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jkOnTheRun review- Blackberry Storm, yes it can cut and paste

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Cimg1026We’ve seen a good run on hot smartphones being released since the iPhone 3G.  The T-Mobile G1 was introduced recently as the first Android-based smartphone and RIM has been releasing Blackberry models every few days, at least that’s what it seems like.  One of the most anxiously awaited smartphones is the Blackberry Storm as it takes a path RIM has never taken before, and that’s to shed the physical keyboard.  Blackberries have always enjoyed a great reputation for good keyboards and the Storm drops one entirely.  Many have been waiting to see how well RIM could provide the Blackberry experience with just an on-screen keyboard and just a few days before launch on Verizon in the US we’ve got one of these jewels in our hands.

The short answer to the question of how good a Blackberry can a device be without a keyboard is pretty good, at least the Storm is.  The innovative touchscreen is in essence not one but two keyboards depending on the orientation of the screen.  We’ll address that in detail below but first here’s a video overview of the hardware to get things started.  Pay close attention in the video and you’ll see you can in fact cut and paste on a touch screen.  The rest of the review is after the jump, including another video showing off the sweet web browsing on the Storm.

http://www.youtube.com/v/a8aeT-MquFw&hl=en&fs=1

The specs

Let’s get the official specs out of the way first so we can get right into the hands-on impressions of the finest Blackberry we’ve ever used.

  • Size:  4.4"x2.4"x0.55"
  • Weight:  5.46 oz
  • Memory: 1 GB onboard + 128 MB flash
  • Expandable memory:  microSDHC slot with 8GB card included (yes, included)
  • Battery:  1400 mAhr (removable); 15 days standby, 6 hours talk time
  • User interface: SurePress touch screen, accelerometer auto-rotating between portrait/ landscape
  • Navigation: SurePress touch screen
  • Display:  Half-VGA 480×360
  • Camera:  3.2 MP still and video; flash; auto-focus; image stabilization
  • Keyboard: on-screen- portrait SureType, landscape QWERTY
  • Voice I/O: integrated speaker & mic; hands-free headset, Bluetooth headset capable, speakerphone
  • Media Player: audio- MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, wma, wma ProPlus; video- MPEG4, H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, H.264 (encoding and decoding 30 fps), WMV
  • Bluetooth:  2.0, Headset, handsfree, stereo audio *A2DP/AVCRP), DUN
  • Headset: 3.5 mm jack
  • USB: charging and syncing USB A to micros-USB B
  • Power: +5DC/500 mA AC adapter
  • Network:  Quad-band: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS/EDGE; Single-band: 2100 MHz UMTS/HSPA; Dual-band: 800/1900 Mhz CDMA/ EVDO Rev A
  • GPS: integrated

Wow, that’s about everything and as you can see the Storm is packed with just about everything you can put in a phone with the exception of WiFi.  Yes, there is no WiFi in the Storm, a fact that will turn off some folks who depend on WiFi for data connection.  It’s not a big deal to me as the Verizon 3G network is solid but the lack of WiFi may be a factor to those in more rural settings without EVDO coverage.  It is a bit surprising to find that Verizon is touting right in the box that the Storm can be used with DUN to tether to a laptop to provide 3G connectivity.

It’s a Blackberry

Cimg1027First and foremost the Storm is a Blackberry which makes it a messaging powerhouse.  The lack of a physical keyboard does not impact the messaging capability even a little bit and those who love their Blackberry will love the Storm just as much.  RIM has put the Blackberry OS 4.7 in the Storm, a new version that supports the touchscreen better than previous versions.  It also adds some very nice HTML browsing that we’ll address in a bit.

When you first power on the Storm it takes you through the typical setup wizard to get the phone set up and walks you through the email setup process.  Verizon has included the ability to work with virtually any email account you might have, including POP/IMAP, Blackberry Internet Server (BIS), and Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES).  I set this up with my GMail account which only took a few minutes.  I then installed Google Sync which now supports the Blackberry and in five minutes my Google Calendar and Contacts were synced up on the Storm.

