First “hands on” impressions of BlackBerry Storm in Canada

Despite Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion (RIM) calling Canada home, it was our neighbour south of the border that got the first chance to buy the new BlackBerry Storm.

Americans waited in long lines over the weekend for a chance to buy the coveted phone and Canadians will also soon have that same opportunity. Both Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility are signaling they will launch the Storm before year’s end.

With Telus already running an ad-campaign focused around the Storm with a strong Christmas theme, it can hardly fail to unleash the device soon.

A TV commercial and large billboards in downtown Toronto signal the Storm is approaching.

Also, ITBusiness.ca met with Judy Mellett, director of subscriber product & program realization at Telus for a hands-on test drive of the phone.

Before we get into our first impressions, here are the phone specs at a glance:

  • HGVA 3.25″ clickable touch screen with 480 x 360 resolution
  • 3.2 megapixel camera with auto-focus, flash, and video capture
  • 1 GB internal memory and an included 8 GM microSD memory card
  • 5.5 hours estimated talk time on 1400 mA battery
  • 3G network speeds
  • Network compatibility: GSM/GPRS, CDMA/Ev-DO, UMTS/HSPA (translation: it works everywhere)

Navigation

The Storm is the first BlackBerry with a touch screen interface, and RIM has done a good job at delivering on a device that is easy to learn, if not immediately intuitive.

The home screen sports large and stylish icons that are easy to select at a touch of a finger-tip. Swiping your finger across the screen will allow you to browse through the icons. Clicking on the icon by depressing the entire screen makes a selection.

In a U.S review the clickable screen was deemed a “failed experiment,” but based on my first experience, I would beg to differ. Pressing down on the screen was a natural way to select options and confirm actions I wanted to take.

The clickable screen adds a “crunchiness” to the touch-based approach that I find appealing.

Touch screen devices have suffered in the past from not offering haptic feedback to users. One always feels uncertain about how hard to press on the screen to make a selection – and there’s no feedback to indicate a choice has been made other than the visual cues displayed on screen.

The Storm solves that problem with this approach. It was satisfying to click on the screen and feel confident my selections would register.

Current BlackBerry users will find themselves surfing the Web more on this device thanks to the finger-tip navigation.

It is easy to scroll around a Web site, which is displayed in its entirety at first, and can be zoomed into with a double-tap on the screen, or with the magnifying icons at the bottom of the screen.

BlackBerry users will also be comforted by the familiar hard-buttons along the bottom of the screen.

There’s the applications/menu button, the escape button. I found myself wanting to click the trackball at times, and then remembered that I just need to click the screen instead.

The finger swipe feature does fall short of the iPhone’s versatility. It is a bit tedious to sort through a long list of e-mails or contacts – my best effort at a finger swipe could only move several items down the list at a time.

Keyboard

I was especially skeptical about the Storm’s touch screen keyboard approach, but it seemed adequate in some typing experiments.

Hard-key keyboards are my preference, since it is just easier to find the keys by feel. But with the clickable screen, the Storm creates that key-stroke feel as you type away.

Some concerns have been raised about how this might hold up over time for those who type a lot on their phones. Perhaps those who are first to wear-out the spring mechanism will let us know after the Storm enters the market.

The Storms keyboard also highlights the letter your finger is selecting, so you have a chance to self correct before pressing the screen. I wasn’t as accurate in my typing as I am with my own BlackBerry Curve model, but the predictive text feature was able to auto-correct my errors. This feature can also be turned off by pro typists.

The full QWERTY-keyboard is made available in landscape mode when you tilt your phone on its side. In portrait mode, a Pearl-like keyboard appears, with two letters sharing each key.

Display

The device’s high resolution and bright display are perhaps its most striking features. With the Storm, BlackBerry offers a device that is definitely easy on the eyes.

Playing a pre-packaged video on the microSD card showed just how crisp the display can be. Packing those pixels into a small form factor really does make a difference.

A bright screen also makes it easy to browse the Web and read your e-mail.

For those of you who can’t wait for the Storm to come to Canada, you can at least rummage through the interactive user guide on RIM’s Web site.

You can prepare for the Storm by reading up on how to navigate, the applications at your disposal, and how to install that microSD card that came with the device.

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