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BlackBerry 9700 and BlackBerry Storm2 Review from an iPhone Perspective -- Smartphone Round Robin

blackberry-iphone01

RIM has one of the oldest OS platforms in the 2009 Smartphone Round Robin, but unlike Nokia's S60 (reviewed here last week), and Microsoft which is busy rebuilding, CrackBerry.com's signature BlackBerry Bold 9700 and BlackBerry Storm2 enjoy huge popularity in North America, a seemingly unbreakable hold on the Enterprise market, and an ever-increasing focus on consumers.

Last year, Dieter likened the previous BlackBerry Bold 9000 to the Treo 650 -- perhaps the ultimate representation of a platform at its peek of perfection... yet raising the question of where that platform had left to go. On the other hand, the original Storm1 never failed to disappoint, a hit in numbers but not hearts of BlackBerry lovers. Now it's a year later. Does the BlackBerry Bold 9700 take the roll of Treo 680, a slimmer, more polished perfection, still not hinting at platform futures to come? And does the Storm2 get right what the Storm2 done so wrong?

To try and answer that, the SPE editors did a Round Table with Mickey for the Cell Phone Junkie podcast, and I got plenty of help from CrackBerry Kevin and a stupefying amount of information from the CrackBerry Forums. Huge thanks to everyone -- I needed it!

(And just a reminder, every day you post on my CrackBerry.com thread, or any of the official Round Robin threads, is another day you're entered to win one of six (6!) new smartphones!)

Okay, time to bring the BlackBerry rain... after the break!

Back in BlackBerry

If you haven't watched it already, check out my BlackBerry 9700 and Storm 2 walkthrough with Kevin. It'll help with the context.


[YouTube Video link]

Here are some other helpful links:

Got it? Good.

iphone_rene_and_crackberry_kevin

Hardware Design

BlackBerry 9700 -- Bold but not Bolder

RIM typically makes great hardware and the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is no exception. If last year's BlackBerry Bold 9000 was the full-sized Cadillac limo of front-facing-QWERTY, this is the new Caddy coupe. It's everything that was great about the device made slicker and faster. The most notable change is the width. Gone is the epic expanse of the Bold1, repackaged now in Curve-like proportions. And I kinda miss the luxurious size of the Bold 1, to be frank. It better fit the Bold name and the sheer audacity of the form factor screamed flagship. This new Bold2 is like the recession era remake. Still premium, but trying not to be all overt about it.

What I don't regret is the trackball has been replaced by the new, sexy trackpad. Just like the Mighty Mouse became the Magic Mouse, RIM has eschewed mechanical, misfiring parts for optical, touchable technology. Bravo. BlackBerry users will never be gunked-up again.

blackberry-iphone09

Storm 2 -- the Mulligan

Remember when I said RIM typically makes great hardware? I said typically because, given Kevin's gripes about the design-decisions behind the Storm1, I can't say always. Happily, the Storm2 seems to fix each and every one of those gripes. No more leaking light from around the edges, no more wobbly little feet on the back, and no more giant honking button for a screen. Now there are four medium non-honking buttons -- or button-like things. The amazing of it is, when the power is off the BlackBerry Storm 2's screen isn't a button at all. You can't press. It's as un-pressable as an iPhone. Turn the power on, however, and suddenly you can press away, and due to the 4 actuators (or whatever they are) you can do so far better than you ever could with the Storm1. See, with that old bag of hurt, you pressed, waited for the whole thing to come back again, then could do a second press. Click. Pause. Click. Pause. Click. Pause. Roll eyes. Click. A huge drag for typing.

Now, with Storm2 it's almost like multitouch. You can press and only that "button" goes down, which means you can immediately press somewhere else and almost always get a different "button" to recognize the input. Click. Click. Clicketyclickclick. Click. Much improved.

It's still 2 steps -- navigate to/select what you want via touch, confirm/execute what you want via press. For example, touch "A" to highlight it, press "A" to write it in. This is RIM's trademark input paradigm, after all. But with Storm2 you can press right through, essentially selecting and confirming in one shot. (Yeah, you could do that with Storm1, but the "wait for the one button" schtick effectively ruined it).

