BlackBerry Storm Debuts To Mostly Praise

BlackBerry StormThe BlackBerry Storm from Verizon Wireless doesn't make its official debut until today, but the smartphone is already reaping solid--if not spectacular--reviews. Much anticipated as the first touchscreen phone from BlackBerry, the Research in Motion device is the latest vaunted iPhone killer to hit the market.

Judging by initial reactions, the Storm may not knock off the iPhone, but stands as the most worthy challenger to date. Walt Mossberg, the Wall Street Journal's personal technology columnist and dean of tech reviewers, called the Storm "a very capable handheld computer that will appeal to BlackBerry users who have been pining for a touch-controlled device with a larger screen."

Among the Storm's biggest innovations is a touchscreen that can be pressed down like one large button to give the feeling of typing on an actual keyboard. However, the feature dubbed SurePress by RIM drew mixed reactions from Mossberg and other techies.



"Neither I, nor any of the several BlackBerry addicts I asked to try it out, considered typing on the Storm's keyboard to be very similar to using the keyboard of a traditional full-sized BlackBerry," wrote Mossberg in his column Thursday.

CrunchGear's Peter Ha also missed the standard keyboard of other BlackBerry phones. "It's meant to knock out e-mails, texts, and IMs and I just can't do those things as efficiently as I would on a standard BlackBerry," he wrote.

Tech blog Gizmodo liked it better. "When you push the screen and it clicks, it's a genuinely satisfying tactile sensation that, as I said in my hands on, is clearly a finely tuned experience," wrote Matt Buchanan.

But critics gave the Storm high marks for features including its screen, camera, browser, visual voicemail, removable battery and Verizon's 3G network. According to the Phone Scoop blog: "The Storm's display is frickin' gorgeous. It simply looks fantastic. Indoors, outdoors, wherever you happen to be, it is beautiful."

Mossberg also noted that the Storm comes with more memory than the iPhone (nine gigabytes versus eight gigabytes) and unlike the Apple device, the Storm's memory can be expanded via larger flash cards. It also offers standard BlackBerry capabilities including push e-mail, corporate features and familiar menus that have long made the RIM device the smartphone of choice for business users.

Audio quality was highlighted as well by reviewers. "Phone calls, even on speaker phone, were crisp, clear and plenty loud," noted Mossberg.

On the downside, critics took issue with the Storm's heaviness (5.5 oz. versus iPhone's 4.7 oz.), lack of Wi-Fi, a balky user interface and lack of a full-fledged app store.

Mossberg seemed especially irked by no Wi-Fi. "This means that, unlike on the Bold, the iPhone or the Google G1, if high-speed cellphone data service is absent or pokey, you can't fall back on speedy Wi-Fi connections in public places," he wrote.

Gizmodo had a different beef. "The major issue with the interface, at least in the main menu area, is that it lags. Like, enough to be annoying. Scrolling through the main menu, for instance, it seems like part of the scroll slowdown is deliberate (I don't know why) but the sluggishness turned to choppiness more often than occasionally."

The overall verdict on the Storm was a strong effort by BlackBerry and Verizon, but not going to make anyone forget the iPhone. "Imagine the iPhone being on top of a mountain with the rest of the touch-screen devices at base camp. The Storm sits atop all the rest, but it's still at base camp," wrote CrunchGear's Ha.

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