also an on-screen keyboard in portrait and landscape modes, but one prominent key is inexplicably dedicated to selecting the keyboard language, a function you perform just once.

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Images Over the past few months we've been inundated
with new smartphones, culminating with the release of the iPhone 4 and
the announcement of the Motorola Droid X this past week. If you find
all this commotion a little confusing, and you're not sure what's right
for you, you're not alone. Hopefully this column will provide some
guidance.

Smartphones from all carriers

If your phone is a year old, you'll be surprised
by how much better these new models are. They're fast, have large,
multi-touch screens, and run thousands of new apps. They sync
wirelessly to your computer's calendar and contacts, ensuring you'll
have the most up-to-date information with you all the time.

They each send and retrieve e-mail using
on-screen keyboards, provide a great browsing experience, and do
everything from making dinner reservations to finding your way to a
destination. But they do require some learning; not everything is
obvious. The user manuals are sparse and often answers are easier to
find by Googling.

Some include wireless tethering that turns the
phone into a wireless hotspot for another $20 to $30 per month. Your
computer connects just as it does to any WiFi hotspot.

Excellent smartphones are available from all of
the carriers. While the iPhone was so far ahead than anything else when
it first came out, that's no longer the case.
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Images (3)New smartphone models are being introduced weekly, all
trying to challenge the dominance of Apple’s iPhone. Phones running Google's
Android operating system, in particular, are reducing the iPhone's once huge
advantage over other smart phones. Why? They have a similar form factor,  a big bright colorful touch display, an
app store, and a similar user interface.

Most of the Android phones offer one big advantage: they
make calls that rarely drop. The call performance of the iPhone on AT&T's
network has been its biggest weakness. Dropped calls are so rampant that
late-night comedian Stephen Colbert noted the similarity of his newly acquired
iPad to his iPhone, commenting "Neither can make calls."

Users have tolerated that weakness because of the iPhone's
other capabilities, particularly its outstanding interface, great browsing and
e-mail, built-in iPod player, and the huge number of apps. 

This past week I've been testing two new Android models, the
Samsung Moment from Sprint ($100) and the HTC Droid Incredible from Verizon
($200). 

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