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BlackBerry Storm, Slayer Of iPhones, Blows Into Town With Gusto

Verizon Wireless and Research In Motion today announced the hotly anticipated Storm, the first touch-based device from the maker of BlackBerry smartphones. A quick glance at the spec sheet shows an impressive array of features, many of which are not included with the iPhone or the G1. How does RIM's iPhone killer stack up against the competition?
Verizon Wireless and Research In Motion today announced the hotly anticipated Storm, the first touch-based device from the maker of BlackBerry smartphones. A quick glance at the spec sheet shows an impressive array of features, many of which are not included with the iPhone or the G1. How does RIM's iPhone killer stack up against the competition?The short answer is: "Pretty damned well."

First and foremost, the Storm is a BlackBerry. You know what that means -- seamless integration with Microsoft and your business's communications servers. Mobile e-mail, Outlook integration, and the power to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files are included out of the box. But this is what you expect from an enterprise device from the folks in Waterloo.

RIM has revamped its operating system so it will work with finger-based input rather than the trackball or scroll wheel. The icons and menu items are all refreshed and the right size for you to place your finger on. The 3.26-inch touch screen has 480 by 360 pixels, and will provide tactile feedback when pressed. The press release says, "The BlackBerry Storm comes with a unique touch screen that gives a distinct 'click' confirmation when depressed ever so slightly, very similar in experience to a keyboard-based BlackBerry smartphone. An easy-to-use menu adds support for multi-touches, taps, slides, swipes, and other gestures, so customers can easily select, scroll, pan, and zoom for smooth navigation."

When the Storm is held sideways, it will show users a QWERTY software keyboard for typing out messages. When held vertically, it will show a software SureType keyboard, similar to that seen on the Pearl. This is a nice touch for giving users the option to compose messages quickly no matter how they happen to be holding the device.

Appealing to the consumer in all of us, RIM stabs at the heart of Apple's iPhone and comes out on top in many respects. It packs a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash, zoom, and autofocus. It also records videos in two different resolutions -- one optimized for MMS and one high-quality version. The Storm can send and receive MMS, also known as picture or video messages. It has a media player that can be used to play music, video content, and slide shows. It has 1 GB of memory on board and will support microSD cards up to 8 GB, which is a decent amount of storage for media. The Storm's 3.5-millimeter headset jack means you can use your regular stereo headphones with the Storm. If wired 'phones aren't your thing, feel free to rock out with the Storm's stereo Bluetooth capabilities.

This is a nice list of features, but the real killer is the Storm's radios. It's bristling with communications prowess. Because it will be available on Verizon's network, it runs Verizon's flavor of 3G, otherwise known as EV-DO. But the Storm takes it a step further by supporting the fastest version of EV-DO available, known as Rev. A.

Wait, there's more.

Worried that you won't be able to take your Storm over to Europe? Set that fear aside. The Storm also packs quad-band GSM/EDGE radios for worldwide roaming and contains a 2,100-MHz HSPA radio for 3G data in Europe. Basically, you get superfast 3G data coverage in the United States and Europe. Verizon has not yet announced what data roaming rates will be, but its partnership with Vodafone (which is launching the Storm in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand) should be beneficial for Verizon's customers. Good thing the Storm includes a full HTML browser, because with all that high-speed 3G goodness baked inside, you're going to want nothing less.

The Storm supports both standalone GPS and A-GPS, and supports turn-by-turn directions. BlackBerry Maps will be included, and it will be compatible with other mapping and location-based software such as Google Maps.

The only thing the Storm is really lacking is Wi-Fi. That's right, no Wi-Fi. When asked, a Verizon rep said, "Who needs Wi-Fi when you have Rev. A?" Well said, though there is no Rev. A over in Europe.

The only unknown at this point is how usable the Storm is. I haven't laid my hands on it yet, and won't for a couple of weeks. A colleague of mine who has used it said it was impressive and did a good job of providing a "touch version of the BlackBerry OS." Will it match the user interface of the iPhone or the G1? We'll find out soon enough.

The BlackBerry Storm will launch in the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in November. Exactly when, and for how much money, we don't know for certain. Verizon said that information will be provided in the coming weeks.

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