While the RIM BlackBerry Storm might be the first touch screen for Research in Motion, the company wanted to make sure the smartphone offered the same feel and functionality of previous and current BlackBerrys. The Storm runs the latest BlackBerry OS 4.7, bringing an updated user interface much like the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Pearl Flip. You now get DataViz Documents To Go Standard Edition, so you can now edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well. If you want the capability to create new documents, you will have to upgrade to the Premium Edition. We had no problems opening and working on Word and Excel documents, but we can't imagine doing more than minor edits on the Bold or any other smartphone for that matter. Other PIM applications include a Calendar, a task list, a memo pad, a voice recorder, a calculator, a password keeper, and more.
You can also get more applications for your Storm through the recently launched BlackBerry App World. The store was not available when the Storm was first released, but you can download it through the phone's mobile browser. We installed it on our review unit with no problem and were able to download apps such as Pandora quickly and easily over Verizon's 3G network.
For e-mail, the Storm can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server, with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise, to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. You can also access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts via the BlackBerry Internet Service. Like all recent BlackBerry models, the Storm has a spell-check feature that will look for errors in e-mails and memos, but not text messages. There's also an attachment viewer for opening Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more.
As a phone, the BlackBerry Storm offers dual-mode functionality, so the phone switches automatically between CDMA and GSM networks to offer seamless international roaming--all while keeping the same phone number. (Note that the phone does not support domestic GSM bands.) In all, you get voice coverage in 157 countries (22 of those on CDMA) and e-mail coverage in 62 countries. Just be aware that you'll still incur roaming rates, which range from $0.69 to $2.49 a minute. Verizon also offers technical support if you need help while overseas. First, there's a 24-hour Global Help Desk that's open seven days a week. In addition, you get a calling card for free support calls while traveling outside of the United States from any landline phone to technical support your BlackBerry Storm is lost, broken, or stolen.
The address book is only limited by the available memory with room in each entry multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home address, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo, group category, or one of 32 polyphonic ringtones. Other voice features include a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. You can also download Visual Voice mail. Bluetooth 2.0 is onboard with support for a mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, serial port profile, phone book access, and dial-up networking. To use the Storm as a wireless modem for your laptop, you will need a subscription to one of Verizon's BroadbandAccess plans, which start at $15 per month.
The BlackBerry Storm runs on Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network, which allows for faster Web browsing, e-mail, and downloads. The Rev. A offers an extra boost over regular EV-DO, bringing download speeds up to the 450Kbps-to-800Kbps range versus 400Kbps-to-700Kbps, while upload speeds will average around 300Kpbs to 400Kpbs (compared with EV-DO's 50Kpbs to 70Kbps). Of course, this is all dependent if you live in a coverage area (you can find a coverage map from Verizon's Web site. The smartphone also offers support for the 2,100MHz UMTS/HSDPA, so you can get 3G support while overseas. Unfortunately, there's no integrated Wi-Fi, which we find disappointing. We realize and understand the argument that the 3G radios does away with the need for Wi-Fi, but we still like having that option, especially if you drop out of range or don't live in a coverage area.
The BlackBerry Storm has a full HTML Web browser that you can view in Internet Explorer or Firefox mode, depending on your preference. You can check out sites in page view or column view, and navigate via pan mode or cursor mode. In pan mode, you can move around pages simply by dragging your finger and then double-tapping the screen to zoom in. To select a hyperlink, you just highlight the link and then click. Meanwhile, in cursor mode, you can just place the cursor over the link and click or use the onscreen magnifying glass to zoom in. There's also a collapsible toolbar along the bottom that lets you go to new sites, change views, and more. There is support for streaming media, including YouTube's mobile site. As we've said before, the BlackBerry browser has greatly improved over the years, but it's still not as easy to use as the iPhone and its multitouch screen.
Last but not least of the wireless radios is integrated GPS. You can use the BlackBerry Storm as a handheld navigator, but to get real-time turn-by-turn directions, traffic data, and more , you will need to subscribe to Verizon's VZ Navigator location-based service, which costs $9.99 per month or $2.99 per day.
