Research In Motion and Verizon Wireless officially announce the first touch-screen BlackBerry, and CNET gets a hands-on look.
Bonnie ChaFormer Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
We all knew it was approaching, but brace yourself, the Storm has made landfall. Tuesday night, Research In Motion and Verizon Wireless officially introduced the first touch-screen BlackBerry to the world: the RIM BlackBerry Storm.
Also known by its code name, BlackBerry Thunder, the Storm features a touch-sensitive display that's unlike that on any other touch-screen smartphone available today, thanks to RIM's own twist (more on this below). There are plenty of other highlights as well, including dual-mode functionality, support for Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A, integrated GPS, BlackBerry OS 4.7, and more.
Now, before you run out to the nearest Verizon store, we've got some bad news. Unfortunately, you won't be able to get your hands on the BlackBerry Storm quite yet (groan). A specific release date and pricing were not announced, but Verizon said the Storm would be out by the holiday season with "competitive" pricing. Obviously, we're not fans (and we're guessing you're not either) of such vague answers, especially in light of the RIM BlackBerry Bold delay.
RIM and Verizon did come by our office to give us a full rundown on the features, as well as some brief hands-on time with the device, so without further ado, here are all the details and our impressions of the RIM BlackBerry Storm.
Obviously, the touch screen is the biggest highlight of the BlackBerry Storm, but as we mentioned earlier, it's unlike any other touch-screen smartphone we've seen so far, including the Apple iPhone, T-Mobile G1, and Samsung Omnia.
Rather than provide haptic feedback (or none at all), RIM developed something completely new called ClickThrough, which consists of a suspension system that lies beneath the display, so that when you go to select an application or enter text, you actually push the screen down like you would any other tactile button.
Admittedly, it was a little weird when I first tried it. Given that with all other touch-screen devices, it's just a matter of lightly tapping on an icon or some similar action, it wasn't my first inclination to physically push down on the screen. My colleague Kent German also tried it out and had a similar reaction; while cool, the idea behind it took some explaining to fully realize the capabilities. Now, that's not to say we don't like ClickThrough; it just takes a little acclimation. Plus, it was responsive and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and accurate it was to compose messages and notes.
In terms of text extry, the BlackBerry Storm features a SureType keyboard when the smartphone is in portrait mode and then switches to a full QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode. The Storm has a built-in accelerometer so it will automatically rotate the screen depending on if the phone is held vertically or horizontally (left- and right-hand support included). The letter/number keys also glow blue when you're typing.
The quality of the display is slightly better than the RIM BlackBerry Bold's. The Storm features a 3.25-inch diagonal display with a 480x360 pixel resolution and support for 65,000 colors, where as the Bold has a half-VGA, 480x320 pixel display. The handset itself is about the size of the BlackBerry Curve, but slightly thicker. It measures 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and weighs 5.6 ounces. It's equipped with a 3.5mm headphone jack, has four shortcut keys (Talk and End, Back, and BlackBerry menu), and a microSD slot behind the back cover, among other things.
Don't be fooled; the RIM BlackBerry Storm is more than just a pretty face. As far as phone features, the Storm, like the RIM BlackBerry 8830 World Edition, offers dual-mode functionality. This means 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, and a SIM card is included in the box.) It also works on Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A network as well as Europe's 2100MHz UMTS/HSDPA band. There's a full HTML Web browser (no Flash), and the Storm will also support Verizon's V Cast Music and Mobile TV services, though not immediately at launch.
Other wireless options include Bluetooth 2.0 with support for stereo Bluetooth headsets and dial-up networking and GPS but no Wi-Fi. BlackBerry Maps is onboard if you want text-based turn-by-turn directions, but for more advanced navigation features, such as voice prompts, you'll be forced to use Verizon's VZ Navigator service.
The BlackBerry Storm will run the latest BlackBerry OS (version 4.7), so you finally get an updated interface while still getting support for multiple e-mail accounts (BlackBerry Enterprise, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, POP3, IMAP4, and more) with wireless synchronization. In addition to an attachment viewer, you can also do some light editing on Microsoft Word and PowerPoint files. There's 128MB of flash memory and 1GB of onboard memory, which is all supplemented by the microSD/SDHC expansion slot (supports up to 16GB cards).
Though the BlackBerry is historically known more as a business device, RIM and Verizon hope to attract more consumers with the BlackBerry Storm and it comes with a number of multimedia capabilities. The media player can handle various music and video formats, including MP3, AAC, WMA, WMV, MPEG4, and H.264. The included Media Sync software will also help you synchronize your iTunes files with your BlackBerry. The Storm is equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera with video recording, auto focus, and flash.
Finally, it will come preloaded with instant-messaging clients (Yahoo, Windows Live, AOL, and ICQ) and a number of social-networking apps, including Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr. You'll also be able to download more programs over the air through the new BlackBerry App Center.
OK, obviously, the RIM BlackBerry Storm has a lot to offer. The touch screen alone already has people drooling and clamoring over the device, and then you add the laundry list of features, and you're looking at a recipe for success. But will it actually deliver? Well, it's a hard to say, having only had about half an hour of hands-on time with the smartphone.
Overall, I was impressed--nice design, feature rich. Again, the ClickThrough touch screen takes some getting used to, and I wonder how it will hold up over months of use. Performance wise, the device seemed snappy, but I also caught a couple of bugs. For example, the camera activated while trying to perform some function in e-mail. However, I know it wasn't a final product, so I won't hold that against RIM. Music and video playback were pretty impressive as well.
There's enough appeal there for consumers, mobile professionals, and new and old BlackBerry users, but I think price will play a huge factor. Verizon has to be careful not to cross that fine line between what's reasonable and what puts the device out of range. What do you guys have think? What are the BlackBerry Storm's hits and misses? Do you want one? How much are you willing to pay?