News Column

Weathering the BlackBerry Storm

Jan. 28, 2009

Jeremy Nisen--Online Editor,

BlackBerry Storm, blackberry review, storm review
Photo by Matt Graves,

Editor's Note: This review of the BlackBerry Storm has been updated from the print version to reflect firmware updates that, as anticipated, mitigated some of Tech Vault's less favorable first impressions.

One of the buzzwords of the decade is convergence. Manufacturers are trying their best to squeeze feature after feature into every device, things we didn't know we needed until we find ourselves addicted to them. There's a reason that the BlackBerry line of phones has been nicknamed the "crackberry," after all.

Tech Vault tried out the BlackBerry Storm, the much-anticipated smartphone from Research in Motion. I'll say this up front: The technology is impressive and the style is sharp. But how it performed is another story -- one that requires more nuance than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down.

There are two ways to analyze the BlackBerry Storm.

The first is strictly as the next iteration of a BlackBerry device. The Storm tosses out the traditional physical QWERTY or "SureTypeŽ" pad or virtual versions of them on the touchscreen that disappear when not needed. The device proves largely proficient at all the things BlackBerrys are well known for: e-mail integration, texting and other messaging, and a good phone -- basically, everything you need to stay in touch when you're on the go.

The second way to look at the Storm is as a convergence device -- a smartphone attempting to compete with the likes of the iPhone or even non-touchscreen do-it-all devices such as the Samsung BlackJack. It's as a convergence device that the Storm moves from impressive to the middle of the pack. But it may not have to stay there.

The Sunny:
The Storm comes with an 8 gig Sansa Micro SD card, and has a good amount of on-board memory to boot. That leaves you plenty of space for photos, MP3 files, ringtones, videos, and other files.

The real-time push e-mail and messaging features are top-notch, intuitive, and very useful, once you get used to the keyboards.

While I readily admit that the touchscreen interface took some getting used to, once I did, messaging, e-mailing, and the like were a snap, if only a bit slower than on my usual (full, physical QWERTY keyboard) device. The touchscreen is different from anything we've seen before as it's clickable, which gives an extra dimension of interface to the device that many of the utilities -- and games -- take advantage of (particularly the virtual keyboard and menus). One disadvantage of the "clickscreen," however -- since only a full screen click registers your input, you lose a little typing speed. You can't be half into your next keystroke as you type a letter, as you can with a physical keyboard

Again, it has some whiz-bang visuals. Images and videos look beautiful on the Storm. The screen rotates to fit whatever orientation (vertical, horizontal) you're using to view the phone. I really enjoyed using the GPS program, which was a big help one Saturday I spent traveling to open houses. The browsing software is fairly intuitive, even if fat fingers are prone to missing the hyperlinks they are trying to "click."

The Cloudy:
Out of the box, a lot of that cool technology -- even the typing and the screen rotation -- experienced lag. I'll note that the slowness in screen rotation was largely resolved in a firmware update -- a fix that increased my overall experience significantly and was not accounted for in the print version of this review.

However, the video lag I experienced in my initial magazine review was never resolved. I'll reiterate: don't even attempt to fast-forward a video. For some reason the default music player doesn't allow skipping ahead.

Internet browsing is far from high speed. Whether that's because of Verizon's network or sluggish browsing software, it's not up to par with competitors. I still hold hope that these remaining issues will be resolved with future firmware updates and new, possibly third-party, applications.

The Stormy:
The 3.2 megapixel camera seemed promising, but the focus is poor and can only take a decent picture under ideal conditions. I know not to expect much from phone cameras, but I've seen and taken better pics on other, less modern smartphones that didn't have the advantage of a dedicated flash.

While you can look at small PDF files you receive via e-mail, there's no native support for larger-sized PDFs; nor can you view PDFs that you've stored on that micro SD card. PDFs are such an important part of many businesses these days that this oversight is a little mind-boggling.

The Forecast:
It seems that the Storm is a little confused about what it wants to be. Is it the next business must-have or the next iPhone? In striving for these marks, it misses both -- the former by a little, the latter by a pretty good margin. Overall, however, it is an already-impressive device that can easily make up for many if not all of its drawbacks with updates and new apps.

In a nutshell: if a fun, multi-purpose, do-it-all smartphone is your goal, the Storm will do in a pinch, but you might look elsewhere. But if you're a BlackBerry fan primarily concerned with business integration, and you want something sexier than RIM's other products, the Storm could definitely be for you.

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Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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