BlackBerry Storm Review
June 2009: A software update to version 4.7.0.148 has been released. It fixes a lot of the issues mentioned in this review. You can check our hands-on with the new update here.

This review has been updated on 11 December, 2008

Introduction:

What’s this, the new BlackBerry? Woah, it has no keyboard. And…did it just click? You’ve never clicked a screen before, is that supposed to happen? Is it supposed to feel so…tiring? And why is this screen wiggling around, am I supposed to be seeing the circuit board? Why is it so heavy; the iPhone isn’t this heavy? The interface is pretty neat, but why are page transitions taking so long. Did it just flip orientations on me? I didn’t even move it. Wait, now I did move it and the orientation isn’t following. What’s going on, I thought this was supposed to be an iPhone killer? This is what Verizon is putting their muscle behind? Really?

And so goes our first ten minutes with the BlackBerry Storm. RIM, the company that said touchscreens were a fad, has thrown their hat in game with their latest and “greatest” device. The only problem is that this device will alienate their customer base. We have no doubt it will sell, after all how many posers are carrying BlackBerries now just to say they have one, unaware of what BlackBerry Internet Service or Desktop Manger even is. Too many, and the Storm will only exaggerate that. But the true BlackBerry user, the enterprise customer who would just as soon trade in their wife then their beloved Curve, they won’t last five minutes with this. It’s unstable. Typing is atrocious and unbelievably inaccurate (seriously, there were times when we couldn’t even decipher what we had just typed.)

Ok, it's not all bad and for those users that don't actually use a BlackBerry for its BlackBerry functions it's a pretty good device. The browser is pretty awesome. The new interface has eyecandy galore, although there’s really nothing fundamentally new. “Verizon” isn’t plastered all over the device. Videos look fantastic on the 3.2” crystal clear display, and with 1GB of internal storage and an included 8GB microSD card there is plenty room to store them. It has an autofocusing 3.2 megapixel camera with flash that can record QVGA videos. It’s a quad-band GSM device, and VZW will eventually provide you with the subsidy unlock code, meaning that you can conceivably use it on T-Mobile or AT&T here in the States, though you won’t have 3G data. But it’s just…off.

Design:

The first thing you notice is how heavy the Storm is. It’s nearly an ounce heavier than the iPhone and Bold, and a full ounce and a half heavier than the Diamond and Curve. We appreciate heft for the sake of quality, and in fact have taken some criticism for knocking devices that are too light, but the Storm is just plain heavy. It’s also wide; its 2mm narrower than the iPhone, but 6, 9 and 12mm wider than the Curve, Dare and Diamond, respectively. The 3.2” display makes it tall, but it’s a full 7mm taller than the Instinct which also has a 3.2” screen.




You can compare the BlackBerry Storm with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

For the most part the design is very solid. Its very iPhoney in appearance, with the large touchscreen and chrome trim, but you’ll never be mistaking the two. Four familiar hardkeys- Send, Menu, Escape, End- sit at the bottom of the unit, though this time without a trackball to separate them. On the left side is a convenience key and microUSB charging/data port (a first for RIM); on the right is a 3.5mm headset jack, volume rocker and another convenience key. All of the side keys are chrome, and the black side housing has a rubbery finish.


The 3.2MP camera and flash are in a glossy housing on the top of the rear of the Storm. The prominent battery door is brushed metal which feels wonderful. At the top of the door is an embedded chrome BlackBerry logo, and at the bottom is a small, screen printed Verizon one. Shockingly, this is the only Verizon branding you’ll find on the Storm, a very welcome change from pretty much every device they’ve put out in the past 8 years. The very bottom of the back is the same rubbery finish as the side housing, and in fact integrates with it.


The single speaker sits on the back where the door meets the rubber housing. RIM has incorporated a subtle but great design touch, and flanking the speaker are two rubber feet which raise the device off of a surface ever so much. One of the biggest problems with rear facing speakers is that they are muffled when set down, and this slight spacing cleverly addresses that issue. Kudos to the engineer who thought that one through!

In portrait mode the Storm feels unnatural in the hand, much like the iPhone only heavier. It’s much better in landscape mode, and we’d imagine most people will be utilizing this orientation more often than not. The weight is better when holding it with two hands rather than one, but that’s not to say it’s good.


The screen, oh man the screen. It’s pretty darn gorgeous, but we can’t get over how it moves. It was literally the first thing we noticed when we picked the device up, and our exact reaction is “why the hell does this thing wiggle?” It’s very disconcerting, and makes the Storm feel incredibly cheap. There is play in all four sideways directions, and a lot of it. We’re not talking a little wiggle, we’re talking gaps big enough that you can clearly see the circuit board below. We realize it’s probably necessary and alleviates stress when clicking the screen, but man does it cheapen the device. But it is pretty. Videos looked amazing; crisp and bright and vivid.

And then there’s the whole clicking issue. In theory it’s a good idea, because who hasn’t inadvertently brushed a touchscreen and selected something they didn’t want. By highlighting with a tap, then selecting with a press theoretically the user gets exactly what they want. For those reluctant to give up their keyboard it also provides tactile feedback. The key terms here is “in theory,” because in practice it’s annoying.

First off, if it worked perfectly it might be a different story, but it doesn’t. Lag is present throughout the device (more on that later) but most frustrating with the selection process. There are times when we found ourselves clicking on an item, but the Storm only registered the highlight. It wasn’t common, but common enough to be a legitimate gripe. It is also inconsistent. In the commercial we see the mysterious hand swiping across the home icons, and the highlight following his finger. This doesn’t happen in real life, at least not on the homescreen or main menu. In the Media application, however, you can do just that with the icons at the bottom. Again, minor gripe but it’s just an illustration of the ill-executed nature of the Storm.

Most importantly is typing, especially since we’re talking about a BlackBerry. To say the Storm misses the mark is an understatement. This may sound like hyperbole, but we cannot think of a keyboard worse than the Storm. Ever. Touchscreen or not. Unless you’re typing along at hunt-and-peck speeds it simply cannot keep up with you and is horribly inaccurate. We compared onscreen keyboards from the Diamond, iPhone, Instinct and Dare and put them up against the Storm. On the first three devices we were able to quickly tap out messages with minimal mistakes, and autocorrect usually fixed our errors. The Dare had some trouble keeping up, as we noted in our touchscreen comparison review, but in general it got most of it. Messages on the Strom were often unreadable. As we slowed down we got more accurate, and tweaking some of the sensitivity settings helped a bit, but at full speed it just plain couldn’t perform.

We have a feeling there are two things that may be causing this. First and foremost is that the software just isn’t that good. The other factor, one that we could control, is that the screen can’t handle multiple presses (multi-touch.) We found that there were times our one hand was still slightly touching the screen, so that when we clicked with the other it registered the wrong finger. In this respect there is a learning curve, but we don’t get the feeling that we’d have it mastered in any amount of time. After all, with the exception of the iPhone none of the other phones have multi-touch and we did not run into the same issue. Keyboards have always set BlackBerry devices apart from the rest of the crowd, and the Storm is no different, except that this time it’s setting the standard on the other end of the spectrum.

Lastly, typing is tiring. After just a few messages our thumbs began to feel fatigued, and we were not alone in thinking that. We had several people try the device, and without mentioning it they all said the same thing. Keep in mind this was just after a few quick text and PIN messages, typing out a full email was downright exhausting on our thumbs. We often found ourselves wondering how RIM could have ever passed this device through beta testing, not to mention release it and market it as the iPhone killer.


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