BlackBerry Storm review

26 Nov 2008

Well, the device that everyone’s been waiting for is finally here, and the question is: is it the perfect Storm, or just a Storm in a teacup?

To begin with, comparisons with the iPhone are inevitable because without Apple having shaken up the market’s aesthetic and innovative senses with the iPhone, devices such as the BlackBerry Storm or the Nokia Tube (the 5800 XPressMusic) wouldn’t be here today.

The sad truth about mobiles was that, while network operators were consumed with upgrading their networks, the device manufacturers had failed to think outside the box. Rather, they were thinking inside the box, and were focusing on putting greater radio and camera capabilities into phones.

The result of that innovation are devices such as the LG Renoir, which has an 8-megapixel camera, or the BlackBerry Bold and iPhone, both of which have Wi-Fi capabilities.

That’s why I was stunned, nay crestfallen, when I learned that the much-hyped BlackBerry Storm didn’t come with Wi-Fi. The thunder clouds had formed in my mind because, as a country bumpkin, I fall back on Wi-Fi in my house as the mobile phone signals are poor where I live.

That said, Vodafone is clearly thinking of on-net revenue streams, and its argument that 7.2Mbps capability via High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) over 3G stands up if you live in the right area for coverage.

After being taken through the set-up mode for the device by a Vodafone chap wearing a cravat, I fought to stop comparing it to the iPhone – it’s not easy. The body of the Storm is not as long as Apple’s breakthrough device, but is slightly, only slightly, heavier.

As a touchscreen phone with only four buttons, it is a visually stunning product that strikes me as sturdier than the iPhone. It has toughness and a wholeness that I find reassuring compared with the iPhone, which I handled as if it was made of porcelain.

As a BlackBerry user, there is no real learning curve with the Storm. It is a BlackBerry device through and through, but just augmented for the touchscreen revolution. The same command structure exists for sending and receiving emails and making calls.

But I don’t consider the Storm a rush job in any sense. The clickable touchscreen is a good innovation insofar as you aren’t likely to make as many mistakes as you would with other touchscreen devices. Actually, this makes it the perfect crossover device for users who are unsure about leaving the world of buttons behind forever. It’s reassuring.

A hard-lock button on the top-left corner makes it easy to lock and unlock the screen.

As a media player, I was stunned by the Storm’s sound quality, and the quality of its screen – in this respect, it is superior to the iPhone. I think this has to be the highest resolution I’ve ever seen on a mobile phone. The device came pre-loaded with the trailer for the Vin Diesel movie, Babylon AD, and our cat jumped out of his seat as Vin Diesel’s voice rumbled from the device.

The accelerometer on the Storm is fairly nifty, and the 3.2-megapixel camera takes crisp shots that I was able to throw onto my Flickr account in seconds. This was a truly breakthrough moment for me, as I studied the device and marvelled at how the internet truly is becoming an everywhere experience. You can tell I hate syncing phones or messing with USB leads just to share pics.

The internet experience on the Storm is pretty good, albeit when the 3G network is performing well and coverage is good. The device was trumped at being the perfect crossover device for social-media applications such as Facebook and Flickr, but on my first perusal of the Storm, I was disappointed these weren’t already preloaded. You have to go online and find them yourself, and then figure out how to get them onto the menu.

Bookmarking your favourite sites is straightforward enough, once you scroll past a number of requests.

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised at the speed at which my Gmail POP3 account could be set up on the BlackBerry email function. I counted just three steps and I was on! Nice and straightforward, and a good tip for other manufacturers to follow.

What I was really, really looking forward to, however, was the turn-by-turn satnav capability of the device. I’m sure it works really, really well, but when I eventually found the application in the applications folder, I was told: “Your device is not configured for BIS or BES access,” whatever that means, so I was unable to get to grips with how good this feature is.

Getting the Storm configured on my PC was relatively painless, and I had my contacts, calendar and notes transferred to the device in minutes. As a business-level device, the BlackBerry presents your contacts and calendar information beautifully.

In terms of accessories, the device comes with 1GB of storage built-in, with an external 8GB SD card. It comes with European and US plugs, snazzy leather sleeve and headset.

The broad thrust of reviews of the Storm so far seem to deny that it is any kind of iPhone killer. The reality is, it doesn’t need to be. It is what it is. It represents the next step in BlackBerry’s evolution, and it’s truly a device of its time and for its time.

Existing or past users of the iPhone will grumble because it is nothing like the iPhone, just similar in appearance. The BlackBerry faithful will find it easy and quick to get to grips with. New users will find it immersive, and the click-to-touch feature will make it popular.

The new device will be available via four initial price plans, with a number of free options on three of those plans: under the Perfect Choice Access 100 plan, the Storm handset will retail for €109.99 and will cost €49.99 a month; under the Perfect Choice Access 200 plan, it will retail for €64.99 and will cost €64.99 a month; under the Perfect Choice Access 400 plan, it will retail for €69.99 and will cost €84.99 a month; and under the Perfect Choice Access 600 plan, it will retail for €49.99 and will cost €99.99 a month.

According to Vodafone, a number of free options for calls, texts and landline minutes will accompany the Perfect Choice Access 200, 400 and 600 price plans, whereby purchasers can choose between 100, 200 and 400 calls and texts or 100, 200 and 400 landline minutes respectively.

Additional call charges that will be applied to the pricing plans, if users go beyond their package allocation, will range between 18 cent and 30 cent, 11 cent per text message, €2 per megabyte of BlackBerry email and 2 cent per kilobyte of Vodafone Live.

By John Kennedy

Functionality: No learning curve required

Design:Functional – click-to-touch feature is a winner

Verdict: On its own merits, RIM is onto a winner with the Storm, but the device does sorely need Wi-Fi

Price: From €49.99 to €109.99 with Vodafone.

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