Storm 2: The Misfit BlackBerry

Storm 2: The Misfit BlackBerry

Summary: To say that the BlackBerry Storm 2 frustrated the hell out of me would be an understatement. During my evaluation of the product, there were frequently times when I wanted to throw the expensive $500 device at the nearest wall, or reach for a bottle of Xanax.

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"But, BlackBerry, everyone loves you! Why would you come here?"

If you're an American, there are certain cartoons you just HAVE to watch during the holiday season no matter how many times you have seen them, such as "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "Frosty the Snowman" and the venerable (and my absolute favorite) "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" , which was part of the Rankin/Bass series of stop motion animated specials that were produced during the mid-1960's thru the mid-1970's. Oh, they don't make them like that anymore.

Verizon Wireless recently capitalized on America's endearment with the classic animated special by airing a parody commercial in which the reigning rival smartphone, the Apple iPhone arrives at the Island of Misfit toys because AT&T's 3G reception is spotty. Unfortunately, what Verizon doesn't tell you is that they have a misfit toy of their own -- the BlackBerry Storm 2.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Since the recent coverage of my early experiences with Verizon's DROID (which indeed I feel should be considered the wireless provider's premier smartphone)  I was contacted by Research in Motion's public relations firm, Brodeur, and asked if I'd like to look at Verizon's latest and greatest high-end Blackberry offering, the Storm 2, which is currently selling for $179.00 on the Verizon Wireless web site with a new 2-year contract. Being a gadget freak and former lover of all things BlackBerry, I said sure, ship one over.

Now, understand that while I am currently a DROID user and a Verizon customer, I was previously a BlackBerry user. Specifically, my last two devices were a Bold 9000 and an 8820, both on the AT&T Wireless network. The ultimate reason why I abandoned the BlackBerry was because I no longer needed mobile access to corporate email and was was able to end my wireless contract early.

The fact that AT&T Wireless was dropping my calls and the lousy 3G coverage sealed the deal, but if my employer were still paying for corporate email integration, I would almost certainly still be using my AT&T BlackBerry Bold 9000 today (which I have now given to my wife, who is still under contract) until which time I could get a comparable BlackBerry on Verizon.

Corporate email and messaging is BlackBerry's greatest strength. The fact that virtually all BlackBerry devices have some sort of keyboard along with an easily navigable interface is what makes Research in Motion the 800 pound gorilla in the business smartphone space that it now occupies.

While the BlackBerry OS platform itself is aging in comparison to the other market players from an application standpoint, such as iPhone and Android, there is absolutely nothing out there that can match it as an enterprise messaging device.

Despite being behind in mobile web browser capabilities (a problem which the company is seeking to rectify using a modern WebKit-based browser with its recent purchase of Torch Mobile) no other device has comparable enterprise email and calendaring integration, has the ability to deploy IT policies for securing enterprise mobile data or has guaranteed message delivery using a privatized and secure network that Research In Motion uses with BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).

So when I received the BlackBerry Storm 2, I had to evaluate it on the merits of its BlackBerry-ness as well as its role as a smartphone within the diverse Verizon portfolio of device offerings.

The Storm 2, like the original Storm that came before it, is unique in that it is a keyboard-less BlackBerry and is a completely touchscreen-based device like the iPhone. It is also unique to the Verizon network as no other wireless carrier in the United States has it in its stable. In Canada the GSM version of the phone, the 9530, is available on multiple carriers including Bell, MTS, SalkTel and TELUS.

First, let's get to the good. The build quality of the Storm 2 is excellent. It's definitely one of the sleekest smartphones out there in terms of industrial design, rivaling the iPhone in pure sex appeal, in that it feels wonderful in your hand and and slips nicely into your shirt pocket. The capacitive 480x360 touchscreen is one of the best and brightest I have ever seen in terms of visual quality, although in terms of pure resolution it's no match for the DROID's 480x854 -- but then again no other phone currently sold in the US market is.

What I'm saying here is nothing new. Our own Gadget column blogger Andrew Nusca also looked at the Storm 2 shortly after it launched in late October.

I'm not going to repeat a lot of Andy's verbiage because I think his assessment of the product is dead-on and well worth reading. However, I think that from the perspective of someone who has been a habitual BlackBerry user for the past two and a half years, my views differ in the area of my practical experience with RIM's devices and how Storm 2 compares to previous generations of their own hardware.

Also Read: With BlackBerry Storm2, RIM wins the battle but loses the smartphone war

To say that the BlackBerry Storm 2 frustrated the hell out of me would be an understatement. During my evaluation of the product, there were frequently times when I wanted to throw the expensive $500 device at the nearest wall, or reach for a bottle of Xanax.

