Telus BlackBerry Storm Hands-On

As I promised earlier this week, I did some more extended hands on time with the BlackBerry Storm, now that it has been released by Telus. The firmware installed on the device was, which seems to be one point ahead of Verizon’s recent firmware release.

BlackBerry Storm firmware

The device I played with at a Telus ‘roadshow’ was a preproduction unit; it even had the Research In Motion property sticker on the back. The retail device I used earlier this week probably had a newer firmware as it felt significantly faster and more responsive. The portrait-to-landscape rotations were very quick, far quicker than my iPhone, if I might say so. There was very little delay between clicking on an application and it actually opening. Scrolling through the main menu was smooth. I didn’t get a chance to check out the browser as the device wasn’t activated at the time. In general, the device felt pretty snappy, although the lack of animated transitions in some parts made the experience less polished than on the iPhone.

BlackBerry Storm versus Apple iPhone 3G

The device itself feels amazing in the hand. The combination of the rubbery sides and brushed metal back is luxurious and the heft of the device lends an air of robustness. It feels like an expensive device. It looks good, although when sitting next to the iPhone, it’s easy to see that it hasn’t quite matched it in terms of industrial design. I’m certain the iPhone will appeal to consumers more from an aesthetic point of view. On the other hand, the Storm still looks professional, despite being one of the more consumer-oriented devices from Research in Motion.

Now onto the input. A few of the people at the office hadn’t read much about the SurePress display and didn’t realize it was clickable. Others, who knew about some sort of click mechanism, thought it was a localized depression of the screen, so upon finding that the entire display moved, they were a bit disconcerted. There’s no tactile expectation for touchscreen devices and although the SurePress mechanism is a great idea, it may actually end up confusing some users.

BlackBerry Storm keyboard

This time, I was able to really analyze the typing characteristics of the Storm and boy, it’s tiring. Because the screen doesn’t rebound from a press very quickly, one automatically puts more force into the screen. In addition, to ensure all presses are registered, the typing on the Storm becomes very disjointed. There’s no flow. Normally with something like a Curve, the thumbs can press keys in rapid succession, with keypresses overlapping slightly. Here, that isn’t possible. Even with other touchscreen devices, such as the iPhone, because there is no distinct rebound of the screen, it’s relatively easy to type at a quick rate. It’s very difficult with the Storm.

BlackBerry Storm menu

I also noticed some ‘play’ in the screen itself. It was slightly loose and could be moved back and forth. That makes me worry about the longevity of the mechanism itself.

In terms of multimedia, while the user interface isn’t quite as slick as the iPhone’s, the media player is quite competent, with large album art displays and simply controls. Video playback is very fluid and clear. There’s no sign of artifacting or tearing on the 480×360 resolution display. Telus includes an 8GB microSD card in the retail package so you’re off to a good start for media storage.

BlackBerry Storm music interface

RIM also incorporated a 3.2MP camera with the Storm. This is the first auto-focusing camera module RIM has put in a BlackBerry, meaning pictures turn out significantly better than with previous devices.

BlackBerry Storm

Although I had plenty more time with the Storm this time around, my conclusions are much the same. With the shipping firmware, the device is snappy, looks great and has a big screen to rival the latest touchscreen devices. The idea behind SurePress is great, but in practice, the rebound speed of the screen is simply too slow, which makes the typing experience tiring. As a result, what had the potential to be a great competitor to the iPhone, turns out to have one of any BlackBerries’ most important features, the keyboard, compromised.

Typing on the BlackBerry Storm

I had a very brief hands on with a BlackBerry Storm last weekend at a Telus ‘roadshow’. The first touchscreen BlackBerry has been hyped pretty hard, so it had a heck of a lot to live up to.

Let’s just get it out of the way: yep, a bit disappointing. Now, I spent only around 10 minutes trying out the SurePress interface system and came away somewhat worried about the execution. The idea is absolutely marvelous and accuracy seemed more than fine (I was pleasantly surprised how nice it felt overall), but the rebound of the screen was a bit slow, limiting the speed at which you can type. I think this is the main issue many reviewers are coming upon, even if they don’t identify it as such. The ‘unresponsive’ description of the touchscreen has to do with the fact that a second action is attempted before the screen ‘resets’ itself. Think trying to double-click your mouse too quickly. Is this a big deal? Yeah, it sure can be. Perhaps RIM needs to consider an option to disable SurePress and let it function as with most other touchscreens, with the select and execute actions rolled into a single touch.

Some reviews and extended hands-on comments have said given time, one gets used to the new input method. I have no doubt of that. But the question for me is whether ‘gets used to’ is enough to actually enjoy using the device. I don’t want something I simply tolerate. I should be able to get an extended try-out with the Storm sometime this week or next, so hopefully I’ll be able to see if one indeed gets used to SurePress to make it a breeze to use.

One thing’s for sure; I’m looking for the device that melds the email and business features of the BlackBerry and the big-display usefulness of the iPhone. I need some more time to see if the Storm is the device I’m looking for.

Dear Neighbor

I spent a portion of this past weekend shoveling out from under a massive snow storm. In the Niagara Region, more than 45 cm of snow fell in a 36 hour period between Friday evening and Saturday night. In fact, this winter has been accompanied with an abnormally large amount of precipitation. Several parts of southern Ontario are hitting or close to record snowfall levels. I went out midday Saturday with my dad to perform a mid-storm shoveling of the driveway. I figured it would make the re-dig on Sunday more bearable. I haven’t shoveled snow in a very long time and my technique showed it – lift with the knees, not with the back they all say. I definitely didn’t. I awoke Sunday to a sore back.

Winter Storm - March 08

By the good graces of our neighbor, I didn’t have to shovel that day. He was in the process of finishing snow blowing our driveway, without so much as even mentioning it! Luckily I caught him as I glanced out the window after waking up and made sure to go outside to greet and thank him. I was very touched by the show of generosity on his part. Thanks Peter.

I’ll leave you with another photo of the freshly plowed driveways and roads. As you can see, some of the snow drifts reach more than halfway up the passing truck.

Winter Storm - March 08