BlackBerry Storm Early Impressions – RIM Gets in the Touchscreen Game with Strong Player

I'm a diehard BlackBerry fan, no doubt. I'm only on my second (the BlackBerry 8700 running on the AT&T network), but anxious to get the...

I’m a diehard BlackBerry fan, no doubt. I’m only on my second (the BlackBerry 8700 running on the AT&T network), but anxious to get the next version given all the progress in last few years, especially when it comes to high speed networks and web browsing.

I had a chance to spend 10 minutes with the Storm at a Verizon store in San Jose (they sold out in about 2 hours, with 150 people in line, starting at 4:00am). The early verdict: very good.

Read on to find out early impressions on the keyboard, build quality, applications and more.

With the BackBerry Storrm, RIM has finally entered into the touchscreen game. It’s the market trend. The gorilla of course is the stellar Apple iPhone. Another recent entrant is the HTC G1 phone from T-Mobile powered by the brand new Google operating system, Android.

BlackBerry-Storm-Verizon-Demo
The biggest news is not just the Storm’s touchscreen, but the new touch keyboard. Doing away with the standard physical click keyboard of the Bold and previous models, the Storm uses an onscreen “virtual” keyboard. Would BlackBerry fans accept the new approach and be able to thumb type at lightning speed? Being a fast thumb typer, it was my biggest question.

Everything else on paper with the new Storm sounds good. Large touchscreen. 8GB memory. Streaming video and 3G speed. Legendary email capability. Enterprise sync. Global service in 150 countries. And a 3.2 mexapixel camera to boot.

I found the screen to be absolutely gorgeous. Fonts were smooth and easy to read. This is light years ahead of those old pixelated BB screens of the late 90s early 2000s. The home screen has all the right information without appearing cluttered: current date, time, signal strength, battery, volume, new messages, and slick-looking application icons.

BlackBerry-Storm-Verizon-Demo-1
Compared to the colorful Apple iPhone icons, the BlackBerry takes a more industrial, suit and jacket approach.

Many of the early reviews I’ve seen over the past few days are critical of the performance (“sluggish”) and the new on-screen virtual keyboard (“clumsy”).

So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself easily typing an email, clicking on keys without missing a beat. I had no typos, and found the keyboard excellent. The spacing was right. The nice blue glow works well. What was everyone complaining about? For me, it works.

BlackBerry-Storm-Verizon-Demo-4
My girlfriend, though, struggled with the keyboard. It seemed she was not pressing hard enough on the screen which depresses as a giant spring-loaded key. All of her letters were wrong, and she quickly put it pack on the Verizon display stand: “I love my BlackBerry Curve!”.

Performance seemed fine. The screen rotated automatically from landscape to portrait. Applications seemed to open with minimal lag time. Scrolling was good, although I could tell that the iPhone would have it beat in this department.

The Storm comes loaded with everything you’d want including voice message management, GPS navigation (an optional service however), instant messaging, social networking applications, web browsing, and more.

BlackBerry-Storm-Verizon-Demo-5
It’s too early to fully evaluate things like voice call quality and stability of the new operating system. But keep in mind the Apple iPhone has had numerous upgrades over the past few years, and I expect RIM to respond quickly to work out early bugs and kinks. Given RIM’s excellent track record, I don’t find myself concerned with early bug reports.

Build quality is solid. The casing is classy in mostly black with some silver accents. Shortcut buttons on the sides, like previous models, allow convenient access to commonly used applications or features.

Verizon has unlimited data plans with 450 monthly anytime minutes starting at $69.99. With unlimited minutes the price jumps to $129.99.

The phone itself is $199, after a mail-in rebate is applied. This is competitive, and cheaper than many other current BlackBerry models. RIM is serious about this market, and the Storm is making a statement.

BlackBerry-Storm-Verizon-Demo-8
I should note that the Verizon store impressed me. It was clean, well laid out, and with a lot of demo models of seemingly every single phone they sell. And they were not the plastic, dummy variety found in other stores. What’s the point if you can’t use the actual phone? Kudos to Verizon.

The complimentary chocolate chip muffin and bottle of water were nice touches too. AT&T all of a sudden seems so cold!

The local San Jose store I visited is sold out as I mentioned, and will receive another batch in a few weeks.

So here’s how I score it so far, keeping in mind this is a preliminary first look at the BlackBerry Storm.

STARK INSIDER SMARTPHONE CLASS OF 2008 COMPARISON

Apple iPhone on AT&T

  • Superb multimedia capability with built-in iPod and access to iTunes
  • Lot of applications available, many free
  • Responsive touchscreen with smooth gesture control
  • Battery life not good
  • Email is good, but not as robust as BlackBerry

HTC G1 (Google Android) on T-Mobile

  • Hobbyist design
  • Full-size physical, slide out QWERTY keyboard
  • Excellent integration with Google, GMAIL, Google Maps, etc.
  • Not a corporate player
  • Lack of applications to date
  • T-Mobile network coverage not as good as AT&T or Verizon

BlackBerry Storm on Verizon

  • The best email of any phone on the market
  • New click screen, virtual keyboard not for everyone (but worked great for me)
  • Fast Verizon network
  • Elegant design
  • Superb corporate integration for email and applications
  • Good price point ($199), especially compared to the more expensive BlackBerry Bold
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  • BlackBerry Storm

    The <a href="http://www.storm-reviews.co.uk&quot; target="_blank">BlackBerry Storm</a> is an interesting phone and I really like the idea of the haptic keyboard BUT it has no WiFi which in my opinion is a major flaw. Plus there are quite a few bugs in the current phone, but that is common for a new device these days &amp; software updates are fixing them. Hopefully the Storm 2 will be a much more polished device.

  • BlackBerry Storm

    The BlackBerry Storm is an interesting phone and I really like the idea of the haptic keyboard BUT it has no WiFi which in my opinion is a major flaw. Plus there are quite a few bugs in the current phone, but that is common for a new device these days & software updates are fixing them. Hopefully the Storm 2 will be a much more polished device.

  • BlackBerry Storm

    The BlackBerry Storm is an interesting phone and I really like the idea of the haptic keyboard BUT it has no WiFi which in my opinion is a major flaw. Plus there are quite a few bugs in the current phone, but that is common for a new device these days & software updates are fixing them. Hopefully the Storm 2 will be a much more polished device.

  • BlackBerry Storm

    The BlackBerry Storm is an interesting phone and I really like the idea of the haptic keyboard BUT it has no WiFi which in my opinion is a major flaw. Plus there are quite a few bugs in the current phone, but that is common for a new device these days & software updates are fixing them. Hopefully the Storm 2 will be a much more polished device.