Sunday, July 24, 2011

BlackBerry Storm Review

In a nutshell: Built on BlackBerry's reputation for the best in mobile email and web browsing, the Storm has a touchscreen user interface that incorporates a full virtual QWERTY keyboard. The Storm includes a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and flash, video recording, a media player, GPS navigation, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, 3G with HSDPA and 1GB of built-in memory plus the ability to expand the memory with a microSD card. However, the Storm is generating a lot of negative reviews from our users, so we have downgraded our rating to 2 stars.
BlackBerry Storm
For the past couple of years, RIM (the makers of BlackBerry) have been chasing the mass market. They've glued cameras, music players and even GPS navigation systems onto their business smartphones. But still the mass market eluded them. The Storm is the first BlackBerry to have a touchscreen user interface. In one fell swoop, finally here's a BlackBerry that looks like a mass market product. Ever since Apple released the iPhone and iPhone 3G, every phone manufacturer has been trying to produce an iPhone killer. Here's BlackBerry's answer.

By adopting a touchscreen UI, the BlackBerry Storm offers all the benefits of a standard BlackBerry (i.e. full QWERTY keyboard and unrivalled email/web browsing), with the style and ease of use of an iPhone. Cleverly, the Storm incorporates two kinds of virtual keyboard: the full QWERTY keyboard seen in the BlackBerry Bold and the SureType® keyboard used in the "baby" BlackBerry Pearl. The keyboard switches depending on whether you're in portrait or landscape mode. The touchscreen on the Storm is a capacitive type - the same kind used in the iPhone. We find this easier to use than the resistive touchscreens used on most rivals. You get a better response when moving your finger around the screen, and the near-instantaneous response makes the user interface very intuitive. Rather than using haptics (vibrating feedback) to indicate when the screen is pressed, the Storm uses a new innovation called "ClickThrough". This means that the screen responds to pressure, so it feels almost like you're using a real keyboard. The display itself is massive and has the one of the highest resolutions of any phone that we've reviewed. With 480 x 360 pixels, you can fit a lot of information on screen, and view photos and videos in near-perfect detail. As with previous BlackBerrys, the font sizes are user adjustable - a feature that we love and wish was present on rival phones too.

BlackBerry phones enjoy an unrivalled reputation when it comes to mobile email, and the Storm is no different. Apart from the ease of entering text with the virtual keyboard, the Storm beats other manufacturers' email systems because of its ease of use, power, wide compatibility with all email protocols (including web-based mail and secure mail) and its support for attachments. There is even an attachment editor, so you can edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on the phone. The Storm is also an absolutely brilliant platform for the mobile web. With HSDPA running at 7.2 Mbps, you have the fastest possible download speeds available on any phone. The huge screen and ClickThrough response is ideal for viewing web pages. And the Storm supports rich media, including YouTube videos. Built-in applications make it easy to access social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The Storm is a smartphone, just like previous BlackBerry phones, so there will be plenty of applications available for it. It also supports multitasking, so you can view a document or browse the web whilst talking on the phone. The Storm supports a range of advanced features including voice activated dialling, conference calling and voicemail attachment playback.

Any phone that wants to conquer the mass market needs to have a good camera and media player and the Storm does. It certainly isn't the best camera phone around, but the camera has a resolution of 3.2 megapixels, and with autofocus and an LED flash, it will take reasonable pictures - good enough for print quality, provided that you don't zoom too much. The media player supports every common audio format and synchs with iTunes. The Storm has 1GB of built-in memory, which is plenty to get you started, and will accept microSD memory cards up to a whopping 16GB, which is enough to store around 4,000 MP3 tracks. There's full support for Bluetooth stereo headsets, and another great feature that is missing from many rival phones is the 3.5mm audio jack, which enables you to connect any standard stereo headphones. This means that you're not tied into proprietary headphones, but can connect to very high quality headphones for the best possible audio experience.

We mentioned the presence of GPS earlier. The Storm has a built-in GPS device and comes with BlackBerry Maps, so you can find your way around. With the large touchscreen, this combination works well, and is ideal for pedestrian use. With a proper satnav application installed it could even replace a dedicated in-car satnav. The Storm comes with a 6 month licence for Vodafone Find&Go Sat Nav .

Battery life is quoted to be 5.5 hours talktime and 360 hours standby. In the real world, using the phone heavily you'll get about a full day's use between charges. So if you don't like the hassle of charging each night, the Storm probably isn't for you. The Storm loses one star from its rating because of this.

Which brings us to the one other feature that we dislike about the BlackBerry Storm - its size. Even larger and heavier than the iPhone, the Storm weighs in at 155g, making it the heaviest smartphone currently on sale in the UK. Bigger is not always better, and we'd certainly like to shave a couple of millimetres off the Storm. But then again, you need a big device to have a big screen, and when you consider the number of features that have been crammed into this beast, it's a trade-off that we're happy to live with.

But the worst features of the Storm are its habit of freezing and dropping calls. These make it pretty well useless as a business tool. The Storm2 adds WiFi and some other improvements, but suffers from the same kinds of problems.


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