iPhone, BlackBerry Storm offer contrast in browsers

The BlackBerry Storm 2 has some catching up to do in the browser department.

The quality and speed of the browser is an essential feature for smartphones these days. And it's here that the BlackBerry Storm 2 has some catching up to do vis-a-vis rivals such as the iPhone 3GS.

The Storm 2 is an underrated smartphone in many respects. The interface is clean and easy to navigate, the standard software feature set competitive, and the ability to integrate all email accounts into one screen convenient.

But unbelievably--to me, at least--RIM failed to improve the browser on the Storm 2. Or let me put it this way: RIM failed to make perceptible improvements. (See RIM statement below.)

This is no small oversight. The key reason why the Motorola Droid has been a hit is because it couples a big screen with a high-quality, fast browser--making it the only premium smartphone to date in the U.S. to approach the status of the iPhone.

Which brings us to the gold standard of smartphone browsers: the Safari browser on the iPhone 3GS. This is nothing short of phenomenal. It's the closest a smartphone user can get to the full-fledged browsing on a laptop.

And the browser will only become more important as the smartphone screen size creep continues, from the 3.5-inch diagonal screen on the iPhone 3GS to the 3.7-inch screen on the Droid to the 4.1-inch display on the Toshiba TG01 (sold in Europe).

So, what was RIM thinking? The Storm 2's browser (like its predecessor's--which I had previously been using) can be glacially slow when loading Web sites. So slow that many Storm users opt for downloading the Opera Mini or Bolt browsers. But these browsers have shortcomings of their own, so they don't necessarily serve as satisfactory replacements for the Storm's built-in browser. (The Bolt browser does not zoom and Opera Mini--though blazingly fast--has trouble rendering some Web sites.)

As shown in the embedded videos, which demonstrate the load times for the CNET News page and the zoom features of the two phones, respectively, the iPhone 3GS (bottom) beats the Storm handily.

It is important to note that the Storm 2's built-in browser will speed up significantly if you turn off (uncheck) "Support javascript" in the "Browser Configuration" settings. And in the side-by-side page load-time comparisons with the iPhone 3GS (embedded videos), support for javascript is turned off.

But RIM needs to hurry up and match the competition. A fast, high-quality browser is standard equipment now for premium smartphones. Am I alone in this opinion?

(See also CNET review of the BlackBerry Storm 2. )

I should also add that I made an official inquiry to RIM, asking why they didn't do more to improve the browser in the Storm. This was RIM's response:

"Internet browsing is one of a mix of important features for many mobile customers and RIM continues to steadily improve the browsing experience on the BlackBerry platform. The BlackBerry Storm2 (as well as the original Storm, Curve 8530 and Bold 9700) now runs BlackBerry OS 5, which features a number of browser enhancements. Page load times have been improved with faster JavaScript and CSS processing, and support has been added for standards such as Partial HTML5 and SVG Tiny 1.1 in order to improve rendering fidelity. The BlackBerry platform also now supports Gears, which is another indication of RIM's intent and direction with respect to browsing on the BlackBerry platform. Earlier this year, RIM announced it is working with Adobe to bring full Flash to the BlackBerry platform and RIM also acquired Torch Mobile, a company that specializes in browser development, as part of its ongoing efforts to provide an increasingly better browsing experience to customers in 2010."