Hands on: RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 smartphone

The BlackBerry Storm 2 phone is an overall improvement from its predecessor, but SureType still feels a bit unintuitive.

RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 smartphone

RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 smartphone

When the BlackBerry Storm debuted last fall, RIM's first touchscreen device received not-so-stellar reviews. RIM took reviewers' and customers' gripes into consideration, however, when designing the BlackBerry Storm 2 (US$200 with a two-year contract from Verizon; price as of 10/14/09). The result? This is the Storm that I wish RIM had released last year--the device's build, the on-screen keyboard, and the software are miles beyond the first generation. Even so, pressing to type still takes some getting used to.

In measurements and display size, the Storm 2 is identical to its predecessor. It weighs just slightly more (0.1 ounce more, to be exact) than the original Storm. If you put the two handsets side by side, however, the older Storm looks clunkier. All of the buttons on the Storm 2 are more recessed, making for a more streamlined design. Hardware buttons no longer run below the display; instead, the new handset offers touch-sensitive buttons there. And unlike with the first model, on this version you won't see a crack between where the display ends and the keys start--this alone puts the Storm 2 eons beyond the Storm in design aesthetics.

The absence of that (somewhat disturbing) crack is due to the new SurePress technology, which is now electronic rather than mechanical. You still have to push down to type or select an application, but the unit no longer feels wobbly or clumsy to press. As my colleague Yardena Arar noted in last year's review of the Storm, the mechanical SurePress interface was often inaccurate: You'd press one application, and another would activate.

Without getting too technical, the difference in the two generations lies underneath the display. The original Storm was essentially one big suspended button mounted below the screen's center point. Below the Storm 2's hood, in contrast, four activators sense when you're pressing on the screen. This design allows for a more stable navigating experience.

I had a much easier time typing on the Storm 2's keyboard than on the original's, but I still can't get accustomed to pushing down on a display to type. I know that it is supposed to feel more natural than a typical touch keyboard, but I think I prefer the physical BlackBerry keyboards. I do like how you can hold down the Shift key and a letter to capitalize it, as you would on a physical keyboard. A colleague with larger hands had more difficulty typing on it than I did, however.

One interesting thing to note: RIM studied the way people typed on touch keyboards, and found that, while typing quickly, they often briefly held down two keys at once. The Storm 2's keyboard mimics that by having both keys respond when you press them, thus making typing faster. And of course, the keyboard has RIM's excellent SureType predictive-text entry, which facilitates speedy typing.

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Ginny Mies

PC World (US online)
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