As reported in The Storm joins the Bold, on November 21, I purchased the Storm on its first day of availability. I’ve since used the Storm as my primary device. Several weeks should be enough time for a fair review. Indeed, one of my pet peeves (I have many) is a review by someone who has had their device for only a day or two. That’s just not enough time to actually use the device in the many real-life scenarios that should be part of a fair test. Or for the initial infatuation (or disappointment) to wear off.
So here goes for my first impressions. I’ll also compare the Storm with the Bold, which (briefly) was my primary device until my wife, like the Communist countries of yore, nationalized it in the name of the people (i.e., her).
First, though, I’ll disclose my preferences that may influence my review. I really like touch screens, especially capacitive ones. Since my reading vision isn’t improving as I age, I also like larger screens. Perhaps it’s also a generational thing, but I don’t text a lot, and I keep my emails brief.
The Storm’s centerpiece is its screen. It’s large, 3.25″. This is much larger than the 2.8″ size standard in many Windows Mobile devices, and even larger still than the 2.65″ screen of the Bold. This size difference seems more pronounced when viewing the screen in landscape mode.
Size matters, but display resolution also is important. And the Storm’s is HVGA+ 480×360, superior to the iPhone 3G’s 480 x 320. Therefore the display is sharp as well as large.
My conclusion is that the Storm’s large and sharp screen is a big plus. The Bold’s screen is at least as sharp, perhaps sharper. However, no matter how many pixels you pack into a 2.65″ screen, 2.65″ is still 2.65″. 2.65″ is fine for emails. Indeed, my wife reports that she doesn’t need her reading glasses to use the Bold, as she has for past devices. Nevertheless, at least with my ancient eyes, 2.65″ just isn’t large enough to comfortably view web pages. Also, sometimes web pages are better viewed in landscape than portrait mode, which you can do on the Storm but not on the Bold.
The Storm, unlike other Blackberries, doesn’t use a trackwheel or a trackball to select, scroll or click. Instead, you use your finger on the Storm’s touchscreen.
The Storm’s screen is capacitive. A capacitive screen responds better to finger touches and scrolling than the resistive touch screens on Windows Mobile devices and the new Nokia N97. A capacitive screen also supports multi-touch finger inputs, such as to select multiple items, or for copy and paste.
The capacitive screen makes navigating and scrolling very easy. Indeed, I can scroll and select more easily on the Storm using my finger than on the Bold using the trackball. This is particularly true on long web pages.
Also, Blackberries are known for the ease of operating them with one hand, which can be a real convenience. With traditional Blackberries (like the Bold), you click a trackwheel or trackball which is always in one place that usually is very easy to access. By contrast, with the Storm, the icon you want to click is somewhere in the middle of the screen, not as easy to access with one-handed operation.
I’ve found I can operate the Storm with one hand more easily in portrait mode than in landscape mode. That’s probably because the keys, particularly the menu key, are at the bottom of the device (similar to where the trackball is located on the Bold) rather than on the left or right side of the face (as opposed to the right side as in many Blackberries). Since I hold my Storm with my right hand (even though I’m left handed), I choose the orientation where the keys (send, menu, back and end) are on the right side of the face of the device. This orientation makes one handed operation doable, though not as easy for me as portrait mode.
My conclusion is that scrolling and selecting on the Storm is comparable to other Blackberries. Indeed, while YMMV, I’ve found scrolling and selecting is easier with a finger than with a trackball. But “comparable” does not mean the same. Navigation on the Storm is different than on a traditional Blackberry like the Bold. Which you will prefer is a matter of preference. However, I do believe that the Bold is easier to operate with one hand. Nevertheless, the Storm can be operated with one hand in portrait mode, less easily (but still doable) in landscape mode.
The Storm’s capacitive screen differs from the capacitive screens on the iPhone and the Android T-Mobile G1 in how to start the application associated with an icon. On the Storm, selecting an icon just selects it. The selection does not act as a click, no matter how long the icon is selected. Instead, you actually have to click the icon to start the application. You do so by pressing the icon. The screen flexes slightly and returns a tactile response.
The advantage of requiring a click is you are less likely to accidentally start an application by selecting it. (This also is an advantage is typing). One disadvantage is starting an application involves an extra step. Also, the flexing of the screen can give a disconcerting impression that the screen is less than solid, or as Rob Bushway of GottaBeMobile more colorfully describes, the “clickity clack” screen.
The “clickity clack” may be inevitable given the screen functions as a hardware button. I don’t have a problem with it, but I understand why it could be disconcerting. Whether you love or hate or don’t care about the haptic feedback seems entirely subjective.
