Editors' note: We have updated the review since its last publish date to include changes to features and performance after installing the BlackBerry OS version 126.96.36.199 released by Verizon Wireless on May 31, 2009.
The RIM BlackBerry Storm brewed up a lot of hype and excitement as the first touch-screen BlackBerry. The touch capabilities were news enough alone but add to that Research in Motion's SurePress functionality (the technology that makes the screen clickable), an impressive feature list, and the competitive $199.99 pricing, and there were a lot of expectations for the BlackBerry Storm to succeed. However, when the Storm finally blew into town, it was a definite letdown because of the phone's sluggish performance and bugginess.
Verizon Wireless has since released two firmware updates. The latest, released on May 31, 2009, greatly improves the device by resolving a number of bugs and improving general performance while adding some nice feature enhancements. While we would have preferred all of this from the get-go, the BlackBerry Storm is now a more stable device that should please current owners.
In terms of form factor, the RIM BlackBerry Storm doesn't stray far from the other full touch-screen smartphones on the market today, including the Samsung Omnia and Apple iPhone. Sporting a black casing with silver accents, the handset is a bit blocky and heavy at 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and weighs 5.6 ounces, so it feels a bit wide when you hold it in your hand and it'll make for a tight fit in a pants pocket. That said, the Storm is a well-constructed smartphone. It has a nice, solid feel and the edges have a soft-touch finish to provide a better grip.
While the Storm's design might not be the most inspiring, the smartphone's display is another story. Obviously, the fact that the Storm is the first touch-screen BlackBerry is news enough, but its 3.25-inch VGA glass display also demands attention for its sharpness and brightness, showing 65,000 colors at a crisp 480x360-pixel resolution. We weren't as impressed with the Storm's screen as the BlackBerry Bold, but it's still beautiful. You can also adjust the backlighting, font size, and type. The Storm is also equipped with an accelerometer, so the screen orientation will switch from portrait to landscape mode when you rotate the phone from a vertical position to a horizontal one, left or right.
Moving onto the touch-screen capabilities, the BlackBerry Storm uses SurePress, so that when you select an application or enter text, you actually push the screen down like you would any other tactile button. You can see a bit of a gap at the top and bottom of the screen, which but makes the phone. In terms of text extry, the BlackBerry Storm features a soft keyboard in both portrait and landscape mode. Originally, only a SureType keyboard was a available in portrait mode, but with the latest upgrade, you also have the option of a full QWERTY keyboard. It's not automatic though and you must enable it by pressing the BlackBerry menu key and then selecting Enable Full Keyboard. When using the keyboard or selecting applications, you do a simple finger touch over the item until it's highlighted and then you press down on the screen to register the action.
In addition to the SurePress technology, you can also use a number of finger taps or swipes to perform certain actions. For example, you can tap on the screen twice to zoom in on a Web page or map, or do quick finger swipes to scroll though a page. Also, to copy/paste text, you just touch the screen at the start of the text and then with a second finger, touch the end of the block of text you want to copy. You can adjust the tap interval, hover point, and swipe sensitivity in the Options > Screen/Keyboard menu.
While the SurePress technology is cool, it definitely takes some acclimation. It's not a natural feeling to physically push down on the screen, and we often found ourselves forgetting to actually press down; instead just tapping or double tapping on the letter button or link. You do get used to it after a while though, but as far as e-mail creation or text messages, we missed having a tactile keyboard. We couldn't comfortably type long messages as fast as we wanted and when we tried, the message was riddled with errors. The keyboard buttons are just a bit too small and cramped. If I had problems with my small hands, I can only imagine it would be worse for users with larger thumbs.
Below the display, you do get a set of tactile navigation controls that consists of Talk and End/Power buttons, a Menu key, and a clear button. Unlike other BlackBerry models, there is no trackball navigator and we have to admit that we missed it. It may be that we're just used to having the trackball, and often we found our thumb automatically looking for the control while trying to scroll through pages and menus. However, even beyond that, we think it wouldn't hurt to have a trackball navigator since it allows for easier one-handed operation. Also, you wouldn't always have to rely on the touch screen and it would be useful for certain operations like for selecting links on a Web page.
On the left side, there's a user-programmable shortcut key and a micro USB port, while the right spine has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker, and another customizable button, which is set as the camera activation/capture key by default. The camera lens and flash are located on the backside, and behind the battery cover, you'll find the microSD/SDHC card holder and SIM card slot. Finally, though not readily apparent, there is a device lock and mute button on the top edge of the Storm.
Verizon Wireless packages the RIM BlackBerry Storm with healthy set of accessories, including a travel charger with various adapters, a USB cable, an 8GB microSD card, a SIM card, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
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.