Today is the day, the BlackBerry Storm2 is finally here. We received this device a few days ago and I have put it to the test since. As the name implies, the Storm2 is the upgrade to the Storm, which was RIM’s first touch-screen device. Although the model shares a similar design and form factor, it resolves many of the issues the previous version faced. The BlackBerry Storm2 now features a new clickable capacitive touch screen, runs on the new 5.0 OS, is more responsive, and even has WiFi.
BlackBerry Storm2 Specifications:
- Provider: Verizon Wireless UMTS/HSPA & EDGE/GPRS/GSM
- Displays: SurePress 3.25-inch 360×480 pixels touch screen
- Camera: 3.2 Megapixel Camera w/ Auto-focus & Flash
- Music: MP3, M4A, WMA, & AAC/eAAC/eAAC+
- Video: MPEG4, WMV, H.264
- Memory: 2GB (internal) | 16GB microSD included
- Dimensions: 4.43″ L x 2.45″ W x .55″ D
- Battery: GSM: 5-6 hours talk time | 270-305 hours standby
- Other: Bluetooth 2.1 | 3.5 mm Audio Jack | Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g
The Body: 5/5
The Storm2 is a bit of a heavy phone just like the original Storm, but there are plenty of changes that make it fantastic. For one it simply just looks sharp and feels like an expensive device. The front is completely glossy, the sides are covered with a chrome trim, and the back has a brushed metal look. Instead of having separated physical buttons for the send, menu, back, and end keys, they are all integrated onto the bottom of the SurePress touch screen. The speaker is now located on the bottom portion facing the user for undistorted quality instead of on the back. The voice command key and the micro USB port are on the left side of the phone. From the top to the bottom on the right side, there’s the 3.5mm headphone jack, volume rocker, and the camera shutter. The top of the back side has the 3.2 mega pixel camera and a LED flash right above the plate covering the battery pack, SIM card, and microSD card. The play/pause control and power button that also locks the phone is on the top. Everything is within fingers reach and the grip feels great.
The Display: 5/5 stars
The original BlackBerry Storm had plenty of issues with the touch screen. For one it was too hard to press and was too slow to type on. The Storm2 features a new SurePress display that supports multi-touch and multi-clicks. The display is much more responsive and feels better. When browsing through applications or typing on a keyboard, you can lay your finger on the screen without worrying about it accepting that as a click. It will simply highlight the item your finger is on until you physically press the display. If you’ve used any other touch screen display such as the iPhone before, this is a very different feel. Although it takes some getting used to, it brings back a bit more of the feel a traditional QWERTY keyboard offered. The accelerometer has also been vastly improved and the display can quickly switch between landscape and portrait for anything including the keyboard. For everything from the home screen, text, images, or videos, the display has excellent colors, is bright, and crisp. Although slightly more difficult to use in direct sunlight, it looks stunning indoors.
The Keyboard: 4/5 stars
Moving on, since the Storm2 doesn’t have a physical keyboard, it offers multiple types of virtual ones. The simplest one is the QWERTY mode that works in both landscape and portrait. It’s a bit too crammed when in portrait, but is the landscape version is the best way to type. The MultiTap method most resembles typing on numeric keypads on old flip phones. It’s slow and tedious, but still works. The most interesting mode is an improved version of SureType which was also present on the original Storm. It pairs two letters on a single key in the portrait view. Without having to double-click to access the second letter, it second guesses the word you are trying to type. And it impressively actually worked most of the time. There’s almost no lag in between key presses and it appearing on the display. I only wish they made the keys for the QWERTY landscape a bit larger since there is some extra screen estate available. Typing isn’t slow either since it can accept two inputs at almost the same time. The original Storm had a delay, since you would have to wait for the screen to pop back up after a click. Plus with an improved auto-correct feature, it’s faster to type as it fixes typos for you. The default dictionary learns new words and names quite quickly. Plus there are plenty of custom settings to adjust tap interval, hover period, and swipe sensitivity to meet your needs. Even though it lacks a real physical keyboard, the Storm2 manages to make typing easy, fast, and even fun.
Operating System & Interface: 4/5 stars
The Storm2 runs on the BlackBerry 5.0 OS. It’s a big improvement over 4.7. For one it’s much snappier and has faster animations and transitions. It’s interface is user-friendly and even looks good. The home screen is completely customizable from choosing backgrounds, to rearranging icons, or even creating folders for group applications. And as with any BlackBerry, you can customize font size, color, and type. The OS also supports multitasking unlike the Apple iPhone and lets you easily switch between running applications by simply holding down the menu button until an Windows-esque ALT-TAB menu appears. The OS is also more open to 3rd party applications than the iPhone. Storm2 owners will be able to fetch new applications from Verizon’s Application Center, through BlackBerry App World, or download one from a web page in the Browser. App World has a great interface and large selection of both free and paid applications. The phone comes pre-loaded with chat clients, social networking programs, and a few others tools. Plus with 256MB of RAM, double of that on the original Storm, everything is faster and more things can be running at once. The only issue I found was with the Web Browser. Despite a fast network and WiFi, it is still slow when it comes to rendering pages. It lacks a tabbed interface and still has issues displaying pages properly. It also lags quite a bit when zooming in or out. And when it comes to applications, there are plenty of good ones available, but many standard BlackBerry apps don’t run so well on the Storm2 since they aren’t designed for a touch screen display. Rather than those issues, the rest of interface and OS has been vastly improved.
