The BlackBerry Storm, the first BlackBerry with a touchscreen, is now available exclusively in the U.S. from Verizon Wireless.
The Storm outperforms most BlackBerrys with its crisp, innovative touch-button screen. Boasting a 3.2 megapixel auto-focus still and video camera, the Storm impresses by packing numerous features into its sleek and sturdy form-factor.
There is a lot to like about this device, including its sharp display, a camera, and applications like Visual Voicemail, but there are still some glaring problems. Even after updating its operating system with Verizon's new patch, there is still lag present in a lot of applications which hinders the phone's functionality in many areas. And the lack of Wi-Fi and QWERTY keyboard, and unrelenting fingerprints detract from the innovative hardware.
There are issues that Verizon and RIM will be able to address via further firmware updates, but there are others (read: lack of Wi-Fi) that can only be incorporated into future Storm versions.
There are two options for working the screen. Using one of these, you slide your fingers across the screen to select an item or to shift between two items like the iPhone. Switching to the second setting allows you to select items by depressing the screen. Pushing the BlackBerry key (one of four keys on the front of the device) pulls up a list of menu items. You can navigate the menu by dragging your fingers to move across rows or columns and selecting items with a tap.
When I first picked up the Storm, I would just click right onto a button to select something the way I'm used to on an iPhone. I've since learned that I can rest my finger on the button first and then press in the screen to select. This doesn't take much longer than pressing the button right away as you would on an iPhone, and it greatly increases accuracy when selecting or typing. When you rest your fingers over a button to select it, it highlights blue. Although this is helpful in confirming your choice, it is also a little counter-intuitive because the letter or item that lights up is the one that your finger is on. If you have larger fingers, this could be a serious problem.
Though there are some inconsistent screen features that need development, the brightness of the screen is rock solid. The screen is so bright that I reset it to 10% and even at this level the screen is readable indoors and out.
Under ideal conditions, the screen works well, and is pretty fun to use. It's evident that the folks at RIM did their due diligence in researching and designing what the screen should do, how it should do it, and had a clear vision for the Storm's screen experience.
But there are two things to consider about the Storm's screen: One is how it looks and the other is how it functions. Does the screen look good? Yes, absolutely. Does it function the way it should, every time, without any frustrations? Absolutely not.
I haven't experienced any problems with the actual responsiveness of the phone, as the Storm has never missed my click or misinterpreted my finger slide. Rather, most of the problems seem related to executing the instructions. These are so significant that I have devoted an entire section of this review to them, called Bugs and Slow-Downs.
There are a number of other smaller issues with the Storm's display, too.
One of its quirks reveals itself at night. Because there is a gap around the screen -- about four paper-widths' wide -- when it's dark, you can see light around the edges of the screen. It doesn't distract from the Storm's functionality or impact its performance, but it is noticeable. Like seeing a light around the cracks in a door frame, I wondered what's going on behind it, and seriously considered opening it up to find out. In the end, rationality prevailed and I simply accepted it.
An oversight with no easy solution is the inability to use this phone when wearing gloves. The touchscreen is unresponsive, and even pressing the screen to select whatever is currently highlighted doesn't work. This is an issue with the iPhone as well. The hard buttons on the front of the phone mean you can still pick up and end calls, and even call the last person in your call log.
The last question about screen design is how long can it last. It feels as if the entire screen sits upon very few contact points to give it the push-button feeling. If this is the case, then every time the screen is pushed down, these contact points are being worn. On a traditional BlackBerry or other smartphone, there are multiple contact points to distribute the wear over; I can't help but wonder if this touchscreen will have the same longevity as other phones.
It has a trapezoidal shape with rounded edges. The screen dominates the front of the phone, and there are four simple buttons on the bottom: "talk", the BlackBerry menu key, "return", and "end/power". These keys, unlike those on the Bold, are proportional and do not take up more space than needed.
The back of the phone boasts a brushed metallic finish, with the camera lens and flash near the top of the device.
A mute key and lock key crown the top corner of the phone. Unboxing the Storm, it was not immediately clear to me that these were keys but once I got used to them, they were actually pretty cool. Locking the phone can take up to four seconds after depressing the button and leaves room for improvement; unlocking is quicker.
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