Somewhere between the aesthetics of the BlackBerry Bold and the iPhone 3G you'll find the chic BlackBerry Storm. The large, colourful screen lends itself to comparison with Apple's wunderkind, but the details of the design are undeniably BlackBerry.
The Storm is sexy: a combination of glossy piano-black and stainless steel line the display, with a faux brushed metal matte-black plastic battery cover. External keys on the edges are also in steel and include a volume rocker and a dedicated camera shutter button. The Storm features a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top-right side of the phone, as all self-respecting multimedia mobiles should.
To complement the touchscreen input, the Storm also sports a familiar quartet of mechanical keys below the screen, the same calling keys and BlackBerry context-sensitive menu button we've seen on all recent release BlackBerry handsets.
A BlackBerry with a touchscreen may seem like a Porsche with wings — as though the two don't quite go together — but trust us; this is a cool step forward for the BlackBerry family. It seems that BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) anticipated a reticence to touchscreens from its loyal fans so it developed a depress-able screen and software it calls SurePress.
The touchscreen uses the same capacitive touchscreen technology as the iPhone and it registers contact with the surface as accurately. Unlike the iPhone, contact with the screen will only highlight a selection, not execute one. Opening a program requires you to touch the screen then press gently — this is SurePress in action. While this may seem like extra effort, it actually acts as a second chance. Rather than regularly opening and closing programs by mistake, or mistyping letters in an email, you have that split second to realise you've hit the wrong key before pressing on the screen.
On paper the Storm is a classic BlackBerry. It puts in something new, the touchscreen, but takes something away: in this case that's Wi-Fi. When you consider that the Storm was developed in partnership with phone carriers Vodafone and Verizon in the US, it makes sense that the Storm wouldn't feature hardware capable of circumventing the carriers ability to make money off data services. Still, for consumers this is a bit of a blow.
For chewing through said data, the Storm features HSDPA network support and browses the web through the same BlackBerry browser we find in the Bold, optimised for touchscreen input, of course. The Storm also includes Bluetooth for pairing to hands-free headsets.
In regards to pre-installed software, BlackBerry aficionados won't be missing any standard inclusions like the excellent messaging client, document readers, a variety of instant messaging apps and the browser. As an exclusive to Vodafone, our review unit also included links to download Vodafone service apps like MusicStation and the always improving Vodafone Compass navigation software.
Prior to the launch of the Storm RIM began spruiking the BlackBerry Application Centre, a centralised web space to download a range of apps and tools for newer BlackBerrys. Our review unit features the shortcut, though the App Centre is only populated with about a dozen apps at this time — hardly the 10,000 reportedly available on the Apple App Store.
Despite some minor lagging we've found the Storm to be quite powerful and sufficiently responsive. Some tasks, like opening large video files, can take a moment or more to process, but basic menu navigation and the all-important messaging app run pretty smoothly.
If you can put up with the short pause as the video loads then watching video on the Storm is great. Unlike the iPhone, the Storm has excellent video codec recognition, supporting MPEG4, H.264, WMV and the obligatory 3GP mobile phone video format. Formats the phone doesn't recognise are converted during transfer via the BlackBerry Desktop Manager. The 3.25-inch touchscreen is sharp and colourful and the audio is decent. The same, of course, can be said for music playback, though we do recommend forking out for an upgrade to the headphones that come bundled with the phone.
Battery life is a major concern for smartphones with large, high res displays and a range of connectivity options. The Storm is not immune from sucking through the juice and we found it was possible to run the battery down after about 10 hours of heavy use, however, it manages standby battery life much better than most. With casual use we saw battery cycles of several days, even with push email active. If you make frequent calls or would listen to hours of music a day you'll want to keep the charging pack with you.
As a dalliance into virgin territory for the BlackBerry family, the Storm is a success. As a smartphone, the Storm will suit the needs of many looking for a solid business tool with high quality media functionality. The touchscreen and RIM's SurePress tech won't be for everyone, and we'd be surprised if owners of the BlackBerry Bold even bat an eyelid at this release, but we love it. We've never been as confident smearing fingerprints over a touchscreen with our chubby, clumsy digits.
The BlackBerry Storm is exclusive to Vodafone and will be available on a BlackBerry service contract for AU$69 per month and includes unlimited data and an 8GB microSD card.