RIM's first touchscreen device, the BlackBerry Storm, received a lukewarm reception last year. But when the BlackBerry Storm2 debuts in the UK in October 2009, it will be well worth your consideration.
In measurements and display size, the BlackBerry Storm2 is identical to its predecessor. It weighs just slightly more than the original Storm. If you put the two handsets side by side, however, the older Storm looks clunkier.
All of the buttons on the BlackBerry Storm2 are more recessed, making for a more streamlined design. Hardware buttons no longer run below the display, instead the new handset offers touch sensitive buttons there. And unlike with the first model, on this version you won't see a crack between where the display ends and the keys start - this alone puts the BlackBerry Storm2 aeons beyond the Storm in design aesthetics.
The absence of that (somewhat disturbing) crack is due to the new SurePress technology, which is now electronic rather than mechanical. You still have to push down to type or select an application, but the BlackBerry Storm2 no longer feels wobbly or clumsy to press.
In the original Storm, the mechanical SurePress interface was often inaccurate: You'd press one application, and another would activate.
Without getting too technical, the difference in the two generations lies underneath the display. The original Storm was in essence one big suspended button mounted below the screen's centre point. Below the BlackBerry Storm2's hood, in contrast, four activators sense when you're pressing on the screen. This design allows for a more stable navigating experience.
We had a much easier time typing on the BlackBerry Storm2's keyboard than on the original's, but we still can't get accustomed to pushing down on a display to type. We know that it is supposed to feel more natural than a typical touch keyboard, but we prefer the physical BlackBerry keyboards. We do like how you can hold down the Shift key and a letter to capitalise it, as you would on a physical keyboard. (A colleague with larger hands had more difficulty typing on it than I did, however.)
One interesting thing to note: RIM studied the way people typed on touch keyboards, and found that, while typing quickly, they often briefly held down two keys at once. The BlackBerry Storm2's keyboard mimics that by having both keys respond when you press them, thus making typing faster. And of course, the keyboard has RIM's excellent SureType predictive text entry, which facilitates speedy typing.
The new BlackBerry Storm2 also has inertial scrolling, which means that you can move through your contacts or media library quickly with a flick of your finger. It isn't as speedy as the iPhone's scrolling, but it is a big improvement from that of the older Storm, which barely budged when you flicked to scroll. There were times when we had to flick multiple times to get the phone to respond, however. The cut/copy/paste functions are also easier to use, since the "handles" you grab to select text are bigger.
While the BlackBerry Storm2 retains the original's 480-by-360-pixel display resolution, the user interface looks a lot brighter and sharper. This is due to the BlackBerry OS 5.0 software, which has sharper icons, brighter colours, and blacker blacks than does BlackBerry OS 4.7 (which shipped on the original Storm). The interface is clean and simple to navigate, thanks to the easy to identify icons.
Call quality tested in the US over Verizon's 3G network was very good, with no background static or hiss. Voices were loud enough for us to hear easily, and they sounded natural. Parties on the other end of the line could hear our voice clearly while we were standing on a busy street corner.
Like all BlackBerry products, the BlackBerry Storm2 has excellent messaging and email capabilities. You get BlackBerry Enterprise Server support for your work email, and you can load up to 10 work or personal POP3 or IMAP accounts.
The BlackBerry Storm2 doesn't come loaded with the new BlackBerry Messenger 5.0, but you should definitely download it from BlackBerry App World. Trust me, you'll never go back to the old Messenger. Version 5 sports a spruced up interface that's easier to use, it offers more emoticons to choose from, and it has the ability to display your location via GPS.
Pages loaded quickly over Verizon's 3G network, and even faster over Wi-Fi. Yes, the BlackBerry Storm2 has Wi-Fi, and that alone makes the revised handset a big step up from the original Storm. RIM says to expect all of its future CDMA handsets to ship with Wi-Fi connectivity, so kudos to the company for finally getting past that roadblock. The browser will default to a mobile page when one is available, but it also loads full sites without any issues. Of course, the BlackBerry platform doesn't yet support Flash, so Flash heavy sites won't load.
The BlackBerry Storm2's music player displays album art and has easy to access touch controls. Audio quality sounded a bit hollow piped through the bundled headset and on third party higher-quality earbuds. Video playback was very smooth throughout most clips; we noticed only a bit of stuttering in fast action scenes.
Overall, we were impressed with the BlackBerry Storm2's 3.2Mp camera. Snapshots taken both indoors and outdoors looked better than pictures taken with the Apple iPhone 3GS. Colours were a bit washed out and even more so when the flash was on, but details were sharp and we didn't detect any noise or graininess.
The BlackBerry Storm2 is definitely an upgrade from the first Storm in design and usability. And while the keyboard handles better, we still can't really get the hang of it. Before you decide to purchase the BlackBerry Storm2, try it out. If you discover that it isn't for you, consider getting a phone with both a touchscreen and a keyboard, like the LG enV Touch or the HTC Touch Pro 2. With one of those models, you get the best of both input technologies rather than something in between.