Fans of the BlackBerry Bold’s design-friendly UI, with its cool minimalist white-on-black icons, will be pleased to see that it has been exported successfully to the Storm.
The virtual QWERTY keyboard is fiddly, but it is as good as (if not better than) the iPhone’s version.
There is a fabulous array of social networking functions on offer.
The Storm has rolled up in style with the world’s first clickable touch-screen.
The battery life is reasonably good.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:53:53 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
The clickable touch-screen UI is generally excellent, as is the video function and the social networking apps.
There is no Wi-Fi and BlackBerry fanatics will find the virtual keypad fiddly.
Research In Motion, the manufacturer behind the BlackBerry range, has been gunning for early-adopting, cash-rich mobile consumers for some time. However, while BlackBerry smartphones are widely regarded as the kings of the business space and have also earned a strong techie following, we feel they have lacked the pizzazz that gives the best multimedia devices their touchy-feely consumer appeal. Admittedly, much of this was down to the functional and robust design of BlackBerry phones. Ultimately, these were phones you could trust, but where was the lust?
Then along came the curvy chrome and black BlackBerry Bold. A cutting edge device which hinted that RIM was beginning to address the needs of demanding professionals, consumers, gadget lovers and celebrities (footballer Thierry Henry is a fan, apparently). However, while the Bold was slick, it lacked the feature set to single it out as a real consumer champion. But RIM appears to have really nailed it with the BlackBerry Storm.
Fans of the BlackBerry Bold’s design-friendly UI, with its cool minimalist white-on-black icons, will be pleased to see that it has been exported successfully to the Storm. However, rather than relying on a trackball for navigation, the Storm’s UI is controlled by touch. Despite the handset’s size and lack of Wi-Fi (a Vodafone decision), the Storm works on many levels, but it’s the touch-screen user interface that impresses us most.
The Storm is the first BlackBerry device to feature a full touch-screen UI and, rather than coming sheepishly late to the party with a touch UI that borrows bits and pieces from competitor technologies, the BlackBerry Storm has rolled up in style with the world’s first clickable touch-screen.
The Storm’s large 3.25-inch screen actually clicks when you press it and the sensation is a little like clicking a PC mouse. The beauty is that it gives the user the sensation that they are actually getting real feedback from the screen when they select a menu option or press a key and, in our opinion, surpasses the haptic vibration response most touch-screens provide.
It also means that there is no chance of mistakenly choosing a menu option as you swipe the screen to move left and right or up and down through the menu options, because you have to click the screen to choose an option. As well as being clickable, the Storm’s virtual icons and keys turn blue when you touch them, so you can ensure that you have selected exactly the right key before you press it.
When navigating and using 90% of the Storm’s functions, we found the touch-screen experience to be both intuitive and reliable and easily as good as the multi-touch UI on the Apple iPhone devices. It is still not perfect though. In our opinion, touch-screen displays will always struggle to compete with a mechanised keypad for entering texts and emails because it is easy to make mistakes when typing quickly. As a result, BlackBerry fans, who have been reared on full mechanised QWERTY and SureType keypads capable of delivering a high wpm count, will probably find the Storm’s virtual keyboard a little fiddly and frustrating. Yes, the clickable nature of the screen helps, as does the blue backlighting, but we still found ourselves pressing the wrong key with our left thumb when attempting to type quickly.
The Storm features an accelerometer. You simply hold the phone in landscape view to get the full QWERTY virtual keypad, which is by far the most practical of the text input options. Alternatively, hold the phone in portrait view as you would a conventional mobile and you get a virtual version of the SureType keypad, which works with predictive text. Typing a new email address into the BlackBerry Storm using SureType and predictive text is a nightmare, so if you are determined to hold the phone in portrait mode and you need to enter unrecognised names and addresses, we would recommend using MultiTap. This works the same way as a text messaging keypad when predictive text is switched off.
We would certainly recommend adopting the full QWERTY keyboard if you want to get your teeth into the fabulous array of social networking functions offered on the BlackBerry Storm. Click on the Vodafone Application Center (sic) and you will be presented with a selection of social networking applications, which can be downloaded directly to the device. These include: Flickr, Facebook, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, Vodafone Find and Go, Google Maps, YouTube and Vodafone Live.
