As my mobile contract recently came to an end I decided to avail of a new phone. My old device handled mobile e-mail but the UI was intolerably slow most of the time which made me seek a device which could at least get e-mail right down to a T. With this in mind I decided on the BlackBerry Storm due to the brand reputation in the mobile e-mail arena.
In various tech blogs the storm has been touted as being the iPhone killer but all I was looking for was a smooth, lag free UI and a good feature set so I’ll review it based on my requirements and point out any issues I’ve found in normal use.
Out of the box the first things you notice are the responsive interface and interesting touch screen. Touching the screen on a button merely lights it up. To click on it you have to physically push the screen in slightly until you here it click. While this might sound odd it actually makes for a remarkably intuitive and straight forward experience as you are always sure what you are pressing (it lights up before you click) and you never press anything accidentally (you have to click the screen inwards to select something).
E-Mail comes very easy to the storm. There is a push e-mail service included and providing your e-mail domain has a correctly configured mail server in its DNS all you need to do is enter your e-mail address and access password and you can start receiving all new e-mail while on the move. Sadly your old mail isn’t accessible on the phone but having e-mail delivered instantly without having to poll the server easily makes up for it.
Writing anything on the phone is made easy with the qwerty keyboard which appears when you rotate the phone into landscape position. Typing takes a bit of getting used to as you need to make sure the correct key is lit up before pressing so that you get the correct letter but with practice the keyboard certainly beats a conventional phone keypad, even with predictive text.
Speaking of typing, those familiar with texting will no doubt be familiar with the annoyance that is hitting reply to a text and then forgetting part of the original message you are replying to. With the storm this doesn’t happen as it chains related text messages from a contact together, ie. if you hit reply, you will see the message you are replying to below the text box you are entering your reply in. Further more if you have been sending a few messages to and fro with a contact, you will see the entire conversation threaded together which makes for a much better texting experience.
My last phone (Sony Ericsson W960i) had a problem when taking a backup of contacts on the PC; it locked up all the contacts in a proprietary file format. While I had to bypass this to get my contacts on the storm by syncing the Ericsson with Outlook and then Outlook with the storm, the storm thankfully allows me to take contacts backups into a variety of file formats, including plain text CSV files which should make managing my contacts and ensuring I don’t lose any data a lot easier in the future.
The phone functionality on the storm is simple and presents no real surprises in its operation. Missed calls are shown as a handy icon on the home screen so you know when to switch to phone mode if you’ve not been around to catch a call. The only slight confusion here is how to access the phone mode in the first place. There is no icon on the home screen so the only ways to access it are to receive a call, press the green button or press and hold the BlackBerry button and select the phone icon from the list of applications which pops up. All that said though the call quality is very clear and the easily accessible volume control on the side of the handset makes it easy to cater for different amounts of ambient noise.
The other big thing that the BlackBerry storm has going for it is all the applications that you can install. I could spend a long time detailing all the ones I’ve started to use such as YouTube, Facebook and Flickr but I’ll just go into detail on one spectacular application – Google Maps. The storm has a GPS built in which when combined with google maps as you know it on a PC and a touch screen makes for a wonderful navigation aid. You simply run the maps application and it will tell you where you are. You can then enter a destination and it will give you walking or driving directions. You can then check your progress as your actual position is replotted on the map as you move. If you are in the habit of getting lost or don’t have a good enough memory to recall the directions you printed off the computer without continuously getting said print out from your pocket to check, this application will really make your day.
So are there any negative points? Well not many is the short answer. The long answer includes the inability to rotate photos taken with the on-board camera (thus making uploading portrait pictures on the move impossible), the battery life (I’ve not managed to get more than a days use out of the storm without an overnight charge) and the odd thing that happens when the battery runs down completely.
The other night I forgot to charge my storm and woke up to find it off and unable to be powered up. I connected it to the charger and found that I couldn’t switch it on; I was simply presented with a charging symbol on the screen and an unresponsive set of buttons. The only way I could find to switch it on was to charge for 5 minutes, remove the charger, power on normally and then reconnect the charger when I got to the home screen. The turmoil wasn’t over though. I found that the storm refused to activate radio features (GSM, GPRS etc.) because the battery was too low, even though I had the phone hooked up to the charger. It wasn’t until the phone had charged to 10% that I could use the phone normally when hooked up to the charger. Although I don’t imagine this happening very often as I usually remember to charge up, I found this an unnecessary pain in the ass; every phone I have had until this one could be both switched on and used fully when hooked up to the charge. If I’m simply operating the phone incorrectly feel free to let me know but the instruction manual and google came up with nothing.
That aside though I’m very happy with the BlackBerry Storm. It is by far the best phone I have ever had and it has all the responsiveness and features I could possibly need. I’ve even found some novel uses for it – stand by for my forthcoming article on photo blogging!