There may also have been a manufacturing quality issue, perhaps because of a rush to get the Storm to market for the holiday season. There have been a number of reports on the CrackBerry Storm forums of screen click problems, particularly in the corners of the screen, that were fixed by exchanging the Storm for a later manufactured one. There also are proposed fixes such as placing cardboard pieces by the battery and tightening screws. I haven’t had to do either though. Maybe I was just lucky and received a unit without QA issues.
The Storm has a software keyboard, unlike the hardware keyboard of the Bold and other Blackberries. The keyboard is either SureType or MultiTap in portrait mode, QWERTY in landscape mode. I can type decently. However, typing on a software keyboard simply is not as good as on a hardware keyboard. The tradeoff is that a hardware keyboard on the face of the device (like the Bold) takes up space that could be used for the screen, and a slide-out keyboard (like the Android G1) adds thickness to the device. So like so many other issues in life, trade-offs are involved. For me, the larger screen is more important, but for someone who types a lot, the hardware keyboard may be a must.
PhoneWreck‘s In-Depth Comparison: BlackBerry Bold vs. BlackBerry Storm (from which the picture originates) includes a typing test. The rather harsh conclusion:
“…the BlackBerry Storm goes against what BlackBerry’s initially stood for: efficiency and effectiveness. We could type relatively fast (26.7 wpm is pretty good, in our opinion), but it required so much effort and focus to keep the rhythm going. In fact, we’re exhausted from typing an e-mail.”
I’m not sure I’d be that harsh, but no question typing is both faster and easier on the Bold. So again, the issue is which is more important, the larger screen or typing.
The Storm’s performance initially was laggy. That improved with an OS update from .65 to .75. As of this writing, .75 is the most recent official Verizon OS. However, there have been leaks of two more recent OS versions, .83 and .85. I’m currently running .85, and performance has improved. I suspect performance will continue to improve with further OS versions, just as it did with the iPhone 3G.
However, PhoneWreck‘s In-Depth Comparison: BlackBerry Bold vs. BlackBerry Storm suggests a hardware reason for laggy performance, placing various capabilities on the shoulders on one processor rather than several so the device has a slimmer profile:
“The Storm is able to keep a slimmer profile due to the integration of GPS, audio codecs, high-speed USB, and graphical capabilities in one single processor, the Qualcomm MSM7600. On the Bold … each of these are separate ICs – SiRF, Wolfson, Cypress for the GPS, audio, and high-speed USB respectively.The MSM7600 has interfaces that support CDMA2000/1xEV-DO as well as HSDPA/EDGE/GRPS/GSM, has a 400MHz ARM11 Apps Processor, a 274MH ARM9 Baseband Processor, and two high performance DSPs. Unfortunately, as this is their first implementation, and RIM’s first graphic-intensive device, the launch firmware and integration came up a little short. Most elements requiring the intensive processor capabilities, proved to be frustrating to use, and nigh unusable. The latest firmware (unofficial, but much improved) provided many improvements to the accelerometer, browser, navigation, and general bug fixes. We do think this processor is capable; however, we believe that there is too much for this one processor to handle.”
Only time will tell if the initial performance issues can be resolved with OS upgrades, or if the processor is fundamentally underpowered for its job.
The current Storm models (9500 for Vodafone in the UK, 9530 for Verizon in the USA) do not have WiFi. Vodafone’s explanation, as reported in Storm is Coming … do I get Bold?, was “there was simply not enough room to pack in anything else on the motherboard.”
Do you need WiFi? Some say no because the Verizon EVDO RevA network is so good. That may be true overall, but not everywhere. One place it isn’t is in the hills where I live. The nerdy guy and his crew on the left never seem to be nearby.
Interestingly, a new Blackberry Storm model, the 9520, is in the horizon. Per this CrackBerry thread, the 9520 has WiFi. The 9520 also will operate on North America GSM and 3GSM bands. It likely will not be offered by AT&T any time soon because Verizon has a U.S. exclusive. However, Canada is not part of the U.S., so Canadian carriers such as Rogers will be offering the 9520. U.S. users still can buy the 9520, unlocked. The price for an unlocked 9520 is unknown; my guess is about $600 initially.
I have until January 24 to return the 9530 to Best Buy so I can buy an unlocked 9520 when it becomes available. I still would have to pay Verizon’s early termination fee of $175. But I’d also be saving $$ switching to a 9520 since I could use it on AT&T where I already have a family plan, whereas my 9530 is my only device on Verizon.
There also have been rumors (and just rumors) that Verizon will have a successor to the 9530 that will include WiFi and offer an upgrade path to the
suckers early adopters who bought the farm 9530.
Decisions, decisions. But I only have a couple of weeks to make that decision.
The Storm is a revolutionary device, for a Blackberry anyway. It does involve tradeoffs, particularity the large screen vs. the lack of hardware keyboard. Since the Storm is so different from other Blackberries, I’d recommend you play with it at the store if you can, or better, try out a friend’s. Anyway, hope this review is helpful, and appreciate your comments!