Verdict: The Storm2 is not a complete success as a touch-screen smartphone. The screen can be tricky to use, and mobile browsing is slower than on other similar devices. However, fans of the BlackBerry emailer who like the idea of a touch-screen should give it a try, as once you get used to the screen functions it is a decent alternative to other RIM models.
Decent video camera; App World functionality.
Heavy compared to other touch-screen smartphones; touch-screen not always responsive; mobile browsing can be slow.
£35 on a 24-month Vodafone contract
112.5x62x14mm, 2GB of storage and a microSD slot supporting Flash cards up to 16GB, 3.2-megapixel camera
Research in Motion (RIM) recently launched updates to its main corporate emailer devices, the Bold and the Storm. As I’m a BlackBerry user anyway, I’ve been putting both devices through their paces to see which, if either, is worth upgrading to.
I’ve already reviewed the Bold 9700, now it’s the turn of the latest version of RIM’s touchscreen model, the Storm2 9550.
The Storm2 adds Wi-Fi support to the touchscreen BlackBerry model, and offers 256MB of Flash memory, 2GB of storage and a microSD slot supporting Flash cards up to 16GB. It is noticeably larger and heavier than the new Bold 9700, and is more on a par in size and weight with the older Bold 9000. It also mimics the look of a standard BlackBerry, with half the screen taken up by two rows of icons, where you’d normally expect to see a keypad.
According to RIM’s specs, the Storm2 is 112.5x62x14mm, and weighs in at 160g, almost 40g heavier than the new Bold, the price you pay for a touchscreen BlackBerry. As a comparison, although the Apple iPhone’s dimensions are similar at 115.5x62x12mm, it weighs in at only 135g.
I tested out the original Storm about a year ago, and the verdict at that time was that the RIM touch-screen took some getting used to. I found pressing slightly to the left of the keys helped avoid errors when typing.
However, between testing the two Storm models I’ve got used to the Apple touch-screen experience having switched from a standard iPod to the Touch version, and in comparison the BlackBerry touch-screen comes out second best.
Where the iPod Touch requires a light touch of the virtual keys, RIM has kept with the 'click' feature when pressing down on the screen, which mimics the feel of a physical button. So I found myself having to press down quite hard on the screen to type or access applications, especially compared to the Apple device, and quite often having to give a second press to access the application, or accidentally opening the wrong application or typing the wrong character through hitting the wrong key.
There’s a useful copy and paste feature on the Storm2, which is quite straightforward to use once you’ve got used to the touch-screen.
The Storm offers the common touch-screen feature of switching view to reflect whether you're holding the phone sideways or upright. With the first Storm model, I found it slow in switching between the views, but that seems to have speeded up with this new version and in my tests beat the iPod Touch by a fraction of a second.
However, I didn’t notice any real speed boost with either the Storm2 or Bold 9700 compared to my current Bold 9000. For example, the browser on both the new models took about 10 seconds to load Amazon.co.uk, 30 seconds for the Football365 homepage (126k), and 20 seconds for a news article (67k), very similar to the speeds achieved loading those pages on the older Bold.
Web sites that go straight to a dedicated mobile version, such as BBC News, were faster to access on the Storm2, however, taking only a few seconds for the whole page to load.
Hopefully Opera will upgrade its Mini mobile browser soon to support the latest BlackBerry devices, as I’ve been impressed with this application on my current Bold. At present, neither the Bold 9700 or Storm2 are supported.
The Storm2 features a removable 1400mAh battery, providing six hours of talk time on 3G networks and 280 hours on standby, according to RIM. I didn’t have the test device for long enough to fully test out these claims, but after giving the Storm a full charge the battery was down to 15 per cent after about a day of use. This is similar to the Bold 9000.
One thing that unfortunately seems to have carried over from the earlier BlackBerry models is its tendency to crash. Around once a week, normally while I’m in the middle of a phone call or just finishing writing an email, my Bold will completely die on me, and switch itself off and require a complete restart. Although I only tested the Storm2 out over a couple of days, it crashed while I was using the camera feature so hopefully this is something RIM will investigate for future models.
The Storm2 features a 3.2-megapixel camera, but I found this quite difficult to use. You slide up and down over the camera icon in order to zoom in and out, but this was a hit and miss process, and either I wasn’t pressing down hard enough to enable the zoom, or I’d accidentally take a picture if I exerted more pressure on the screen.
I was impressed with the video camera on the Storm2, however. You can record video in normal (480x352) or MMS (176x144) modes, and choose to film in sepia, black and white, or colour. Recording video was very simple, and playback in all these formats was high quality and fast to load.
I also tried out BlackBerry App World, RIM’s version of the iPhone App Store, and noticed a few changes. There are a couple of new tab buttons, showing the 25 most popular free apps, and a separate list of the most popular paid for; these used to be grouped together in one list that were nearly always free ones anyway. The categories such as News and Travel also used to give the number of apps in each category so it was easy to see how many were on offer in each section, but that function has now been removed.
The featured apps section of App World seems to show off the Storm2’s touch-screen to its best ability. You can smoothly and quickly scroll through a selection of apps in a carousel function, using arrow buttons on the left or right of the screen; in the Bold models you need to use your trackpad/ball to scroll through the selections.
The Storm2 is available for free from Vodafone, with packages starting at £35 per month on a 24-month contract.