Anyone who has used a current-generation BlackBerry for any length of time will first try to move their thumb where the trackball (or trackpad) is in order to move through the menus. On a Storm 2, the trackball/thumbwheel isn't there. So in absence of a scrolling device, you touch and swipe the screen with your finger in order to get your way around. You get this immediate feeling of being an amputee, that something is missing from the experience.

To replicate the "clicking" paradigm of depressing the trackball in on a traditional BlackBerry, the Storm 2 has a unique "SurePress" interface where the simple act of just lightly touching the screen doesn't cause any application activity other than the icon or menu item itself lighting up. You actually have to press into the screen until you feel a click, which is somewhat unnerving because I have a built-in psychological aversion to pressing hard on LCDs for fear of damaging them, and probably so do a lot of other people.

The adaptation of a touchscreen interface to a BlackBerry is weird to say the least. I'm not accustomed to thinking of BlackBerry OS as one that is optimized for touch, and for lack of a better expression, it seems unnatural on a Storm 2.

My Storm 2 was preloaded by Verizon with an email address, but I wanted to get the full experience of integrating it with my existing email, so I went through the process of going through the Setup wizard and adding my GMail address and using the BIS service.

This of course requires that you have to type in information. No biggie on a traditional BlackBerry -- those have physical keyboards. But on a Storm 2, you have to use the virtual keyboard.

I am sure there are plenty of people out there that are used to the concept of a virtual keyboard and might even be able to type effectively on them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. Like previous generations of Perlow men, as my father and and his father before him, both of which worked with their hands (both were dental professionals) my digits are larger than what the ideal Storm 2 customer probably has.

Still, my ogre-like fingers aside, it's hard not to think that based on the UI experience, the target Storm 2 customer must have the hands of a pre-schooler or an elf, because the level of accuracy for the on-screen keyboard in full QWERTY-mode when the device is in landscape view and in alphabetical predictive portrait mode is just plain awful.

Essentially, you don't "Type" on a Storm 2 per se. Instead, you "Slide, light up and press". If you simply just press on a letter, chances are you will probably touch the adjoining letter, which will highlight/light up. The technique that I found for achieving the most accuracy with this device was sliding my index finger in a somewhat hovering fashion over the keys until the appropriate letter lit up and then pushing in until the Surepress feedback clicked.

Even after having this device a week, I still can't get it right more than 50 percent of the time. The times when I have had to really interact with the virtual keyboard have been when I have had to enter my account information in an application (Such as the native GMail Mobile app, FaceBook for Blackberry or OpenBeak, a popular Twitter client) and use passwords.

On a keyboard-based BlackBerry it isn't such a big deal when you make a typing mistake because it can be very quickly corrected, but when you can't see your password being typed, or can only see the character pop up for a fraction of a second before the masking asterisk appears, you'll find yourself tearing your hair out when you mess up logging into an account multiple times in a row.

Once you get your accounts set up and have the menus and icons tweaked exactly the way you like -- a process that seems like hours on a Storm 2 -- it's more or less business as usual in terms of the way the standard BlackBerry apps work, unless of course you actually have to type something, such as respond to an email. Then it's back to slide, light up and press hell again.

There may certainly be people out there that could have a positive experience with this device, but I can't imagine it would be the majority of folks out there, especially if they are existing BlackBerry customers. If you're an existing BlackBerry user on AT&T or another carrier and want to migrate to Verizon, I would be very hard pressed to recommend this phone to you based upon my own frustrating experience.

Instead, I'd recommend a more traditional RIM design, such as the BlackBerry Tour 9630 or BlackBerry Curve 8530.  The Tour has the benefit of Quad-Band GSM for world use but lacks the Wi-Fi capabilities of the Storm 2 or the Curve. The Curve has a somewhat less durable build quality and a far less impressive screen than the 9630 or Storm 2, but it has Wi-Fi as well as the updated trackpad which isn't susceptible to being gummed up.

Ideally, I would like to see a version of the Blackberry Bold 9700 on Verizon, but so far, the phone is only available on T-Mobile and AT&T. So far, it seems that if you want to be a BlackBerry customer on Verizon, you have to be willing to compromise on at least one major feature (Keyboard, Wi-Fi, or screen and overall build quality) I'm hoping that Verizon rectifies that soon.

Is the Storm 2 Verizon's "Misfit BlackBerry?" Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware, Collaboration, Mobility, BlackBerry, Verizon

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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Talkback

38 comments
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  • You lost all credibility the moment you claimed

    the blackberry had an easily navigable interface.

    Every blackberry user I know, including you, touts one thing and one
    thing only that keeps them using it. Corporate email integration. In fact,
    in your case, the moment you didn't need corporate email integration
    anymore, you dumped your blackberry in a blink of an eye. So much for
    loving the device for its own merits.
    frgough
    • What else could have I said?

