Few weeks ago I wrote about my dilemma in choosing a smart phone. I really wanted an iPhone, but I didn’t want the AT&T service that came attached with it. So I ended up buying the cell phone market equivalent of Zune: Blackberry Storm. An incredibly hyped device that was aimed to be an [apple product]-killer that fell short of everyone’s expectations.
I’ve been using it for over a week, and I can tell you this: I don’t hate it. In fact, I quite like it. It really doesn’t suck the way die hard blackberry users and iPhone enthusiasts would want you to believe. I never really owned a smart phone before – especially not a RIM one. My exposure to blackberries was limited at best – I helped several people set them up for email at work. The closest I got to a real mobile computing was my Dell Axim pocket PC which was not a phone and did not have internet. I mostly used it for playing NetHack and Go in boring classes before I got myself a laptop.
So I approached the Storm with a clean slate. I had no habits of a long time Blackberry user, and my minimal exposure to Apple’s phone left my brain capable accepting different UI paradigms. At the same time I was cautious and kept my expectations low, keeping in mind all the negative criticism the Storm has been getting. And you know what? It’s not actually a bad phone.
Let me talk about the clicky screen – cause that was supposed to be the major selling point of this device, and it is also pointed out to be it’s major flaw. For me it works. When I was messing around with it in the store it was a little bit weird, but on my way home I decided to text couple of people and compose and email. And it just “clicked” (put sort of intended) – I got it. I can now type on it reasonably fast. Much faster than on my old non-qwerty phone. It was a bit like learning to use a split (ergonomic) keyboard for the first time. For the first couple of minutes it is a bit disorienting, but then everything falls into place and it just works. I believe that the secret here is that you don’t actually have to lift your fingers from the screen to type. You can just slide them around or lift them slightly, reposition and then slide over the key.
If you made a typo somewhere in your text, you can just lay your finger on the screen above the keyboard and it will go into cursor mode. Swipe it left and right and it will move in the desired direction one letter at a time allowing you to put your input where it needs to be. Once your done tap the screen to go to the end of the line.
Your main navigational motions in the Storm are taps, finger swipes, screen clicks and… The Blackberry button. I think this goes for all Blackberries – when in doubt, hit the BB button twice. It will run the default action from the menu which is probably what you were looking for. Arguably this makes for a much less intuitive UI than the multi-touch, screen driven iPhone but it is not a deal breaker. At least not for me. Remember – I’m a long time WinCE user so I’m no stranger to nested on-screen menus. You usually swipe to scroll, you tap to select and you click to activate. This allows you to “hover” over items and read the “tool tip” to figure out what they are and what they do before you actually launch them.
The performance of this hand held is decent if you don’t forget to close the unnecessary applications. One caveat you need to remember is that the big red “hang up/exit” button that most people use to quit applications, doesn’t actually close them. It keeps them running in the background. To actually quit you should either use the BB Escape key (the one with the arrow) or the close dialog option from the application menu. A lot of people who complain about the devices sluggishness are simply running 5-6 background apps they don’t even know about.
This happened to me too – the other day I noticed that the phone is dead sluggish and it pretty much ignores me when I flip it horizontally to go into the landscape mode. I held the BB key down to pull up the app switcher and noticed that I was running the Brick Breaker game, portable Word, the media player and the map navigation software. You see, my cousin was playing with the phone the day before and she “closed” all these apps using the wrong button. I closed all of them properly and the phone returned to it’s normal performance.
The software running on the device is decent. I love the Facebook app which was featured prominently in the application center. It dings me whenever someone posts on my wall, comments on my status or pokes me. It’s a small thing but it makes me happy. I wish I could find a similar app for Twitter. Right now I’m using UberTwitter which is pretty good but you have to leave it running in the background and it doesn’t produce the little chime or put an icon in the status bar when it detects an @ reply or a direct message.
The email works well. The device is pre-set to work with popular services such as Gmail, Yahoo and etc. By default they seem to be using POP rather than IMAP for gmail which means that reading messages on my BB will mark them as read in Gmail but not the other way around. Which is OK by me. I could try to set it up for IMAP but I’ve been to lazy.
So far I haven’t had any problems with the device. My only concern is how will the click-screen fare under daily usage. I’m sure RIM did some stress testing on this thing, but still – I’m clicking it like a million times a day. Also, I wince whenever someone is playing with my phone because they tend to push the screen with full force so I can almost hear it buckling. Not to mention the smears they live on the screen with their greasy fingers. Ugh…
This actually puts me in a weird situation when I actually want to show my new acquisition to people, but I don’t because I know they will want to play with it and will leave smears all over my screen in the process. And they will also read my emails.
Battery life varies depending on what you do. It seems that some applications eat battery juice like there is no tomorrow. If you are not running to many apps, and simply check your emails and make a short phone call or two the charge seems to last for a while. I’d charge the phone before going to sleep, then wake up in the morning, use the phone all day, and it still had a few bars left. If you pushed it I think you could get two days out of it, but not much more than that. On the other hand when I was messing around with the maps application, installing and uninstalling things all day, the battery lasted much shorter. It is a far cry from my old LG phone which usually needed to be charged twice a week at most. But then again, blackberry is not just a phone.
Here is the bottom line – if you are looking for a smart phone with a large screen and decent amount of applications and large community behind it the storm is not a bad device to get. If you are a long time blackberry user, you will likely hate the on-screen keyboard. The multi-touch screen in iPhone is definitely much better than the click feedback in storm which is more of a gimmick. Once you get used to it though, it just works.
Storm gets my seal of approval. It does everything I really need it to do and it doesn’t get in my way. It is a Blackberry for people who never used a Blackberry (ie. not the high powered CEO’s or corporate users). As such, it works fairly well. It is not devoid of flaws but it is not a complete piece of crap like some reviews would make you believe.