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BlackBerry Storm panned.

Team RIM has got to be a little disappointed this morning.  After the months of hype, the first reviews of BlackBerry Storm are arriving, and they’re not pretty.  The SureTouch clickable touchscreen keyboard is getting panned, the browser dismissed, and the experience labelled “Bold with a touch screen”.  Not the iPhone killer they had hoped for, it would seem.

Neither Engadget nor Boy Genius Report gave a thumbs up to the device, both opining that for casual users the complexity would be a turn off, and for power users the features come up short.  Boy Genius Report advises folks planning to switch to play with one in the store before making the decision, and Engadget simply says “it feels undercooked — and that’s not enough for us.”

Can anyone recall seeing a BlackBerry release this badly panned before?  I certainly can’t.

Excerpts follow:

Engadget on the keyboard:

The slant from RIM’s PR on the Storm is that the new clickable touchscreen delivers another high caliber typist’s dream to their roster — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than the click making things easier, it actually makes them more difficult. As you press down to engage a “key,” you’re required to release before moving to another, which means that you can only type so quickly. In our tests, we were constantly frustrated by the staggering, laggy movement when trying to type with any speed. You have to let the click depress before you can strike another character, and that makes for a stuttery input process. Additionally, hovering over characters is represented by a blue glow, which looks nice when moving around, but in practice doesn’t do a very good job of letting you know what key you’re touching. We had spelling errors aplenty. All of this would be helped greatly by an intelligent software component that guessed what you meant to type — much like the iPhone’s predictive element. Unfortunately, what RIM provides is more of a glorified T9, which means if you type “fo,” it doesn’t know you meant to type “do.” Ultimately we found ourselves slowly and carefully pecking out messages that should have taken less time to put together, clicking screen or not.

Boy Genius Report on the keyboard:

This is going to be a hate or love it experience again, and we really aren’t feeling it since we’re power users. We would have loved a straight capacitive screen here. The button presses get tiring after you type a lot and we find that we just want to type less in general than we do on our Bolds and Curves. (I’m not going to out the one lone writer here at BGR who still has a Curve.) Here’s the issue… if you’re in SureType mode it’s not that bad, but when you switch to landscape mode, your finger covers up the letters and blue halo does little to reassure you what letter you’ve selected. The other issue is the actual hardware. I took apart the unit and found that there is one button in the middle of the screen which explains why it is so damn hard to press the screen on the edges. If you need to type an “a” key or “z” key or even select a menu option that’s on the edge of the screen, you will have to press very, very hard. This makes it really a chore to use sometimes.

The auto-correction on here is a total joke and barely works for anything we’re trying to type, and you just can’t type fast. Your typing speed is hardware-limited.

Engadget on the browser:

Thankfully the browser has been considerably updated. If you have any experience with RIM’s last attempt at mobile browsers (the Bold), then you know what manna from heaven any fixes would be. 4.6’s browser is, in a word, unusable. Load times are painful, rendering is only sometimes accurate, and mostly it’s just a tortuous mess to get around in. We can honestly say that the Storm’s implementation is leaps and bounds beyond what the company has previously offered. Pages load quickly and are generally formatted correctly, navigation is much snappier (zooms don’t take hours to redraw), and scrolling is tolerable, if not as buttery smooth as we prefer. And ultimately, that’s a point that must be made — while the browser is much better than earlier versions, and is an admirable attempt, it’s still a bit behind Mobile Safari and the G1’s Webkit-based “Chrome light,” lacking support for more advanced features like multiple tabs. Why RIM doesn’t build something from scratch (or buy a license from Opera) is a question for the ages — we can’t imagine anyone has any real affection for this experience. Still, for casual tasks and most browsing, you could certainly do worse, and it’s nice to know that a lot of energy went into this update.

Boy Genius Report on the browser:

We’re sorry, WebKit, what? There’s no way in hell this thing is based on WebKit (contrary to rumors from a little while ago) because honestly, it’s the same exact browser that’s on the Bold. Problems loading large pages, death by JavaScript, and so on. Now, the browser isn’t terrible and if you are keeping score, it’s the best browser RIM has ever offered. We just don’t think that’s enough in this day and age, especially when you are trying to go head-to-head with you-know-what. It’s true. Can the browser get you by? Sure. Is it something you want to use? Not so much.

One of the main gripes with the browser is navigation. In most applications there are scroll up and scroll down keys at the bottom of the screen. This is completely necessary in the browser and it’s not available here. What makes matters worse is that like we mentioned, scrolling stops when your finger stops. If you have to scroll down an entire decently-sized webpage, you might need to check yourself an appointment with a BlackBerry thumb / finger therapist because it’s tiring! An easy trick is to flick up the on screen keyboard and use the space key to page down, but what’s the fun in that? We want real scrolling on here.

