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Over the years, Research in Motion’s (R.I.M.’s) BlackBerry cell phone has developed a wide following, especially of business users. The BlackBerry keyboard is one of the most loved features of the BlackBerry. Now, however, under competitive pressure from the iPhone and other touch screen cell phones, RIM has decided to create a version of the BlackBerry with a touch screen rather than their traditional BlackBerry keypad. They also have included additional special features. The result is the BlackBerry Storm. We took a look to see how if the Storm could become a formable opponent for the iPhone and/or a working force in the BlackBerry corral.
As shown in Figure 1, the BlackBerry Storm comes in a typical black BlackBerry cardboard box.
The Storm comes well equipped with a wall charger, USB cable, ear buds with in-line control, ear bud covers, and two alternative power adapters. It also comes with a BlackBerry User Tools Software disk, a Global Support Booklet, and Verizon BlackBerry Storm 9530 Software. In addition, you also get expandable storage; an eight-gigabyte memory card (not shown) also comes in the box.
Physically, the Storm is attractive but hardly svelte. While it’s about the same length and width as the iPhone, at 5.46 oz (155 g) and 4.4” x 2.4” x 0.55” (11.2 x 6 x 1.4 cm). The Storm is about 15% thicker and heavier than the iPhone. Yet, it looks sleek and feels quite substantial in the hand. As shown in Figure 3, the front of the Storm consists of the 3.25-inch wide screen which displays in 65,535 colors. The screen is surrounded by a shiny black area on the top and the bottom which slightly arches and angels giving it a graceful feel. A silver bezel then surrounds the sides of the screen and the top and bottom of the device. Although the look and build seem excellent, we were bothered by the fact that on our review unit, you could actually see light coming through between the silver bezel on the sides of the screen and the screen itself. Although the crack was minor, in our opinion, it detracted from the overall appearance of quality.
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With the touch screen being the newest addition to this BlackBerry, we were anxious to look at it first. To differentiate itself from other touch screens and to hopefully add a feature that users would like, this BlackBerry has a feature called SurePress. When you press a key or icon on the Storm’s screen you feel an actual sensation. There is a subtle click as if you were actually pressing a key giving you a reassuring confirmation that your input has been received. Also, once you press the key, it is surrounded by a blue light, adding a visual confirmation of the key press. While the light is attractive, we didn’t feel that it did much to helping us find the right key.
The SurePress is a unique feature takes a little getting used to, but it is easy to use. While some might find it a welcome addition, after several weeks’ use, we found it a little tiresome. It was somewhat like typing on an old typewriter, just a little more work than we wanted to go through for every screen tap.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find the auto-correction feature of the Storm to be as good as it needs to be. We had plenty of aggravating typos that made data entry more difficult than on the iPhone.
Like the iPhone, the Storm has an accelerometer so that when you turn it to a horizontal position, the screen adjusts to that position. When in the vertical, portrait mode, the keypad has multiple letters per key like a cell phone (shown in Figure 4). When in the horizontal or landscape mode the keypad has individual letters (shown in Figure 5). For those used to the BlackBerry keypad, the Storm’s touch screen will take a little practice and patience.
The BlackBerry touch screen keyboard is not as intuitive as the iPhone’s. For instance, on the iPhone when you are typing in a web address, the keyboard changes to show a convenient “.com” key. While the Storm lack this type of keyboard morphing to the task, it can be controlled by learning some of the keyboard shortcuts like inserting an @ sign or a period into the email address field by pressing the space button. Also on some menus, the choices are too close together for touch choosing.
Basic navigation on the Storm is controlled by the four physical buttons at the bottom of the screen. They are as shown in Figure 6, from left to right, the Send key which is used to open the phone screen, the Menu key which opens the application menu, the Escape key which closes a menu and/or moves back a screen, and the End/Power key that returns to the Home screen, ends a call, and turns the device on and off.
As shown in Figure 7, the left side of the Storm has a convenience key that opens the welcome voice dialing application, a feature that is not available on the iPhone. In Figure 6, you can also see the Micro USB port.
The right side of the Strom is shown in Figure 8. On this side the Storm has another convenience key that opens the camera and takes a picture. Next to that are the volume control key and the standard headset jack.
Although barely noticeable, the top of the Storm (shown in Figure 8) has two areas that are marked by small icons. These are not really ke
ys, just areas you can press. On the left is the place you press to lock and unlock the screen. On the right is the area which you can press to mute the phone.
The touch screen also works by swiping your finger across the screen to scroll up and down menus and side to side on web pages. Text can be enlarged or reduced by on-screen icons.
While the navigation was fairly intuitive, we had one problem. When using the iPhone, when you hold it to your ear, the screen goes blank and its functionality is canceled. Not so with the Storm. When holding the device to your ear, the screen is still active and we had several times during a conversation when touching the screen with our ear or hand sent an errant signal.
