The BlackBerry Storm feels a lot more solid than many previous models I had used, even the 8800. The first Curve series was almost too light, and suffered from dust leakage under the screen, while the 8100 Pearl’s battery door came lose with age. The Bold was not bad, though not quite on par with its 8800 predecessor in terms of toughness. The faux-leather backing did little to instill a sense of faux-style. The Storm, on the other hand, pulls together many materials across the existing BlackBerry range to make something that feels just plain good.
The rubberized siding made popular by the BlackBerry Curve is found on the Storm to provide extra grip, while an outer chrome frame nicely highlights and protects. A new metallic battery door provides added heft and sturdiness as well as two latches that keep things secure, but also make for easy removal. Even the headphone jack had a slight redesign which looks like it fits more snugly in the device and less prone to internal loosening than older ‘Berrys. The screen itself is highly scratch-resistant , but does have a distinct gap on all sides. Whether this it to provide room for the clicking mechanism or avoid shattering from force transmitted through a tight-hugging frame is unknown, but it does let a lot of distracting light through and poses the threat of dust and other materials seeping into the device. The screen also feels like it has more give at the corners and edges, away from the center. This gives a bit of an uneven feeling when typing sometimes, but doesn’t generally get in the way.
Under the hood, the microSD memory card slot is easily accessible, contrary to older BlackBerrys which required you to pop the battery, and SIM card installation is easier now that you load it in sideways. One peculiar change is the rear speaker, propped up by two rubber feet. The sound moves around the device just fine, but it does seem like an odd spot for a speaker.
The full screen is one of the BlackBerry Storm’s biggest lures. While it may match the BlackBerry Bold in terms of pixel count, the sheer size makes for a much more enjoyable experience on all fronts. Obviously video playback will be one of the biggest factors, and picture viewing will both see bonuses, but the staple functionality of e-mail and personal information management also have a lot to gain from a bigger screen. Seeing an entire message or your entire calendar day without having to scroll is unspeakably convenient. I imagine similar luxury would be passed on to those who work with spreadsheets.
Come to think of it, one thing that I hadn’t paid much attention to when it launched on the BlackBerry Bold was Documents To Go. Being able to view and edit Microsoft Office documents on your device was a pretty nice addition, but I hadn’t really needed to use it for anything. After seeing an early picture of a spreadsheet on the Storm in landscape, I was very curious if the BlackBerry 9530 could actually be used in business and keep a straight face. Although the bundled apps fundamentally work (the PowerPoint editor is a bit choppy), the whole premise begun to feel fundementally smarmy to me after some light use.
Here was this app that was fully capable of creating new files, accessing Office 2007 documents, checking your word count, inserting comments, throwing in additional formatting and doing a lot of other full-fidelity stuff, but didn’t because DataViz has to make a buck. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t blame them, and having the option to upgrade is nice, but this means that if you use the basic application at all you’ll constantly have these stars in the menu reminding you “Hey, if you paid us $70, you could do all of this…” It’s like having an insurance salesman living in your smartphone – not fun even if you need them, and they only go away if you kick ’em out or buy what they’re selling. I fully encourage RIM to pursue profitable partnerships with third-party developers to bring new functionality to their devices, but they could have toned down the sales pitch just a bit.
The Storm’s accelerometer is obtusely sensitive. Part of me is thankful that I don’t have to wait when I’m making snappy transitions from upright portrait mode to horizontal landscape, but most of the time, it just makes navigating a pain when the whole OS changes its layout due to a marginally percieved orientation switch. All it would take to fix this is an option to scale accelerometer sensitivity up or down depending on personal taste, as well as UI fine-tuning based on when those switches are more or less common. On that note, it would be really nice to have some sense of inertia when scrolling through web pages or menus. As is, when you stop moving your finger, the movement stops. That might be handy for keeping things precice, but that stickiness isn’t doing any favours for creating a smooth and natural-feeling navigation experience.
One of the primary pitfalls of a full touchscreen device is a shortened battery life. Even with GPS and Bluetooth off, you’ll see your Storm nearly dead by the end of a busy day, while the Bold would likely still make it through the night. Battery life is huge part of the BlackBerry experience (“always on, always connected” is an old motto), and probably the biggest sacrifice the Storm will have to make in the long run.
One of my first impressions of the Storm’s multimedia capabilities was of its horribly tinny sound, and that sadly hasn’t changed. It’s all pushed out of one tiny speaker on the rear, and can’t hold a candle to the Bold’s four sound ports. Two feet by the speaker to keep it elevated and sound wrapping to the front when laying down, which certainly helps, but it’s really only useful for speakerphone calls rather than multimedia. Even then, the feet make the device wobbly when you’re trying to use it while the Storm’s lying flat.
The camera is bumped up to 3.2 megapixels from the Bold’s 2.0, and it’s a welcome upgrade. Sure, there are some crazy 8-megapixel sliders making the rounds, but a token point-and-shoot with video recording is solid in a pinch. Upgraded software has also made the autofocus much more accurate, and zooming on the touchscreen feels really good. That software also made it to the new BlackBerry Curve 8900, with equally awesome results.
So what about the new BlackBerry OS 4.7?