Will Blackberry Storm blow away the iPhone?

Research in Motion has finally announced details about its iPhone competitor, an almost-all-touch-interface 3G handset with a twist: The screen itself is a big hardware button.
The BlackBerry Storm dispenses with the iconic BlackBerry hardware keyboard in favour of a touch interface.

On Wednesday, Vancouver-based Telus Corp. announced that it would be the first carrier to offer Storm in Canada later this year on its 3G network – “just in time for the holiday shopping season.” 

The ability to mechanically click the entire screen (RIM calls the feature Click-Through technology) is the centerpiece of the BlackBerry Storm’s touch interface.

As with the iPhone, you can scroll and select by dragging and tapping with your fingertip. But to initiate action, instead of double-tapping, you confirm a selection by physically depressing or clicking the screen.

Four hardware buttons at the bottom offer additional–and traditional–BlackBerry and phone navigation aids: Red and green phone buttons for accessing phone features and ending calls, a button with the BlackBerry icon for accessing menus, and a return button.

Due for the Holidays

The Storm should be available from Telus “just in time” for the holidays, said a company brief – but didn’t specify a date or price.  
Storm supports both assisted and standard GPS (assisted GPS works with the cellular network to speed up location fixes) and Bluetooth. (However, unlike the iPhone, it does not support Wi-Fi.)

While the smart phone dispenses with RIM’s signature QWERTY hardware keyboard in favour of a capacitive touch-screen interface, it’s clearly no iPhone clone. RIM’s device is both shorter (4.4 inches versus the iPhone’s 4.5 inches) and thicker (0.55 inch versus the iPhone’s 0.48 inches) than Apple’s; the touch screen is also somewhat smaller (the iPhone’s is 3.5 inches, while the Storm’s is 3.25 inches).

Nevertheless, the display’s 360-by-480 resolution looks pretty sharp at that size.
Also making a good first impression is the 3.2-megapixel camera with autoflash, autofocus, 2X digital zoom, and video-capture support.

The Storm weighs around 156 gms (versus the iPhone’s 133 gms), perhaps because it carries radios for both major cellular networks.

Industry observers say it supports even more countries than the carrier’s last world BlackBerry, the BlackBerry 8830, because this model has quad-band EDGE (versus the 8830’s two-band). Note, however, that the Storm supports only the fastest GSM networks (UMTS/HSDPA) on the 2100-MHz band.

The BlackBerry Storm has a built-in accelerometer that senses whether you’re holding it in portrait or landscape mode, and adjusts the interface accordingly.

The Storm has 1GB of internal storage, but it also has a MicroSD slot and will ship with an 8GB MicroSD card.

Also present: a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and a second external mic (on the back, in addition to the one for voice on the front) that picks up ambient noise data for the built-in noise reduction technology, which in theory should improve voice call quality.

But the Storm’s most interesting and potentially controversial innovation is RIM’s implementation of a touch interface, especially for typing.

The Storm provides three different software keyboards: When you’re holding it in landscape orientation and you need to enter text, a standard QWERTY software keyboard appears; the keys flash blue when you depress them.

In portrait mode, you have a choice: You can have a software keyboard that looks like the one on the Pearl (20 keys, some with one character, others with two) and that supports RIM’s SureType predictive text entry system.

Or you can opt for a standard phone keypad (although why you’d want to enter text by multiple letter taps is beyond me).

Only time and hands-on testing will tell whether the Click-Through technology will make text entry and navigation easier (for example, by helping to avoid inadvertent finger taps) or more confusing (the device has a number of tap-and-click shortcuts that take some getting used to).

Visual Voicemail and More

The Storm’s phone-related features include so-called visual voicemail. As on the iPhone, this allows you to peruse a list of incoming calls (identified by caller ID number or, if the number is in your address book, by name) and address them in whatever order you wish.

Like all BlackBerry devices, the Storm will have BlackBerry’s first-rate e-mail features, including support for just about all corporate e-mail systems via the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.  

There’s no universal IM client for the Storm, so if your buddies patronize different services you’ll have to run all of them in the background.

The Storm will support at least limited functionality for most older BlackBerry applications. But at launch, RIM says it will offer a developer’s kit that will make it easier to adapt existing BlackBerry apps for the Storm–for example, optimizing them to take advantage of the touch screen, the accelerometer, or both.

Visitors to www.telusmobility.com/storm can register to learn more about the BlackBerry Storm and Telus applications that will be launching with it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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