RIM's first touch-screen device will not be available until sometime between now and Christmas, but we managed to get a brief hands-on during a meeting with the company.
The BlackBerry Storm is about the same size and shape as the BlackBerry Bold, but the most striking thing about it is the screen, which fills most of the front panel.
RIM has removed the Qwerty keypad found on almost every other Blackberry model and expanded the display, leaving just a strip at the bottom holding the phone call/end keys, the BlackBerry key and a back/cancel key for menu operation.
Like Apple's iPhone, users can scroll through the application list using a fingertip, and the same applies to looking through emails. RIM has added a twist, though: to open an email or launch an application, you push down on the screen and it clicks like a mouse button.
This helps avoid the problem of accidentally hitting the wrong on-screen control that we have found with other touch-screen devices.
This positive feedback also proves valuable when keying in text. BlackBerry devices typically have the best keyboards for any device of their size and, while no soft keyboard can ever compare, the click you feel when you press one of the keys offers a reasonable substitute.
Whether BlackBerry users who make heavy use of email would be happy with this was difficult to gauge within the brief time we had to try it out.
One neat feature is that users see the compact RIM SureType keyboard when holding the device in portrait orientation, but if you turn the BlackBerry Storm so its screen is in landscape orientation, the device senses the motion and changes the display to match. At the same time, it switches the soft keyboard to a full Qwerty layout.
In emails and applications, users can press two places on the screen, and the BlackBerry automatically highlights all text in between ready to cut and paste elsewhere.
The browser on the BlackBerry Storm also supports gesture-based controls, allowing the user to move around a web page using a fingertip. To make selections easier, a cursor mode can be enabled which displays a pointer just to one side of where your fingertip is touching the screen, so you can see what you are about to click on.
RIM demonstrated a movie playing on the BlackBerry Storm, and we were impressed with the quality of the image, which looked better than we have seen on some portable media players.
The BlackBerry Storm also supports audio streaming over Bluetooth, enabling sound to be fed to a user's hi-fi stack.
Overall, we were impressed with the BlackBerry Storm, and we look forward to getting one for a fuller evaluation in the near future.