Review round-up: BlackBerry Storm
The innovative “click screen”
When you push the screen and it clicks, it’s a genuinely satisfying tactile sensation that … is clearly a finely tuned experience. You won’t accidentally press it when you don’t mean to, but you don’t have to drop a sledgehammer on it, either. Like the rest of the body, it’s a sturdy piece of hardware that seems like it will hold up over the many, many thousands of clicks it will endure in its lifetime. The only concern is that it seems like the chasm between the screen and rest of the body is a lint nest waiting to happen. But the gap is large enough you should be able to clean your pocket gunk out with the edge of a toothpick.
Where Storm beats iPhone 3G
The Storm has copy and paste functionality; MMS (a service for sending photos directly to other phones without using email); voice dialing; and the ability to act as a modem for your laptop. It also allows you to edit, and not just to view, Microsoft Office documents. All of these features are missing from the iPhone out of the box.
Where iPhone has an edge
Storm lacks Wi-Fi — and that’s a mistake. You’re not always going to be able to access Verizon’s speedy EV-DO wireless network, which was the case in my basement. Verizon says Wi-Fi would have added to the size and cost. Storm has no direct answer for the iTunes App Store, at least not yet. And some existing third-party BlackBerry apps are not yet available for the touch-screen.
In addition to Verizon’s CDMA, EV-DO, Rev. A madness, the Storm sports a GSM radio (a number of them), so you can grab HSPA in the rest of the world, and truck on some sweet, sweet EDGE here in the States. Speaking of that EV-DO, the download speeds and network stability of the Storm seem pretty tight. Although the phone omits WiFi, as long as you stay inside decent Verizon coverage areas, you won’t feel that sting too badly.
The monthly fee
There are a variety of options, but a couple of things to note. One, Verizon will let you use the Storm with a data-only plan, which is a nice touch. Two, once you’re a Verizon Wireless customer for at least 60 days, you can ask the company to unlock your phone for you if you’re traveling overseas to a country that uses GSM, allowing you to use local prepaid SIM cards, as opposed to paying exorbitant international roaming rates.
Navigation and interface
Though RIM generally produces first-rate hardware (especially the QWERTY keyboards that it pioneered on handhelds), I found the Storm awkward to use for everyday data entry tasks. RIM’s stated intention in developing its Click-Through technology was to enable users to navigate with the touch screen and to make menu selections (most of which appear in blue when highlighted) with a fingertip; depressing the screen would confirm a selection and initiate the selected action. But in my tests, things sometimes didn’t work out that way. I’d tap a menu item, for example, but then when I depressed the screen, the selection would somehow shift and a different item would execute.
The first day we used the phone with a full charge, we quickly found our battery depleting faster than we had hoped. There wasn’t even any voice-calling done. Absolutely zero. Just email, BlackBerry Messenger, little MP3 playing, and some light web browsing. If we started the day at 9AM, the unit had around 20% battery life by 4PM. That’s worse than the Bold. Granted, CDMA devices get less battery life than GSM devices in general, so we’re guessing this has something to do with it. Still, we had hoped for more, and if you’re a power user, we strongly recommend you picking up a second battery and an external battery charger. Throw in a car charger and an extra travel charger while you’re at it. We’re just kidding. Kind of.
The final word
Overall, I think RIM has come out with a device that will give any consumer seriously considering a new touch screen smartphone an alternative to the iPhone. As a result, I think it could help Verizon retain customers, who have been tempted to leave the carrier for the iPhone.
If you can get used to the click screen and I’m sure you will (and so will I, but I’ve only had it for 36 hours thus far) then the Storm combines what’s great about RIM and their products and does a decent job of bringing in the touch-screen aspect. I don’t think you hardcore BlackBerry users will like it, especially if you’re used to shortcuts and hot keys and hammering out text, but if you’re a casual user looking for a touch-screen device (which is the market RIM seems to be going after here) then go for it.
The Storm is a compelling phone, and shows that RIM is serious about competing as an innovative company that is willing to take risks. As of now, the phone is a bit too frustrating to be an iPhone killer. However, future firmware updates may fix the phone’s two biggest weaknesses: its tendency to lag, and the imprecision of its virtual keyboard. Fix those flaws, and the Storm graduates from good phone to great phone. Verizon users who are loathe to leave their provider for AT&T won’t find a better touchscreen phone. But BlackBerry addicts who love their keyboard should make sure to test drive a Storm before making the switch.
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