With its large and crisp touchscreen, 3.2 megapixel camera, sleek form factor, and a host of connectivity options, the BlackBerry Storm2 should be great. It packs upgraded performance, a tweaked user interface, enhanced operating system, and overall really works to make up for its previous generation’s shortcomings. It even includes Wi-Fi, a first for Verizon-branded Storms.
* Sharp, large screen
* Sleek form factor
* 3.2 megapixel camera
* Performance still lacks in some places
* Difficult to type quickly and accurately
* Poorer sound quality
DESIGN & BUILD
It’s hard to tell the Storm2 apart from its predecessor at first glance, but there are a few cosmetic changes. The chrome trim on the edges is subdued, and the function keys (Send, End, Menu, Escape) are now integrated as a part of the screen. The side buttons are a matte black and the headphone jack is now flush against the side of the device. Finally the top rocker button has a slight makeover where the left rocker key will first lock the phone, and then shut it down if depressed further. Other than these subtleties, the two can very easily be mistaken for one another.
The Storm2 sports a 3.25-inch, 360×480 display at 184 ppi, and delivers a crisp, sharp picture. The screen retains its clickability, though it does seem more responsive and more natural than the previous generation.
The display offers multiple types of interaction — in certain applications, such as zooming in on the browser, just lightly touching the screen will drive behavior. In other applications, such as typing, the screen needs to be completely clicked in.
Size and Weight
The Storm2 feels heavy and solid in your hand, traits carried over from the first generation. Initially I could notice the added weight in my pocket, though it quickly becomes second nature.
Other Design Notes
One criticism of the physical design of this model is the placement of the volume keys. Like other BlackBerrys, the speaker during calls is plenty loud — sometimes to a fault. When trying to dial down the volume, I often found myself unsure of which key I was pressing. If the keys were moved up slightly they would be in a more natural and comfortable position.
The overall experience of the BlackBerry Storm2 is far improved over the first generation. It’s more responsive, adds some nice UI elements such as screens that fluidly change/appear/disappear, and the display finally responds to you turning the device, though still not as fast as the iPhone.
BlackBerry OS 5.0
The this phone ships with BlackBerry OS 5.0 .0.287 on board, which is notably better than the earlier 4.x flavors. It offers Storm-centric features as well as other features generally applicable to any BlackBerry.
Typing & Messaging
The Storm models are RIM’s first without physical keyboards, and its clear this company is still working its way up the learning curve.
The on-screen keyboard offers four modes: landscape QWERTY, portrait QWERTY, portrait multi-tap, and portrait predictive text (a nod to the keyboard styling of the Pearl).
Some keyboard behavior is awkward because of the software — it can be hard to call up the keyboard during a call, make navigating touch-tone menus difficult. There also isn’t a good way to erase a pressed key during a call. Like the first Storm, resting the phone on your shoulder sometimes results in accidentally hitting the End key.
The Storm2 offers just one browser: the default BlackBerry browser, which somehow seems surprisingly simple and straightforward for a Verizon product. The browsing experience is not vastly different from other BlackBerrys, and still lacks compared to the iPhone, Android, or webOS. The most noticeable browsing difference between the Storm2 and other BlackBerrys is a result of the larger screen size.
The usual suspects are all present in this BlackBerry: App World, BlackBerry Messenger, download links for GoogleTalk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, and AIM (conspicuously absent: ICQ, perhaps RIM got the message that this isn’t 1995 anymore). There’s the now-standard Documents To Go suite, along with social media apps from Flickr, MySpace, Facebook.
For entertainment, the Storm2 offers Tetris, BrickBreaker, World Mole, and the Sims 3 as an added treat! Finally the Storm2 offers BlackBerry Maps, Slacker Radio, and Application Center to manage and update all your apps — though this seems to overlap the duties of App World.
The BlackBerry Storm2 offers Wi-Fi, but by now anyone reading this review knows this. It’s standard issue 802.11 b/g and there were no significant quirks. It provided solid continuous coverage.
Likewise the GPS integrates nicely with your apps, including BlackBerry Maps which comes standard.
For the international travelers in the audience, the Storm offers a pretty impressive collection of antennae: EV-DO, UMTS/HSPA (2100 MHz), EDGE/GPRS/GSM network support. It comes preloaded with a SIM-card, but don’t be expecting to jump onto AT&T or T-Mobile’s network stateside without some wizardry.
Call Quality & Coverage
I’m generally a fan of Verizon’s call quality, and I’m generally impressed by RIM’s sound quality, but I was a bit let down by the Storm2 in this area. The sound quality suffered at the highest speakerphone volumes, and the call quality was sometimes choppy. I also noticed fluctuations in displayed signal strength, though calls always came through even if no bars were shown. At other times, there was outright no signal where I had AT&T and even T-Mobile coverage, a major surprise, especially given Boston’s urban setting I’m testing in.
The Storm2 retains the solid 3.2 megapixel camera with auto-focus, flash, and video recording that the first Storm offered. It takes decent pictures, and allows you to use either the convenience key to focus and take pictures or the touch screen itself. It would be nice to see more digital zoom however.
Off a fully charged battery with Wi-Fi and GPS enabled, with moderate phone usage and normal BlackBerry messaging strain, the Storm lasted about 30 hours. Not bad considering the size of the screen it has to light up.
This is about on par with other smartphones — generally you’ll be charging any smartphone you buy every night.
BlackBerry Storm2 for VerizonThe BlackBerry Storm has come a long way in its second-generation form, though ultimately it might be too little too late.
There are other touchscreen devices that make compelling cases, such as the Palm Pre, iPhone 3GS, HTC offerings, and the upcoming Droid. Often these have development focused on utilizing all of the features the physical device has to offer. Likewise, there are other messaging phones that offer better more reliable text input — the Tour and pretty much any other full QWERTY phone. The Storm2 sits in an odd place — it has some of the best of the touchscreen world, some of the best of the BlackBerry world, but ultimately comes up short, failing to deliver on either.
The original Storm seemed like a logical choice for those stuck on Verizon who wanted something to take on the iPhone. Just a year later, however, it’s not apparent that it’s the obvious choice.
Verizon and RIM needed to really shake things up with the Storm2. Sadly, fixing the shortcomings of the first generation while failing to deliver any other true value-add isn’t going to be enough for most users.