Blackberry Storm review

January 26th, 2009

top

While touchscreen phones have been around for years, recently they’ve become all the rage. The Storm is RIM’s  new touchscreen phone.

A few years ago the idea of a Blackberry with only 10 buttons on it might have seemed absurd since they typically have QWERTY keyboards. Well, that was then, this is now.

This storm is for on Telus (a Canadian CDMA provider). Besides the CDMA/EVDO rev A hardware it also has a built in Quad band GSM/EDGE radio so you can use it to roam. There is also Bluetooth support but no WiFi.

Let’s take a tour of the Storm:

left

On the left, there’s a micro USB connector and voice command button.

top

The top has a hold button (to turn off the touch screen) along with a mute button.

right

On the right is a 3.5mm headphone jack along with volume and camera buttons.

front

The front has send and end keys along with a menu and back button.

back

Build quality is not bad. The battery door is made from metal and fits quite well. The rest of the device is plastic and has a substantial feel to it. That means it’s heavier than it looks and doesn’t shift or creak when you squeeze it – which is a good thing.

Now touch screen phones have been around for many years. The Storm has the kind that you have to use your finger to operate – it won’t work with a stylus. The big difference with the Storm is that the screen moves in when you press it, just like a button. So while some other touch screen phones shake or play a sound when you press them, the Storm feels like a button.

As I’m typing this review, it’s very cold outside, cold enough that I wear gloves outside. The touch screen will not respond if you’re wearing gloves.

Now a Blackberry’s raison d’être is to message. Since there’s many physical keys on the Storm, you’ll have to use an on screen keyboard.

I’m not crazy about on screen keyboards, while I feel they’re adequate for tasks such as text messaging and emailing, they drive me crazy when I have to accomplish tasks like entering web addresses, phone numbers, that sort of thing.

Now, while they differ somewhat feature wise, the Storm’s obvious competitor is the iPhone. With that in mind, I really tried to use the iPhone and Storm keyboards for a few days before I wrote this.

keyboard

Compared to the iPhone, the Storm lets you use a QWERTY landscape keyboard in more programs. Besides the browser, you can also use it when messaging (SMS, PIN, MMS, email), taking notes, etc. Having landscape mode for more applications is nice but I often found it obscured too much of the screen.

keyboardmenu

I found it difficult to type accurately. Normally this isn’t a huge problem because the Storm will automatically correct spelling errors. It is an issue when you’re entering web addresses, people’s names and other things that aren’t in the dictionary.

Another problem I found was when you’re typing hard and banging away at the on screen keyboard sometimes you’ll press a key before the screen has gone back up.

I had some issues with the screen’s calibration. A lot of the time I found myself pressing the wrong key no matter how much I practiced. I found I got the best accuracy when I only used one finger to type instead of using 2 thumbs at once. You can touch the key to see if it will light up before you actually press it all the way in but you don’t want to have to do this all the time because it slows you down.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was fixed in a future firmware release.

keypad

Besides the QWERTY keyboard there’s a regular numeric keypad which you can use when the Storm is in portrait mode. The numeric keypad supports regular multi tap entry or you can use T9 which I actually preferred to the QWERTY keyboard sometimes. Part of this is due to my history of T9 usage but some of it is also because I prefer the bigger keys.

You can use certain gestures; for example you can swipe the screen from side to side to move between emails, swiping down will hide the keyboard, etc.

Menus:

There are some nifty menu transitions, sometimes screens fade in and out and certain screens ‘scroll’ when you’re moving between them. While they don’t seem to slow the Storm down, they could be a little faster.

Now as I mentioned, the screen can be pressed like a button. It’s a neat feature. You can touch it without pressing the screen in or you can press it with enough force that it does go in.

In general, touching the screen lets you scroll, pressing it in selects.

If you put your finger on the screen and slide it around, it looks a lot like it does when you’re scrolling the trackball around on a non touch screen Berry.

If you press and hold the menu button, it will pop up a task switcher.

In some applications you can select text for copying and pasting by using 2 fingers. You touch the screen with both and then can refine the area you want to select with one finger. Copying and pasting this way is fairly intuitive and works okay.

The screen automatically rotates when you turn it sideways. The rotation is pretty sensitive which is both good and bad. It’s good because it usually works when you want it to, it’s bad because sometimes it rotates when you don’t want it to. Regardless, the rotation usually happens pretty quickly.

When you connect the Storm to your computer, you have the option of putting it into mass storage mode. In this mode you can write and read files to the memory card and built-in memory.

When writing files to a 8GB Sandisk SDHC memory card I observed write speeds of around 4mb/s – that’s pretty decent.

Messaging is the same as other Blackberries; you get SMS, email, instant messaging, PIN messaging and MMS. You can set up it up with BES if you have an Exchange server or with BIS if you’re just using IMAP or POP email. Email gets pushed to the Storm automatically as you receive them.