      The basic BlackBerry DOES have an easily navigable interface and has the easiest to use and best integrated messaging of any smartphone available. I also said the OS was dated in terms of its application capabilities, which also includes their current browser (although this should improve shortly as RIM bought a Webkit-based browser company). I'm not exactly sure how I could have said it any plainer than I did.

      If you need corporate email nothing matches a Blackberry. But if more advanced smartphone features are important to you, then you should be looking for something else.
      jperlow
      • Curious...

        What at the "more advanced smartphone features" that are supposedly not available on Blackberry?

        I am a Blackberry user of the Tour 9630 and the 8830... and the web browser isn't perfect, but it is ok...and there are MANY MANY awesome applications available via several different app stores including the Blackberry App World which is growing daily...

        As for ease of use, it is total simple. Not sure who struggles with navigation on a Blackberry but those folks most have had a lobotomy.
        condelirios
        • I might need a lobotomy indeed!

          I have both a Blackberry Storm and a T-Mobile G1
          (personal use), and I don't know about you, but
          I have been in this portable devices things even
          before the Sharp Zaurus and the Palm Pilot,
          before the marriage of PDA and cell phones they
          now call "smartphones" and pal, to tell you the
          truth, I use this Blackberry because was given
          to me by my company.

          Nothing else to say.
          czorrilla
    • Not true at all

      I and several others I know use it for things like the Crackberry Messenger and the full keyboard... I do use it for e-mail but not corporate e-mail and to me it has more features than the I-Phone for less money so that is why we use it.

      slickjim
  • The Blackberry Storm: It fits me

    As a long-time Blackberry user, I can understand some of Jason's comments. I have the original Storm and there is a learning curve to the keyboard. But once you have it down, you will appreciate the extra screen real estate compared to other Blackberry devices. I wouldn't want to go back to a physical keyboard.

    Personally, I have found the SureType keyboard to be a great assist for typing in portrait mode. It is fast, accurate, and works great one-handed. If I need to type in a web address or password, I'll quickly flip it over to landscape mode for the full Qwerty keyboard. Like any predictive typing experience, SureType requires a little trust but I have found it to be worth it.

    I have had a great experience with my Storm. It may not be for everyone, but it certainly fits me.
    RunSilent23
    • Me too...

      I agree with many of the issues raised having experienced the same pains on my original Storm. I have changed my mind considerably and really like the Storm now after upgrading to v5.0 OS. Now the Storm feels like what it should have been when it launched. See also my blog post about the Storm here: http://www.emailtide.com/2009/11/16/5-reasons-to-consider-the-blackberry-storm/
      tecexec
    • Not me

      Through work I have the Storm. I think Jason summed it up best from my perspective when he said that the OS wasn't built for touch.

      To me the Storm feels so kludgey. It seems like RIM was trying to fit a square block into a round hole.

      RIM is in a hard place, I believe, because their OS really is a mess to navigate but it is what many many business users have learned to use. They can't drastically change the interface without alienating their loyal customer base and they can't draw in new customers with such a poor UX.
      mikefarinha
      • They can't draw in new customers?

        The marketshare for Blackberry increased at a higher rate than for the iPhone over the past year....I am guessing those are new customers....
        condelirios
    • BB Storm 2 love-hate relationship

      I just bought the Storm 2, and I both love it (great display, good call quality, email works great) and hate it (frustrating keyboard). I don't text or email much from the phone, especially if there is a computer nearby that I can use instead, but I'm slowly getting used to the Storm 2 keyboard. Obviously a QWERTY keyboard on a cell phone is going to have compromises, and virtual keyboards have pros and cons vs. physical keyboards. An advantage is the Suretype keyboard is acurate and fast, and if you don't like that you can rotate the device 90 degress to get a portrait layout with a wider keyboard. When you don't need the keyboard it doesn't get in the way of displaying a message or web page. However by it's very nature there is no tactile feedback in chosing a virtual key like you get with the tradiitional BB device keyboard. When you select a key with your finger, the key lights up with a blue halo, which is a good thing, because your finger is blocking the keyboard character so you can't read it. Only when you "press" the key do you get feedback in the form of a haptic vibration. The iPhone virtual keyboard shows the key selected in front of your finger, so it's easier to be certain you have selected the right key. So the Storm 2 keyboard takes a learning curve. One other thing with the UI is strange, to delete/modify words, you have pres the text with your finger, then a text modification cursor appears. You're supposed to move the cursor to the end of the text you wish to delete/modify, and then use the backspace key to delete modify. No arrow keys or trackball, it's a weird system that takes a learning curve lke the keyboard. I can navigate around alright using the touchscreen, and the email works great, so I don't know whether I'l get something else. The main reason I got the Storm was it was similar to the iPhone in many ways, but with a replaceable battery, WiFi, and of course it was Verizon, which works a lot better than AT&T for me when I travel.
      cjc5447
    • This. Lots and Lots of This.

