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SMART­PHONE users have long had to pick a side: touch­screen or key­board. It was a par­tic­u­larly vexed choice for Black­Berry users, the phone com­mu­nity’s biggest email ad­dicts and there­fore its most com­mit­ted key­board fans.

That could be why Black­Berry maker RIM has at­tempted the im­prob­a­ble: adding a key­board to a touch­screen phone.

The re­sult­ing Torch 9800 is a com­pact smart­phone with a 3.2-inch touch­screen on top and a key­board that slides out from be­neath. De­spite the dou­ble fea­ture, this phone is small enough to slide into a jeans pocket.

The touch-sen­si­tive screen shows off new Black­Berry 6 soft­ware that adds fresh fea­tures and makes it eas­ier to nav­i­gate for first-time users.

Apps are now filed into ‘‘ draw­ers’’ that can be opened by slid­ing your fin­ger up the screen. Sev­eral draw­ers are avail­able and users can flick be­tween them with a side­ways touch. The new soft­ware also adds a search bar at the top of the screen for mes­sages or pro­grams.

But its best trait is the im­prove­ment it makes to web brows­ing on the Black­Berry. Web­sites now ap­pear quickly and can be mag­ni­fied with an on-screen pinch­ing move­ment. Text au­to­mat­i­cally wraps to the screen size, so you can read with­out chas­ing words around the dis­play.

But the Black­Berry Torch’s strength re­mains email and it delivers this as promptly as ever, and lets you com­pose mes­sages just as quickly, thanks to its keys.

The key­board is sim­i­lar to that of the Bold 9700 and, while com­pact, pro­vides for quick thumb-typ­ing.

Out­side email, this key­board is use­ful when jug­gling your so­cial life on Twit­ter, Face­book, MyS­pace, Win­dows Live Mes­sen­ger and more. A new So­cial Feeds app lets you amal­ga­mate all of them into one place, and no­ti­fi­ca­tions also ap­pear in your in­box.

The Torch of­fers more en­ter­tain­ment from Black­Berry App World, as well as wellde­signed mu­sic, video and photo pro­grams, a GPS nav­i­ga­tor and a 5-megapixel cam­era with aut­o­fo­cus and an LED flash that will cap­ture im­ages and videos.

A cou­ple of flaws bring this phone down to earth, though. The Torch’s screen res­o­lu­tion is quite low (480x360) com­pared to that of its ri­vals. Text and im­ages can ap­pear muddy and un­fo­cused as a re­sult.

Slid­ing the key­board back and forth can be tricky with one hand, if you don’t want to make on-screen se­lec­tions, and some­times the 624MHz pro­ces­sor strug­gles to keep up.

Re­gard­less, smart­phone pil­grims who have long searched for a touch­screen-key­board com­pro­mise are likely to see their vi­sion re­alised in the Torch 9800. It’s not a per­fect mix, but it’s the best yet.

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