Cimg1028The standard messaging application is the key program on the Storm like every Blackberry, although RIM has optimized the touch interface for working with email.  When you have an email body open you can swipe horizontally on the screen to move to the next/ previous email.  This makes it a breeze to spin through a lot of emails with just one fingertip.  The entire email experience is totally user configurable as on all Blackberries so you can tailor it to fit your preferences.

Out of the box Verizon and RIM have put a lot of programs to make the Storm an online juggernaut.  Here’s a list of the programs installed (or installable) out of the box:

Contacts, messaging, SMS/MMS, calendar, browser, VZ Navigator, Visual Voicemail, media player (audio, video, ringtones), clock, camera (still and video), IM (Windows Live, Yahoo, Google Talk, AIM, Blackberry Messenger), Tasks, calculator, Dataviz Word To Go, Sheet To Go, Slideshow To Go, Voice Notes, voice dialing, BrickBreaker, Word Mole game, Flickr, Facebook, Blackberry Maps, MemoPad.

If that sounds like a lot of utility you are not mistaken, the Storm is a veritable online workhorse out of the box.  All of the familiar Blackberry programs are there and the inclusion of the three Dataviz programs means you can not only open Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint files but you can also edit them on the Storm.  This turns the Storm into the type of enterprise-ready phone that you expect from a Blackberry, even though the Storm is clearly also aimed at the consumer market.  You can almost leave the laptop at home on short trips with the Storm in your pocket.

The Storm is a global communications solution similar to the 8830 on Verizon.  There is a SIM card included that will work outside the US where CDMA networks are not available.  Business travelers can thus use the Storm almost anywhere in the world with optional voice and data plans from Verizon.

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Battery, SIM and microSDHC

It’s the keyboard, stupid

The biggest question we had about the Storm is in the area of the on-screen keyboard(s).  There is no substituion for a physical keyboard for serious text creation and the Storm goes the route of the iPhone and dumps the keyboard entirely.  So how did RIM do with the on-screen keyboard?  Very, very well.  The Storm screen can be likened to the new MacBook trackpad in that the entire screen is a big button.  This means when you press a key on the keyboard or a menu item you hear and feel a click just like pushing a real button.  This provides a level of tactile feedback when typing on the screen never before experienced on another device.  The button clicking means you can ramp up your typing speed pretty quickly and typing on the Storm feels a lot like typing on a "real" keyboard.  The SurePress technology as RIM calls it is simply stunning in its performance.

When the keyboard is invoked in portrait mode the Blackberry SureType keyboard is the default.  This keyboard puts two letters on each big key and uses prediction to input the correct word as tapped on the keys.  This technology is simply amazing in how accurate it is when you type a word on the keys.  It’s impossible to describe you must try if for yourself to see how well it works.  If you are someone who simply must have a QWERTY keyboard RIM’s got you covered there too.  Simply rotate the screen to landscape orientation and the keyboard switches to a big QWERTY keyboard.  This works just like a thumb board on any phone and with the SurePress key clicks even feels like one.  I found I could type with two thumbs very quickly with a low error rate.  It works much better than I thought it would and I got used to it very quickly.  I really like this keyboard.

Browsing the web

The draw behind all of the phones of late with large screens is in the web browsing.  The iPhone set the bar for mobile internet browsing that all other phones must reach for in their own implementation.  I am happy to report that the web browser on the Storm, new to OS 4.7, is very good.  I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the browsing experience on the iPhone but it’s pretty darn close, certainly close enough.  Web pages are rendered quickly in full page mode and when you double tap on the screen the browser zooms in to column mode, much like the iPhone.  There is no pinch and zoom like the iPhone but every time you double tap the screen lightly the browser zooms in another level.  Simply hit the Back hardware button and you instantly zoom back out.  To see what I mean take a look at this video shot of the web browser in action:

http://www.youtube.com/v/VAY5rrGmadw&hl=en&fs=1

Best Blackberry to date

We’ve only had the Storm in hand for a few hours but so far it’s easy to state that the Storm is the best Blackberry we have used to date.  It is a phone that is definitely focused on the consumer with advance media player, web browser and online tools but it’s still a Blackberry meaning it works well for the professional too.  Verizon is offering the Storm for $199 with a two-year contract and we think that’s a pretty good deal.  The Storm will be available at Verizon on November 21.

