When is a BlackBerry not a BlackBerry? When it’s a BlackBerry Storm. RIM has strapped on a touchscreen, a 3.2-megapixel camera and those happy faces in the picture above definitely look like members of the consumer market. So, now that the latest incarnation of the mobile e-mail machine has even lost its hardware QWERTY keyboard, what exactly can we expect from this newly launched, non-iPhone killing iPhone killer?
The handset has been in development between Vodafone and RIM since last summer but still Qualcomm had to hurry the design of the chips inside, the likes of which weren’t supposed to be ready until 2009. But then, this phone is supposed to be a Christmas cracker, a game-changer.
It supports HSDPA at 7.2Mbs and HSUPA at 1.8 but best of all can be used as a modem itself, much like the Skype phone and a few others. It comes with an IM chat folder installed which covers all the majors minus the afore mentioned Skype but despite the heavy new angle to the phone-crazed public at large, it still features the same security that made BlackBerry so popular in the business sector.
Now, I can sit here and write all day about what I’ve read on the matter but let me hand you over to Shiny Shiny’s Susi who actually managed to get her hands on one earlier. Here’s what she thought:
The Storm doesn’t wow on first glance, as the hard keys and the thickness prevent it from entering the realms of classic design. But, the screen is bright and at 480×360, it’s great for watching movies and navigating websites.
This is different, and pretty cool. Rather than being a full-on touchscreen, you use a light touch to navigate around the screen. Then, when you want to select something, you press down hard on the screen. Since the screen is held above the main body of the phone by less than a millimetre, you can feel the depression of the screen, and selecting something becomes less of an exercise in hit-and-miss and more of a physical act. It’s a bit like real-life haptics. RIM are calling this ClickThru (or ClickThrough – they haven’t quite decided!).
As far as navigating the menus is concerned, there’s the soft keys along the bottom, which are customisable by the user, as in all BlackBerry’s. So, if you’re a heavy Twitter user, you can have Twitter on the main screen. There’s also an expanded menu screen, which holds dedicated apps like Flickr and Facebook, as well as folders and files. As you can see from the photo, there’s also the make call, end call, back and menu hard keys.
Typing wise, holding the phone in portrait mode will get you the SureType input seen on the Pearl, whilst holding it in landscape converts it to a QWERTY keyboard. And, yes, there is cut & paste. Hallelujah.
RIM is launching the SDK today in the hope that all those who have already made dedicated apps for the non-touchscreen Blackberry’s will adapt their programs for the Storm. Whether we’ll see the same pick-up of the SDK as in the iPhone App Store remains to be seen. Having said that, the SDK has been available to Google, Vodafone (including their music biz), YouTube and Telemap, and the resulting applications will be available from launch.
This phone is aimed at a market RIM has never addressed previously – those who look for the latest in functionality, with less of an emphasis on email than the previous business clients. The resulting media playback is evident. There’s 1GB of internal memory which can be expanded via the MicroSD card slot (under the battery cover – why do they DO that??). There are also dedicated volume buttons on the side of the phone, which can be used to control skipping tracks. Watching movies on the screen is an absolute pleasure.
Camera-wise, there’s a 3.2 megapixel offering with flash and autofocus, as well as 30 fps video playback.
It’s quoted at 6 hours talktime, which is slightly more than Apple’s 3G iPhone. In real life, the people at RIM are sure that even heavy users shouldn’t need to charge more than once a day, with less demanding users getting two days use. Practically speaking, one of the phones that had been used throughout the day to demonstrate the product when I saw it was only down to two battery bars out of (I think) five.
This isn’t a phone for the commitment-phobes. It’s exclusively available on Vodafone, forever, and they will tie you into a 24-month contract. Ouch. But it will come for free at a relatively reasonable £35 per month tariff. Launch date is as yet unconfirmed but “well in time for Christmas” we’re told.
And in conclusion…
It’s a really nice phone. It impresses in most areas (you can hold down the name of a contact on an email and it will automatically search for all emails by that contact) but perhaps under-delivers in the style stakes when held up against the iPhone. There’s also the issue of the two year contract. RIM has promised that the phone will stand up to 24 months of wear and tear, but exactly how future proof will it be? Are you going to feel like you’re walking round with some hasbeen brick by month 20?
Whatever the case the BlackBerry Storm has impressed and looks to be no slouch in the world of the new elite handsets. A real contender for the the iPhone, the G1 and the N96.