It's always nice to be able to have choice, but sometimes too much choice makes it near impossible to make a decision.
Take the BlackBerry Torch 9860. Not that long ago, if you wanted a BlackBerry you pretty much had the Bold or the Curve, with the Storm being the ugly duckling.
Now that ugly duckling has turned into a swan in the form of the 9860. RIM hopes it will steer you away from a touch-only iOS, Android, or Windows Phone, but this seems like wishful thinking.
It certainly looks the part, surrounded with a premium metal trim. And it looks great from the back, too (the side people will see when you use the phone), but it doesn't have the same ecosystem as the other smartphone platforms do.
The key strengths of a BlackBerry are email and messaging, including BBM, which is riding high at the moment. To use these services, you must be able to enter text easily. With the Bold 9900, you have the best keyboard on any BlackBerry to date, bar none.
Meanwhile, the Torch 9810 gives you a keyboard that's still pretty decent, along with the option to use an on-screen keyboard for when you might just want to enter a few quick words to respond in a BBM chat.
One way street
The 9860, on the other hand, forces you to use the on-screen keyboard all the time. Since the screen is about the same size as an iPhone 4's, you need a fair bit of precision to enter text accurately. You'll also find it hard to tell when you're entering uppercase or lowercase thanks to the keys always showing as capital letters.
With no keyboard to worry about fitting in, RIM has been able to continue what it started with the disappointing Storm models. The 3.7-inch capacitive touchscreen displays 800x480 pixels, the same as any Windows Phone, and the majority of top-end Android devices. Few Android devices (like the HTC Sensation or Motorola ATRIX) or the iPhone 4/4S can beat it.
Thanks to what RIM calls 'Liquid Graphics', you get a very bright screen that performs very well outdoors. The icons are slick, featuring as part of BlackBerry OS 7, and the screen is responsive.
Underneath the display sits a 'call' and an 'end' button, the BlackBerry 'menu' button and a 'back' key, as well as the optical navpad that lets you scroll around the screen in the traditional way, for example moving a virtual mouse pointer within the web browser.
Flip the phone into a landscape position and the 9860 beats both the keyboard-equipped models for viewing full-width web pages or enjoying HD movie playback.
With the powerful 1.2GHz processor, using the phone is as quick and lag-free as you'd expect from any iPhone. RIM has made sure that the OS is highly refined.
As with the other new BlackBerry models, the phone can now record HD (720p) video from 5-megapixel autofocus camera, with flash. Given that the phone is only 1mm thicker than the Bold 9900, it's all the more mystifying that the 9900 lost out on its camera sensor.
At the top of the phone is the 'lock/standby' button, with volume keys (with a middle key that acts as a 'mute' button, or 'pause' button within the media player) and a convenience key on the side, set to fire up the camera by default.
As you might imagine, the 9860 is a BlackBerry better suited to users not needing to enter lots of text. It's the BlackBerry for people who may want to work with images and video, or use the web, while having the ability to check on email using the excellent push email service (although that reputation was tarnished slightly when the email service took a hit for around 12 hours just hours before this review was published).
As an alternative to an iOS or Android phone, there's never going to be the same number of apps or games. Even Windows Phone is now beginning to offer many more games and general apps that are less focussed on business.
If you need to check the weather, track flights, make travel bookings, or check your stocks, you'll be fine with BlackBerry OS, but if you fancy playing Angry Birds in your downtime, forget it. Even popular apps like Skype can't be found yet.
It's a problem RIM needs to fix. It's no good creating a device to attract customers who are seeking to buy an iPhone if you can't offer something similar. It goes far beyond the look of the hardware, and this leaves me wondering if there's really a market for this model.
I'd sooner have a Bold 9900 in my back pocket, along with an Android or iPhone for apps and games. Without a keyboard, it feels like the device is missing something too big to turn a blind-eye to.
But different people have different needs, and so we come full circle. It's nice to have a choice. I've made my own choice, and it's not the Torch 9860.