One thing to remember is that when you first setup the Storm with BIS you’ll only get emails you’ve received AFTER you’ve set it up. You won’t get the older ones.

One neat trick you can do is when you’re viewing your inbox, you can touch a name and hold it (without pressing) and have the Storm search for emails from that name. You can do the same with the subject (find emails with matching subjects) – neat!

You can search the contacts by typing in part of their name. It’s pretty standard stuff. One nice feature is that you can view the activity log. When you do this it will automatically find all phone calls, text messages, emails, etc., from that contact. It’s pretty useful since there are so many different ways of communicating with a Blackberry.

The calendar has daily, weekly and monthly views. There’s also an Agenda view which shows you all your appointments in a list; it also shows you when you have free time.

The browser supports regular HTML pages.

You can touch the screen to scroll or press it to zoom/click a link. The Storm is smart when it comes to scrolling. It can tell if you’re scrolling up/down. When you do that it won’t scroll sideways. Like-wise if you’re scrolling sideways.

Browser speed is okay. Like previous Berries, when you request a page, the page gets sent to RIM where it’s compressed and images are re sized so that they’ll load faster on the Storm. This really helps things though given the fact that the Storm is getting help I was hoping pages would load faster than they do.

Still I’m okay with the speed, what really bothers me is that the Storm only has support for one page at a time.

Whenever you request a page, the page loads slowly, then when it’s almost done it pauses for a few agonizing seconds. Basically it’s the same problem I noticed on the Blackberry Bold. I assumed this problem would be fixed by now but I guess it’s not. Another problem is if you’re loading a page with lots of images; sometimes not all the images will load.

The media menu is where you view your pictures, videos or listen to music. I tried encoding some DVD’s using HandBrake using the built-in iPhone profile to test video playback.

Just for reference that’s HandBrake 0.9.3, h.264, 480 pixels wide keeping the aspect ratio, 59% quality and 128kbps audio.

They played fine on the Storm though I found the controls got unresponsive at times. Raising the quality 100% caused some skipped frames though to be honest video looked great at 59%.

You can use the keyboard to sort through your music collection – nice.

The built-in mono speaker is fairly loud. The headphone out isn’t quiet or anything but I thought it could use a little more volume. There is support for A2DP so you can use wireless Bluetooth headphones.

The Camera has a resolution of 3.2 megapixels. It has an autofocus lens plus a fairly large LED flash. The camera isn’t that great; it has very slow focusing speed which makes it useless if you’re trying to be spontaneous. Keep in mind most autofocus camera phones are like this.

There is support for geotagging photos.

Image quality is average, that is to say it’s not very good. The sensor isn’t very sensitive plus the lens seems slow which means it’s very difficult to take pictures of moving people indoors.

The video camera program can record videos with a resolution of up to 320×240.

The clock app automatically launches when the Storm is plugged into a power source. This is nice since many people plug their Berries in right before they sleep. You can quickly set an alarm from the clock.

You can use the included maps program with the built-in GPS. The maps program downloads map info as you need it which can get expensive if you’re roaming. The mapping program is just that, a mapping program. It will show you how to get somewhere but it won’t provide guidance as you’re going.

If you want the map program to show you how to get somewhere from your current location make sure you click the ‘start GPS navigation’ button before you hit the ‘get directions’ button. Otherwise the program will require you to enter your starting location.

The memopad and todo list can sync with your computer or with Exchange.

The calculator switches from basic to scientific when you rotate the screen.

Included is Documents to Go which you can use to edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. You’ll have to pay extra if you want to create files… or you can download these blank Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and edit them.

There are 2 built-in games: BrickBreaker and Word Mole. Playing BrickBreaker is strange on a touch screen, then again it was strange playing it on a trackball for the first time when I was used to using a jog dial. I prefer Word Mole on the Bold’s smaller screen.

Performance:

Sound quality is pretty good.

RF performance is pretty decent. It’s almost as good as my Motorola v3c.

Battery life is pretty disappointing. The battery should last one day but not much longer then that. You can almost see the battery meter move – it’s sort of like a HSDPA phone in this regard.

Conclusion:

For a while I really disliked the Storm’s keyboard because I couldn’t type extremely quickly on it because of the clickable screen. However, after a while I began to realize that I can’t type that much faster on say a Blackberry Bold. What does get me however is that I always make some mistakes when using the keyboard. When messaging this isn’t as big a problem because of the auto correct but it drives me nuts when I’m entering addresses into the GPS or browser.

Still, I found the clickable screen is a good thing when it came to the menu. Its especially good if you’re a beginner and not sure what a icon does because you can touch it to see what it does.

