The world’s love affair with touchscreen smartphones continues as RIM and Verizon Wireless unleash the first touch-sensitive BlackBerry. But can this buttonless smartphone push out e-mail as fast as its counterparts? We spent 24 hours with the device to find out.
Weighing in at 5-1/2 oz., the Storm is one of the chunkiest smartphones we’ve seen, outweighing both the BlackBerry Bold and Apple iPhone 3G. Despite its weight, the phone has a solid feel to it — the way a $199 phone should feel. The Storm’s 3.25″ screen may be smaller than the iPhone’s, but with a resolution of 480×360, it packs in nearly 20,000 more pixels. The difference the screen makes becomes even more apparent during video playback — the vivid colors and high resolution combine to produce outstanding quality. We watched a Babylon A.D. trailer on the display and were quite impressed. However, we did find one small fault with the display — the screen isn’t flush with the rest of the phone, leaving a slight crevice between it and the phone’s bezel. This could allow dust and pocket lint to sneak in between the phone and the display, potentially ruining the device.
Although the Storm is a touch-sensitive smartphone, it does have some physical buttons. Along the bottom of the phone you’ll find dedicated Call, Menu, Escape, and End Call buttons. Along the right spine lies a volume rocker and shutter button. Other buttons include a lock button, mic button, and convenience key.
On the rear you’ll find the phone’s 3.2-megapixel camera lens and built-in speakers. The speakers are powerful and strong enough to fill a small hotel room — there’s no need to bring portable speakers on your next business trip. The camera, which features a built-in flash, takes sharp pictures in both well- and low-lit rooms. However, we found its autofocus was overly sluggish, causing us to miss 90% of the pictures we wanted to capture. So despite the Storm’s decent picture quality, its camera isn’t fast enough to replace your everyday point and shoot.
BlackBerry fanatics may find it blasphemous that the Storm ditches the company’s infamous keypad, but RIM spent a lot of time developing its new SurePress touchscreen. When held in portrait mode, the phone uses a wider version of RIM’s SureType keypad (similar to the one found on the BlackBerry Pearl). When held in landscape mode, the keyboard switches over to a QWERTY keypad. When typing, the Storm’s display acts like a giant button, so rather than tap on icons and letters (like you would on an iPhone), the Storm requires that you push down on the screen, offering a nice, audible click each time. (Think of it like the MacBook Pro’s new trackpad.) This touch feedback should quell the worries of typists who hate the iPhone’s wishy-washy touch navigation.
Initially, we liked the keypad, but the more time we spent with it, the faster our love affair ended. One fault in particular drove us crazy. Because the screen works like a button, you’re limited to how fast you can type on the Storm. In other words, you have to wait for the screen to depress before you can press it again. It’s a split second, but that means you can’t press another letter if one thumb is putting pressure on the screen. Some people won’t find fault with this, but if you’re a rapid typer, you’ll find this speed limit very frustrating. (We certainly did.) Unfortunately, pounding out e-mails on the Storm requires a high learning curve.
Like the Bold, the Storm uses the latest version of RIM’s operating system, which replaces the old icons with sharper, crisper symbols for each app preloaded on the phone. The home screen displays eight of these apps; further drilling through the menu displays all 24. Flicking through them takes some getting used to, as pages don’t glide as smoothly and naturally as they do on the iPhone. Instead, we found the movement to be somewhat rigid. We encountered the same problem when trying to select apps. At times, one press would open them instantaneously, whereas other times we had to select it again. The phone’s accelerometer was equally picky. Sometimes it would adjust according to our hand gestures while other times the screen would freeze. This lag caused our phone to crash once within our 24-hour test. Fortunately, we were back online after removing and re-inserting the battery. It’s also worth noting that the Storm does have an impressive boot up time — it powers up in roughly five seconds.
App-wise, the Storm comes with DataViz’s Word To Go, Sheet To Go, and Slideshow To Go, which let you open and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents respectively. On the media side, you’ll find support for a handful of apps like Flickr, Facebook, Google Talk, AIM, and Yahoo! Messenger, amongst others. The Storm naturally supports BlackBerry e-mail and also works with a variety of POP and IMAP e-mail servers.
The Storm packs a 3G radio that lets you take advantage of Verizon’s EVDO Rev A network, along with UMTS/HSPA support when you’re traveling abroad. The browser displays web pages in full glory, although Flash video isn’t supported. When browsing, you can choose how you want web pages to appear by selecting the browser layout of your choice. You can choose between Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, RIM’s BlackBerry browser, or Mozila’s Firefox. Choosing the RIM browser, for instance, lets pages show up in “mobile” mode when applicable, where as Firefox mode will display pages just as they would on your desktop.
RIM and Verizon Wireless succeeded in creating a fervor over the Storm’s release and rightfully so. On paper, it trumps the iPhone with a better camera, cut and paste support, and an impressive list of features. Some might even argue that Verizon’s network is stronger and better than its competitor’s, and we would have to agree. In our tests, calls sounded crystal clear providing a strong signal throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Jersey City. However, its sluggish OS, lack of Wi-Fi, and frustrating keyboard keep us from fully recommending this smartphone. We suggest BlackBerry fans consider the BlackBerry Bold as their messaging phone since the Storm requires a high learning curve and lots of patience. As for touch-sensitive phones, we recommend Apple’s iPhone, which remains the reigning champ by a long shot.
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