We've had a couple of days to play with the BlackBerry Storm, Research in Motion's answer to the iPhone. It's the first all-touchscreen, no-keyboard BlackBerry. And let's be clear: It's no iPhone. Its web browser is slow, and you can't pinch to zoom (as with the T-Mobile G1, the Storm doesn't have multi-touch). It doesn't work with Macs (though it does have an application that lets it talk to iTunes for non-DRM songs on PCs). And though it may have some great games to download when its app store opens sometime in the future, it doesn't strike us as the kind of device that you'll use to drink an iBeer.
But that doesn't mean this phone won't be a huge success. The now-cliched term "crackberry" got coined for a reason, and we've found the BlackBerry Storm to be just as addictive as RIM intended. Click Continue to read why within months, this phone will be in the pocket of every lawyer in the country.
It's All About Typing
iPhones are hard to type on. They just are. That's why the first Android phone has a slide-out, Sidekick-style keypad. Instead imitating a Sidekick or having a haptic feedback (that's when a touchscreen vibrates back at you when you press it), RIM has done one better: The BlackBerry Storm's entire touch screen is a button. It feels just like the mouse button on any laptop.
To type on the Storm, you first select a letter by touching it. When you touch a letter it glows a satisfying blue, but does nothing else. I've you've picked the wrong letter, move your finger to the right one — no need to backspace. After the key glows, you depress the BlackBerry's entire screen. Sound like a slow process? It isn't. Keys change color almost instantaneously, so all that remains is for you to bang on them, like you would on your regular, old-fashioned BlackBerry.
Like the iPhone, the Storm has an accelerometer that can tell whether you're holding it horizontally or vertically. When the gadget is horizontal, its keypad looks much like that of an iPhone. But when the phone is vertical its keypad is BlackBerry's SureType keypad — instead of squishing an entire Qwerty keypad into half of the vertical screen, the buttons are larger, and each has two letters on it. SureType guesses what word you're typing as you go along, so you don't have to hit the large keys more than once. We found it much easier to type on the touchscreen in this mode than when the phone was in horizontal, full Qwerty keyboard mode. And we're guessing that we're not the only ones who will feel this way. If you're used to a BlackBerry already, the typing experience on the Storm is the closet you'll get to having a keypad with real buttons on a touchscreen phone.
Why would BlackBerry addicts want to give up buttons for a touchscreen typing system that is almost, but not quite as good? The trade-off is for the big, beautiful screen that you get when you're not using the keypad. It's far better for reading emails, using GPS or playing BrickBreaker than any BlackBerry that's come before.
Oh, and It's a BlackBerry
The Storm isn't just some wanna-be, rip-off iPhone. At its core, it's just like every other BlackBerry. This will be important for business clients — many companies' IT systems will only work with RIM's Enterprise Server for e-mail on the go. It's also important for BlackBerry lovers. If you've used a BlackBerry before, you'll get the Storm's menus, symbols and buttons immediately.
Instead of comparing the Storm to the iPhone and whining grumpilly about the Storm's lack of multi-touch, consumers will compare it to other BlackBerries. And when they do, they may find that they like what they see: A big, fun to use touchscreen, a 3.2MP camera that takes video and has a bright flash, a respectable Web browser and a typing system that really works.