As shown in Figure 10, the back of the storm is has a dull black finish made from a solid piece of brushed aluminum. The camera and flash are seen at the top of the back enclosed by a glossy plastic cover. The back plate can easily be removed to access the battery, SIM card, and SD card, as shown in Figure 11.
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In spite of its touch screen the Storm is a real BlackBerry in every other way, including the corporate and push email, an adequate web browser, and built-in GPS.
Since BlackBerrys are geared toward corporate users, it is not surprising that email is more fully functional than on many other cell phones. For instance, you can touch and hold one email and the Storm will show you all the messages in the thread.
Several of the functions that the iPhone lacks are front and center in the Storm. It has cut and paste. It has MMS for sending photos directly to other phones. It has excellent and convenient voice dialing. It comes with the software necessary to both view and edit Microsoft Office documents.
The Storm is rated for 5.5 hours of talk time. In our tests, battery life on the Storm is slightly better than the iPhone and much better than the G1, allowing us to use it for a full day without running out of power. Another nice feature is that the Storm has a user-replaceable battery.
The excellent Verizon cell phone system combined with the Storm’s hardware produced calls that were crisp, clear, and loud. The speaker phone also had excellent quality. And you can also perform voice recording on the Storm. Surprisingly, the Storm can even be used in Europe and some other areas where most Verizon phones don’t work.
The Storm includes a 3.2 megapixel camera that has zoom, flash and stabilizer and can also record video. Using the camera was intuitive and the convenience button on the side of the Storm made the camera easy to access. Pictures and videos were a good quality…better than many other cell phones. The only caveat was that when using the flash, the autofocus took several seconds to adjust. So you won’t be grabbing any high action shots.
The Storm’s media player doesn’t compare to the iPhone’s, but worked well enough for everyday listening and music playing.
We found Internet browsing on the Storm to be better than on older BlackBerrys, but not as fast or as smooth as browsing on the Apple’s Mobile Safari or the G1’s Chrome light. Although we have never been big fans of the Verizon Navigator software, The GPS will get you where you want to go.
One great feature of the Storm is that it has expandable memory and it comes with an 8GB microSD card. So you get the capacity to store all of your music, picture, videos, and documents without additional cost.
The Storm also comes with Setup Wizards & online tutorials to guide you through set up and use. In fact the BlackBerry online community is one of the best and you can easily find help if you need it.
There are plenty of BlackBerry applications that will run on the Storm, but not all take full advantage of the new touch screen. As of the writing of this review, the BlackBerry App World application store has just opened. A superficial look shows, not surprisingly, a focus on business applications with not nearly as many free and/or fun applications as the Apple apps store or even the G1’s apps store. It will take a while for BlackBerry to catch up to the others with additional applications.
The Storm lacks the WiFi capacities that are included in the iPhone and the G1. While not a total necessity, it’s nice to be able to fall back on Wi-Fi when it is available, so many will find this a drawback.
BlackBerry Storm main specifications are:
- Length: 4.43" (11.25 cm)
- Width: 2.45" (6.22 cm)
- Depth: 0.55" (1.4 cm)
- Weight: 5.5 oz (155g)
- SurePress touch screen
- On screen keyboard: portrait SureType and Multi-tap, QWERTY landscape
- 3.5mm stereo headset capable
- Integrated earpiece/microphone
- Built-in speakerphone
- Bluetooth 2.0
- Memory: 1 GB of on-board memory, plus a microSD/SDHC memory card slot that supports cards up to 16 GB
- Camera: 3.2 Megapixel camera able to record video, with flash, variable zoom, mechanical autofocus and image
- Video format support: MPEG4 H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, H.264, WMV
- Audio format support: MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WMA ProPlus
- Screen: High resolution 480 x 360 pixel color display, transmissive TFT LCD
- Battery life: Up to 15 days (Standby time); GSM: 5.5 hours; CDMA: 6 hours
- RIM wireless modem
- Tethered modem capability
- Email Integration: Works with BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft, Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, Novell GroupWise. Also integrates with existing enterprise and personal email accounts. Support for AES or Triple DES encryption when integrated with BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
Overall, the Storm is a capable smart phone. It will appeal to BlackBerry users who want to try a larger screen with touch capabilities. The unique SureType screen may appeal to some, but is sure to be a turn-off to others. Business applications and enterprises email integration make it a viable option for business users. Although the Storm is a useful smart phone, the input problems will stymie many users. Our guess is that it will take BlackBerry a little longer if they want to catch up to and/or surpass the iPhone and the G1.
- Excellent call quality
- Good navigation
- Enterprise email access
- Good pictures and camera features
- Included 8 GB memory card
- Replaceable battery
- Good battery life
- Voice dialing
- Set up wizards and online tutorials
- Text input somewhat difficult
- Poor auto correction
- Commands often too close together to press
- No Wi-Fi
- Slow camera focus
- Browser not as good as some others