In other words, you can either go the sure and safe way, carefully selecting then confirming, or the fast and loose way, just typing away. It's nice to have the option -- and to have it workable and so much less frustrating this time around.

blackberry-iphone07

Software Experience

Like Apple, RIM makes incredible hardware flawlessly integrated with fantastic software. Unlike Apple, however, who have kept almost identical device-types over the last 2 years, RIM has embraced a wide variety of form-factors, and hasn't developed a unified, carrier-interference-free, method of keeping even the last couple years of all those devices updated to the same OS. (Witness a list of BlackBerrys that will, and by omission will not be getting 5.0).

Storm2 and Bold2 definitely have the latest and greatest, so that's what I'm looking at. But here's the thing -- due to RIM's enterprise footprint, a lot of the new features they have been adding over the last year aren't obviously consumer facing (some seem to require an enterprise server on the back end). That makes it hard for an iPhone guy like me, who doesn't really know his BIS from his BES, to just pick up and point out how RIM's latest OS, 5.0, is different from last year's 4.x offering.

(Maybe that's a criticism of Apple, where things as absurd as cut and paste and MMS make for easy generational demos.)

Luckily, CrackBerry.com has a full list of BlackBerry OS 5.0's incremental features as well.

JavaScript being turned on by default in the web browser is huge, however, though not as huge as their getting a WebKit browser will be -- hopefully by next year.

App World! Application Time! Excellent!

As opposed to 5.0, RIM's new BlackBerry App World is easily pointed out. Following the success of Apple's iTunes App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch in 2008, every other platform raced to launch one in 2009. Of course, almost all of them already had 3rd party apps and had them for years, but the centralized, on-every-device and all-in-one-place model was, well, revolutionary.

RIM has kinda, sorta done that with App World, though there are a few exceptions. Since places like the CrackBerry.com App Store have been serving up software for years, there wasn't the exclusivity or desperation for it like there was on the iPhone. Also, in RIM's incredibly partner friendly manner, there's some weird arrangement of App Worlds and carrier-specific (and other) storefronts that are or will be available.

That means, however, they can avoid the "rejected apps" controversy that still plagues Apple, and since they've made price-points fixed -- for example, you can have free apps, but the next step up is $2.99 -- they're hoping to avoid the "race to the bottom" that many believe also plagues the App Store.

Needful Hierarchies and Business as Unusual

If you haven't yet read Kevin's Hierarchy of Smartphone Needs, go do it now. I'll play games on my iPhone while I wait.

Back, okay. Brilliant stuff there and important to keep in mind because devices like the iPhone and the BlackBerry can both be best-in-class when we're talking about different classes. And different businesses. That's a point I come back to over and over again when we reach BlackBerry week in the Round Robin. I understand and deeply appreciate how perfect the BlackBerry is when it comes to super-quick, keyboard-driven messaging that can go for days. For many users, and for many types of classical business (finance, sales), that's what matters most.

The iPhone's strengths aren't in messaging (unless we're talking Twitter -- I'll put iPhone's top Twitter apps against any other platforms). I've even joked that when I'm using my iPhone and a phone call or message comes in, I get mad at the interruption. (Yes, joking. Kinda.)

For internet anywhere, for work that involves creativity, design, or requires complex apps, the iPhone becomes decidedly the professional choice.

It's that duality between iPhone and BlackBerry that I think explains why we see so many users dual-wielding both. That BlackBerry is getting better about browsers is great. If they would dump their app size limits and JavaME abstractions, it would be fantastic. But then Apple would have to figure out a unified email client, release a Mobile iChat, and figure out better enterprise management. What Bizarro universe that would be, it would be hard to imagine...

BlackBerry to the Future

...Which doesn't mean I won't try.

A couple of years ago -- last year even -- the general concern in the Round Robin was that RIM had hit the end of the line with the BlackBerry OS, that they would need to "spend their time in the desert" the way Palm had to transition from PalmOS to webOS, and Microsoft is now doing to grow from Windows Mobile 5/6/6.5 to Windows Mobile 7.

RIM has done a lot since to mitigate those concerns. The BlackBerry Developers Conferences have been a huge part of that. New APIs, the aforementioned WebKit browser, support for widgets and localized WebApps, OpenGL for gaming, etc. will certainly modernize the BlackBerry OS.

