Stormy weather

As I write, the BlackBerry Storm has yet to hit the streets, and PC Pro hasn’t done an official review (though you can read all about it in our smartphones Labs – Ed). I managed a quick fiddle with one recently, while having a beer or three with a software developer friend: it’s hardly “real world” to write about it after a ten-minute session, but so many of you have emailed asking about Storm that I feel obliged to bend the rules and give my initial reaction.

Stormy weather

First off, it’s about the same size as an iPhone, but noticeably heavier: where the iPhone sits in my shirt pocket almost unnoticed, the Storm felt a little more of a “lump”. Like the iPhone it feels well put together, with no creaking plastic as is evident on certain BlackBerrys. I’d almost declare it a return to the BlackBerry build quality of old. Its screen is clear, and the much-discussed ClickThrough (the whole screen depresses when you push) works pretty well.

I was disappointed to find that its default onscreen keyboard uses SureType with two letters per virtual key when in portrait orientation, but rotating it through 90 degrees gives you a proper Qwerty keyboard in landscape. SureType is better than the T9 multitap you find with numeric keypads, but it doesn’t have the accuracy or speed of proper Qwerty. Is the Storm’s virtual keyboard as good as physical buttons? No. Is it more accurate than the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard? Yes, considerably so. I don’t know why, but that screen click really makes a difference and permits far more accurate typing.

The Storm I tried was an early engineering sample and touchscreen manufacturer Synaptics hadn’t yet incorporated multitouch capabilities into its firmware – I’m told that on the shipping version, you’ll be able to hold two fingers at the beginning and end of a sentence to highlight the whole thing ready for cut or copy. (At this point, I can sense iPhone users turning a shade of Apple green.) A quick play with the web browser suggests that it’s built on the browser found in the Bold, both faster (even on an early sample) and better than the browser in previous BlackBerrys. I’m not convinced it’s as good as the excellent iPhone browser, but the gap is closing.

The initial version of Storm is exclusively tied to Vodafone/Verizon worldwide, and this model won’t have Wi-Fi – which I find a real shame, but apparently was a Vodafone stipulation. That’s odd because Vodafone has certainly sold other Wi-Fi- enabled phones, but it may not be a problem for long as I was told “similar-ish” devices would almost certainly appear for other networks within a few months, and that some would include Wi-Fi. Let’s hope so.

Right now I find myself carrying two phones: for voice calls and emails it’s my trusty BlackBerry Curve (mainly because I love its form factor), but for web surfing, streaming media, Google maps, games and listening to music I reach for my iPhone. At some point, I’ll want to rationalise this arrangement around a single device, and perhaps it will be BlackBerry’s Storm (or some future sibling) that allows me to do that. Or maybe it will be some Windows Mobile 7 (or even 6.5) device, or maybe Apple will release an iPhone with a better keyboard. Watch this space!

Dreams of electric sheep

Speaking of new devices, there’s a lot of hype surrounding Google’s new Android smartphone operating system. You’ve probably read elsewhere that the first Android phone is the G1 supplied exclusively by T-Mobile. I’ve had a quick play with it and while it isn’t bad, I wasn’t particularly impressed with its slider keyboard, finding it quite hard to type on. I much prefer the keyboard on devices such as HTC’s Kaiser aka TyTN II. But that’s just the hardware. The operating system itself is very slick and pretty responsive, so it’s a shame there aren’t any alternative phones to try it on.

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