BlackBerry Storm 9520 review -

4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati, 5/8/2011 4:00:06 PM

6out of 10
Performance
8 out of 5
Look and feel
6 out of 5
Ease of use
10 out of 5
Features
6 out of 5
Battery life
Pros:

Another brilliant emailing device from RIM, setting up multiple accounts so that you receive correspondence direct to your phone is a breeze.

Cons:

The copy and paste facility is so hard to master that it will most likely remain redundant.

Oh, the power of celebrity. When Stephen Fry tweeted about how much he disliked the original BlackBerry Storm, he created quite the storm in the tea cup (bad pun intended). Now, we’ll stick by our guns and reiterate that we liked the original Storm. However, the power of the Fry coupled with claims of faulty software and consequent returns led to a detrimental effect on sales for RIM’s first touch-screen. So will the next generation win over the critics and cement itself alongside other hero handsets such as the Apple iPhone, HTC Hero and Palm Pre?

Double take

Although RIM has revamped the software on the BlackBerry Storm2 9520 and included some welcome additional features, the hardware is still fundamentally the same. It looks the same, feels the same and dons the same clickable touch display, which RIM has coined SurePress. This touch display has divided opinion. Although it is a capacitive screen and requires feather-like swipes to navigate around the phone, to access a particular icon you must press down (fairly hard) on the screen, depressing it slightly until you hear a faint click. While it works great in theory and the screen is far more intuitive than the original Storm’s, it still feels a tad alien and consequently a little creaky.

Immediately below the display (but still part of the clickable screen), from left to right, are a call key, menu key, back key and call end key. The only hard keys are found on the sides of the device. On the right-hand side are the volume keys and a dedicated camera key, while on the left-hand side is the voice dialling button – more of which later. On the top of the phone are two further soft keys, one of which is the power button. A quick press of this will lock the device, while on the right-hand side is a useful silent key that can be pressed discreetly to silence any incoming calls or alarms. Adorned with a polished black fascia and metallic trim, the back of the handset sports a brushed steel finish that both looks and feels elegant.

The BlackBerry Storm2 is fitted with some rather clever accelerometers. Turn the phone horizontal and your page will follow suit. Nothing remarkable there, we hear you say, but what we thought was quite cool was that it didn’t matter which side you turned it to, the screen would auto-correct itself. We gave the handset to a left-hander in our office and her initial reaction was to turn the phone in the opposite direction to a right-hander, so kudos to RIM for making the Storm2 leftie-friendly. When in your home screen, the bottom of the display is occupied by eight icons with direct access to your contacts, messages, emails and the internet. Turn the phone on its side and you’ll instantly be taken into the full menu screen. Displaying 12 icons at a time, a swipe of the finger will scroll you up and down the menu list with each icon glowing blue as you hover over it.

Of course, the other benefit of turning the phone into landscape view is that when entering text, be it an SMS, email or web address, a full virtual QWERTY keyboard pops up. You can stick with the vertical SurePress keypad if you prefer, but we found the QWERTY experience to be a far faster and more reliable experience. That said, we’d recommend using both hands, as when we tried one hand texting we inadvertently hit the key next to the one we were aiming for.

Email credentials

While a touch-screen may be a step away from the norm for RIM, it hasn’t neglected what established it in the first place. The BlackBerry Storm2, like its siblings, is an email demon. We synced two of our email accounts online in a matter of minutes, having our correspondence regularly pushed to our device. A red light will begin flashing in the top right-hand corner whenever you receive a message, while a red star will appear on the icon symbolising what account the corresponding email relates to.

If you’re a keen Facebooker, we highly recommend you download the application for free from BlackBerry App World. We feel RIM’s answer to the Apple App Store and Google Android Market is still very much a work in progress, but the Facebook application really caters for your social networking needs. Not only does it bring you a near PC-like experience, it also has a couple of crafty features unique to the mobile platform. For example, not only can you upload photos taken by your Storm2 direct to your page, you can take it one step further and actually take the photo while in Facebook. Yet our favourite aspect was the fact that any events or appointments arranged via the site were automatically added to the Storm’s calendar, making it near on impossible to forget a birthday party or meeting.

As long as they are one of your Facebook contacts, every time you enter a new contact into your phone book, their profile pic will also be added – so each time you call them, their mug will flash up on your screen. In fact, your contacts list is packed full of possible information, ranging from job title to website to home address. Rather cleverly, when scrolling between a tab that needs letters to one that requires numbers (e.g. a phone number) the keypad will automatically switch to the correct input method.

If scrolling through your phone book and hitting the call key is too 2008 for you, there is the voice dialling option that we touched upon at the start. Found on the left-hand side of the device, we must admit; we would have preferred for it to be positioned elsewhere (perhaps on the top of the device) as we often found ourselves accidently pushing the button. That said, it worked very well – recognising our commands even in noise-ridden environments such as a car or busy street. It’s not as slick as the iPhone, which not only enables you to sum up applications and even specific music, but it’s a nice mod con to have nonetheless.

Wi-Fi

The original BlackBerry Storm was criticised for its lack of Wi-Fi. Cynics pointed to the fact that it was a Vodafone exclusive as being a reason for the omission – the thinking being that an operator wouldn’t want to lose out because customers were surfing the web via a wireless connection rather than through their network. Well, the BlackBerry Storm2 is again a Vodafone exclusive (at least for the time being) only this time Wi-Fi is on board. Connecting to our office hub was a breeze while the internet experience as a whole was fairly quick – both on Wi-Fi and surfing on Vodafone’s own network waves – though this did depend on the amount of data on the page we were trying to access.

Due to the large screen, most web pages can be viewed in full without having to revert to the mobile friendly versions that often omit content so as to fit everything in. However, a degree of zoom may be needed with some. To zoom in, you have two options. One is to lightly press the bottom of the screen (i.e don’t click it), which will bring up a tool bar. The second is to press down on the screen (until it clicks), which will zoom in one step at a time. It took a degree of getting used to and we ultimately preferred to bring up the tool bar. Something else we failed to get to grips with was the copy and paste feature. Lightly place two fingers anywhere on the screen and two icons will appear that can be moved to highlight a piece of text, which in turn can be copied and pasted into an email or SMS. Well, that’s the theory. We found it so temperamental that we gave up trying.

Mapping experience

A far more pleasant experience was using the BlackBerry Storm2 to navigate ourselves from A to B. With both BlackBerry Maps and Google Maps on board you’re spoilt for choice. The device secured a near instant fix via the A-GPS, and the signal stayed with us even when venturing indoors.

We’re still yet to see a BlackBerry device with an above average camera and the Storm2 certainly doesn’t break the mould. It’s 3.2 megapixels (as was the original) and has an LED flash, but any pictures we took looked drained of colour. To change any of the settings you’ll be taken to a menu away from the viewfinder, so it’s difficult to experiment before you alter them. The zooming process was also very stuttery.

Conclusion

There are plenty of strings to the BlackBerry Storm2’s bow, many of which we’ve been unable to even brush upon in this review – we’d like to divulge further about how you can invite others to join in a phone conversation, for example. However, the overall experience is just not as smooth as some of its competitors. To summarise, the BlackBerry Storm2 lives up to the tag of being a smartphone with plenty going on under the bonnet, but ultimately; it’s more heavyweight boxer than poised ballerina.