The BlackBerry Storm, the first BlackBerry with a touchscreen, is going to be released by Verizon Wireless in a couple of days.
When this device showed up in my mailbox, I tore through the box, powered it up, and for the most part haven’t looked back since.
Based on initial impressions, the Storm seems to meld traditional RIM functionality with the fun and innovative touchscreen of the iPhone and others, resulting in something boasting the best of both and stronger than either.
While the new BlackBerry Bold is slightly larger than I imagined, the Storm is smaller than I expected, and fits comfortably into my pocket.
It’s noticeably heavier than the older BlackBerry Curve, though, and a feather heavier than the Bold.
The Touch… the Feel… the Screen
The touchscreen — the focus of this smartphone — is responsive and crisp, and features great contrast and the right amount of sensitivity.
You have two options for working with this display. 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. It’s easy to navigate the menu by dragging your fingers to move across rows or columns and selecting items with a tap.
Tilting the BlackBerry 90 degrees will turn screen from portrait to landscape mode, but this feature is diminished by up to two seconds of lag.
There is about a four-paper-width gap between the screen and the chrome edge. As a result, you can move the actual screen by softly resting a finger on the face. The device has a distinctly solid feel to it overall; however, this movement in the screen was a little disconcerting the first time I felt it.
The typing experience using the Storm’s on-screen keyboard is an amalgam of earlier BlackBerrys and the iPhone.
To select a key, you have to fully depress the screen. This solves the tactile feedback problem that so many users have brought up as a flaw of the iPhone and other touchscreen-based phones, but doesn’t fully replicate the button experience.
Because the entire screen is made up of one piece of glass, it’s difficult to accurately strike two keys next to one another in rapid succession, as the screen is still depressed from the first key when you try to hit the second. This issue reveals itself when trying to quickly write out an email or type a memo, but is a non-issue in instances such as entering a website address.
The Storm will correct spelling mistakes on the fly, but I found that my typing was less accurate than usual on this device. Although some of this is normal and comes with getting used to such a radically different keyboard, something tells me that I won’t ever type quite as fast on the Storm as I can on a device with a physical keyboard.
A larger display that’s also a touchscreen leads to a better web browsing experience.
By default, the browser displays pages in an easy-to-read pane from which you can zoom in or out. You can use your fingers to navigate to areas off the screen that can’t be seen at first, and links can be clicked by depressing the screen. When your finger isn’t directly over a link, or where there are many links, depressing the screen zooms in.
Holding the screen down reveals a toolbar that offers the choice of “Go To,” Column View,” “Cursor Mode,” and zoom in or out.
Unfortunately, the Storm lacks Wi-Fi, so you’re limited to the speeds of Verizon’s EV-DO network, which is fast enough for most purposes. Another browser discredit is the lack of support for sites like Pandora.com. YouTube.com is supported, though.
In general, the browser is intuitive and easy to use. By far, the Storm boasts the best browser I’ve used on a BlackBerry, though it does come up short in some areas. It is leagues ahead of some mobile browsers but it still doesn’t compare to the full-featured browser of other devices (read: iPhone).
The BlackBerry Storm shakes up market in a huge way. RIM has been making a strong play for more market share among personal users, and the Storm fills a huge gap in its product line. It provides a great good browsing experience, consistent sound quality, GPS navigation via Verizon’s VZ Navigator, all of which come backed by RIM’s flagship messaging service.
If you can stand the fingerprints on your screen (I can’t seem to get them off!), this phone will give any other smartphones a run for their money. To be the envy of your friends while maintaining form and functionality the Storm may be hard to beat.
After I’ve had more time with this device I’ll have a more complete review.