Do you loathe on-screen keyboards and miss the day when you could buy a smartphone with a physical keyboard? Do you want a rugged phone that you can use outdoors with gloves? ...
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
The original BlackBerry Storm was RIM's first smartphone with a touch-screen, and the company went for broke with a full-frontal screen that used an innovative technology, SurePress, in which the entire display area depressed as you pushed at it. Here at ZDNet we were less than sure of the touch-screen mechanism's long-term viability, and were puzzled by the Storm's lack of Wi-Fi.
Undaunted, RIM has produced a second generation of the Storm, the logically named Storm2. Wi-Fi is now present and correct, and the whole approach to the touch-screen has been rethought. Like its predecessor, the Storm2 is only available via Vodafone in the UK (free on contracts at £35 a month or more).
At first glance you could easily mistake the Storm2 for the original Storm. The general hardware design is unchanged, although there are signs of the 'hundreds' of small changes that RIM says have been made. For example, the front buttons beneath the screen still offer Call, End, Back and Menu functions, but are now integrated into the screen panel rather than being separate buttons. There is no silver frame surrounding the black shell. And on the back the speaker has moved so that it sounds louder when the device is sitting on a desk.
The upper edge contains touch controls for mute and on/off/lock functions. A pair of convenience keys, one on each side, can be set to whatever function you choose. The Micro-USB port for battery charging and PC connection is on the left, while the volume rocker is on the right.
Also on the right side is a 3.5mm headset jack. We're pleased that RIM has again chosen this connector style, but would prefer it to be mounted on the top or bottom edges where it's more ergonomic for the pocket. Unfortunately, the Storm2's physical design, which has neatly sloped top and bottom edges, precludes this.
The screen steals the show. Measuring 3.25in. across diagonal corners, it has a resolution of 360 by 480 pixels. This isn't as high as some rivals, and it does lack some definition. However, we can't fault the Storm2's screen for brightness or viewing angles. At the back, there's a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash and autofocus.
The device measures 62.2mm wide by 112.5mm tall by 13.95mm thick and weighs 160g. That makes it slightly larger and heavier than the average touch-screen smartphone, but not unduly so
The RIM BlackBerry Storm2 ships with an AC adapter, a USB PC connection cable, a one-piece stereo headset, a cleaning cloth, a leather-look pouch, a utilities CD and no less than four pieces of printed documentation.
One of these is from Vodafone and tells you how to use the Storm2 as a broadband modem for your notebook. The other three are from RIM: two are quick-start guides, the third a slightly fuller set of instructions.
The pouch is a slipcase style unit, is quite a tight fit, and does not cover all of the Storm2, leaving the above-screen indicator light visible. It's a bit of a squeeze to get the Storm2 in and out of the case, but it will probably loosen up with use.
This is a feature-packed BlackBerry with no key feature surprisingly absent — something of a signature RIM trait in the past. The phone is quad-band GSM with HSDPA at up to 7.2Mbps. Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) is integrated, along with Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) along with GPS. BlackBerry Maps is included and it's easy to install Google Maps, if required, via the preinstalled BlackBerry App world. Email is delivered via BlackBerry Enterprise Server or, for those without corporate email, BlackBerry Internet Service, which will handle up to ten personal email accounts.
There is 2GB of internal memory, and there's a MicroSD slot under the battery cover if you need to add more storage capacity — our review sample had a 1GB card supplied. As you turn the Storm2 in your hand, an accelerometer automatically switches the screen orientation between portrait and landscape.
The Storm2 runs BlackBerry OS 5 which, as already noted, RIM says offers 'hundreds' of enhancements over its predecessor. Most apparent is a revised version of the SurePress touch-screen input system. This involves the screen depressing when pushed, as with the original Storm. However, it doesn't go quite as far in the Storm2, making it feel a little more comfortable in the hand. The difference is subtle, but noticeable. The disconcerting gap between the edge of the original Storm's screen and its frame, which bled white light and looked like a dust-trap, is thankfully gone.
The result is a system that feels more comfortable to use. The screen is also capacitive and supports multi-touch functionality, which comes into its own when you're entering text. AS with the original Storm, you still have to physically press the screen to register a keypress, but now you can have a finger on one key while starting to press the next. This makes for faster, more intuitive typing: we quickly got used to the system and were soon using the Storm2 at close to our maximum typing speed on a smartphone.
There are two text entry systems: a SureType keyboard for portrait mode, and a full QWERTY keyboard for landscape mode.
There's also an innovative text selection system for cut-and-paste: when you place two fingers on- screen, a pair of large icons appear that frame characters; you then drag each of these to bookend the text you want to copy. It's simple and clever, and means you don't have to fiddle around too much to make a precise selection.
We also like the way zooming is handled in the web browser. You simply press the screen where you want to zoom and the job is done, with the zoom centered on the location you pressed.
The Storm2's screen generally responds well to light sweeps for panning and zooming, and to presses for making selections.
RIM has made a good job of aiming its more recent devices at both business users and consumers. This shows itself particularly well in terms of on-device applications. The media player and camera won't suit sophisticated fans of these types of application, but are fine for mainstream users. There's a Facebook application and messages from that service are pulled into the messaging inbox, theoretically allowing work and leisure to sit side by side.
Performance & battery life
The Storm2 is powered by a 1,400mAh battery, which RIM says will deliver 6 hours of talk and 280 hours on standby. We found we could get through a day and a half when using Wi-Fi and GPS, but as ever you'll need to budget for daily charging to ensure you don't run out of juice.
Call quality was fine, although we found that the device would only connect at GPRS speeds in our office, which is in a 3G coverage area.
RIM has successfully addressed the major faults with the original BlackBerry Storm, which centred on its depressing screen (in both senses of the word). We like the Storm2 a lot, which should appeal to committed BlackBerry users who want to try a touch-screen.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel