BlackBerry Storm Doesn't Blow Away Reviewers

Major critics come down hard on the Research in Motion's latest challenger to the iPhone's throne.
Posted December 7, 2008

Judy Mottl

BlackBerry Storm
BlackBerry Storm
Source: RIM. Click to enlarge.
The BlackBerry Storm 9730 offers 3G capability, lots of memory and a snazzy two touch-screen experience along with the familiar secure messaging platform.

But in the wake of the Storm's Nov. 21 debut, it's what Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) latest smartphone seems to miss that has critics offering less-than-kind comments.

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue tags the Storm as the "BlackBerry Dud", and is a bit miffed over the missing traditional QWERTY keyboard.

"It's like an iPod without a scroll wheel. A Prius with terrible mileage. Cracker Jack without a prize inside," Pogue seethed in his review last week.

Joshua Topolsky, the editor-in-chief at popular tech blog Engadget, noted two key features of the Storm's touchscreen -- that it offers iPhone-like "hovering" over icons, and a unique ability to providing a tactile "clicking" sensation while typing. But ultimately, Topolsky was disappointed by how both features performed.

"The Storm's screen certainly provides those two things in spades, but our question is whether or not they actually improve the experience of using this sort of device -- and in our opinion, they do not," he wrote.

Only the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg seems to be semi-enamored by RIM's latest competitor to the Apple iPhone.

"Overall, the Storm is a very capable handheld computer that will appeal to BlackBerry users who have been pining for a touch-controlled device with a larger screen," Mossberg wrote. "Despite its lack of a keyboard, the Storm is a real BlackBerry in every other respect."

The Storm reviews arrive at a critical time for RIM and its exclusive carrier, Verizon Wireless, with the holiday shopping season now in full swing. RIM is also intent on advancing its enterprise market share while grabbing greater traction in the consumer arena, where the iPhone has made major inroads in the year since its introduction -- a hold on the market that it solidified with the debut of the iPhone 3G in July.

Like the iPhone 3G, which is sold by exclusively by AT&T, the BlackBerry Storm sells for $199 with a two-year data plan commitment.

Industry experts view the Storm as the closest that RIM has come to providing a singleenterprise and consumer smartphone -- what professionals and soccer moms want in a mobile device these days.

The Storm, compatible with enterprises' BlackBerry servers, offers e-mail integration, security and management features. Features aimed at the consumer user include a sleek, iPhone-like design, and a touchscreen -- dubbed SurePress -- in place of the traditional QWERTY keyboard. The on-screen, tactile keyboard is designed to simulate the "clicking" experience of pushing BlackBerry keys. Just like iPhone users, Storm owners can use a fingertip to sweep screens and tap between applications.

Because of its similar look and design, many analysts have viewed Storm as the current top iPhone competitor.

Yet while tech reviewers have since criticized features like the click-enabled touchscreen, they're the same features that industry analysts have cited as the Storm's major strengths.

"If embraced by users, this typing aspect, combined with push email and server integration [traditional BlackBerry enterprise features], could make Storm the first touchscreen smartphone truly usable for composing and sending frequent e-mail, leveraging a RIM hallmark as it enters the consumer market," RBC analyst Mike Abramsky wrote in a recent research report.

But don't try to sell that story to Pogue anytime soon.

The Times columnist wrote that putting a touchscreen BlackBerry out in the market was the first mistake that RIM made with the Storm.

"In its zeal to cash in on some of that iPhone touchscreen mania, RIM has created a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard ... and hoped to soften the blow by endowing its touchscreen with something extra: clickiness," he wrote.

The problem is inconsistent and confusing design, he told readers, noting that while a light touch highlights a key on the on-screen keyboard, the motion doesn't type anything.

"It accomplishes nothing -- a wasted software-design opportunity. Only by clicking fully do you produce a typed letter," he said, adding "It’s too much work, like using a manual typewriter. "

"In principle, you could design a brilliant operating system where the two kinds of taps do two different things. Tap lightly to type a letter -- click fully to get a pop-up menu of accented characters," he suggested.

Pogue also criticized RIM for not taking further advantage of the possibilities offered by an onscreen keyboard. For instance, he noted that there's no ability to switch languages within a sentence or an automatic insertion of quick text items like ".com" when entering a Web URL.

"Incredibly, the Storm even muffs simple navigation tasks," Pogue wrote, explaining that commands on menus are too close for easy navigation, which leads users to clicking on wrong items.

"Trying to navigate this thing isn’t just an exercise in frustration — it’s a marathon of frustration," he said, adding that he "hasn't found a soul who tried this machine who wasn’t appalled, baffled or both."

And that's just Pogue's diatribe on the combined keyboard and touchscreen. The fact that the Storm doesn't provide Wi-Fi connectivity, though RIM's wholly consumer-oriented BlackBerry Bold does, is baffling to Pogue and other critics, as well.

RIM and Verizon Wireless did not respond by press time to inquiries on why the device does not have Wi-Fi -- a feature also offered in the iPhone, the Android-powered T-Mobile G1 and an increasing number of competing mobile phones.

It's Mossberg who appears most disappointed about the missing feature, calling it a "glaring deficit."

"This means that, unlike on the Bold, the iPhone or the Google G1, if high-speed data service is absent or pokey, you can't fall back on speedy Wi-Fi connections in public places," he noted.

This article was first published on

Tags: wireless, Blackberry, iPhone, Verizon, RIM

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