The question ostensibly asked with each and every subsequent release of a new smartphone with a touch screen is the already cliché “Will this be the iPhone Killer?” Yet, in the case of the BlackBerry Storm, it is a particularly fair question. It’s no secret that RIM developed the Storm to mirror the iPhone’s highly sought after features. In a valiant, yet perhaps futile attempt to avoid the cliché, I will from here on out refrain from throwing around the term ‘iPhone killer.’ But let’s see how the Storm fares.
The Storm is surprisingly heavy, particularly as BlackBerrys go. Weighing in at 5.5 ounces, the Storm is slightly heavier than the iPhone’s 4.7 ounces. The heft conveys an immediate sense of quality and craftsmanship, and the smartphone feels good up to your ear and resting in the palm of your hand. It’s somewhat shorter than the iPhone, and a good bit thicker. While sleek in its own right, the phone certainly has a stocky appearance that takes away somewhat from its overall aesthetics. It’s still pretty to look at, though.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Storm is its massive screen – which is actually one giant button. The screen is easy to push down, but not so much so that you will push it by accident. Think of the Storm as the track pad on your laptop where you use your finger to move around, but push down on the screen to select an item. In thinking about it, the concept of pushing down on the entire screen is a bit hard to get your arms around. But the Storm’s SurePress™ technology is actually well executed, and in most ways not cumbersome as it may sound. While with some practice the Storm’s touch screen will undoubtedly do an adequate job, I sometimes found myself missing the traditional BlackBerry trackball. I think the inclusion of a trackball in addition to the touch interface would have added nicely to the package.
Seasoned BlackBerry users will find themselves at home with the inclusion of the traditional four BlackBerry buttons at the bottom of the screen. The Storm also features the usual volume keys, and programmable shortcut keys defaulted to voice dial and camera. Two large, elongated buttons are integrated nicely into the top of the device – one for locking the screen to prevent accidental key presses and the other to turn the phone on or off.
To be sure, it took some tinkering to figure out when to touch, double touch or click to get around. Once you get a better feel for it, the largess of the icons and spacing of the menus make things easy to select for fingers big or small. As you move your finger across the screen, the icon, menu item, or key you are hovering over will change to a baby blue hue. Pushing down on the screen will select the highlighted item. The menus and icons are simple yet chic, although were sometimes difficult to tell apart from one another.
Scrolling down a list of contacts or a lengthy web page, for example, is a bit cumbersome on the Storm. A quick flick of your finger on the iPhone will send you barreling towards the bottom (or top) of the screen you are in. There’s no similar way to quickly head towards the bottom of a screen on the Storm (that trackball would have come in handy here).
Update: Although recent firmware updates have dramatically improved the user experience and eliminated many of the bugs that plagued the Storm’s original launch, RIM’s touch device still experiences some lags and the occasional crash. But updates installed, no issues remain that would prove to be a deal breaker or even any major hindrance.
Like the iPhone, the Storm features an accelerometer so the device knows whether it is in portrait or landscape mode. In portrait mode the keyboard has two three per key, and the Storm will offer you a selection of words it thinks you are aiming for as you type based on the keys you have pressed. Turn the phone sideways in any application to enter landscape mode and you will be presented with a full keyboard.
When it comes to Email and texting, BlackBerry has always delivered. And the Storm is no exception. Push worked flawlessly with my Microsoft Exchange server – not surprising, given not too all that much has changed beyond…well, a large touch screen. Expect the traditional BlackBerry setup for email and text, complete with full-fledged search functionality.
While the on-screen keyboard (in landscape mode) is fine for shorter emails or texts, it might frustrate heavy users who are used to scribing lengthy emails while away from their desktops. I found pushing down the screen for each and every letter a bit clunky, but to be fair, allowing the learning to run its course may well make this a non-issue.
The Storm’s browser is quick, intuitive, and in most cases does a fine job rendering mobile content as well as full on web pages. Each click of the screen zooms in on the area clicked. You can also switch to a cursor when navigating web sites, but this was usually a slow process. One drawback – the Storm’s browser doesn’t allow for tabbed browsing. If you want to have more than one page open at a time, tough luck.
The Storm’s huge screen makes watching movies on the phone a pleasure. The screen is plenty bright, and the colors are vivid. Playing music or watching a slideshow of your stored photos is also a positive experience. Conveniently, all menus include a “Now Playing” selection option so you can jump right back to the music player from whatever you’re doing. Expect a standard media setup, with album art, the ability to create playlists, shuffle, and the like.
The Storm has 1GB of onboard storage space, and comes with an 8GB MicroSD card for a total of 9GB of space. If 9GB isn’t enough to accommodate your library of music, video and photos, the Storm can support MicroSD cards up to 16GB.
The Storm is equipped with a 3.2 megapixel camera with auto focus. There’s also a flash – although not a very bright one. Image quality was pretty good, assuming the object was perfectly still. Unfortunately it took a couple seconds to focus and snap a shot, so capturing anything on the move (and doing it well) is next to an impossible feat. The Storm can take videos as well, although at 320×240 resolution, video quality was nothing better than mediocre and there was a significant amount of artifacting.
It may seem a bit unnecessary to devote an entire section to copy and paste. And yet, when the market-redefining Apple iPhone is conspicuously lacking such a seemingly no-brainer feature (that is until iPhone OS 3.0 is released this summer), the Storm scores some easy points by offering a well-integrated copy and paste function. Just place two fingers on either side of the text you want to copy, and the text will become highlighted. You can then fine tune the selection, hold down on it to bring up the copy a paste menu, and select copy. Storm 1, iPhone 0 in this realm.
The Storm supports v2.1, Headset, Handsfree, DUN, OPP, FTP, BPP, HID Bluetooth Profiles. It’s sad but true. No WiFi on the Storm. But Verizon’s EVDO network does step up to the plate to ease the pain, offering refreshingly quick download speeds for apps and web pages. The Storm does support VZ Navigator for $2.99 for one day of use or $9.99 per month.
The Storm has a lot going for it. If you’re not ready to say goodbye to the tactile pleasure you get from having the buttons on your BlackBerry spring back at you, the Storm’s innovative touch technology may be that happy medium you have been looking for. In keeping close to its roots, the Storm’s messaging doesn’t disappoint. Media playback on the Storm’s impressive screen is a memorable experience, and the phone’s full HTML browser does a nice job. The Storm, however, is not for the epic emailer and still suffers from some bugginess. WiFi would have also been nice. RIM’s touch screen BlackBerry may not take the market by Storm this time, but it is in many ways a great device that is sure to please Verizon subscribers looking for both messaging and media might.