Moving onto multimedia features, the BlackBerry Storm is equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities, as well a flash, auto focus, 2x zoom, and image stabilization. In camera mode, you get a choice of three picture sizes and three picture qualities. There are white balance settings, and you can add various effects to your photos, such as black and white, and sepia. With the built-in GPS, you can also geotag photos. As usual, options are more limited in camcorder mode as you only get a choice of two video formats (normal and MMS) and three color effects. The volume rocker can be used to zoom in and out in both camera and video mode.
Picture quality was subpar. While we could identify objects in the picture, they looked a bit soft and the colors were completely washed out. Video quality, on the other hand, was pretty impressive with good light and better image quality than other smartphones we've tested.
The Storm's built-in media player can play various music and video formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files, and MPEG4, WMV, DivX4, XviD (partial support), and H.263 video clips. There's a search function, playlist creation, shuffle and repeat, and you get a full-screen mode for video playback. The included software CD also contains a copy of Roxio Easy Media Creator, so you can create MP3s from CDs and add audio tags. Like the latest BlackBerrys, the Storm also works with the BlackBerry Media Sync application so you can load your iTunes library. There's 1GB of onboard memory and 128MB of flash memory onboard, while the microSD/SDHC expansion slot can accept up to 16GB cards. Unfortunately, for now, it looks like the BlackBerry Storm will not support Verizon's V Cast music and video services.
We tested the RIM BlackBerry Storm in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service, and call quality was quite good. We enjoyed clear audio with no noticeable background noise or voice distortion, and we didn't experience any dropped calls during our test period. There were also no problems using an airline's voice automated response system. On the other end, our friends reported similarly positive results and said they had no problems hearing us. Unfortunately, the speakerphone didn't fare as well. Both sides experienced choppy call quality as words occasionally were cut off. There was also some slight voice distortion on our end. Overall, we were able to carry on full conversations and volume was not a problem, but we definitely had to ask our callers to repeat themselves on more than one occasion. Finally, we successfully paired the Storm with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Verizon's first firmware update, version 126.96.36.199, definitely improved performance, but there were still multiple issues. We downloaded the software upgrade using the desktop manager, and the entire process went smoothly with no problems. The biggest improvement we noticed was the improvement in the accelerometer. The Storm was much faster to change the screen orientation when we rotated the phone. However, page redraws are still on the slow side and there's continued bugginess. For example, while checking out a Web page, we turned the phone to check it out in landscape mode and the screen went on the fritz for a couple of seconds and went completely blank, though eventually the site came back up. Also, when we were listening to music, we changed orientation and the player controls started to flicker. Launching and using multimedia applications like the camera and multimedia player were definitely better, however, with faster response times and the problems with the inconsistent camera toolbar looks to be resolved.
Now, with BlackBerry OS version 188.8.131.52, the smartphone is even more polished. The browser and camera didn't freak out when we rotated the phone, and in a two-week period, we didn't have any system freezes or crashes. There are also some nice additions, such as a phone icon on the home screen and better test selection for copy/paste--it's the simple things. Since we haven't been using the Storm over a long period of time, we didn't experience first-hand some of the problems and bugs that plagued its owners. However, some of features of 184.108.40.206 include a fix for the phone freezing during incoming calls or a blank screen appearing while on a call and improved camera functionality.
Music playback through the phone's speakers sounded blown out, though there was plenty of volume. Thankfully, the built-in 3.5mm headphone jack so should allow you to enjoy better sound quality. Video performance wasn't quite as dazzling as the BlackBerry Bold's. There was a bit more pixilation, but we still enjoyed smooth playback. Web browsing was pleasantly swift thanks to Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network. It took about 25 seconds to 30 seconds for graphics-intensive sites such as CNET to fully load, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN loaded in about 10 seconds.
The Storm's GPS capabilities were great. It took the smartphone only about 2 minutes to get a fix on our location, and we used VZ Navigator to plot a course from the Marina District of San Francisco to CNET's downtown headquarters. Route creation was quick and it was able to get us back on course in a timely matter after we purposely missed several turns. That said, the voice-guided directions sounded blown out at the medium-high level and too soft at the medium level, so that was a bit of a struggle.
The BlackBerry Storm comes with a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5.5 hours and up to 15 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, the Storm offered 7 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. The battery performance in day-to-day usage was better. Before the firmware update, the battery would already be at 50 percent after just a couple hours of using the phone, Web, and multimedia applications, but after the update, it would only be drained about 25 percent. One thing we noticed, however, after a period of use the phone gets a bit warm where the battery is located on the back.