To say RIM's first touch-screen smartphone — the BlackBerry Storm 9500 — was a disappointment would be putting it mildly. Despite really wanting to like the original effort (after all, a touch-screen BlackBerry did sound cool), the "clickable" touch screen was clunky, the software was full of issues, there was no Wi-Fi and typing was a frustrating experience. But RIM is now back with a second effort: the BlackBerry Storm2 9520 smartphone.
The Storm2 looks similar to the ill-fated original, but boasts improved software, a better display, Wi-Fi and a much improved user experience. The BlackBerry Storm2 launches on March 11 in Australia; we tested an imported model from the US and will update this review with any necessary local changes over the coming days.
Aesthetically, RIM's BlackBerry Storm2 smartphone is almost the same as its predecessor. It looks and feels similar, and its dimensions are almost identical. The two biggest changes both relate to the display: the screen no longer depresses when tapped and the physical answer/end call, menu and back buttons are now part of the display, making for a smoother look and feel.
The BlackBerry Storm2 display now provides vibrating tactile feedback, and it doesn't feel loose when pressed nor have a thick gap at its edges where dust can gather. It still requires quite a firm press to activate and uses the same touch method as its predecessor — that is, when you tap the Storm's display, like you would on the iPhone, it recognises your selection by highlighting the key you've tapped, but it doesn't activate that particular function until you actually press down. Pressing the display delivers an audible clicking sound along with vibrating haptic feedback, and there is no way to turn this off. This is troublesome, as it's impossible to use the Storm2 in a quiet environment (such as a meeting) without being noticed.
The BlackBerry Storm2 smartphone has QWERTY, SureType and multi-tap keyboard layouts, and the QWERTY keyboard is now available in portrait mode (a feature missing from the original Storm). The portrait QWERTY keyboard is cramped, but you can adjust to it quite quickly. The auto-correction feature isn't on par with the iPhone's, however, and users used to a more roomy physical keyboard will probably prefer the landscape keyboard. Overall, typing on the BlackBerry Storm2 is a smoother, faster and far more pleasant experience than with the original. The on-board accelerometer rotates the screen orientation with minimal lag, unlike the original Storm.
The BlackBerry Storm2's on-screen keyboard lacks custom buttons to make life easier, (such as a .com button when entering Web addresses or a quickly accessible @ key when typing e-mails), though pressing the space bar when typing an e-mail address automatically suggests the @ symbol to speed up the process.
The BlackBerry Storm2 smartphone runs the latest version of the BlackBerry OS, 5.0. The user interface looks sleek and well designed, but it feels like it's more suited to a device without a touch screen. The BlackBerry Storm2's interface requires more clicks than the iPhone's, and the folder structure doesn't seem appropriate. We found that accidentally clicking an item when browsing through the main menu was a regular experience.
The good news is that two crippling issues with the original Storm — scrolling and speed — have both improved. Scrolling is certainly not as efficient as it is when using the iPhone OS, but it feels much smoother and intuitive. The overall software package is much zippier than with the original Storm and the browser has also improved. Panning around pages is smoother and load times have been minimised, but clicking links, zooming, and navigating multiple open pages still need improvement.
The BlackBerry Storm2 smartphone is HSDPA-capable and includes built-in GPS. It also comes with Wi-Fi, which was a puzzling omission on the original Storm. A 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD make the Storm2 a decent multimedia device. Like the original Storm, the Storm2 has a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash .
RIM has ensured the BlackBerry Storm2 synchronises with iTunes using the recently launched BlackBerry Desktop Software for Mac. The Storm2 doesn't show up in iTunes, but the software lets you choose playlists and music to sync.
The BlackBerry Storm2 offers voice dialling, conference calling, speed dialling and call forwarding. The full suite of e-mail capabilities is as strong as ever, while the calendar system remains similar to previous models.
The BlackBerry Storm2 is available on Vodafone and 3's new $69 cap, one of the many new caps unveiled recently by VHA. Vodafone's cap includes unlimited Vodafone-to-Vodafone calls, $450 worth of calls and messages and 500MB of data and unlimited BlackBerry Email and Internet. 3's $69 cap offers unlimited 3-to-3 calls, $450 worth of calls and text, 100MB of data and unlimited BlackBerry e-mail and Internet.
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