      This is exactly it. I've had my Storm1 for most of this year now, and I can't wait to get my hands on the Storm2. For the first month-plus I had it, I was frustrated beyond mention. However, once I "got it" it became my favorite phone ever.

      I was in the Verizon store a few weeks ago and given the choice between the Droid and the Storm2, I'm going to go with the Storm2 very soon.

      The browser is poor, but that will be fixed either by RIM's acquisition of that browser maker, or when Skyfire finally releases for the Blackberry (though Opera Mini 5 Beta is pretty great on the Storm right now.)
      MichelliL@...
  • RE: Storm 2: The Misfit BlackBerry

    If the Storm 2 is anything at all like the Storm 1, it will be a result of Human Peristalsis (hint: the result of human peristalsis is something that typically stinks).

    I attempted to use the Storm 1 for, oh, 3 months. It was like 3 months of torture, fit for the contrivances of a certain past president that will remain unnamed (here).

    The keyboard was not even the worst feature (but it was close). The thing kept freezing, many many times a day, and a battery pull to unfreeze the thing took roughly 5 minutes. The calls were dropped frequently, and the phone would even freeze during calls.

    Verizon support told me many times "Oh, upgrade the software". "Oh, upgrade it again." Well, after upgrading to the 'latest' software 4 times, couldn't Verizon see what I was seeing? A loser of a product.

    I have not and will not use any other blackberry products as a result of the Storm 1. Would I consider trying a storm 2 for free? No, and I wouldn't recommend one to my friends for free either, if a usable cell phone is important to them.
    e_blind81@...
  • Jason - Check your Screen/Keyboard Settings

    Key Rate = Fast
    Portrait View Keyboard = SureType
    Tap Interval = 200
    Hover Period = 100
    Swipe Sensitivity = (High) 6

    Works well for me on Storm 1
    iTeaBoy
  • Storms do not appear to be aimed at the traditional RIM user

    One is a fool to do the same thing over and over and expect the outcome to change.

    Well there is the opposite, of doing something different and expecting the outcome to be the same.

    Doh!
    Patanjali
  • RE: Storm 2: The Misfit BlackBerry

    The first BB Storm was the worst phone I have ever owned. Try going skiing with one, i was on the ski lift and i couldn?t answer the phone b/c my finger was cold. I bet that was not fixed.

    I now have the BB curve but the web-browser sucks so i hardly use my phone except for email and texting. Plus the track ball is starting to give me issues. (Oh how I miss my iPhone).

    I think the Androd could be next in my future........ (Copy has the big V so no iPhone)
    kmwinders73
  • "Lightning strikes twice"

    I about coughed up my hot chocolate the first time I saw the Storm 2 commercial. There hadn't been that much deceit and denial in a commercial since Saddam put together some video footage and had guys walking amongst rubble wearing labcoats with the words "Baby Milk Factory" on them.

    You'd have to be a bloody idiot to have bought one of the Storms, and yet there were plenty of users suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, proudly proclaiming how non-problematic their Storm was.

    Yeesh.
    ejhonda
    • I bought one of these...

      in early February (Storm 1) and I avoided the problems that many had with the initial firmware. It really has been a fantastic communication device for business. It also has a lot of consumer appeal - My kids grab it and are constantly listening to music, watching videos, updating Facebook, and monitoring their fantasy football teams with it.

      I get it. Many had troubles with their Storms but RIM has worked hard to get rid of the kinks. It isn't the same device that came out last November and that is especially true with OS 5.0. If you haven't experienced it lately, you don't know what the Storm has become.

      Be careful with generalizations about everyone's experience. It's easy (and often comical) but it isn't accurate.





      RunSilent23
  • Led astray by opening statements

    While I agree with what you've found dispicable about the Storm 2, you didn't say anything that current Storm (9530) users didn't already experience, yet since you were a previous BB user, I assumed you had already evaluated the Storm or at least knew its foibles.

    So, this blog could have easily been about the Storm since what you describe fits the 1st touchscreen offering by RIM.

    I thought there was going to be something new to hate (love) about the Storm, but I didn't find that out from reading this blog.
    gwd3@...
  • RE: Storm 2: The Misfit BlackBerry

    OMG how I hate my BB SCRUM 1. It's been a year of frustration, numerous battery pulls and visits to Verizon Techs. What a piece of crap!

    I bought it and now I'm stuck with it.
    RIMSuffer'
  • RE: Storm 2: The Misfit BlackBerry

    With the introduction of 5.0 the Blackberry Storm 9530 became an outstanding smartphone. The shame there is that it took them a year to do it and it was awful out of the box.

    The Storm 2 is an amazing smartphone, and has tremendous potential right out of the box. I like you have large hands and find typing on the Suretype keyboard a breeze.

    People are too quick to judge. I don't like your article.
    Valace2