The original BlackBerry Storm debuted to mixed reactions last year. Many critics maligned its unique clickable touchscreen, and disdain for its lack of Wi-Fi support was nearly universal. RIM took these criticisms to heart, and has released the new and improved BlackBerry Storm 2. This smartphone would have been well-received -- if it had been the Storm that RIM released last year.
But the smartphone market has evolved dramatically since then, and the BlackBerry Storm 2 hasn't changed enough to keep pace. When compared to the new iPhone 3GS, the Palm Pre, and the Motorola Droid, the BlackBerry Storm 2 comes up short.
Price and Availability
The BlackBerry Storm 2 is available from Verizon Wireless for $179.99 when you sign a new two-year service contract (after a $100 online discount or mail-in rebate). It's $20 less than the original BlackBerry Storm cost at launch.
The BlackBerry Storm 2 looks nearly identical to its predecessor, and that's a good thing: both are handsome phones. Like the first BlackBerry Storm, version 2 measures 4.4 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by .5 inches thick.
Also like the first BlackBerry Storm, this one has a 3.2-inch touch screen, but the touch screen itself has been updated. Where the entire touch screen on the first BlackBerry Storm was actually one big button, the new version features activators under the screen that give off the feel of a click.
I was one of the few people who liked the clickable touch screen on the first Storm, and I like the version here, too. Having to press on the screen makes it more difficult to press an icon by accident, something that happens quite frequently on the iPhone. The downside, though, is that you sometimes have to press a bit harder than you might like in order for the touch to register.
Where the first BlackBerry Storm had four buttons below the touch screen, the face of the new Storm 2 is smooth. Below the touch screen sit four touch-sensitive buttons (Send, Menu, Back, and End); I found that these buttons weren't always responsive to my touch. While the aesthetic is more appealing on the Storm 2, I'd sacrifice the appearance for actual buttons that are easier to press.
In my tests, the BlackBerry Storm 2's call quality was very good. I sometimes noticed an occasional hiss in the background, but for the most part calls were clear, with good volume on both ends of the line.
Browsing the Web
The BlackBerry Storm 2 supports Verizon's 3G EvDO network and, unlike the original BlackBerry Storm, Wi-Fi wireless networks. The added support for Wi-Fi is a no-brainer upgrade; it's a feature that should have been on the first Storm.
Web pages loaded quickly in my tests, and looked good on the Storm's relatively spacious 3.2-inch screen. The handy menu icons at the bottom of the screen make it easy to zoom in and out on Web pages, and let you easily bring up the address bar to enter a new URL. Still, I'd prefer a multi-touch screen that allows you to zoom in and out by pinching and spreading.
RIM says it is working on bring Flash support to its browser, but it's not enabled yet. But the Storm 2's browser does allow you to view streaming video from sites like YouTube.
Like all BlackBerry phones, the Storm 2 is an excellent messaging machine. It supports up to 10 personal or business e-mail accounts, and set-up is a breeze. BlackBerry Internet Service will let you check POP3 or IMAP4 accounts, or you can sync with BlackBerry Enterprise Server accounts at the office. The Storm 2 includes various instant messaging clients, too. You can access AOL's AIM, BlackBerry Messenger, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger.
When you hold the phone vertically, the Storm 2's onscreen keyboard uses RIM's SureType format, which puts two letters on most keys (it's used on most BlackBerry Pearl smartphones). The predictive text system is supposed to speed typing by guessing which letter you want, and I know plenty of people who love it. But I'm not one of those people -- I find that it dramatically slows down my typing.
Luckily, you can hold the Storm 2 horizontally, and a plain-old QWERTY keyboard appears. Still, typing on the SurePress touch screen does take some getting used to, as you have to press harder than you might expect. It’s not as easy as using the traditional hardware keyboards found on most BlackBerry smartphones.
The Storm 2 runs version 5 of the BlackBerry OS, and it comes with a decent selection of software pre-installed. You get BlackBerry Maps (a text-based mapping and navigation app) as well as Verizon's VZ Navigator, which (for $9.99 a month) delivers spoken turn-by-turn driving directions. You also get Verizon's Visual Voice Mail ($2.99 per month).
Productivity apps include DataViz Documents To Go Standard Edition, which allows you to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. If you want to create new files, you'll have to spring for the $70 Premium Edition.
The BlackBerry OS uses folders to organize contents. It's very easy to browse, but poorly organized, as many of the folders are oddly named. For example, you'll find a folder called "Applications" and another called "Application Center." It's not immediately apparent what each folder is for.
And if you're looking for BlackBerry App World (RIM's App Store), you'll have to download it to the phone -- for some reason, it's not preinstalled. Once you download apps from App World, you might think you'd find them in the Applications folder, but you’d be wrong; they land in another folder, called "Downloads." The OS could benefit greatly from a new organizational scheme.
The Storm 2 includes support for Verizon's excellent V Cast Music with Rhapsody service. It's pricey ($14.99 a month for unlimited music, plus individual song downloads for $1.99 a pop), but it's easy to use and offers a very good selection. You also get V Cast Videos and V Cast Song ID.
The on-board media player, which neatly organizes your songs, videos, pictures, and more, is basic, but very easy to use.
Like the original Storm, the Storm 2 features a 3.2 megapixel camera that captures photos and videos. Most of my snapshots came out very good, though video clips weren't as sharp as I would have liked.
The BlackBerry Storm 2 is an excellent upgrade over its predecessor. It offers good call quality and excellent messaging features. But its clickable touch screen takes some getting used to, so you should try it out before you buy.