Last week, Vodafone Fiji passed me along a BlackBerry Storm. I don't know anything at all about how they'll be rolling the product out to the public or when this will happen, though. In fact, this "mini review" is really not about Vodafone Fiji at all but I do need to tip my hat and thank them for the opportunity to play with new technology. Much appreciated...
On that intro note, perhaps it's appropriate to start any mention of the BlackBerry Storm with a few comments about its performance on Vodafone Fiji's network. Without a doubt, this is the best sounding BlackBerry I have ever had and Vodafone's 3G service pairs beautifully with it. Audio is crystal clear when making calls. So much so, that I was amazed I was even noticing it. I wish other BB models followed suit. Browsing the web was also quite pleasing and I have no complaints at all about that.
I promised myself one week with the new model. I would put down my Bold and use the Storm for a single week since I knew that there would be some kind of learning curve with a phone that relies on a touchscreen. I gave up after three days. In the end, I realised that whether I had the phone for an hour, a day or a week, I would never get used to fighting with my phone and that's exactly what I found myself doing.
It's not all crap...just most of it. I liked the updated 3.2 MP camera a lot. I also liked the form factor of the Storm with its slick and curvy shape. Unfortunately, it felt slippery and heavy and unlike some of the other BlackBerry models, the Storm didn't feel as if it would be so forgiving if dropped. I didn't test that theory, however, even as I wanted to smash the unit against the wall a number of times. The only other praise I can give the Storm is for the screen. It's very bright and colors are very vivid. However, I was constantly having to clean the thing of fingerprints.
The Storm generated huge interest among BlackBerry users a year or so ago when it was announced. Finally, RIM was providing an answer to the iPhone. In retrospect, that is exactly what seems to be the problem with the Storm. It appears to have been made as an answer to a problem which might never have existed. The whole reason I love my BlackBerry is because of access to my email. Everything else is gravy. Mail is, and has always been, the killer application for me. On the Storm, mail is just not as smooth and worse yet, it's slow. I'm not referring to text input as much as I am the overall speed of the operating system. The Storm and its touch-based input feels flawed. To be fair, after a day of use I was able to approach the same speed as a keyboard-based Blackberry but it's the other functions which drove me crazy. General navigation just sucked, even with the new shortcuts RIM has built in.
Even the phone dialing application was a major drag and buzzkill on usage. On other BlackBerry models, typing the contact's name is enough for the system to begin navigating to the appropriate address entry and then start dialing. On the Storm, it's a multi-step process. I did later learn that if the on-screen keyboard is active, I can move a bit faster through most of the applications but because it takes up half the screen, it seems to defeat the purpose of having such a large touch screen anyway. Too many things on the Storm were multi-step processes.
Certainly one of the core features which has differentiated the Storm from other touch-based phones is the force feedback when pressing keys. I think that this is definitely one of the more interesting features of this phone but perhaps it's just not ready for prime time. I liked it but not enough to keep me using it.
At the end of the day, speed and navigation are essential characteristics for me combined with ease of use. I have watched my 3 year old pick up my wife's iPhone, navigate to the camera and take a picture all without pausing. That same simplicity can't be applied to the Storm's operating system. One could argue it's not meant for a 3 year old and they would be right. However, usability is usability and an adult will likely run into the same problems as a child.
If you don't rely on email all that much and you're looking for a cool touchscreen mobile phone, the Storm might fit your needs. On the other hand, if you rely on email and need speed and stability in your phone, stick with the Curve or the Bold. The latter products are mature and efficient.
After having had this experience, I have to think that RIM screwed up the idea behind the Storm. There has been so much hype over the iPhone that I suppose the company felt they needed to respond. I would have been happier if they tried to position the Storm as a consumer phone versus an evolution of their business focused product.
Thanks again to Vodafone Fiji for letting me play. I'll return it in the same condition with which it was given, minus its scarred ego. I need to get back to work.