BlackBerry Storm: The Novelty Wears Off Fast

November 20, 2008

blackberry_storm It seemed like a neat idea when Research In Motion (RIM) announced it in October: the first smartphone with a clickable touchscreen. I even enjoyed the few minutes I spent playing with a pre-release version of the BlackBerry Storm, which goes on sale Nov. 21 for $200 (after the $50 rebate from wireless carrier Verizon).

But after 24 hours of actually testing the new BlackBerry side-by-side with its main competition — Apple’s iPhone 3G and T-Mobile’s G1 (the “Google phone”) — the novelty quickly wore off. I hate the click screen, and none of the handful of people I let try it had anything nice to say about it either. That’s a shame, because the Storm has a slew of handy extras that neither the iPhone nor G1 can match. But an annoying user interface is a deal-breaker.

The trouble with having to push down on the entire 3.2-inch screen every time you type a letter or confirm a menu choice is that it slows you down. The idea behind the clickable screen is that it will minimize errors by getting you to think before you press. Instead, it took much of the fun out of using the device. While some people argue that the iPhone’s touchscreen is a little too slick and imprecise — of the three devices, I tend to make the most typos with the iPhone — at least it’s fast. And while the G1’s mini chiclet-sized keys seem designed for Lilliputians, they are accurate and respond even when pressed with the edge of a fingernail. The Storm’s click screen, on the other hand, demands the strength of your entire thumb. What’s more, the screen jiggles in the phone’s casing when you press on it, which makes it feel cheap.

So, what’s to like about the Storm? Plenty. My favorite feature is the built-in video recording capability, which you won’t find on either the iPhone or G1. And, of course, no one can beat BlackBerry’s e-mail expertise. Verizon, the sole service-provider for the Storm in the U.S., has the best wireless coverage in the country. In addition to the instant delivery, or “push,” of messages that CrackBerry users have become addicted to, the Storm lets you easily search messages by sender or subject, and cut and paste to your heart’s delight. Even viewing and editing attached files are a cinch, thanks to DataViz’s Documents To Go free built-in software. You can even search for key terms inside attached Word files. Sweet. When it comes to messaging, the Storm reigns supreme.

Those are the Storm’s only pluses. Adventurous users can find and download thousands of BlackBerry applications from independent sites like Handango, but the built-in Application Center on the Storm comes with just eight add-on applications for you to install, including Flickr, Facebook, and AOL Instant Messenger. That’s a sore disappointment compared to the thousands of iTunes apps you can click to right from your iPhone and the hundreds of Android Market apps available for the G1. There’s no built-in music store on the Storm either, although a deal with Rhapsody is in the works, according to RIM. Worse, you can’t talk on the phone while you surf the Web (a limitation of Verizon’s CDMA network), and there’s no Wi-Fi. Sigh.

If, like many Americans, you’re planning to scrimp your way through the holidays, the Storm isn’t worth busting your budget for. Even die-hard BlackBerry fans would be better off with RIM’s new Bold, Pearl or Flip. All three have many of the same pluses as the Storm, minus the drawbacks of the unusual display. This is one storm you’ll want to steer clear of this winter.

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