These are a few of my favorite things

My favorite things on the Storm so far:

  • Visual Voicemail:  works much like the iPhone app.  Shows your VMs and who left them.
  • Web browsing: the browser is very good indeed and as I get used to the zoom/unzoom more and more I really like the way it displays the page.  It is easy to get anywhere on a page quickly and zoom right in to a readable level.
  • Threaded SMS
  • Media Player: the video playback is stunning and the audio quality is very good.  Photo viewing is optimized for touch control.
  • Documents To Go: it is very powerful to be able to interact with and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
  • On-screen keyboards: the SureType keyboard is uncanny how often it guesses the word I want.  The keypresses feel almost like a real keyboard and I find I can already type really fast.
  • Camera: the 3.2 MP has auto-focus, image stabilization and a real flash.  Takes great photos.
  • It’s a Blackberry: gotta have a Crackberry fix, you know.

Here are some additional photos to provide your gadget lust fix:

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36 Responses to “jkOnTheRun review- Blackberry Storm, yes it can cut and paste”

  1. I will soon be a member of he Blackberry family after using Treos for quite some time. Is there enough memory for the storm to hold a full 90 min movie? I will give this phone all of the 30 day trial period. I know it will be alot different than what I am use to.

  2. I will soon be new to the Blackberry family. After uaing a Trio for quite some time I am looking forward to this hype. Will the available memory for ths phone support a full length movie? 90 min or so?

  3. After playing with the Storm a bit, I can see that the keyboard, and also the navigation, will require some getting used to. Not bad, just different. The screen is not quite as vibrant as the Bold, but vibrant enough, and the extra size does make a big difference on websites, as James says. The ability to scroll with your fingers also seems more natural and easier than scrolling with a trackball. I do think that the Storm is the kind of device that you have to give a fair chance to before you can really evaluate it; a day isn’t enough.

  4. ubiquityman

    Give the Storm & RIM a bit of time. The SurePress has a lot of potential in terms of being able to improve typing.

    Right now the key lights up blue which some people have claimed is not that useful.

    RIM can make this much better than Apple iPhone, very easily.

    Here are a couple of choices:

    1) ghost the character that is touched (not pressed yet) so the user can SEE which key the thumb is over. If it’s the correct key, the user can can press down to finalize the key. (With iPhone this is impossible because the key is already pressed when it shows up on the screen.)

    2) To be extremely annoying, but in the same manner as above, the phone can call out each letter before the press. This would be GREAT for people with vision problems.

    Like I’ve been saying, the extra degree of freedom in the z-axis (ie. the ability to select X,Y,1 or X,Y,2) has huge implications for future capabilities.

    Even if the Storm doesn’t stomp on the iPhone, the Storm will be a serious contender. If RIM can get Verizon to allow the public access to write apps for the appstore, the Storm might become a really great consumer device.

  5. Hi James. What I saw in your column was “If you don’t do a lot of web surfing then you’ll probably be better off with the Blackberry Bold, which is a really sweet Blackberry.” I see what you mean. Web surfing is where the Storm’s larger screen is important; perhaps also for viewing documents like PDF attachments that I can finally view! Well, in a few hours I’ll have both, and will be able to compare. I have a feeling it will be like falling in love with 2 women at the same time :-)

  6. Genghis, I touched on this in the latest Mobile Tech Manor column but what it boils down to is if you think you will do a lot of web work on the phone then the Storm is a good choice. If not then the Bold is better as it is a very nice BB with a great keyboard. It’s all about usage patterns.

  7. “I have played with a Bold briefly and I’d rather have the Storm.”

    Don’t question your choice, but would appreciate knowing why.

