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What's a BlackBerry Without a Keyboard?

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stormblackberryRIM’s (s rimm) recently released Blackberry Storm is a device that tries to outdo Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone by including a beefed-up OS, polishing up the interface and marrying it to a really fast 3G network (instead of AT&T’s pokey 3G network.) The device even has visual voice mail, and a cut-and-paste feature. And oh by the way, RIM got rid of the the keyboard and got itself a touch screen.

Verizon (s vz) seems to have orchestrated a nice launch and the early reviews give the Storm a thumbs up. If you believe everything reviewers say, then you gotta wonder: Why has RIM only gotten around to making BlackBerrys like the Storm (and the Bold) now? I think it was due to a lack of imagination — and fear of taking risks. Now that that iPhone has made touch screens cool, RIM is jumping on the bandwagon.

Our own James Kendrick has taken an in-depth look at the Storm and has posted his findings on jkOnTheRun, along with a fantastic video that takes you through the pros and cons of the device. He sent in his thoughts for our readers:

The Storm is unusual for a Blackberry as it lacks a physical keyboard of any kind. The screen is a large display that uses SurePress technology from RIM that makes it feel like using a physical thumb board when you type on the screen. In our brief experience it works very well and we won’t be surprised to see the Storm take off in the consumer space.

He seems to like the device a lot (You can find his complete review at jkOnTheRun). I, however, am not sold on it.

While I can live without a keyboard on iPhone, I cannot do the same on a BlackBerry. One of the reasons I like BlackBerry is the physical QWERTY keyboard. The Bold’s keyboard was one of the reasons I gave that device a big thumbs up. The keyboard and push email make BlackBerry a device to love because it allows you to plow through copious amount of email when on the go. The reason I carry both an iPhone and a BlackBerry 8800 is because I use the first one for browsing and talking, while the other is for everything that involves text: Google Talk, Twitter, Facebook messages and of course, staying on top of a steady torrent of daily email.

As Walt Mossberg says, “[U]sing the Storm’s keyboard is much more like using the iPhone’s keyboard than a traditional BlackBerry’s. I found that I could type quite well on the Storm after awhile, but that a greater adjustment, and more practice, were required than with a physical keyboard.” He is also miffed that you get a Suretype keyboard when the device is held in vertical and goes into a QWERTY mode only when the device is held horizontally. I agree — it’s a boneheaded UI feature.

I am of the opinion that devices that stick to their true strengths are the ones that succeed the most. Apple is winning with the iPhone because touch is an integral part of the entire experience. All the applications are being built on top of that experience. In losing its keyboard with the Storm, this BlackBerry device has lost some of its uniqueness.

The Storm reminds me of the St. Louis Cardinals phenom Rich Ankiel, who was an awesome pitcher till he flamed out, got hurt and came back as an outfielder and a hitter. He scored a lot of runs last seasons, but he isn’t a center fielder like Mickey Mantle. He is just another player. Storm will be that — just another touch-screen smartphone.

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Photo Courtesy of RIM

22 Responses to “What's a BlackBerry Without a Keyboard?”

  1. Jesse Kopelman


    I’d agree with you about the no WiFi thing being Verizon’s fault if they didn’t sell all that Windows Mobile crap with WiFi. Yes, they sell it with the WiFi disabled in software, but the hardware is still there and is fairly easy to activate. I think this was actually RIM trying to increase profitability by leaving out a feature that costs them money to implement and that their primary customer (Verizon) is happy to not have. I guess what I’m saying is that this is Verizon’s fault, but it is also RIM’s fault. It will be very interesting to see if Verizon actually sells an Android phone, as with such a device it should be easy to enable all the features Verizon wants disabled.

    Oh yeah, that reminds me of the whole having to pay Verizon to actually use built-in GPS thing. It really sucks that Verizon generally has the best coverage and customer service, as they really rip you off on the rate plans. Wireless service is definitely a case of you get what you pay for.

