Few products get the pre-hype associated with the Blackberry Storm – the first touch screen smartphone from Canada’s RIM. The phone is similar to the iPhone in many ways and is designed to keep customers from defecting to the competing Apple device dubbed Jesus phone by some. In my humble estimation, there are millions of people in the US who would buy the iPhone if it worked on the Verizon network.
With the advent of the Storm, RIM and Verizon came together to offer what they hope is the equivalent of the iPhone but with the benefit of the Verizon Wireless network.
To determine how good this device is in the real world, I spent a good deal of time in a Verizon store and made camp near the single Blackberry Storm which the company had on display in the corner of the store in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
My wife is due for a new phone and thought for sure she would pick up a Storm. In fact she went into the store ready to buy it. I told her to test it first and after she did, she realized it was confusing to operate and typing on the device is not easy to do. I picked up the device myself and tried it and also found it difficult to type on.
She decided to pass (for now) and may buy a different Blackberry model instead.
I also had the opportunity to interview a number of other people about what they thought about the phone and the result was always the same. Slow, difficult to use and typing didn’t work very well. The device even locked up a few times. I didn’t see anyone who used the phone actually buy one.
But the phone is not all bad. In fact, what I did like about the screen was its ability to have true tactile feedback – the screen simulates clicking extremely well. It is just many people, including myself could not get the right keys to press – even after repeated attempts. On a positive note, a plus for the device is the back button, which allows you to quickly find the last screen you were on. But the increased number of options you can click on leads to problems. I found this out myself as I repeatedly and seemingly without reason, kept getting the clock to appear.
We all know the real claim to fame of this device is the speed of the network and believe me, Verizon EVDO can be blazingly fast and the HTC Verizon-based XV6800 runs circles around the AT&T-based iPhone in sheer download speed. This is why I was disappointed to see that the Storm is a slow browsing device. I found the iPhone is actually 20-70% faster when pulling up pages on TMCnet and other graphically rich websites. What this tells me is there is a rendering problem in the Storm and perhaps the processor is underpowered.
In addition, the browsing experience on the Storm is not intuitive. Using the device is not as pleasant as an iPhone.
To be fair, the Storm has glitches which could be solved with software upgrades and it goes without saying that software updates may correct some or all of these problems. The iPhone too needed updates and in fact this past Friday the 2.2 iPhone firmware update turned on push email and other features such as a more stable browser and the addition of street view while using Google maps.
If you have to choose between the iPhone and the Storm at this point, the iPhone gets a 9 and the Storm gets a 6.5. The benefits of the faster network and great touch-screen feedback technology are more or less erased by painfully slow rendering and a clunky user-unfriendly interface. Still, due to the network, the Storm will work in perhaps 10-20% more places than the iPhone and it is possible the usability of the device is not as big an issue if you use the gadget daily and get used to it. Then there is the application factor – there are just so many more of them on the iPhone than other devices.
So this version of the Storm is a category one at best and over time it is possible for it to get better. For now though, I just can’t recommend this device. I really want to and more importantly I would like to have a solid touch-screen device myself which works on the Verizon Wireless network. Hopefully, over time, the Storm will create real competition and make Apple brace for cover.
From time to time I invest in companies in the industry and as of this writing I am long Apple call options (betting Apple will go higher).