Review: BlackBerry Storm a Capable iPhone Alternative

If you've been hungrily awaiting the arrival of Research In Motion's latest BlackBerry, the touchscreen-enable Storm is finally here. Does it live up to the hype?

If you've been hungrily awaiting the arrival of Research In Motion's latest BlackBerry, the touchscreen-enable Storm is finally here. Does it live up to the hype?

I wouldn't be surprised if your office or healthcare facility doesn't approve of the Apple iPhone as a business device. After all, it doesn't have the business background that, say, Research In Motion has with its BlackBerry smartphones.

Long the mobile email champion, RIM unleashes its Storm with a fury this week to compete head-to-head with the Apple iPhone on the touchscreen front. How does it compare?

The biggest difference between the two is the way in which the touchscreen works. On the iPhone, you have a screen that uses capacitive technology. In layman's terms, the iPhone's screen respond to the electricity in your fingers. The Storm uses a different sort of touch. The entire screen is one gigantic button. If you want to open an email, you have to press--hard--to click the screen and open the email. Similar to the iPhone, you can pan around by dragging your finger across the screen. But if you want to select action items, launch applications or open folders, you have to press down on the screen. Most of the time, this is fine. Ah, but what about typing all those precious emails?

This is where things get interesting. The Storm is the first BlackBerry that doesn't offer a physical keyboard for composing messages. It offers two different software keyboards on the screen. One is the BlackBerry SureType keyboard (similar to the one on the BlackBerry Pearl) and the other is a full software QWERTY keyboard.

To put it bluntly, typing with either just feels weird. Pressing the screen again and again and again takes a lot of getting used to. Even with software word prediction enabled, I made plenty of mistakes in my first round of tests. This will be a big hurdle for many users to clear. If typing emails is the A1-most-important feature of a BlackBerry, I'd strongly suggest you go to a Verizon Wireless retail store and test it out before buying.

The rest of the device works well. The Storm offers the best media capabilities of any BlackBerry to-date. The music player is solid, the video player works well, the camera takes good pictures and captures good video, and the the picture gallery software lets you send or edit your pictures easily.

On top of that, it has all the inner workings that previous BlackBerries have had. This means it will sync with your business's or office's email and messaging systems seamlessly and securely. The email application offers new features to sort your in box via thread or by sender. It offers built-in GPS and navigation software to get you around. It can roam onto the wireless networks in Europe, so you can take it with you to that medical conference in Rome.

The Storm also provides access to the RIM Application Market, which is an online store for users to browse and download third-party content such as games or productivity applications. Social networking apps such as Facebook or MySpace are preloaded onto the Storm. There isn't a whole lot in the Application Market just yet, but it will grow over time.

In the end, the Storm is a solid smartphone that covers all your business and personal needs...even if typing on it takes some getting used to.

It will be available in Verizon Wireless retail stores, online and through business sales channels starting Friday, November 21, for $200 if you sign a new two-year contract.

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