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 126.96.36.199, which seems to be one point ahead of Verizon’s recent firmware release.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.