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The Storm - A Long Time Palm User Gets His First Blackberry

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Blackberry StormI waited in line Friday at the Verizon store in downtown DC. I arrived at 7:30, a half hour before opening, and already about 40 people were ahead of me. A few minutes later, the line was twice that size and stretched around the corner a half-block away. Reminded me of waiting for Pink Floyd tickets to go on sale. The Verizon folks were outside taking orders from people even before the doors opened, which was a real class move (as was the free coffee offered to us half-frozen prospective customers - though next time maybe come around when we're only 1/4 frozen).

Long-time (Palm) Tree Hugger Embraces the New Fruit

I had looked forward to this day for quite some time. My previous phone was a Palm OS Treo 650 (the first one with Bluetooth), which has been barely functional for the last 6 months considering half the keys don't work and the battery can supply only about five minutes of talk time (it now makes a great flashlight). I held out for the touchscreen in large part because of my Palm roots, which go back to the beginning with the Palm 5000. The Treo was my first non-Grafiti phone/PDA, and I never really took to the keyboard format, but at least the touch screen was still there. But my one non-negotiable requirement for my next device was smooth integration with Notes, and Blackberry was the obvious safe choice.

Overview

I'm slowly coming up to speed, but have already concluded that this device is much better for consuming content than creating. Reading emails and news off of mobile sites like mobile.washingtonpost.com on the larger screen is a treat. The AV features, including the "visual voicemail" all seem to work well. There are some definite "first release glitches" that manifest in the form of occasional delays in switching between applications and screen orientations. No outright crashes though.

No question the Storm is a "cool" device, and I like a lot of things about it, but I do have several concerns. Time will tell if I keep it though, especially since the other bit of news that broke last week was the release of Lotus Traveler for Symbian. Not too much time mind you since Verizon has a 30-day return policy.

Now for some specifics...

The Screen

As others have said, the screen is beautiful...as long as you never touch it with your greasy fingers. In fairness, the fingerprints are not a huge issue as long as you adjust the viewing angle to avoid reflections off the fingerprints from outside light sources. If you were watching a video, then you might feel the need to wipe the screen, but otherwise the display comes through well enough.

The "clickable" feature is a real winner when simply navigating around the device, since you essentially get a mouseover-type highlight of the button or link you're about to click before you click it. This is a big help in avoiding fat-finger misfires.

One concern I have about the screen is that gap around the edge. Presumably because the whole screen is considered one big button, it "floats" inside its frame much like a regular button is not physically attached to the phone's case. You can actually slide the screen side-to-side and up/down about 1mm or so, just like you might a key on your regular keyboard. Probably a non- issue in most cases but I have to think the Storm is marginally more vulnerable to dust or moisture than other devices where that big screen edge is sealed.

Typing

The clickable screen buttons are a mixed blessing when typing. While it's easier to ensure accuracy with the aforementioned key highlighting, typing fast will probably prove more tiresome than on a physical Blackberry keyboard, given the force required to actually press down. Another problem with the QWERTY layout on the Storm is that the width of the phone makes it hard to reach keys in the middle, so I find I need to tilt the phone a bit to put those keys within reach of one thumb or the other. Maybe I need to hold the phone differently, with my thumbs coming up from the bottom instead of in from the sides, but in any case, I wasn't a good Blackberry typist to begin with, so keep that in mind.

Typing into web *forms* in landscape with the QWERTY keyboard sucks big time, since the keyboard swallows 60% of the screen. For example, you can't see both a username and password field on the screen at the same time. And unless your username is a real word, the Suretype keyboard available in portrait mode will choke trying to figure out your intent. A sidekick-style flip out keyboard would be very helpful here.

Typing email in landscape is a bit better - certainly passable for viewing what you are typing. Setting the screen real estate issues aside, the full keyboard seems better than the iPhone for accuracy since you see the key highlighted *before* you "click it", but I doubt hardcore blackberry typists will enjoy the experience.

So will I keep it?

I may or may not keep it, since hooking it up to Prominic's BES won't be cheap ($150 setup + $360/year) and I may decide to spend the extra $$ on a Symbian phone and use Lotus Traveler (not considering a Windows mobile device).  Then there are the extra Blackberry charges from Verizon too.  With all that a $450 Nokia E71 or even an $800 Nokia N96 start to look like real bargains (though neither has a touch screen). You also have to consider data connectivity issues like Wi-Fi (Storm doesn't have it, E71 does). I could for example get the E71 as my phone, email, data connectivity portal and then connect an iPod touch or another media-centric device through it via Wi-Fi.

What about you?

Do any of you American colleagues have a Symbian device? Has anyone anywhere started using Traveler for Symbian? I think some good write-ups on how the experience compares to Blackberry would be very popular and helpful, so please share!

Comments

1 - My (company paid) Storm arrives sometime over the next few business days. It's a risk. I've got a Curve at present on AT&T ...and it was great in Europe (not that we travel that much, really).

I used to have Palm devices and LOVED graffiti. But I've had BB for a couple of years and the qwerty kybd has been quite nice.

The cost isn't a factor for me, but I am most curious about reaching the keys (since my hands are smaller than most little girls' hands, so if you have a problem reaching the keys, that will be an issue I'll be watching).

I've gotten addicted to having Notes mail/calendar/journal on the BB, along with browser access, Google mail/news/reader/etc, TinyTwitter, and um ...oh yeah... regular phone.

We shall see what the next week or so brings! Thanks for posting this review.
- Joe Emoticon

2 - Thanks for the posting. I had a Treo for a long time, and I miss the touch screen with my Blackberry Curve. I went to a store and they were sold out on Friday, so I ordered online.

How is browsing on the 3G network?

3 - @2 - Browsing is pretty slow on sites that are not optimized for mobile. Lots of progress bars. I'm still fiddling with browser settings such as javascript enablement (it was off by default but I turned it on). It's just fine when browsing simple mobile-optimized newssites like nytimes.com.

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