The BlackBerry Storm 2 dispenses with RIM's iconic Qwerty keyboard and offers an innovative clicking touchscreen instead. It can't quite live up to its touchscreen rivals in terms of usability but, if you need the security of a BlackBerry or you find normal touchscreens too sensitive for your clumsy fingers, you'll find it offers plenty of great features.
The Storm 2 is available for free on a £30-per-month contract, or SIM-free for around £430.
BlackBerry by nature
Since its birth ten years ago, the BlackBerry range has perfected the art of mobile email, thanks, in no small part, to RIM's Qwerty keyboard. But the rise of touchscreen smart phones, such as the iPhone, has left the BlackBerry brand stuck in a rut. The Storm 2 is RIM's latest attempt to cash in on the touchscreen frenzy.
The Storm 2 has all the email features we've come to know and love in other BlackBerry devices. It uses the BlackBerry server service to push your email to you in real-time, so you don't have to wait for the phone to check if something new has arrived. This also increases security, since everything is encrypted as it goes back and forth. Note that you must have a subscription to a BlackBerry-specific contract to make these features work, though.
The Storm 2 does a good job of putting all your contacts in one place. As well as separate inboxes for each email account, there's also a super-inbox that combines them all. If you have the Facebook app installed, you can see your Facebook messages in there too. The address book is similarly well-integrated with Facebook, and you can also grab your contacts from your Gmail account.
Setting up your email is one of the first tasks you'll want to tick off with the Storm 2. Unfortunately, it highlights the phone's most significant feature and flaw -- its touchscreen. The on-screen keyboard isn't bad, but it's nothing like the physical keyboard that first made the BlackBerry brand famous, and we think it misses a trick.
Rather than offering easy shortcuts to numbers and symbols using the 'Alt' key, as on a traditional BlackBerry, or via a long press of a button, like on the HTC Hero, you have to press a button and skip to another keyboard. The Storm 2's keyboard doesn't offer the advantages of a physical keyboard, but it doesn't really offer the advantages of a virtual keyboard either. For example, the buttons don't change to show when you're using upper-case or lower-case letters.
On the other hand, the clicking 'SurePress' screen does give the virtual keyboard a comparatively physical feel. We found it easy to type accurately on the keyboard, thanks to the fact that you can touch a key and see that it's selected before committing it with a click. It's also great that you can click more than one letter at once with the screen depressed, so you can hold down the shift key to enter several upper-case letters, for example. But the physical clicking makes typing slower and requires a fair amount of effort. With all that pressing, this heavy, 150g phone can be rather tiring to use.
Overall, the SurePress screen could be advantageous for anyone who finds other touchscreens too fiddly or wants more feedback when typing, but the trade-off is that you lose some of the speed and intuitiveness of other touchscreen phones.
Browsing for trouble
We also appreciated the SurePress screen's clicking action when surfing the Web. Accidentally clicking links while scrolling around a page is a common problem with touchscreen phones, but the Storm 2's screen completely solves this issue. The same applies when flicking through menus and lists.