I have now written up my thoughts on the iPhone 3G vs. Palm Pre and iPhone 3G vs. HTC Magic so now it is time to move on to the RIM BlackBerry flagship product, the Storm. The BlackBerry Storm is currently the only RIM device with a touchscreen and thus fits in perfectly with our look at touchscreen focused devices. It also runs the latest version of the BlackBerry OS, version 4.7. I laid out what we know of the iPhone 3G with 3.0 OS operating system in my first article so I won't repost all of that content here. I will run through each section for the BlackBerry Storm and then offer my personal thoughts on how it compares to the iPhone 3G with 3.0 OS update on the last page of this feature.
I had a chance to spend a couple weeks with the RIM BlackBerry Storm when it was first released so I do have hands-on experiences to include in this article. There have been updates issued for the device since then that I understand have fixed several issues so I will try to make sure to account for that in my thoughts here. The BlackBerry Storm is a device that is sold here in the US through Verizon, but is also available as a GSM device in other parts of the world. I will focus on the US perspective and Verizon Wireless in this article since I am using these to personally evaluate and decide if any touch screen device is a fit for me.
Let me start off this article by also clearly stating I am not an expert in the BlackBerry world and use RIM devices from time to time as they are released. I switch my SIM into way too many devices to be locked into a BB provisioned SIM so I can never keep one around for too long.
Operating System - BlackBerry OS 4.7.x.x: The Storm was the first device to be released with this version of the OS because support was needed for the touch screen technology. Unlike the iPhone or Google Android devices where the OS was created and optimized for the touch interface, RIM took the existing BlackBerry operating system and added a few touch elements to it so it really is not a clean and slick solution that is optimized for touch. When I checked out the device there were several times when I could tell the OS was optimized for a hardware keyboard and touching to activate something often led to the wrong selection. I don't think RIM should start over from scratch with an OS optimized for touch because I am not completely sold that touch is the only way to go in the future. RIM is very good at QWERTY devices and for the most part their OS takes advantage of the tight hardware integration.
I do like that RIM provides you with a full QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode. A full QWERTY should also be coming to portrait mode in an upcoming software update. I think this is important because at this time you are restricted to a virtual SureType keyboard or multi-press phone keypad layout in portrait mode. This requires users to have two different keyboard layouts on the device and may lead to less efficient text entry. You still have the option of using SureType in portrait mode and offering the user more choices is usually better in most cases since everyone has different preferences.
One of the limitations in the BlackBerry OS is that all applications must be installed and run from the device memory and cannot be placed onto an external memory card. I understand there may be hacks to enable this, but we are not covering hacks here in these articles. The BlackBerry OS is designed to only allow storage of music, videos, ringtones, and photos on the microSD cards. This really only gets to be much of an issue for serious power users who may try to load up a ton of applications and I personally have never run into a low memory issue even with over 25 applications on BlackBerry devices. I have seen this error on my T-Mobile G1 running Google Android that also requires apps to be loaded into the device memory.
For the most part I find the BlackBerry OS to be very stable and robust. However, depending on what 3rd party application I may be trying out the device has been known to just freeze (similar to what the iPhone does) and you can't tell if something is running in the background or what is going on so you just need to reset it and move on.
The OS does support multitasking which I will mention more in my 3rd party application section and depending on your use of the device this could be a major factor in your decision process.
Cut, copy, and paste are supported on the Storm, but this will also be supported (and in an elegant manner) on the iPhone with the 3.0 update.
The BlackBerry OS is highly focused on messaging and one aspect that you either love or hate (I hate it myself) is the integrated inbox that puts messages from all of your accounts into a single inbox. On the iPhone it is a bit of a pain to back all the way out of an email account and then dive back in to check email, but I personally do like having my email appear in separate inboxes since I don't like to mix my work and home email accounts. You can also toggle this capability on a BlackBerry to have separate inboxes appear in the email client. There are some other settings for BES vs BIS, but I have never seen or used a BES supported device so I have no experience to comment on this aspect.
I cannot stand the way settings and options are managed on the BlackBerry OS and going into the settings takes you back to the 80s with a text formatted list that has several different settings and configuration options hidden deep down in cryptic topics and menus. They need to devote some developers to really cleaning up this area, but I suppose it discourages new users from changing many options and settings that may result in fewer tech service calls. As a power user though, I hate the whole settings layout and odd system with standard and advanced menus.
Hardware - RIM BlackBerry Storm: The main distinguishing feature of the Storm versus all other BlackBerry devices is the large 3.25 inch 380x360 touch screen display labeled SurePress. The entire display physically moves when you press it in and I have to admit that it is very cool to mess around with and is quite innovative in today's world of smartphones. You tap the display, without pressing it in, to select items and then press in to perform actions that you would normally perform by pressing in on the trackball or center of a navigation pad. I do wonder how it will hold up over a long period of time because it is quite a large panel that physically moves. In addition to the touch aspects of the display, it looks great when viewing videos or photos.
