Four reasons why the BlackBerry Storm doesn’t suck

Ever since the new BlackBerry Storm was released in Canada, general opinion has been raining on its parade.

Unlike the Apple iPhone 3G that was embraced with much enthusiasm last summer, the Storm was given a cold shoulder by some reviewers and industry watchers shortly after its winter release. Though it’s worth noting any negative opinions in the press didn’t seem to hurt the Storm’s initial sales, with the phone quickly selling out after its Dec. 12 release.

One U.S. reviewer even went as far as to describe Research in Motion’s first attempt at a touch screen interface as a “failed experiment.”

Some initial software glitches in the U.S. (Canada avoided these) led to mediocre user satisfaction ratings, according to a ChangeWave survey. For example, only one third of users were “very satisfied” with their experience on the Storm. Compare that to more than three-quarters of iPhone 3G users who were “very satisfied” with their new gadgets back in July.

In my view, though, the Storm doesn’t suck. I’ve been toying with a tester unit from Telus for almost a month now and I want to clear up a few misconceptions I often hear from friends about the phone.

Misconception #1: The keyboard is hard to type on

The keyboard is the deal maker or breaker for the BlackBerry Storm. Faithful RIM customers will be hard-pressed to give up their traditional QWERTY keyboards for a touch screen interface if they are heavy typists.

Many critics have panned the Storm’s keyboard for being too awkward and slow to use.

The clickable screen on the Storm is too slow to rebound after each press, an Engadget reviewer concludes. This reduces the normally fast typist to “pecking away” to write e-mails.

In my tests, I found the clickable screen adds value to the Storm’s keyboard, giving it a satisfying crunchiness that affirms a key has been pressed. When you hover your finger over a key, it is highlighted in blue so you know what you’re about to press.

The “screen rebound” effect can hardly be said to slow down typing. Don’t you normally release one key before going to touch another anyway? I sure do.

My typing rate on the Storm was much faster than that on the iPhone I reviewed in the summer. I credit the clickable screen for this difference – I don’t have to guess when a key has been pressed.

Still, it’s not as fast as typing with a hardware QWERTY keyboard.

Another advantage offered by the Storm is the ability to copy and paste text – this is not offered by the iPhone. Simply use two fingers to select the beginning and the end of the text you want to select, and then press the menu button to copy it.

Misconception #2: Absence of Wi-Fi is a critical flaw

It’s true, the BlackBerry Storm doesn’t have Wi-Fi networking capabilities.

Many have faulted RIM for omitting this feature. One blogger claims the absence of Wi-Fi will be “quite limiting to a lot of users.”

My feeling is that while Wi-Fi is a nice-to-have feature, it’s not a must-have. Especially with the 3G Storm already offering fast data speeds and carriers offering unlimited data plans.

Loading up Web pages on my device has been very quick, and I can’t image Wi-Fi access would make that much faster.

The one time Wi-Fi access might come in handy is when travelling. Roaming data charges can be outrageous and jumping on a Wi-Fi connection to avoid those would be great.

So Wi-Fi is a nice added feature, yes. But mostly, the user experience won’t be affected by its absence.

Misconception#3: The touch screen is hard to use

Some reviewers and users complained the touch screen wasn’t accurate when the Storm was first released in the U.S.

Complaints told of pressing the screen to highlight one icon, but then clicking the screen and then having something else selected instead. Others said the phone applications acted as if they had touch screen added as an afterthought, instead of being designed for touch.

I suspect some of these complaints might have arisen in the U.S. because the Storm was initially released there with an earlier version of the OS. Verizon pushed out an update that improved touch screen performance on Dec. 11, and Canadian handsets were sold with the newer software already installed.

Using that updated software, I can say the touch screen is just as accurate as any other phone I’ve used. There is a short learning curve with the clickable screen feature, but once you adapt to this, you’ll find you appreciate it.

The BlackBerry applications work well with touch interface. You may not be able to swipe your finger to scroll through message, but pressing a small arrow icon accomplishes the same thing.

Using Google Maps on the Storm is very similar to using it on the iPhone. You can glide around the map with your finger and it downloads the data as you go. It’s a smooth experience.

The one difference is the zoom-in method. On the iPhone, you zoom in by moving your two fingers inwards on the screen. On the Storm, you press a magnifying glass button in the lower left-hand corner. Both methods are just as good.

Also, you can now control the paddle in BrickBreaker with your finger!

Misconception #4: The screen takes too long to change orientation

U.S. users reported the screen would lag in changing orientation from portait to landscape mode or vise-versa when tilting the device on its side or upright. Some users reported the screen would be stuck in landscape mode when it came out of sleep mode.

ITBusiness.ca is seen in landscape mode…

…and in portrait mode.

Again, I suspect this problem was related to the U.S. Storm and its earlier OS version.

I had no problems with the screen orientation on my device. It doesn’t stick, and it re-orients less than one second after I move the device.

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