Editors' note: This review has been updated since the original publish date with ratings after receiving final software for the product.
Let's be honest. Research In Motion's first foray in the world of the touch-screen smartphones wasn't exactly a smashing success. The RIM BlackBerry Storm was riddled with bugs and performance issues, which were resolved with subsequent software updates, but still, the damage had been done. However, there are high hopes that the RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 will wash away all those bad memories and start afresh, and in many ways it does, but we still have our reservations.
In all, the BlackBerry Storm 2 is most definitely an improvement over its predecessor. The Storm 2 offers a revamped SurePress touch screen that, coupled with the updated BlackBerry operating system, provides a better user experience. You also get Wi-Fi, double the memory, enhancements to the smartphone's core functions, and a more stable system. That said, RIM still falls behind in the areas of Web browsing and usability and will face stiff competition from Verizon's other upcoming touch-screen phones, including the Samsung Omnia 2 and the Motorola Droid. If you're a BlackBerry devotee and crave a touch screen, the Storm 2 is a fine choice; otherwise we'd recommend waiting to see what the other devices have to offer. The RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 will be available starting October 28 for $179.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.
At first glance, the RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 doesn't look that much different from its predecessor. In fact, the Storm 2 even has the exact same dimensions as the original model, measuring 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighing 5.6 ounces. However, on closer inspection, you'll notice some subtle changes. For example, the Storm 2 sports a tinted chrome ring around the edges rather than a silver one. Also, the side controls--a customizable convenience key on the left and a volume rocker and a second shortcut key on the right--feature a soft-touch finish, similar to the controls found on the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520.
The biggest change to the BlackBerry Storm 2, however, isn't visible to the naked eye. RIM has revamped its SurePress technology, so instead of a mechanical suspension system, there are now electronic activators beneath the display that give off an impulse that simulates the feel of a click. It's pretty neat technology that provides several advantages over the previous SurePress screen. First, it provides a more uniform feel across the screen and as you press down on icons or use the keyboard, you'll notice that aside from some slight depression around the four corners, the display doesn't physically move like before. In addition, when the phone is completely off, the screen doesn't move at all.
The electronic SurePress technology also allows for key rollover and faster typing. This means you can now press two keys at once, so for example, if you want to capitalize a letter, you can now hold down the Shift key while pressing the letter key instead of having to do it one at a time like before. The Storm 2 also supports multitouch for copy/paste so you can place one finger at the beginning of the text and then the other at the end of the selection and then cut/copy/paste. Some other user interface enhancements include inertial scrolling with snap back and updated spin boxes for the clock, date, calendar, more animated transitions, and so forth. The navigation controls (Talk and End keys, back button, and BlackBerry menu key) are also integrated into SurePress so they're no longer separate buttons; holding down the BlackBerry menu button will also bring up the application switcher.
You do get a full QWERTY keyboard in both portrait and landscape mode. With the new technology, the keyboard did feel easier to use and more precise than the previous Storm's, but we still made multiple mistakes when typing messages. With practice, of course, it gets better, and the smartphone offers predictive text and autocorrection.
In all, we'd say the new SurePress interface is better than the previous version, but it still doesn't feel as precise as some of the other touch-screen smartphones. There were numerous times when we'd try to select something from a list menu, and it ended up picking the item below it. SurePress certainly sets the BlackBerry Storm apart from the crowd, and we understand the concept behind it, as it makes the transition for traditional QWERTY BlackBerry users to an all-touch-screen phone easier. However, it takes some acclimation and similar to the SureType keyboards, we think it's something you'll either learn to like or hate.
The display itself measures 3.2 inches diagonally and has a half-VGA resolution (480x360). The glass capacitive touch screen also features a built-in accelerometer and a proximity sensor (RIM calls it face detection) so the screen will turn off when you're on a phone call to prevent accidental mispresses. Along the top edge of the Storm 2 is a power/lock button and a mute button; there's a Micro-USB port along the left spine and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right. Finally, the SIM card and microSD expansion slots are located behind the battery cover.
Our review unit came packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a stereo headset, and a 16GB microSD card. Contents of Verizon's final sale package might vary, but RIM did say that a number of carriers have signed on to include a 16GB memory card in the box. Hopefully, Verizon is one of those carriers. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 brings several notable additions in the features department, including built-in Wi-Fi, more memory, and an updated operating system that brings a number of enhancements to the smartphone's various applications and some of the aforementioned UI improvements. We'll discuss some of the highlights of BlackBerry OS 5.0 below as we talk about the smartphone's functions. We should also note that RIM and Verizon have posted a BlackBerry OS 5.0 software update for the original Storm, which you can download for free from Verizon's Web site or RIM's site.
Getting back to the Storm 2, the smartphone is the first CDMA BlackBerry to offer Wi-Fi. There are some who question the need for Wi-Fi when a device has 3G support (the Storm 2 is EV-DO Rev. A capable), and we always say, why not? It provides faster speeds and there will be times when you may be out of a 3G coverage zone, so it's nice to know that you have an alternative method of getting online. We're also glad to see that Verizon is offering more Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones, since it's been a little stingy in the past.
Like its predecessor, the Storm 2 is a world phone and ships with a SIM card. The handset's dual-mode functionality allows it to automatically switch from Verizon's dual-band CDMA network here in the States to international quad-band GSM networks, so you can still make calls and receive data while traveling. Just remember that your calling freedom remains somewhat curtailed. When in the United States you must use Verizon's network, while overseas the Storm is locked to Verizon's roaming partners.
In addition to voice coverage, the BlackBerry Storm 2 supports the 2100MHz UMTS/HSDPA band, so you can get 3G support overseas, while working on Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network domestically. In all, you'll get voice coverage in 220 countries and data coverage (e-mail and Internet) in 175 countries. As always, be sure to check the international roaming rates for voice calls and text messages before you head off on your trip: Verizon's rates can get pretty pricey in some areas, ranging from 69 cents up to $4.99 per minute. You can find the carrier's international plans here.