  2. matrixstore

    I’ve had the pleasure of owning a Storm for almost a week now, using it in real world scenarios etc, so unlike most commentators, I can comment with perhaps a little more kudos (I’ve also used the bold in anger, but not the iphone):

    Email – receiving

    First of all the display of emails, and their attachments is a SIGNIFICANT improvement – the screen is lovely and the emails display brilliantly. Attachments can be zoomed in on, and even edited – so I highly recommend the device if those aspects are the most important to you.

    Email – typing

    Yes, you CAN type on it, but I defy anyone to type on the device at even 50% of the speed you can on a Bold. And if you are the kind of person you likes to edit what you typed, good luck to you: it’s almost impossible to accurately select a character in the middle of a typed message to correct it. So to me: if 50% write speeds aren’t an issue to you, this is a beautiful device to get.

    General: this is a really beautiful device – I hear what you say about companies sticking to their strengths, but BB have done a beautiful job on it: give me that new email display together with a slide out keyboard and trackball and I’d be a happy man!

  3. T-Mobile makes very good use of the Wi-Fi feature on the Curve, supporting VoWiFi with UMA as well as web browsing.

    And to Drew, the Storm is different from other Blackberries because of the humungous screen. If that’s not for web surfing, I don’t know what it’s for. If all I want to do is e-mail and text, I’d rather have a Curve with real keys any day. RIM doesn’t want to be in an e-mail ghetto when the rest of the world is webbing.

  4. @Jesse, @ Richard and @Drew

    I totally agree and the omission of WiFi is just strange. It is because Verizon despite all the talk about open is still a closed network and they don’t really don’t want freedom on your devices.

  5. One thing we should all keep in mind when invoking these comparisons with iPhone and G1 is that while these two are primarily browser-oriented devices, the Blackberry is fundamentally an email machine (thus Om’s missive over the keyboard) that has some Web capabilities. The lack of WiFi would be substantially more serious to me if I were purchasing the Storm to be primarily for Web access (which I do not) rather than for email efficiency which I do..and it’s a far better email device than iPhone at the moment and handles mail & calendar very effectively over EVDO.

  6. I agree with Jesse. I would have happily bought one of these babies to replace my mislaid Curve if it had Wi-Fi, but without that feature it’s a non-starter. 3G is nice and all, but I get close to 4 Mbps download speed on my G1 via Wi-Fi and Comcast, and only 600K via 3G. Plus I’ve got no obvious cap with Wi-Fi. Verizon needs to revise their specs and try again. Both the iPhone and the G1 have major weaknesses, and Blackberry is the company best able to crush them.

  7. Jesse Kopelman

    Don’t you think the lack of WiFi is a killer omission? While I’m sure I could happily live without it on such a device, it just seems wrong not to have a feature that has been pretty standard on smart phones for 3 years now.

  8. Rogelio Solis

    From a simple user perspective:
    Thanks RIM, thanks Apple! … for designing such an outstanding technological devices,
    they satisfy our needs and make our lives easier.
    Rogelio Solis

  9. The limiting factor here is not just RIM’s ability to innovate the Storm handset, but it’s interest and ability to deliver an app marketplace as compelling as Apple’s (perhaps without the sturm and drang we are all experiencing over which apps are apparently “ok” with Apple and which are not.) Of course, these apps will only succeed if they can deliver the same sort of seamless user experience that characterize the best on the iPhone platform. That’s a big “if”, but it can be done I think.

  10. I think that the better baseball analogy is that the Storm is more of a utility infielder. Someone who is a jack of all trades, but does not excel at a star level. Pretty much every CF today does not play like Mickey Mantle, regardless if they were a CF all of their career or a converted pitcher.

  11. There is already a Storm with my name on it, waiting for me at a Verizon store, for purchase tomorrow.

    The lack of a keyboard does not concern me at all because this will be my first smartphone; I’ve never used a smartphone QWERTY before. And I never considered buying an iPhone for one simple reason: AT&T. I travel extensively for business and there have been numerous locations where my Verizon broadband card hummed along merrily while my AT&T phone was barely a clock.

    Two lesser reasons are that I believe that two years from now, touchscreens will be as integral to handsets as cameras are today, so I may as well learn how to use one now. And because RIM is the granddaddy of smartphones, and that market history has significant value to me.

    So as of 10 am tomorrow, I’m Storming on my Crackberry.