RIM's BlackBerry Storm: awkward and disappointing

Research in Motion's BlackBerry Storm looks handsome enough, but it will disappoint prospective buyers hoping for a credible touch-based iPhone alternative.

The BlackBerry Storm.

The BlackBerry Storm.

I did appreciate the Storm's use of RIM's excellent SureType predictive text entry; and the decision to go, in portrait mode, with the 20-key QWERTY layout used on the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 and other narrow BlackBerry handsets was probably a good one (especially for users contemplating a migration from a Pearl).

However, RIM made one extremely annoying data-entry decision: When you enter a number, you press a key to access the numerals--but after each entry, the keyboard returns to the default QWERTY design, so you have to tap twice for each digit you enter (once to access the number keypad, and again to designate the desired digit). This may be an artifact of the way RIM's hardware keyboards work (typically, you have to hold down an ALT or similar key to enter numbers)--but when translated to software, it's a disaster.

[Note: After this article went live, a reader noted that you can in fact type several numbers in succession without having to go to the alphabetical keyboard by holding down the key for accessing the number keypad for several seconds, which essentially locks it in. The manual explains this, but the capability wasn't intuitively apparent. However I still think the alternative approach of having the number keypad remain accessible by default would have been better.]

Elusive browser navigation controls

A larger screen always enhances Web browsing, but I found the Storm difficult to use because it lacks on-screen back/forward keys. To go back, you may either press the escape key or press the menu key and then select 'back', but I never found a way to move forward.

The on-screen controls let you bring up an address bar, switch between page and column views (a feature that didn't help much on sites that identified the Storm as a mobile device), and zoom in and out on a page. Unfortunately, selecting and clicking did not make for a great Web browsing experience.

Where touch wasn't a major issue, the Storm functioned well. Phone call quality was solid, and Verizon Wireless probably should get some credit for this: The Storm maintained calls that the iPhone and AT&T Wireless dropped in the same location, to the same number, at the same time of day.

I was very impressed by the audio quality of MP3 files that I listened to through the bundled earbuds, and a video movie trailer that came on my device looked pretty good. RIM says that its screen responds to lighting conditions, and I believe it: Whereas the iPhone can look dim outdoors, the Storm never did.

The Storm's camera certainly outshines the iPhone's, not only in megapixel count, but with regard to its autofocus and flash. The GPS worked well, too, both with a simple maps/written directions app and with Verizon's optional fee-based VZ Navigator service.

The Storm also comes with Documents to Go productivity apps, and of course it provides RIM's excellent support for corporate e-mail systems (though setting up the desktop software on my PC and performing an initial sync took 20 to 30 minutes, longer than I had anticipated).

The Storm comes with an 8GB microSD card; and with that addition, it has as much total storage as the $199 iPhone (if you take advantage of a $50 mail-in rebate for the Storm, the two handsets will be at price parity, too). You get a concise printed manual, a card and pamphlet with information on global tech support, and plug adapters that enable you to recharge the device wherever you may roam.

But people who were hoping for a credible iPhone alternative fortified with BlackBerry's strengths as a mobile tool for corporate travelers will likely find the Storm a disappointment. When it comes to touch interfaces, Apple still has no peer.

[Even before seeing the BlackBerry Storm, some journalists had reservations about it. Read a list of reasons to pick the iPhone over the Storm by Al Sacco of our sister publication, CIO.]

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Tags Blackberryresearch in motionmobile phonesblackberry stormsmartphones

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Yardena Arar

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