The new BlackBerry operating system, BlackBerry 6, has arrived in the person of the BlackBerry Torch 9800. But does the new OS freshen things up, or just mess with a good thing?
Email addicts and business bods love their BlackBerrys, but we think the phone's user interface has been craving an update. You can't argue with the phone's handy integrated inbox, free BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) app or reliable push email. But setting up the phones can be overly complicated, and the long lists of options everywhere were dull-looking and overwhelming.
RIM says it wants the new version to walk the tightrope between tempting new users over to the BlackBerry camp, and keeping loyal users happy.
BB phone home
The home screen has had a total overhaul with BlackBerry 6, to make it more dynamic and interactive. The biggest change is a menu of shortcuts, which you can scroll through by sliding your finger up, down and to both sides.
The menu is divided into areas, some of which are automatically populated -- such as the downloads section, which is filled with recently downloaded files and apps, and the frequent section, which holds your most recently used apps.
The favourites section is more customisable, with the ability to add shortcuts to apps, contacts, video, photos or Web pages. And if you like your wallpaper, don't panic -- the menus slide down to a single row of shortcuts if you want to view your chosen picture in its full glory.
A new universal search bar at the top of the home screen searches all the contacts and files on your phone, or you can choose to search the Web from here too.
Yet more home-screen action comes from the two shortcuts at the top. Touch the first area, and a notification area slides down to show you new emails, Facebook updates, texts, phone calls, and the rest of your social firehose. The second shortcut opens a screen to configure Wi-Fi, set your alarm clock and turn on aeroplane mode.
This could all be information overload, but in general, we like the new home screen -- and BlackBerry users tend to like that overload feeling. One of our favourite changes to the home screen is the new range of icons, which are easier to tell apart than the previous, indistinguishable ones.
Music and video get played
The BlackBerry media player has been revamped to be more intuitive and not as stodgy, with more album art in the user interface to pep things up. It would have tickled our ivories if RIM had integrated the 7digital music store, but you can still grab the app from the online music store and play your downloaded songs in the player.
Sorting through videos, meanwhile, is easier with a new thumbnail view, and you will be able to get your hijinks online quicker with a built-in YouTube video uploader. Movies have always looked the dog's dangly bits on the high-resolution screen of phones like the Bold 9700, but with the Torch's 81mm (3.2-inch) display, there's even more space for a film.
You can also search for YouTube vids directly from the new universal search bar on the home screen.
We're also thrilled to hear that BlackBerry is pushing out its own podcast app, to handle downloading the best podcast in the world. For some unknown reason, most phones do a terrible job of getting podcasts on to your phone -- the iPhone forces you to use iTunes, and even the Google Listen app on Android phones is as flaky as a moulting iguana. We don't know much about the app yet, except that we won't need a PC to use it.
The BlackBerry 6 update is a welcome update to a business workhorse that's made it into plenty of non-suit pockets. We'll be taking it for a long-term test for our BlackBerry Torch review, but we've got high hopes -- when it comes to usability, it can't be much worse that what came before.
But don't take our word for it -- check out RIM's own video singing the praises of BlackBerry 6.