    BTW, I’m getting my Storm today from Best Buy, so I’ll have both until my wife appropriates one of the two :-)

  8. Constable Odo

    Nice review. It appears that RIM won’t be losing it’s customers to the iPhone which is pure gold for that company. I had thought that maybe traditional BlackBerry users wouldn’t take to the virtual keyboard, but RIM has done an excellent implementation of making the virtual keyboard into almost a real keyboard. I could hear those clicks and that’s a nice feature along with feedback. The Storm also appears to have all the bells and whistles that an OS should have. It’s rather odd that they left out WiFi unless the hardware wouldn’t physically fit the package.

    RIM can please so many different types of users with various BB models whereas Apple only has one size fits all which I would think put it at a disadvantage. The iPhone will get cut/copy/paste eventually, but I guess it won’t show up until next year. I’m an Apple fanboy, but really respect RIM as a company that really does try to please it’s user base.

    A year ago, I never expected RIM to build a BlackBerry that didn’t have a some form of a physical keyboard, but they did. Apple would never build an iPhone model with a physical keyboard and that’s the difference between the two companies.

  9. Never mind – the GPS answer is the one I feared –
    http://www.crunchgear.com/2008/11/20/review-blackberry-storm-for-verizon-wireless/

    So much for the interest in the Storm for me… While I LOVE my Curve – the Storm is not compelling enough (from all the reviews today and my playing last night) to make me take the plunge…

    My short review –
    *Screen (image) is awesome
    *Speaker is awesome
    *Typing – better than iPhone – not as good as “real” keyboard
    *Browser – better than Curve or anything else for that matter but… less and iPhone
    *email – pretty much BB
    *YouTube – cool, but no better or worse than the Apple thing

    Bottom Line: It’s cool – it’s slick – the videos rock – screen is nice – but form over function is the decision to be made – it’s just NOT that strong.

    I honestly can say after walking away from the 20 minutes of hands-on time… I really WANTED to love every aspect of the phone… since I’m with Verizon… but I just didn’t. I actually wanted to go into the AT&T store to play with an iPhone again…

    So – it will remain me and my upgraded still locked GPS Verizon Curve.

    They know they have the best network – and the brutally remind their customers…

    I’ll just dream of the day that the iPhone comes to Verizon (and pigs fly).

  10. I got my hands on a Storm last night at Verizon for about 20 minutes… I got Google Maps installed… but now that I think about it – it was a blue pin with a halo around it… indicating it was triangulation…

    What was done to confirm that the GPS is really unlocked on the Storm?

  11. Oh man.

    How I wish I wasn’t poor and unemployed. Great review James! Can’t wait for further possible videos.

    Also, don’t cry too much when you have to send it back, buddy. Hahahah. =P

  12. Very pretty, but perhaps a bit too delicate for my taste.
    What I liked about the Blackberry for work was the fact that it was so tough. Throw it around, drop it, sit on it and the thing would still keep chucking out those emails.

    This will be perfect for the office-bound types that are upset that their IT systems do not support their need for the iPhone, but I just hope that with all these new models that RIM retain some products that simply cannot be killed.

    (Oh by the way, I do have the iPhone for my personal use, and love it… but damned if I would bring it to the hospital where I work. It would not last a week!)

  13. threaded SMS? could you please make a vid of this and its messaging capabilities seeing as though i never saw on any website that the storm would have this feature. this would be greatly appreciated and by the way very good review looks of information and all in all a very honest review unlike these biased websites out there

  14. Have you tested Exchange sync on it? (You do still have an Exchange account, don’t you? I know Kevin ditched his in favor of Google but I’ve been busy the last couple of months and haven’t been keeping up with Google Reader as much as I would like to.) My father is looking into getting one and a major factor in his decision is the ability to sync with an Exchange server. If it does, it may in fact be my father’s Blackberry. ;-)

  15. James very nice review, you basically covered everything very well. Now to bad Sprint isn’t getting it any time soon. I am not surprised that Verizon is touting DUN to laptop. If I’m not wrong, I think my Blackberry Curve mentioned something about laptop tether on box. So will you be trading up your 8830 for the Storm? I’m very surprised that the Storm is not that much bigger than the BB Curve. I compared it with my Curve last Saturday at BestBuy. The had some skins and was able to put them side by side.