RIM and Vodafone turned up at our front door yesterday, in their Review Bus. We'd had warning: "We'll be outside your office at 16:10. We may have room for you."
My lord, what a way to show off a phone! I had visions of some tour coach appearing, stuffed full of partying reviewers, or perhaps a double decker packed to the straps with keen young PRs. "Why not come on up to our offices and then you can show it off to everyone who's interested?" I asked. "No time!" said the PR. "Can't be a very big bus..." I suggested. "It might be a mini-bus", they conceded.
With military precision – if you're Fred Karno's Army – the bus arrived. At 15:05, when I was at my desk thinking about very different things. "There's a woman for you at reception," said the IM. Some of my worst scenarios instantly play out in my head. "She says she's expecting... no, sorry, she's expected. From Voda."
Phew. OK, let's go and see this phenomenon. For fun, we form a massive posse and descend to the street mob handed, preparing to rush the bus.
There is a silver people carrier, just big enough for a small selection of demo bods with a couple of Blackberry Storms squeezed between them, and a rather sheepish PR. "I might have over-hyped it a bit..." she admitted, in the face of six quizzical eyebrows arched heavenwards. "We could always go up to your offices."
Enough of that. How about the Storm? Well, as my colleague David Meyer's more thoughtful conclusion says, it's unfair to judge a novel user interface until you've used it for a while. Things that look immediately clever have hidden niggles, and stuff that seems incomprehensible can snap into reason after a little while in real life.
So when I say "Uhhh....", that's a provisional "Uhhh....". But "Uhhh...." it is. The screen looks fine; it's big, bright and resolute. The phone itself is sleek, rather big and rather heavy – this is, says RIM, taken as implying quality, but I felt the ghosts of chrome bumpers and rocket-fin tail-lights cluster around.
This sense of classic American gas-guzzler only intensified when I laid finger. The Storm's schtick is that the entire screen moves into the body of the phone when you press on it – the idea is that you lightly touch to select something, then click by adding pressure. That by itself is not necessarily a bad thing: it provides positive feedback that's more tactile than any haptics. But two aspects of it are unsettling.
First, you're moving quite a large screen. This takes much more pressure than other systems, and there's a lot more inertia involved. As a result, the sensation is rather wallowy: it's a bit like prodding a tortoise and asking where it hurts. It also drastically limits how quickly you can type, although that may have been exacerbated by the general impression I got that the phone was a bit slow. (There's another update due for the software before release, so for many reasons that impression may prove inaccurate. But it's there now.)
Second, there's a small but perceptible gap around the edge of the screen. On something that's destined to live in the dusty, stringy, bitty world of pockets, that seems a disaster waiting to happen. You know how much crud collects inside the battery compartment and various electronic navels of ordinary phones; imagine that distributed around the action bits of a large component that has to move in order to work, within a crevice that seems impossible to guard or clean. I have enough problems in that department with my own 'built for comfort, not for speed' body - I'm not sure I'm ready for it in my phone.
We shall see. I must admit I don't quite understand the obsessive love so many people have for their Crackberries, so can't predict how popular this not-bad-go-at-Iphone-considering will be. It'll certainly have an easier time penetrating corporates, even if it doesn't arrive in the world's most dramatically shrinking bus.