I've had my BlackBerry Storm review loaner for about 10 hours now. I've spent that time unboxing it, typing on it, browsing the Web, searching for GPS-enabled directions, and watching video on it. I also had to take care of a few other things during those 10 hours, so I actually haven't been able to pound on Storm quite as much as I'd like to have. But the embargo is lifting and you're anxious to know what I think of the most-hyped touchscreen phone since i-What's-it's-name ... so ...
I'm honestly not entirely sure yet. My first reaction to Storm was entirely positive, as you can see in Part 1 of my unboxing/hands-on video. As soon as I got Storm booted up I went to the messaging app and tried my "Quick Brown Fox" test in both SureType (portrait) and full QWERTY (landscape) modes. I liked the touch-and-click "SurePress" touchscreen straight away. I was able to type accurately on the first try and felt that the unique clickable touchscreen provided the key travel-like feedback missing from standard touchscreen virtual keyboards. With Storm you touch and then click - the entire 3.25" capacitive touch display acts as one giant button - and it seemed like RIM was really onto something with their new approach to touch.
Nine hours later, I'm not so sure. As soon as I got the hang of touch-and-click typing, I tried to type faster and faster ... and wound up with more and more typos in each and every sentence. The issues I'm grappling with are twofold: First, letter (key) selection is dependent on where your finger touches the screen, as it is on any touchscreen device. As such, you've got to be pretty accurate and there's no physical delineation between keys as there is on a physical QWERTY board.
This sounds obvious, but there's no other way to explain it - when you're touch typing on a physical keyboard, like those on traditional BlackBerries, you're able to feel around with your thumbs to tell the difference between, say, the Q and W keys. You can't do that on a touchscreen - you simply have to put your thumb in the right place. Storm's clickable screen helps when it comes to knowing you've made a selection, but it does nothing to aid you in selecting the right key in the first place.
Storm's predictive text software is okay, but it's not as good as iPhone's (which employs a seemingly more complex multi-zone algorithm). But Storm offers a choice of three virtual keypads - SureType and Multitap in portrait mode, and full landscape QWERTY - where iPhone offers only a portrait-oriented full QWERTY for SMS and Email applications. So Storm is theoretically a bit more flexible to different people's preferences. I could see some Storm owners doing most of their writing in SureType mode, ignoring the full QWERTY keyboard altogether, as SureType offers fewer virtual keys, and each key is larger (and, therefore, easier to accurately tap).
My second issue with typing on Storm has to do with the display's click mechanism. As soon as I started typing on it, I started wondering what sort of stress tests RIM put the system through before taking it to market. But that's not my issue - my issue has to do with typing so fast that rapid-fire double clicks don't register properly. Actually, it might not be that my thumbs were flying around Storm's screen THAT quickly - but rather that I might not have been lifting them off of the screen quickly enough, post-press.
More than once or twice I found myself trying to press down on the screen with one thumb while the other one was still holding it down. For example, in typing the word "quick," I hit the Q with my left thumb and then hit U with my right thumb before I'd fully released the Q. The U didn't take because I'd only clicked the screen once - my right thumb tapped U but couldn't actually register a click because my left thumb was still holding the screen down as part of the Q click. This problem was magnified when I pressed keys on opposite sides of the screen - Storm's display seems to be mounted on a single, center-mounted button (or at least it feels like it), so every so often clicking the edge of the screen was a little iffy.
You really have to try Storm out to fully understand what I'm describing here. And that's kind of the point - the learning curve on Storm is a little steeper ... or at least a different sort of curve ... than it is on either standard QWERTY board phones or standard touchscreen phones. Nine hours on a busy workday simply hasn't been enough for me to decide whether or not I'll be able to type as quickly and accurately on Storm's SurePress (RIM's trademark) keyboard as I can on the physical keyboard on a BlackBerry Bold or Curve - or, for that matter, if I prefer Storm's virtual QWERTY to those found on Apple's iPhone or any of Samsung's latest full-touch handsets.
Beyond typing, Storm has generally performed very well. The new BlackBerry OS looks great on Storm's rich 480 x 360 display, and while it hasn't been retooled from the ground up for the device's touchscreen, scrolling and gesturing are supported throughout. I was able to flick through menus, pan across Web pages, and swipe through my photo album and even VZ Navigator driving directions with ease. One major crash notwithstanding, the media player looks and sounds terrific. Storm's browser is similar to the one on AT&T's new BlackBerry, the Bold, but Storm seemed to surf the Web faster than Bold, perhaps due to Verizon's superior network performance in my San Francisco Bay Area home and office.
Between it's full touch display, 9GB of total memory (1GB internal and a pre-installed 8GB microSD card), 3.5mm audio jack, and black and chrome styling, it's hard to look at Storm and not draw a comparison to Apple's iPhone 3G. Apple and AT&T took a big chunk out of the US smartphone market with iPhone 3G, and RIM and Verizon are clearly fighting back with Storm. Priced at $199 on contract, and backed by RIM's industry-standard push email and security services and Verizon's top-rated network, Storm will certainly draw the eye of many BlackBerry users who've been tempted by Apple's forbidden fruit.
Is Storm RIM's iPhone killer? And is it a suitable replacement for the BlackBerry user accustomed to tapping out emails on a physical QWERTY board? Honestly, I don't know yet. I have to spend some more time getting used to typing on Storm before I can answer that question. So far I'm impressed by the device's software and Verizon's network ... it's that whole newfangled clickable touchscreen that I'm still trying to wrap my thumbs around.