Sunday, December 27, 2009

BlackBerry Storm 2 Hands On Review

I have just wrapped up my test drive of the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm 2 9550 smartphone. I’ve been testing out a selection of some of the more popular CDMA phones to help find the phone that will replace the corporate fleet of Palm Treo 755p’s that are in service at the company I work for.

The Hardware

The BlackBerry Storm 2, is Research In Motion’s second smartphone without a physical keyboard. The first was the original Storm. The BlackBerry Storm 2 measures up as being 4.43 x 2.45 x .55-inches and weighs in at 5.5 ounces. In practical terms, it is about the same size as an Apple iPhone. The Storm 2 has all of the standard hardware buttons that you would expect to find on any other BlackBerry smartphone. Unlike the buttons on the Tour, Bold, or Curve, the buttons on the face of the Storm 2 are concealed beneath a smooth sheet of plastic. The green, BlackBerry, escape, and red buttons are part of the bottom of the touch screen and the power and silence buttons are part of the top molding. Another nice touch is that there is a small, clear strip of plastic that protects the Storm 2’s 3.2MP digital camera lens and flash. The Storm 2’s battery door takes up the entire back of the device and snaps into place. Unlike the battery door on the Motorola Droid I recently reviewed, I don’t see the Storm 2’s door accidently being popped off during normal use.

One thing that I don’t like about the Storm 2 is that the bottom extends beyond the top of the device. This gives the Storm 2 a cool, rounded edge look, but I found it hard to reach up with my left index finger to turn the screen on when I was holding the device in my left hand. The uneven edges where less of a problem when I was holding the Storm 2 in landscape mode.


The Touch Screen

The big difference between the BlackBerry Storm 2 and the BlackBerry Tour is that the Storm 2 is a touch screen device. There is no physical keyboard on the Storm 2 and this may turn off some people who have used BlackBerry phones in the past and prefer the hardware keyboard. Part of the reason why I wanted to test the Tour and the Storm 2 was to compare the user experience between the two devices and to see if I could use a Storm 2 for the long haul.

The unique difference with the Storm 2 and other slate smartphones that don’t have hardware keyboards is that the Storm 2’s screen is “clickable.” Take for example the HTC Magic or the Apple iPhone 3G. Both of these devices have touch screens that dominate the face of the phone. When you tap an object on the screen, the screen remains stationary with virtually no tactile feedback. With the BlackBerry Storm 2, when you press down on the screen to tap an object, the entire screen presses down and clicks similar to the tactile feedback you get when you are clicking an icon or hyperlink on your computer with a mouse. You can hear and feel the click. It is a nice gimmick, but does it really help when you are trying to use an on screen keyboard?

After having played with the Storm 2, the Tour, and the Motorola Droid recently, I have found that the spacing of the keys on the keyboard are more important to me than whether or not the keyboard is virtual or not. I have found that keyboards on the Palm Treo Pro and Pre are very easy to use. Similarly, the keyboard on the BlackBerry Tour was a little too close – however, the shape of the keys did help improve my accuracy. For the Storm 2, Research in Motion decided to pack in four flavors of the virtual keyboard. They are: Qwerty portrait, Qwerty landscape, two-key portrait, and three-key portrait. I found the two and three-key portrait keyboards completely unacceptable. While I completely refuse trying to peck out a SMS or email message by pressing the same key two or three times to type a letter, the younger crowd who might buy the Storm 2 as their first smartphone may find these keyboard modes familiar, more comfortable even, if they are moving up from a flip phone. With the other two Qwerty keyboard modes available for use, I see professionals selecting the formats that more closely resemble the keyboards on their desks that the ones that resemble those found on flip phones.

After using the Storm 2’s Qwerty keyboards, I can say that I prefer the landscape keyboard the most. It offers the largest key cap clickable area of all the keyboards and the clickable screen did a good job tricking me into thinking that I was pressing a key on a physical keyboard. That isn’t to say that I didn’t make any typing mistakes, but I think that the Storm 2 offers the best on screen keyboard of all the smartphones I’ve tested so far. My one basic gripe about the landscape Qwerty keyboard is that when it is displayed, it takes up a significant portion of the screen; which can severely limit the space on the screen to see what you are doing.

The Software

The BlackBerry Storm 2 runs BlackBerry OS v5.0.0.320 (Platform 4.2.0.124), yet I didn’t find any noticeable difference from the BlackBerry Tour running BlackBerry OS v4.7.1.61 (Platform 4.1.0.81). One welcomed difference is that the Storm 2’s application launcher screen shows you the name of the application just below the icon. To see the name of an application on the Tour, you had to use the scroll ball to highlight the icon for the name to appear at the bottom of the launcher screen. For the most part, I didn’t see any major differences in the software bundled between the two BlackBerry’s I tested for this evaluation.

Conclusion

I have always stated that the decision to purchase a smartphone is very much a personal one. What works for me may not work for you. The BlackBerry Storm 2 is a capable BlackBerry smartphone that has many of the features made popular by Apple’s iPhone and you won’t have to jump ship from Verizon to AT&T to get a cool looking touch screen phone. As a BlackBerry, the lack of a physical keyboard may be a deal breaker for some corporate types, while others may welcome the increased screen realestate that comes from not having the keyboard. From a software standpoint, I found little difference between the Storm 2 and other recent model BlackBerry smartphones.

The BlackBerry Storm 2 is available now from Verizon Wireless for $279.99 when you purchase a qualifying two year service agreement. If you order the Storm 2 from the Verizon online store, Verizon will knock an additional $100 off the price tag. For more information about the BlackBerry Storm 2 9550 smartphones, please visit the BlackBerry website.

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