Boy Genius Report on the UI:

There have definitely been some problems with the UI of the Storm, for us at least. We can’t help but feel like it was designed for three year-olds with tiny fingers. There’s been so many occasions where you think you are hitting the right selection but your touch registers the option below it. This makes it difficult to get things done sometimes because SurePress is effectively rendered useless in those situations. For instance, you want to hit Screen/Keyboard in options, yet it hits Security Options instead. Sure, you can slowly get the right selection down and then press in the screen. But if you’re in a hurry and just want to quickly browse, you should be prepared for some erroneous touch events.

Boy Genius Report on the Application Center:

Let’s get negative for a second. The Application Center is probably the stupidest thing we’ve ever seen attempted by RIM. It honestly is. First off, it’s carrier-driven, meaning you can kiss all those applications that matter good bye. That’s not the worst part, though. The kicker is that while it shows a list of applications to install, and show you when upgrades are available, you still have to go in the browser to download them! And we’re not talking like, launch the browser, click one button. We’re talking about accepting RIM’s nutjob three pages of terms and conditions! Absolutely a complete failure and not even worth the effort. Just hit up mobile.blackberry.com and save yourself the trouble. Really, really disappointing.

Boy Genius Report on the OS:

We’ve said this along, and it’s true. The Storm is a Bold with a touch screen. That’s not necessarily bad, but it doesn’t bode well for RIM who really needs to step their OS up with so many new competitors. The iPhone is popular for a reason. Yes, it’s an Apple product. But getting beyond that, there’s a complete almost desktop-class OS on there that has limitless possibilities. From the networking stack, to the SDK, to the UI, to Safari, they’ve got a pretty serious thing going on. 4.7 is 4.6 is 4.5 is 4.2 more or less. The fundamentals are the same, and the way the OS works is the same. It’s great if you love the default applications and have no complaints, but until RIM really steps the OS up and gives developers the right APIs they need to access you’re not going to see any good 3rd party applications. Yeah, we said it! It’s a pretty bad thing when all the developers that want to develop great applications (SlingMedia, Qik, Skyfire) all need RIM’s assistance because they can’t develop anything on their own.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Jim Courtney November 20, 2008, 10:16 am

    Alec … maybe you should link to some other reviews that give another story.

    For instance, James Kendrick has provided a very positive review at JKOnTheRun; this includes an actual video of using the keyboard. And it’s also worthwhile to have a look at what they are saying in several posts at crackberry.com (which probably is not as independent as JKOnTheRun give their store but their publisher also has an iPhone site).

    As for the App store, you can view the CrackBerry mobile store for BlackBerry – on a BlackBerry. RIM has announced that their store will arrive in March; they had over 700 attendees at their recent BlackBerry Developer Conference. I am getting quite positive responses from developers, including some who already have iPhone apps. There are over 4000 BlackBerry apps out there – that work independent of carriers. RIM just needs to get to the “one click to purchase” level but some interesting apps — some of which were previewed at BBDC are coming.

    To say that OS 4.5, 4.6 and 4.7 are just more of the same as 4.2 is totally wrong. You get the best browser BlackBerry has had to date (yes, it still needs some Javascript fixes but I get most of what I want via this browser), you get the ability to edit Office documents. To me my Bold has become a laptop for the hip or purse. It’s a true two way device whereas the iPhone is basically a one way device.

    The one impressive feature I like about the iPhone is the innovation being shown in the third party applications. I can use it to follow the freeway webcams, find a Tim Horton’s or Starbucks or to join Obama’s political campaign. It does show what can happen when you give developers the appropriate free rein to innovate and succeed.

    And I have QIK for BlackBerry running now. I have seen demonstrations of SlingPlayer for BlackBerry on a Bold – coming soon. (I have been a heavy user of SlingPlayer for the N95 but the battery dies after five innings of a baseball game.) And I am close to having Truphone for Blackberry. Soon I won’t need my N95.

  • Jim Courtney November 20, 2008, 1:41 pm

    Walt Mossberg has put up a very balanced review, including comments on the keyboard and lack of WiFi.

  • ubiquityman November 21, 2008, 11:50 pm

    Give the Storm & RIM a bit of time. The SurePress has a lot of potential in terms of being able to improve typing.

    Right now the key lights up blue which some people have claimed is not that useful.

    RIM can make this much better than Apple iPhone, very easily.

    Here are a couple of choices:

    1) ghost the character that is touched (not pressed yet) so the user can SEE which key the thumb is over. If it’s the correct key, the user can can press down to finalize the key. (With iPhone this is impossible because the key is already pressed when it shows up on the screen.)

    2) To be extremely annoying, but in the same manner as above, the phone can call out each letter before the press. This would be GREAT for people with vision problems.

    Like I’ve been saying, the extra degree of freedom in the z-axis (ie. the ability to select X,Y,0 or X,Y,1) has huge implications for future capabilities.

    Even if the Storm doesn’t stomp on the iPhone, the Storm will be a serious contender. If RIM can get Verizon to allow the public access to write apps for the appstore, the Storm might become a really great consumer device.

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