BlackBerry Storm review
We review the BlackBerry Storm 9500, RIM's first touchscreen phone, and find out if it lives up to expectations
Verdict: It could have been a contender. Instead, it’s turned out to be a slight disappointment.
Price: Free on contract
Pros: Nice, bright screen, email handling, decent browser
Cons: No WiFi, click on the screen feels weird, lack of third-party apps
Design: Impressive piece of industrial design
Platform: BlackBerry OS
The BlackBerry Storm was one of the most eagerly-awaited phones in history, probably second only to the iPhone for hype prior to launch. This, after all, was RIM’s first touch screen phone. The combination of BlackBerry’s traditional solidity and superb email handling with a big, bright touch screen sounded on paper like a total killer product. But the truth has turned out to be a little bit more disappointing.
The BlackBerry’s specs are impressive. Of course, there’s the 3.25in screen, with 480 x 360 pixels crammed on it, and it’s capable of either portrait or landscape use, detecting which way you have it turned automatically. It’s light - 155g - and comes with 1GB of memory, expandable up to 16GB with a MicroSD card. There’s GPS and HSDPA, but - oddly - no WiFi, so you had better make sure that your data plan can cope with the usage you’re going to put 3G to. And there’s a 3.2 megapixel camera with 2x digital zoom.
The design factor
First of all, the good points: the Storm is a lovely piece of industrial design. Although it doesn’t have the iPhone’s black-and-chrome sleekness, it’s striking and good looking. For those not seduced by Apple’s visual uniformity, it may even be a preferred choice. There’s the usual sensible options: a real micro-USB port, rather than some proprietary nonsense; a real 3.5mm headphone socket; and a rocker switch for volume. The front has four buttons, for each of the standard phone BlackBerry OS keys.
The screen, though, is a bit of a mixed bag. First of all the good news: it’s a very fine-looking screen, bright and vivid. Now the bad: the system which marks the BlackBerry Storm out from the touch-screen pack just doesn’t work very well.
Carry on screening
What the Storm has which makes it unique is a screen which you can physically click on. Press it, and it clicks down with a satisfying pop. This isn’t the first time that phone companies have tried to introduce a level of tactile feedback in a phone. LG, for one, has had screens that vibrate a little when you press on them, which I found weird and instantly turned off.
You would think that a screen which clicked would be the perfect solution, but it just doesn’t feel that nice in use. It makes typing feel slightly more pedestrian than you can achieve with a normal touch screen, as you find yourself over-pressing to make sure it clicks rather than relying on touch.
The Storm’s screen is undoubtedly a bold experiment. But it’s one which I think misses the mark. However, it’s also something that I’d recommend you try for yourself as you may be far more comfortable with it than I was.
If the screen is a bit of a curate’s egg, the software is more of a mish-mash. It’s part-standard BlackBerry, part native touch screen phone, and there’s a tiny but noticeable delay occasionally with things like scrolling that made me a little jumpy at times.
The good news though is that the browser is a light-year beyond anything that’s been on previous BlackBerrys. It makes good use of that big, bright screen and generally renders everything reasonably well. It’s not quite as good as either of the two WebKit-based browsers on the iPhone or Android, but it’s more than good enough for most uses. And unlike the iPhone, if you want a different browser, you can install the excellent Opera as a replacement.
BlackBerry is synonymous with email, and the Storm is no exception. Like all BlackBerrys, the email application is good (and now supports HTML - hurrah!). You can view mail from multiple accounts in their own inboxes, or - Apple take note - in a single, unified one. Delivery of messages is as prompt and solid as you would expect, and if your company uses BlackBerry Enterprise Server you’re going to enjoy the experience.
Where the Storm is let down a little, though, is in the selection of third-party software available. Compared to the iPhone, there’s nothing, and the quality of applications taht are available is even more hit-and-miss than Android. Even Windows Mobile has better applications. What’s more, not every application is compatible with the Storm, although the selection is increasing all the time.
I really wanted to like the Storm a lot, which may be one of the reasons that I’ve come away from it a little disappointed. It’s good, but it has enough rough edges to make using it a less-than-joyful experience. There’s nothing that made me recoil in horror, but the combination of the slightly-off clicky screen and lacklustre software other than the browser and email left me feeling a little let down. Maybe the next version will be the phone that drags me away from my iPhone - but it won’t be this one.