Facebook works particularly well on the BlackBerry Storm. It only takes a couple of minutes to download the application and to accept all the Ts and Cs. When up and running, you can enjoy much of the functions you get on a computer. You can view your profile and the profiles of your friends. You can also view a friends list, poke people, leave wall messages, update your status, read friends’ status updates and even upload a photo directly from the phone to your Facebook account. Because you can upload photos from the Storm’s 3.2-megapixel camera, photo uploads are even more immediate than they are with a full Facebook account. All in all, it is a well-integrated service and Facebook addicts will love it.
The same can be said about Google Maps, which uses the Storm’s A-GPS, and the YouTube application – both of which render as well on the BlackBerry as they do on the iPhone. For location-based services, the Storm carries a version of BlackBerry Maps but we prefer Google Maps, largely through familiarity. It looks excellent on the Storm’s large 3.25-inch display. The only real difference to the iPhone experience is the fact that you press a virtual button to zoom in and out, rather than pinching and swiping the screen. Otherwise, you can use the service to search the map for points of interest like cafés, bars, restaurants and shops, get directions, show traffic and save items to favourites.
YouTube is equally as impressive and the service is rendered to fit the Storm’s display. On the YouTube homepage, you are presented with a featured video, plus there is a button to search for specific videos and to filter searches by most popular videos (most viewed, top rated, etc) and the means to log in to your own email account. The Storm’s screen is fabulous for viewing YouTube videos, which are generally low-res and a little raw. However, the device is equally proficient at displaying high-definition movies.
RIM and Vodafone had pre-loaded a wide selection of movie clips onto our review version of the Storm, which perfectly illustrated the phone’s video prowess. Video trailers included Quantum of Solace, Iron Man, Wall-E and Guy Ritchie’s new film RockNRolla. They all looked and sounded incredible, because, as well as the high-definition screen, the Storm also includes a 3.5mm headset port. The handset does come with a set of perfectly good stereo headphones, but you may wish to upgrade to get the best possible sound quality.
The BlackBerry Storm is probably the best mobile movie-watching device out there. It is right up there with the HTC Touch HD and the iPhone. It may even be the pick of the bunch. The video player can be found under the Storm’s Media menu, which is also where you find the music player and the picture viewer, together with ringtones and voice notes.
As a Vodafone exclusive, the Storm features a pre-installed Vodafone Music application that gives users one-click access to Vodafone’s Music Store. Here, you can try and buy music from hundreds of top artists. The music player offers the search, store and play functions you will find on the best multimedia smartphones. The picture viewer is enhanced by the quality of the Storm’s screen.
BlackBerry devices are not renowned for their cameras, but then again, neither is the Apple iPhone. The camera on the Storm can shoot images with a resolution of 3.2 megapixels, which is as good as you will find on any BlackBerry. The Storm falls a little short of the eight-megapixel camera phones loaded with features and settings we have been spoilt with recently. That said, you do get image stabilisation and you can set the white balance for different conditions.
Courtesy of GPS, the phone also lets you geo-tag photos, so that every snap has its own satellite-based co-ordinates (latitude and longitude). To set up geo-tagging on the Storm, choose camera mode, click menu, options, and then switch Geotagging from disabled to enabled. With geo-tagging enabled, you will be able to apply location-based functions to your photos. Although the camera is not lavishly endowed with settings, the Storm does make it easy to upload photos to the web and, with just a couple of clicks, to send them with an email or picture message.
The BlackBerry Storm is so packed with functions – some of which we don’t have the space to run through here – that it is a device which will give you hours of fun. This is not something you can say about BlackBerrys of the past.
The Storm is a big phone, but it is nicely put together, with a glossy black fascia framing the large display and a brushed graphite stainless steel rear that gives it a sleek finish. The only criticism we have of the device is its lack of Wi-Fi. This may boost Vodafone’s coffers as users will have to rely solely on the operator’s HSDPA network connection for internet access, but the connectivity will be sorely missed by consumers who have regular hot spot access. It also means that the Wi-Fi-enabled iPhone will score brownie points.
Overall, we are blown away by the Storm. Fair enough, the virtual QWERTY keyboard is fiddly, but it is as good as (if not better than) the iPhone’s version. The clickable touch-screen function is excellent – as is the video playback, the web browsing and the phone’s tremendous social networking capabilities. The Storm is a BlackBerry with real consumer appeal.