08/17/2010 12:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Testing the Torch

Being a Blackberry user is a bit like driving a pickup truck. You know the feeling. You're at dinner having a conversation about ... well ... you know ... dinner conversation. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, some clown across the table (on the thinnest pretenses mind you) pulls out his flashy iPhone and runs an application that correlates the execution of Henry the VIII's wives with the historical movement of Mars through the solar system. The table huddles around entranced like a primitive tribe gasping at the discovery of fire. And you? You choke back your disgust and feign interest -- offering up a weak "great APP man." Meanwhile, deep down, you know the Blackberry in your pocket is doing yeoman work. In football terms, the iPhone is the blinged-out, trash talking wide receiver that has never won the Super Bowl compared to your lunch pail carrying offensive lineman (call-sign Blackberry) that delivers play-in and play-out without fanfare.

You recently noted with pride how the United Arab Emirates decided to ban Blackberry use. Damn right you thought to yourself -- just try reading my emails. You mutter "fascist" under your breath as you smugly press the send key and doing so with the certitude that the email containing your picks for the upcoming fantasy football draft will arrive unmolested.

Roughly ten years ago we seemed to have more options when it came to mobile phones (what the hell ever happened to Motorola and Nokia?). Remember those scenes in the Matrix with the awesome looking slide-out handsets? For awhile it seemed that unique feature was in danger of going the way of suicide doors on cars -- only to be admired as a cool retro trait found on the collectors market. But like scientists saving an endangered species from the brink of extinction, RIM engineers swooped in and designed a phone around the slide-out keyboard. Thus was born the Torch.

On to the nuts and bolts. The Torch is a hybrid model, marrying a touchscreen with advanced display capabilities and most importantly retaining a discretely tucked away keyboard that is the cornerstone of the Blackberry ethos. The touchscreen works well and the screen rotates for a bigger viewing area like those other phones you've seen. When browsing the web, you can you use the touchscreen to navigate or the trackpad (which is well positioned even when the phone is on its' side) which I found to be really helpful because the trackpad gives you a level of precision navigation that is superior to any touchscreen I have ever used. The slide-out keyboard works well and is stable (although I am curious how it will hold up a year from now). And finally in the "all work and no play" column, text messaging and social networking capabilities have been vastly improved so accessing Facebook, Twitter and MySpace is much easier.

The verdict? These days, phones are like politics in that there are people who are Democrats and people who are Republicans (Apple and Blackberry respectively with Droid users becoming a pretty significant sect as well -- lets just call them the Tea Party for now) who are loyal to their phones no matter what and will simply adopt the latest generation as they become available. So is the Torch an iPhone killer? Not exactly ... Instead it is more like a reward for the legions of users who cherish the bottom line functionality and performance of the Blackberry -- sort of like adding AC, power steering and satellite radio to that beloved pick-up truck we were talking about. Most people using the Torch will already be avowed Blackberry users so the Torch is preaching to the faithful. So while all the technical specs may not be state-of-the-art, for this audience, the improved 5 megapixel camera, touchscreen and web browsing will be an improvement over what they have and will be greatly appreciated.

So while other phones may still have more sex appeal, they aren't necessarily more dangerous since you don't have to worry about smuggling them through foreign customs. In fact ... maybe that could be the new name for a new model. The Blackberry Outlaw: The only model so secure its been banned.