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11/21/2008
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Review: Touch-Screen BlackBerry Storm Gets Mixed Verdict

Research In Motion's first touch-screen BlackBerry, from Verizon Wireless, boasts an ultra-fast Web browser and great multimedia. But the SurePress keypad takes some getting used to.

The QWERTY keyboard is much more difficult to use than the SureType keyboard. Obviously, the phone needs to be held sideways to use the full QWERTY software keyboard. RIM calls it SurePress, playing on the fact that you're actually pressing the Storm's screen to type. The full QWERTY is spacious, and gives your thumbs plenty of room, but my thumbs felt real fatigue after typing out a 100-word e-mail.

I am not the only person who feels this way. If you read reviews of the Storm on other Web sites, you'll see my sentiment is shared by many. The upshot is that the Storm's typing experience is not for me, but I am sure there are plenty of you who won't have any problems with it.

Dark Clouds Ahead

Now for the really bad news. The Storm has issues. The review unit I tested experienced severe bugginess and problems all over the place.

The accelerometer, for example, rarely works as it is supposed to. I would rotate the phone and wait up to a minute for the phone to recognize that I had turned it on its side. Other times, the phone would randomly switch from vertical to horizontal orientation even though the phone hadn't been rotated at all. That's unacceptable.

The camera software and video playback software both crashed the phone completely several times, requiring me to pull the battery to reset the Storm.

Another issue I experienced was serious lag and lack of responsiveness from the user interface. The Storm would fail to register finger presses, the "back" button worked only about 50% of the time, and panning around was slow and jittery. Applications behaved strangely and would randomly quit.

If you think I got stuck with a bad unit, think again. In order to be as fair as possible, I requested a second review unit from Verizon Wireless. The second review unit experienced all the same problems and issues. Again, if you check other reviews, you'll see similar reports of bugginess. RIM and Verizon Wireless need to come up with a fix for these problems fast. People may have lined up early this morning in eager anticipation of buying the Storm, but if I were a consumer, I would have returned the Storm by now.

Early adopters are going to pay a heavy price in testing what is clearly unfinished software on the Storm.

Odds and Ends

Other aspects of the Storm that are worth mentioning include the Application Market. The Storm will be one of the first BlackBerrys that can access the RIM Application Market. Similar to the iPhone Apps Store and Android Market, RIM's version will let you browse through and download applications from third parties. For example, I downloaded and tested the Facebook application, AOL's instant messenger program, and several others. The Application Market isn't live yet, but will be in the coming weeks. The preview of the market installed on the Storm shows promise.

The Storm has GPS on board. It comes with Verizon's Navigator software preinstalled. This service has a monthly fee attached, but will provide turn-by-turn directions to anywhere you might choose to go. I also downloaded Google's Maps for Mobile. I was disappointed that the "My Location" feature performed terribly. The Storm's GPS wasn't able to pinpoint my location accurately at all. The closest it got was about a mile away. That's not very good.

If you're thinking about buying a Storm, I'd recommend you proceed with caution. I'd strongly encourage you to go to a Verizon Wireless store and test the typing experience for yourself. Don't just press the screen a couple of times. Use it to type an e-mail. BlackBerrys are messaging devices, after all.

Be warned that the Storm isn't finished. The software needs more development time. The bugs and user interface performance issues are real and get old quickly. Perhaps RIM and Verizon Wireless will be able to update the software to a more stable and faster version.

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