Not wanting Apple and O2 to take all the smartphone glory, Research In Motion (RIM) has finally brought out its touchscreen BlackBerry Storm. It's taken a long time (longer than we thought, if truth be told) but the results are interesting.
Unlike other smartphone manufacturers, RIM hasn't just "aped" the iPhone 3G. In fact, it's created a very different kind of device with a lot of interesting new features, some of which bat the ball firmly back into Apple's court.
Let's start off with the main attraction. The BlackBerry Storm sports a "clickable" screen that the company says simulates the feel of a physical keyboard. The Storm can connect to either EV-DO Rev. A or HSPA 3G cellular networks and features 1GB of onboard memory storage and a card slot that allows for up to 16GB of additional storage.
But while Vodafone is hoping that the BlackBerry Storm will be its own "iPhone killer," questions remain about whether the offering can match the popular Apple consumer device in several key areas. Here's a look at some early considerations.
The BlackBerry Storm slightly beats the iPhone for pricing, with a £35 per month contract with the handset free. Although you do need to sign up for a lengthy 24-month contract. For that you get 600 minutes, but unlimited texts and data usage. This compares favourably to the iPhone's £99 handset charge and £35 per month contract. More information is available from the Vodafone Shop.
The iPhone is seen as a legitimate enterprise device now that it has access to Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync, a licensed data-synchronization protocol whose built-in support will give IT departments the ability to set password policies, set up VPN settings and perform remote data wipes on iPhones that have been lost or stolen. The iPhone also took a big step forward when it gained access to Cisco IPsec VPN, which Apple says will "ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption available for transmission of sensitive corporate data." However, as some analysts have pointed out, the BlackBerry still sets the standard for enterprise wireless devices due to its larger array of security policies, including the ability for IT departments to disable its digital cameras; to enable or shut down specific Bluetooth profiles and set how long the device is "discoverable" using Bluetooth; and to define which applications on a BlackBerry can access GPS capabilities.
In the keys
This could be an intriguing matchup, since neither the iPhone nor the Storm has a physical slide-out keyboard like the T-Mobile G1 does. However, RIM says that it is changing the game of how touchscreen keypads work with what it calls a "clickable screen." This means that users can actually press down on the digital keys on the screen and feel them being pressed and released just like they'd feel a mouse button being pressed and released. Thus, users will in theory be able to type much easier by having the touch of a standard qwerty keyboard on the digital screen of their smartphone.
Our early tests are favourable, with the physical clicking feel both intuitive and likeable. It also works beyond the keyboard in applications such as the Web browser, where you move around the screen by touching, and select links by clicking. Clever stuff.
This "clickable" keyboard could be a game changer, moving touchscreen technology on from Apple's great start.