Call Quality & Features: 5/5 stars
I don’t think this phone could do any better when it comes to making or receiving calls. The reception was beyond excellent. Call quality was crisp and clear on both ends. And that’s great since the phone aspect is the most important part of this smartphone. I had no dropped calls either. After pressing the send button to launch the phone application, the dialpad appears. It looks elegant and has large keys, making it easy to dial numbers quickly. Getting to either the call history or contacts page is only one click away. The phone even helps “guess” the number while you are typing by cross referencing your address book. During a call, there’s a menu with keys for the speaker, mute, flash, and “add participant” button. The phone also has a proximity sensor which turns off the display when it’s held up to your ear during a call to save battery life and prevent accidental key presses. The voice-dial function has its own dedicated hard key and recognizes names quite accurately even amongst a couple hundred contacts. The Storm2’s new OS also allows accessing other components of the phone during a call including your calendar, email, and browser making life a lot easier.
Multimedia: 5/5 stars
The Storm2 still isn’t as great of a media player compared to other devices such as the iPhone, but it’s a step closer. It has 2GB of on-board memory and a 16GB microSD is included for extra storage. I was able to sync my phone using the included microUSB cable with both Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.04 easily. I was able to quickly drop media onto the card and the Storm2 automatically detected and indexed everything immediately. It even played back HD shows that was recored in Media Center 7 after being automatically converted to a compatible format by Windows Media Player. The last phone I reviewed, the Samsung Rouge, had horrible speakers, but the ones on the Storm2 exceeded my expectations. There was barely any distortion even with the volume turned all the way up. The phone allows browsing music by artists, albums, or genres. It even displayed the album artwork that was embedded into my MP3s perfectly. I was also thankful to find that my music could be used as ringtones, which even the iPhone doesn’t allow without going through some roundabouts. Video quality was also excellent, it didn’t jitter or lag as some other phones do. If OpenGL gets thrown into a new OS update in the future, it will make media playback, animations, and transitions much smoother.
3G & WiFi: 5/5 stars
The BlackBerry Storm2 makes excellent use of Verizon’s 3G network. I found it to have faster network speeds and it better signal strength just about everywhere I went compared to the AT&T iPhone another Skatter Tech writer had. Emails, Chat Messages, and other notifications were almost instant. And plus with WiFi thrown in, things get even faster. The WiFi setup is simple and even allows those push button pin setups some new routers support. It’s compatible with the latest WPA2 encryption and corporate security protocols too. I don’t know why RIM hadn’t spent the time to integrate this in the original Storm because there’s no question that WiFi is an essential part of this phone.
Camera & Camcorder: 5/5 stars
The 3.2 megapixel camera takes great pictures up to a max resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. The phone has a built in LED Flash, auto focus, and image stabilization. With those three features, images looks wonderful. It still shows signs of “graininess” in low light situations, but that’s expected for a device with a small lens. The camera application now loads up in under 2 seconds and can switch from landscape to portrait almost instantly. It’s a vast improvement over the original Storm. The phone also uses the GPS module to Geotag where images are shot. Importing them into programs such as Google Picasa or Apple iPhoto can arrange them on a world map appropriately. There are no image editing capabilities built in by default, but I’m sure some Apps are available for that purpose. Plus with a large 16GB microSD card, I can take plenty of images and record videos only limited by free space at a 480 x 352 pixel resolution. It even allows turning the flash into a flashlight to record video in the dark. There are effects such as black and white, sepia, and a few others included for both images and video recording. To top that off, the phone even supports uploading high resolution images to webs services such as Flickr or Facebook.
Email & Messaging: 4.5/5 stars
After the phone component, email and messaging are probably the second most important aspect of a BlackBerry. And the Storm2 handles that quite well. There are pre-configured settings for services such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Live Mail included. If you have your own corporate email, there’s even a wizard to walk you through the setup process. If you’ve used a service like Facebook, you know about the news feed. The BlackBerry 5.0 OS has it’s own news feed for everything that’s happening on the phone. This includes everything from missed calls, emails, instant messages, and even Facebook alerts to appear in one centralized location. The only data it didn’t include in the stream for some odd reason is SMS and MMS. There’s even a centralized way to compose a message. And as I mentioned before typing takes some getting used to, but becomes fast. The Storm2 is truly a powerful messaging device and will definitely meet or surpass your needs.
This is hands down the best phone I’ve ever had. Sure there are plenty of other device such as the Apple iPhone that claim to be the god of smartphones. Even so, the iPhone lacks many business features that the Storm2 offers including a powerful search, a robust email client, security features of all sorts, and finally the freedom to use any application you wish. Plus the Storm2 comes with the Verizon Wireless network that has the best overall coverage in the nation. The phone can make calls in another 220 countries and even has data access in 185 of those. There’s no question that this is one of RIM’s best BlackBerries to date. It’s a night and day difference compared to the software and hardware problems customers faced with the original Storm. I will definitely be disappointed to let go of this phone once this review gets published. If you are a business customer and also want to get in on the touch screen action while not loosing any of the enterprise and corporate features the BlackBerry offers, the Storm2 is for you. Plus with the unique SurePress screen technology, it’s something to show off. And even if you are a college student, it’s got plenty of entertainment features including a great media player, social networking, powerful texting platform, instant messaging, and even a web browser. If you need a new phone the BlackBerry Storm2 is available as of today for $179.99 with a new 2-year contract. If you are an existing customer eligible for upgrade, you should be entitled to another $50 or $100 discount based of your current calling plan.