“In our Blackberry Storm 2 review, we find out if BlackBerry has improved upon the criticized first generation storm....”
- BlackBerry with a touchscreen
- Large, bright display
- WiFi connectivity
- Long battery life
- Pre-installed 16 GB microSD card included
- Annoying user interface
- Slow Web connection
- Below-average camera performance
- Poor voice quality at caller end
Yes, the BlackBerry Storm 2 is a vast improvement over the original BlackBerry Storm smartphone. However, that isn’t saying much because, as befitted its name, the latter handset was pretty much a disaster. Worth noting, though: The Storm 2 does have a capacitive touchscreen with software that mimics tactile resistance, unlike the clunky mechanical screen found on its predecessor. Inside, the cell phone also has more features and memory. But even if the Storm 2 steps its game up, so what? If you’re looking for a new Verizon wireless smartphone and your company doesn’t require you to own a BlackBerry, you’re much better off with one of the far superior Motorola Droid phones.
Inside the BlackBerry Storm 2 is a vast array of by-now-familiar BlackBerry and Verizon features such as the V CAST subscription video and music service (with Rhapsody) and Verizon Navigation, which you also have to pay for. (By comparison, on the Motorola Droid for Verizon Wireless you get Google Maps Navigation for free.)
A welcome addition to the Storm 2 is WiFi connectivity. The Storm 2 is also a dual-network world phone and comes with a SIM for GSM UMTS/HSPA 3G access outside the U.S.
Cosmetically though, the handset is nearly identical to the Storm 1, with a 480×320 3.25-inch capacitive SurePress touchscreen. It’s a heavy phone, weighing in at 5.64oz, and, like the Motorola Droid, has no physical control or navigation buttons, just four touch buttons – Send, Menu, Back and End – located along the bottom of the touchscreen.
The original BlackBerry Storm (Storm 1) had a clunky mechanical screen – when you pressed it, the entire screen toggled. Thankfully, manufacturer RIM has replaced this silly arrangement with a software-controlled touchscreen. Now it just feels as if the screen is moving behind your touch.
That said, however, touch presses on the new SurePress screen don’t feel as localized as haptic feedback, and the Storm 2’s screen still requires a firm push. First the selection lights in blue under a light touch, letting you know your firmer push will complete the touch transaction. But when navigating a tightly-packed menu or Web page, we often ended up accidentally activating an adjacent item. And, before realizing the wrong choice lit up, we’d often complete the SurePress push before we could stop ourselves. Worse, your violent pushes quickly smudge up the screen, resulting in an interface that’s messy and annoying in more ways than one.
Like most BlackBerrys, the volume toggle is located on the right spine of the phone, with the camera activation/shutter release button above it and the 3.5mm headphone jack found below. On the left side is the voice dialing/command control, located just above the microUSB power/sync jack. Up top/left is the on/off toggle opposite a handy mute button. On the back is housed the 3.2MP digital camera lens; the microSD slot, with a 16 GB card pre-installed, is found under the battery cover.
BlackBerry’s primary advantage over all Android smartphones is its Desktop Manager desktop client, which lets you easily sync PIM information and load photos, video and music. Better yet, the manager even enables you to load unprotected music files from iTunes. As for the Storm 2’s screen ratio, it’s an almost analog TV-like 4:3 rather than the widescreen 16:9 (and wider) models found on competing Motorola Droid phones. This squarer shape doesn’t work well for either widescreen videos, which get letterboxed, or Web pages – you get wider text lines, but shorter pages.
Sound and Call Quality
Voices come through crisp and clear, despite a bit of echo and hollowness. However, those we called from the phone ourselves made frequent requests for us to repeat ourselves – an unusual and odd sign since we’re loud talkers.
You get three touch keyboard choices – a Pearl-like keyboard and a multi-tap alphanumeric dial pad in portrait mode, or a full QWERTY in either portrait or landscape modes. Why anyone would choose anything but a full QWERTY option confuses us, but that’s besides the point. Typing on any of these selections takes a bit of getting used to – you have to press unusually hard to register a character or action, which slows down messaging. Worse, the main QWERTY keypad has only one punctuation mark – a period, which isn’t even necessary since a double space bar tap produces one. To get a comma, @, question mark, etc., you have to access the numeric keyboard – a pain in the rump. Additionally, once on the numeric keyboard, you can only press one character before the Storm snaps back to the alpha array. If you need to type a string of numbers, you have to press the key to access the numeric keyboard for each numeral, which we found unreasonably annoying.
Perhaps more distressingly still, even though the BlackBerry Storm 2 accesses Verizon’s usually speedy EV-DO Rev. A network, the Web is unusually sluggish to access. Mobile-optimized pages such as CNN and The New York Times take 5-6 seconds to load, nearly twice as long as on Droid handsets. Non-optimized pages take 25-30 seconds or more, depending on the amount of visual content featured, also loading slower than on a Droid, or most other of Verizon’s wireless smartphones. There’s no multi-touch browsing either – you have to use the soft zoom button to increase text size, which you’ll definitely need to do. Further slowing you down, you’ll also need to access and scroll down the pop-up menu to get to your bookmarks, instead of there being a soft menu option for this oft-used function.
Digital Camera Features
The BlackBerry Storm 2 has a below-average 3.2 MP camera (both Droid phones are equipped with above-average 5MP imagers). Color consistency varies from shot-to-shot and leans toward the green end of the spectrum. Details often are fuzzy, as if the camera has poorly interpolated the image. Indoor shots lack color and it’s difficult to keep the camera still enough to get a crisp shot as well.
Fortunately, you’ll be able to chat for hours – more than 6 during our hands-on evaluations, longer than the phone’s official total, which is set at 5.5 hours.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the BlackBerry Storm 2 is a good phone or a bad one – hint: per the above, it’s an average performer at best – because it will appeal only to a narrow, captive constituency: Verizon BlackBerry users who don’t mind using a touchscreen keyboard. If you’re not a BlackBerry user and even remotely choosy though, take a pass. The reality is that you’re far better off with one of the vastly superior Droid smartphones instead.
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