Blackberry Torch 9800 Debuts

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Blackberry creator Research in Motion (Stock Quote: RIMM) debuted its new 3G Torch 9800, a smartphone that has both a full touch-screen display and traditional slide-out QWERTY keyboard at a press conference Tuesday.

The Torch 9800 will go on sale Aug. 12. It will initially be available through wireless carrier AT&T for $199.99 with a new, two-year service contract. AT&T (Stock Quote: T) will sell the device online and in its stores as well as in Best Buy (Stock Quote: BBY), Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT)  and Radio Shack (Stock Quote: RSH) .

At the press conference, Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T's Mobility and Consumer Markets called the new device “the best Blackberry ever.” While the device’s success will ultimately be determined by sales, it does come with some impressive credentials.

The Torch 9800 will be the first Blackberry powered by RIM’s new operating system Blackberry 6,which features new universal search functionality, social network aggregation, an enhanced multimedia player and a WebKit-based browser that is HTML-5 compatible.

“With a new user interface, new browser and new handset design, the highly anticipated BlackBerry Torch and BlackBerry 6 deliver integrated and uncompromising capabilities for consumers and business professionals that preserve the industry-leading strengths of the BlackBerry platform while adding exciting new dimensions,”

Mike Lazaridis, president and Co-CEO of Research In Motion, said in a press release that the Torch 9800 is “the most significant launch in RIM history.” That might be because RIM is facing serious competition from Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) and Google (Stock Quote: GOOG), whose iPhone and Android-powered Droid X, have become increasingly popular with corporations and consumers.

So, does the phone live up to the hype?

So far, the response has been favorable.

“I’d say it’s a home run for RIM just to be back in the game with a slider that has a touch screen and a fairly decent software system,” Scott Moritz, tech writer for TheStreet, who has handled the phone, said.  For his full review, check out this video.

Chris Ziegler from Engagdet.com put it simply, “We’ll admit, we’re digging this.”

Come August 12, we’ll know if customers are, too.

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