Hands-on With Verizon Wireless’ Fierce BlackBerry Storm
We recently had a chance to go hands-on with Verizon Wireless’ Storm, the first BlackBerry to feature a full touchscreen. The Storm is drop-dead gorgeous: it took a lot of self control not to pocket the Storm during our meeting and head for the border with it. Once crossing into another country, we would have been just fine with service. That’s because the Storm supports both GSM and CDMA networks, as well as Verizon Wireless’ EV-DO Rev. A network in the United States, and HSDPA connectivity in Europe and Asia. The Storm measures 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.55-inches, just slightly fatter than the iPhone which measures a similar 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.48 inches in size, and also features an accelerometer, so most menus can be viewed in either landscape or horizontal mode. The back of the device has a switchable metal lid with three available colors: black, dark blue, and charcoal. It’s loaded with BlackBerry OS 4.7, which looks different on the Storm than on the Bold or Pearl Flip because it’s optimized for the touchscreen and accelerometer. An Impressive Touch Screen During our hands-on, we were stunned by the beautiful 480 x 360 3.26-inch display, which features RIM’s ClickThrough technology. ClickThrough lets you depress any portion of the screen to make a selection so it feels like there’s actually a button below your finger. RIM’s CEO Mike Lazaridis told us this is possible thanks to mechanical switch suspension below the surface of the display that lets each press feel like a separate button. It took a bit to get used to QWERTY typing with ClickThrough, though, because we are so used to lightly touching the keyboards on touchscreen phones (such as the iPhone), but the Storm actually lets you push down on the keys. We found it to be as, if not more, accurate than the iPhone’s keyboard and it supports a similar auto-correct feature. You can touch and hold a letter for additional letters specific to a language, like ñ for example. When in vertical mode, the Storm displays a SureType keyboard like that found on the BlackBerry Pearl. The Storm also supports multi-tapping for highlighting text. You can simply spread your fingers around a paragraph and push down to highlight the whole area of text, and then you can copy/paste that text elsewhere; a feature the iPhone still doesn’t support. Forget the Garmin Nuvifone If you’re still on the fence about buying a personal navigation device or Garmin’s phone, we say hold out and just use the AGPS features of the Storm. Its display is large enough for placing on your dashboard with an added accessory, and moreover, it has a specially designed version of VZ Navigator that makes interacting with the UI super easy with touch. That is right, its got turn-by-turn directions, unlike some other well-regarded touchscreen phones. Multimedia Maverick The Storm supports up to 16GB of added storage through a microSD card, and it comes packaged with an 8GB card, which means you can listen to MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WMA ProPlus audio tracks side loaded to your Storm, or watch MPEG4 H.263, MPEG 4 P2SP, H.264, and WMA movie files. A clip of the movie Hancock looked great on the display, and it played back without a hitch. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack for adding your own headset, or you can use a stereo Bluetooth one. But the Storm has superb speakers for watching movies or listening to music while it’s sitting in its cradle, too. We don’t know exactly how well the battery on the Storm will hold up under heavy multimedia conditions, but at least the battery on the phone is swappable. The Storm comes preloaded with Facebook as well as support for viewing Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint files, as well as Adobe PDF files. We took a few shots with the Storm’s 3.2MP camera, which features flash and auto-focus, during our hands-on, and the pictures looked good overall, but the camera software was still a bit buggy. You can also shoot video clips for sending off in MMS messages at a 176 x 144 resolution, or a larger 480 x 320 one for storing. Not Quite iPhone Surfing The browser on the Storm was OK. Sites loaded quickly, and you can view them in both Page and Column view. If you want to pan around with your finger, just simply swipe the display. The page didn’t slide as smoothly as Safari on the iPhone, but it’s the closest we’ve seen yet. There’s also a cool “Cursor” feature that places a cursor on the display which follows your finger. It makes selecting small links super easy and is an innovative and useful addition. The browser also supports streaming video and audio. We also saw a small accessory dock that the Storm can sit in. When it’s inserted, it automatically turns into a large digital alarm clock. This is perfect for the many of us that use our Blackberry’s as alarm clocks anyway. Verizon Wireless and Vodafone are carrying the Storm exclusively, and there’s no word on a release date or pricing just yet, but if it’s priced around $199 we imagine it will fly off the shelves.