Thu, 20 Nov 2008 BlackBerry Storm 9500 review
Quad-band touchscreen smartphone aims to take on the iPhone, and - to a certain extent - suceeds. Discover what Macworld UK thinks of the BlackBerry Storm 9500
- Manufacturer: RIM (BlackBerry)
- Distributor: Vodafone
- Pros: Unique click-able touchscreen, high speed 3G support, good Web browser; superb email client and contact management
- Cons: Lacks wi-fi; cut-and-paste solution is inelegent, lacks multi-touch zoom,
- Min specs: Quad-band GSM, 3G, HSDPA smartphone; 480x360-pixel transmissive touchscreen (80mm diagonally or 75mm x 49 mm); 3.2Mp camera, flash, 2x incremental zoom; video recorder; voice recorder; Bluetooth v2; BlackBerry Enterprise for Microsoft Exchancge; Lotus Domino; Novell Groupwise and other email clients; email, MMS, SMS, calendar, clock, task list, voice dialling/voice recorder; BlackBerry media player/manager, Vodafone Music downloads; MP3 ringtones; password keeper; AES secure encryption; BlackBerry Maps; Vodafone Telmap Find&Go (six month subscription); 3.5mm headphone jack; mini USB port; 1GB onboard memory; 128MB flash memory; microSDHC slot; dimensions: 62x113x14mm; weight: 158g; 15 days standby; 5.5 hours standby
- Free handest; from £35 per month on 24-month contract
- £300 handset only
- Star rating:
Take a letter with the BlackBerry Storm's keypad
When used in portrait or standard phone mode, you are presented with a two-character-per-key SureType layout. This is the same keyboard layout that was used on one of our all-time favourite mobile phones (pre-iPhone, of course), RIM's BlackBerry Pearl. SureType is a very different approach to the one used on the iPhone. It has a two characters-per-key approach, but is pretty good at divining what you are attempting to input and suggesting words, but far too often we found it didn’t recognise which of the two keys we wanted – not so useful when entering names or other character strings that aren’t listed in a standard dictionary. However, you can backspace and press the button again, and it picks the other letter. SureType's a love or loath affair, but it's served BlackBerry well over the years and we prefer to see this approach than a ham-fisted attempt to copy Apple's smart predictive text functionality.
Although RIM assured us that the glowing blue halo that appears around your finger to confirm that you’ve pressed the intended button means users will be able to type confidently on the Storm, in practice, we found entering text using the SureType keypad a clunky process.
It’s far more effective to turn the Storm on its side and enter characters using the more familiar qwerty layout. For some insanely odd reason the iPhone still won't let you compose emails with the horizontal qwerty keypad, instead that's limited to entering Web URLs. You shouldn't underestimate the advantage that a horizontal qwerty keypad offered by the BlackBerry Storm has over the stubby vertical keypad offered on the iPhone.
As with the iPhone, the Storm contains an accelerometer that automatically reformats the onscreen display when you switch orientation, so you don’t need to invoke any special menu option to bring this up – just turn the Storm sideways whenever you want to compose an email or text message. Given that Dataviz’s Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow to Go come preloaded and can be used to open, edit and resave documents on the Storm, before sending them as attachments over email, it’s important that text entry is efficient and accurate.
Making calls and keeping contacts
The other area it’s vital that the Storm gets right is, of course, basic phone and contact features. Here, as ever, the BlackBerry really shines. You can import contacts, synchronise them, add them on the fly and associate ringtones and photos as well as email addresses and search for them. Four Web addresses, three locations with fax, page and phone numbers, plus notes on each contact can all be added.
The voice dialler feature hooks into this too and can be initiated via the silver hardware button on the Storm’s lefthand side. There’s a large microphone above the BlackBerry branding at the top of the screen. Audio output from the speaker is pretty loud too. Calls we made were clear and remain central to the Storm’s setup: pressing the green phone handset icon takes you straight to a keypad, with the address book and call log listed as options above it.
The audio feature can also be used to record voice notes to yourself (if you prefer these to creating Task lists – both options on the main menu). SMS and MMS share an icon but, again, are default options on the Storm’s main screen. As with email, you can compose messages and send attachments – whenever you take a photo using the Storm’s 3.2Mp camera, you are given the option to send it as an MMS – something that Apple resolutely refuses to put on the iPhone 3G, although we still maintain that sending pictures via email is a better option, the fact that MMS is widely used by the non-smartphone owning public makes it a welcome feature addition.
The BlackBerry Storm sports a regular earphone socket and a 3.2megapixel camera
And while we're on the subject of welcome features that users are clamouring for, let's not overlook (cue fanfare) cut-and-paste. BlackBerry has shown Apple how it's done, by using the same multi-touch technology used in the iPhone 3G. Here's how it works: you put one finger at the start of what you want to copy, and one finger at the end to highlight text; then press the Menu button to select 'cut' or 'copy'. Now, this is a feature that we haven't really felt the need for but the Macworld readership has being quite vocal about the lack of cut-and-paste on the iPhone. RIM's solution doesn't work well enough for us because it is fiddly beyond belief ("using this would drive you mad", said one of our testers). But in the absence of anything better from Apple this is an area where RIM scores a point, just.
One thing we'd like to point out is that RIM is claiming multi-touch on the BlackBerry Storm because of this function, but don't be fooled into thinking that the Storm has the same kind of pinch to zoom multi-touch feature from the iPhone. The multi-touch seems to only apply to the cut-and-paste.