Review: BlackBerry Storm - RIM's Touchy-Feely Smartphone

The BlackBerry Storm was badly bruised by reviewers soon after its release, especially by an overwhelmingly negative review by David Pogue, the most influential tech writer, in The New York Times.

Afterwards, there was so much piling-on, that you might expect the Storm to be the worst product of 2008. But it's far from that—especially after a much-needed and welcome software update.

As the first BlackBerry with a touch-screen interface and no physical keyboard, it's a radical departure from previous models and a worthy challenger to the iPhone. It has its share of flaws, many of which were lessened by the first software update, but we suspect it will appeal most to people who haven't used a BlackBerry before.

The Storm has an attractive glossy black exterior, and is actually larger and heavier than the iPhone (4.43 x 2.4 x 0.55 inches, 5.47 ounces.) by a slight amount. It feels solid and sturdy in the hand, with comfortable contouring on the sides.

It doesn't feel like it's going to slip out of your hand, like the iPhone does.

Where the iPhone puts nearly all of its controls on-screen, the Storm offers four physical buttons along the bottom of the screen: call start and end, menu, and go back. There's a voice dialing button on the left edge and volume keys and a camera button along the right. You'll also find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right edge, which means you can use standard headphones with the Storm.

Application Menu

The top offers lock and mute buttons. These last ones aren't external buttons, though, but areas where you can push down and feel a click. We didn't like the lock button placement, as we kept pushing it accidentally when carrying the phone in a pocket.

There's no keyboard on the Storm, but a 3.3-inch, 360 x 480 pixel, touch screen, with attractively vibrant colors. Thankfully, there's no stylus either; this interface is designed for finger taps. The rear holds the 3.2-megapixel camera lens, along with a bright flash.

RIM know that the traditional BlackBerry interface might be an impediment with a touch screen, so the Storm's interface is real break from tradition. Either way, it takes getting used to, and isn't as intuitive or uncluttered as the iPhone's.

We're not sure why the designers made some of the choices that they did. For example, the home screen shows eight buttons for often-used tools, such as messages, contacts, and calendar.

If you tap the physical menu button along the bottom, you'll get a full-screen view of all the available applications. You can swipe a finger to scroll through this list, but you can't open or close it with the touch screen; you open it with the menu button and close it with the go back button.

The designers took a risk in creating the Storm's most notorious feature: the physical click needed to tap something on the screen. It's called SurePress.

Unlike other touch screens, where you simply tap the item you want, the Storm requires you to depress the screen slightly until you feel a click. The whole screen acts like a physical button.

We can see how it was meant to appeal to people new to touch screens who might not be comfortable with them, but using it is no pleasure. Making that little extra press is tiring, especially when you're composing e-mail.



Blackberry, RIM, Research In Motion, BlackBerry Storm, touch screen
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