BlackBerry v. BlackBerry

Some of my favorite mobile devices of the past few years have come from Research in Motion, including the BlackBerry Pearl (which we named our 2006 Product-of-the-Year in part thanks to the innovative pearl-like trackball that simplified navigation) and the 8800 series.

Now Research in Motion has introduced two new BlackBerry smartphones: the Storm and the Bold.  The Storm is the latest smartphone resulting from the touch-screen hype that started with the Apple iPhone and it is also the first BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

It’s also the first BlackBerry I can’t recommend.

Touch-screen mobile phones suffer from a unique set of problems: the bigger screens are a drain on the battery and the user has to look at the screen to do even the most simple task of placing a call instead of getting to know the device’s buttons by feel.

RIM made the display into one big button so that pressing a button on the screen gives the user a satisfying click and you actually feel that you are pressing a button.  That’s where the innovation both starts and stops and it’s about the only thing that is satisfying when using the device.

In using the Storm, I found that pressure from my cheek would regularly turn on the speakerphone during a call.  Also, the device would occasionally slow down or freeze and then function normally.

Web browsing was much slower compared to the Bold (we’ll look at the Bold next week) – what took me 1 min. to accomplish with the Bold took over 12 min. with the Storm.  There were delays of several seconds in moving from portrait to landscape mode.  And did I mention that the Storm does not have Wi-Fi?

To select something, you highlight and then click.  Highlighting was tricky.  In a list, the phone generally refused to acknowledge my selection and preferred either the item above or below.  Scrolling was equally maddening.  Instead of starting to scroll, the phone seemed to think I was highlighting and selected a random entry before scrolling.

Once you get past these glitches, the phone itself isn’t bad.  Calls on GSM networks in Europe were crystal clear as were the few calls I made in the U.S. on Verizon’s CDMA network.  It paired immediately with the new BMW 730d I was driving and transferred the phonebook perfectly.  The built-in speakerphone was excellent.

The Storm supports editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.  And the display itself is dazzling.

Unfortunately, the phone’s glitches will keep you from using some of the best features in the phone until (hopefully) RIM fixes them via a software update.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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