When I used the Storm it felt like I was working hard to enter text on the keyboard and I was unable to enter data as fast as I could on a hardware QWERTY keyboard or the iPhone software-based keyboard. From what I read online from people who have been using the Storm for quite a while now, you need to really spend some time with the device to get proficient at it. Thay may work for many folks, but devices like the iPhone are dead simple to use out of the box and that is what consumers seem to really be looking for.
The Storm feels great in your hand and is a solidly constructed product. There is a 3.5mm headset jack, Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support, good quality 3.2 megapixel camera (should be the standard on all smartphones), GPS receiver, removable 1400 mAh battery, 1GB of onboard memory with microSD card support, and EV-DO Rev A high speed wireless data support. The device also supports the use of a SIM card so you can use the Storm when you travel to other countries. The major wireless technology that is missing is WiFi. Even though Verizon Wireless has an extensive 3.5G data network, there are still times when WiFi is the better choice and current Storm owners do not get that without a WiFi radio. There is a rumored BlackBerry Storm 2 with WiFi that may be coming this Fall.
The Storm is thicker than the iPhone and not as slick, but the form factor still is quite attractive and simple. The camera can capture video content too.
Carrier - Verizon Wireless: In talking with folks who have Verizon Wireless they have nothing but good things to say about the coverage they experience. My brother and friends use Verizon here in Washington State because they get much better coverage outside of large population centers (such as when hunting or fishing). I was able to get strong signals on the Storm at both my home and office and during my commute so Verizon is definitely a good carrier choice for most users.
Most BlackBerry devices eventually end up on all the carriers so that you usually are not even limited to a single carrier when you choose a BlackBerry device. With versions of the Storm supporting GSM networks, we may see the Storm eventually come to AT&T and/or T-Mobile here in the US.
3rd Party Applications: In the post I found and downloaded almost all my apps to BlackBerry devices through the BlackBerry mobile site, which you still can do today. However, there is now the BlackBerry App World on-device store that makes finding and downloading applications much simpler and more centralized.
BlackBerry devices run apps that use standard MIDP APIs, with BlackBerry-specific APS available for developers to tap into and help integrate the application into the device. You can see this with some applications appearing in menus throughout the device instead of being completely by themselves. I find that there are a wide variety of applications for BlackBerry devices and I have yet to find anything missing that I don't have on other devices.
Some of my favorite applications for the BlackBerry are Facebook, TwitterBerry, Slacker Mobile, Shazam, Gmail, Opera Mini, Wall Street Journal, Documents To Go, and the Instant Messaging client.
As I mentioned in the operating system section, you can multitask on the BlackBerry Storm so you can have Pandora or Slacker streaming your music in the background while you work on a Word document or check email where you cannot do this with the iPhone and its lack of multitasking.
My Personal Choice and Final Thoughts
As I always state, purchasing a mobile device is a highly personal choice and IMHO there is not any single BEST device or operating system for everyone because we all have such varied needs. The Storm seems to be a device that you either love or hate as we have seen from online reviews. My fellow podcast cohost James Kendrick really likes his BlackBerry Storm as you can read in his initial review and follow-up thoughts (hyperlinks removed due to security issues) after a couple of months of usage. I only spent a couple weeks with the Storm and am thinking I may need to check it out again with the latest firmware.
I think the Storm trumps the iPhone when it comes to multitasking, but I would personally go for the iPhone over the Storm because of the much more touch optimized OS and extensive 3rd party application support. I am also an Exchange user and while the Storm works pretty well with my Exchange email via OWA, it is unable to sync my calendar and contacts directly. There are workarounds (such as Google Sync) to get around this, but I prefer a direct syncing solution.
I do think the Storm touch screen technology is very slick, but it really doesn't give you an efficient user experience and to me it seemed like a lot of work to enter text when compared to the iPhone software-based keyboard. Touch is not integrated into the OS and the experience on the Storm is similar to the Nokia 5800 where the OS added a touch layer on top of an existing layer and the experience is a bit kludgy.
RIM is the leader in great hardware QWERTY keyboard devices and I am not sure they should really be dabbling in the touchscreen area. I would rather see them continue to improve on their QWERTY keyboard devices and churn out excellent products like the BlackBerry Bold. I also want to see a major overhaul to the system settings menus that makes using and changing settings a better experience for the end user.
My next article will focus on the Samsung OMNIA HD that I had a chance to play with for a bit at CTIA last week.