BlackBerry Torch 2 preview! (video)

We've already seen the BlackBerry Torch 2 in photos courtesy of Mr. Blurrycam, but a little birdie from Negri Electronics was kind enough to send over a pre-release device for us to get under our own glass for a little photo shoot. Though it has a virtually identical form factor to the original, the Torch 2 bumps the specs in almost every department from the camera to the RAM. Oh, and it's running the next-gen BB OS 7 -- which is really OS 6.1, and still lacks any QNX DNA. Read on past the break for a full preview of this yet-to-be-announced slider, and some glorious HD video if the beautious shots aren't enough to whet your BBM-hungry appetites.

The first thing you'll notice about the Torch 2 is the new gunmetal grey finish that encloses the entire device. It's not quite as shiny as the original, and we prefer the matte finish to the cheap-looking plastic of the original. We're also big fans of the new checkered silver back cover, which looks extra purty against the new color scheme. RIM still has yet to figure out how to avoid those black rubbery accents along the side rails, but it almost matches the black screen bezel, so we're not going to nitpick. The sliding mechanism feels quite sturdy and satisfying, as is the keyboard. So far as we can tell, the keyboard is identical to that of the original Torch (which we loved) -- and as the saying goes, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' One thing is for sure though, RIM has always been able to make nice looking phones, and the Torch 2 is certainly not a departure from that.

On the inside is where major overhauls have taken place -- and that's a good thing. In our original Torch review, we lamented on the already outdated at-the-time specs and didn't really cut the company too much slack for its decisions on its newest flagship device. The Torch 2 bumps the processor up to 1.2GHz (likely the same one as in the Bold 9900) from the paltry 624MHz of the original, and performance seems notably improved. Granted, we're using a prototype device with pre-release software, so everything is subject to change.

The Torch 2 also reportedly ups the RAM to 768MB -- which is the same as the Bold 9900. Space-wise, internal memory is doubled to 8GB, though you can still add up to 32 more gigs via microSD. It's still got 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, proximity and ambient light sensors, but adds a new magnetometer for the devs to mess with, presumably with that new SDK. While we've heard reports of NFC circuitry, we couldn't verify that one for sure -- and weren't about to break out our tool kit to check.

The screen res improves upon the original's mediocre 480 x 360 with a significantly more up-to-date 640 x 480 pixels. Clarity and colors of the updated panel are a worthy centerpiece of the display-centric device, and we didn't experience any of the same text viewing problems we had on the original. Viewing angles are superb, as is richness of color. We're also a lot more satisfied with touch sensitivity on this display; pressure needed to swipe or interact seems much more natural, and it's almost on par with sensitivity of the iPhone 4. If you haven't figured it out, we really like the screen on this phone.

The Torch 2 packs the same 5 megapixel camera as its older sibling, but raises the bar in the video department. It's still got continuous autofocus as well as image stabilization, but you can now capture video in 1280 x 720p HD. We took a quick sample video, and were pretty impressed with the final result -- autofocus worked pretty well, even indoors.

The BlackBerry Torch 2 is also running the latest OS out of Waterloo -- BlackBerry 7. Like the device it's found refuge on, most of the improvements and changes with this iteration take place under the hood. There's a laundry list of new APIs and hooks for developers to take advantage of, and to be honest, we couldn't find all that much newness on the surface. Liquid Graphics -- RIM's fancy nomenclature for its more responsive touch tech -- is definitely a marked improvement over the touch sensitivity of the original. While we were left unsatisfied with the touchscreen of the original Torch, using the Torch 2 is like night and day.

The browser still defaults to loading web pages in their WAP format, but adds in support for HTML5 video (though YouTube HTML5 wouldn't load for us). Performance generally seems a lot better, and the upped screen resolution makes reading text a much more enjoyable experience. BlackBerry Protect also seems to be a bit more robust, and comes preinstalled in the new OS. It'll automatically back up all your content at a set interval, as well as allowing you to link your device to a BlackBerry ID for locating if you drunkenly leave it in a taxi or bar. Speaking of BlackBerry IDs, there's a new option in the settings to link up to your own, though we're not quite sure how deeply integrated it is to the OS just yet. The device still had a PIN, but we're unsure of whether you'll be able to use a BB ID in its place as rumored. Finally, there's a new compass app like on the Bold 9900, so all the spelunking BlackBerry users can breathe a sigh of relief.

The BlackBerry Torch 2 is definitely a giant leap ahead of the original in almost every regard, even in this pre-release state. The hardware still feels sturdy and well-built, but we wish RIM could've trimmed some of the fat and slimmed this baby down a bit. BlackBerry 7's speed improvements are noticeable, which is especially welcomed considering the sluggishness of the original. It's important to keep in mind that this device hasn't even been announced yet -- let alone released -- and everything here is subject to change.

Still, the latest intel points to this device hitting AT&T shelves sometime this summer, and it'll probably very similar to what we've just walked you through. With the Bold 9900 seemingly delayed until September, it seems that it won't be a completely dry season for RIM after all. The company really needs to get these devices out the door if it wants to compete with other smartphone makers that are releasing devices at lighting speed. We'll be back with more information when this thing is, you know, announced, but for now hopefully this was able to tide you over until RIM decides to get down to business and spill the full details.

[Thanks, Ryan]