I was annoyed that the browser only supports one page at a time.

The music player isn’t bad and transferring files is fairly quick so I don’t really have complaints here. The video playback is decent though I wasn’t crazy about the responsiveness of the controls.

In the end I didn’t hate the Storm, it’s just that if I were to use a Blackberry I’d probably get a QWERTY one (preferrably the Bold).

Howard Chui
01.26.09

Entry Filed under: Phones,Research in Motion

11 Comments Add your own

    Blackberry Storm  |  January 27th, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    This phone will be a solemn challenger to the iPhone. I love that how successful the Blackberry App Store will be since the Apple App Store is the standard. As well, can I sync my iTunes crap to the Storm because iTunes is hands-down the best multi-media application out there. I’m not so concerned about the size because it is smaller than the iPhone except for the thickness for which the iPhone. Regarding weight, the iPhone is smaller than Storm.

    Apple Otaku  |  January 27th, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    While I”m an iPhone fan, it’s good to see that companies like Blackberry and Palm putting are putting pressure on Apple to further innovate and improve their mobile offerings.

    xattica  |  January 27th, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    I really cant wait to use that beauty… The iphone without push notifications does not compete with a blackberry.

    MTH  |  January 28th, 2009 at 10:09 am

    I have owned the Storm since 11/21/08. I do not recommend this RIM 9530 device. RIM and Verizon need to recall this thing or someone needs to get the lawyers to file a class action suit against them. It’s hard to fix a device that functions just as designed when the design was fatally flawed from the very beginning. Go bold. Not Storm. Storm a perfect name but very unfortunate name for the RIM 9530. Let’s just say it’s not a “Perfect Storm”.

    The device is well made and nice to look at, however the software is very immature. This device should have NEVER been released with the current software. It is extremely slow to change from portrait to landscape. The keyboard pops up as it desires. The buttons are very unresponsive. There is a MUTE Icon on the in call screen that is activated by your cheek. Muted or even worse goes to speaker phone due to this live software buttons on the touch screen. Not sure why they need an icon mute button when there is a physical mute button just above the led message light. This phone reboots at will and take over 8 minutes to become useable again. Verizon and RIM have really over hyped this phone. It’s not anywhere close to the iPhone. Typing on the keyboard is a hit on miss thing. Selecting text is impossible. Just moving around the screen is a challenge.

    Media player will not play more than one track at a time and when the tract starts to play its plays only to suffer an ear and speaker shattering digital skip ant then continues to play! Once video starts playing forget trying to press any keys they do not respond! This must be at least early Alpha software 4.7.075 the official Verizon version. For Verizon in this case it’s not the network it’s the device.
    Battery life is about 9 hours on a good day less if you listen to media, 3 hours if you turn on blue tooth. Hard to believe RIM or Verizon would release this device if anyone in their company ever really tested it or used one for more than an hour!

    John  |  January 31st, 2009 at 1:56 am

    I saw this at the Verizon store when I was picking out the LG Dare. I played around with it, while it’s an awesome phone with excellent features (I even liked it more than the iPhone) I didn’t care for the clickable screen though. I’ve also yet to see a mobile browser with a screen like the iPhone.

    hesslei  |  February 2nd, 2009 at 4:24 am

    Try the TripChill iPhone travel assistant the next time you travel. Get real-time flight alerts, book hotel and car, view alternate flights, notify friends of travel status, manage your itinerary, and much more.

    ————————
    hesslei….

    unimax  |  February 2nd, 2009 at 7:02 am

    i like it

    unimax  |  February 2nd, 2009 at 7:06 am

    i like it seams easy to use

    TerrorX  |  February 20th, 2009 at 12:46 am

    I have received news that a new beta phone is in the works and RIM already has a prototype. Can you say bold meets storm? bolds qwerty and proc but with the upper half touch.no idea when this info will be leaked with any physical proof but from what i heard from someone withing RIM it is coming. As well as a gsm 3g storm : )

    Arlie  |  February 25th, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Storm is nice little comp-phone. It browse faster than iphone. speakers louder – stereo bluetooth – 3.2 megapixel cam. anti scratch screen – battery life longer (at least for my selfphone does the job prety good) – can upgrade to bigger memory card. Over all – get this phone and you will like it. if you get this phone on 2008 probably you need to retun it due to bugs – but get the latest 2009 – you will find the different. who care about wi-fi if Verizon always there to connect you to browser with full speed?? Throw away my iphone 3g and switch to storm – LOVE IT ALOT!!

    atlantica power leveling  |  July 25th, 2009 at 5:15 am

    While touchscreen phones have been around for years, recently they’ve become all the rage. The new MMORPG of atlantica power leveling is hot now, we are providing the cheap atlantica power leveling service for you. The Storm is RIM’s new touchscreen phone.

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