But they won't make it a modern OS.

Now sure, that's hypocritical coming from the guy who's platform is based on BSD Unix, which is no spring chicken to say the least. But while the foundations of the iPhone OS are tried and true, the upper layers, especially Apple's Core APIs (CoreAnimation, CoreData, etc.) and the Objective C-based Cocoa Touch frameworks give developers a huge advantage -- especially the major developer, Apple.

The Bold 9700 is the no-compromise BlackBerry. If the 9000 was the Treo 650, this is the Treo 680. But like Palm faced with that device, the question becomes, what's next? It's possible RIM can continue their incremental evolution, keep the platform modernized and meaningful for many years to come. But it's jut as possible BB OS is at its prime, and RIM, like Palm did with webOS, may need to -- or may already be working on -- the next generation 'Berry.

Conclusion

This is where I try to bring it all together from an iPhone point of view. And from that point of view, I can say if you're trying to choose between an iPhone and a BlackBerry Bold 9700, you're... well it's an easy choice. They're Yin and Yang, day and night, and while there is some overlap their areas of excellence remain so opposite, so complementary, if you think for a moment about what you're actual needs are, it'll be immediately apparent which one you need -- and the answer to that could actually be both. (Them dual-wielders we keep seeing).

Sure, AT&T can be a factor. Can't use AT&T, can't really use an iPhone in the US (though plenty of people in SF and NYC apparently keep trying, regardless). But if you need a glorified pager with the best messaging in the business, if you wear a suit and tie and all your VIPeeps are on BBM, if you just have to have a physical keyboard (and why not the best one), you're a Bold.

If, on the other hand, you want a glorified iPod, if you need the web on the go, 116,000 apps for that (which sounds ridiculous until you can't find the one of them you really need on another platform), access to high performance audio and video isn't a nice-to-have but a must-have-it, and if Apple's pushing-the-pace of smartphone innovation appeals to you now and into the future, you're an iPhone.

And what about the Storm2? That Verizon threw it under the bus in favor of the Droid is kind of a shame, but only kind of -- the Storm line is an attempt to adapt the BlackBerry experience for a touchscreen. It wasn't designed for that form factor, and for many it might not be what the BlackBerry experience is about anyway (there's just something so "right" about BB OS on Bold-style hardware). The Storm2 is a square peg better forced into a round hole, but unless your needs really demand some BlackBerry/iPhone hybrid, or you're Verizon4Life, getting the best of either is probably better than settling for the okay of both. [gallery link="file" columns="2"]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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BlackBerry 9700 and BlackBerry Storm2 Review from an iPhone Perspective -- Smartphone Round Robin

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Just a comment on the first line of the article, that BlackBerry has an "unbreakable hold on the Enterprise market". Yes it does. There are some interesting statistics on this in a recent InformationWeek survey:
http://www.informationweek.com/news/mobility/business/showArticle.jhtml?...
BlackBerry has 61% of the Enterprise market, more than twice as much as its nearest competitor. We kind of know that, but the interesting part is who that nearest competitor is.... iPhone, with 27% of the Enterprise market. Windows Mobile had plummeted to 3rd position in Enterprise, losing the one niche it once had.

Very good info. I was thinking of getting a 9700 bold to replace my iPhone 3g. But I think I will wait to see what's next with apple.

This was an insightful overview. Based on Kevins heirarchy of cellphone needs, people will get the phone that is best suited for their communication needs.

I'm a Pre user, so at first thought it seems like I have nothing to say here... But this article is of particular interest to me. While I love WebOS and many things about my Pre, the flimsiness of the hardware is increasingly getting on my nerves. Add to this the fact that there are certain software limitations (and some flat-out problems) that still haven't been addressed (such as disappearing SMS conversations and lack of GPU access)... and the shine is starting to fade on my once beloved device. I'm starting to want to go with someone that "just works" -- and that really does seem to be either an iPhone or a Blackberry. This article definitely gave me more to mull over in my decision of whether or not to stick with my Pre. I guess I'll wait and see what gets announced around CES, and whether expanding WebOS to other carriers speeds up development (thereby creating a more satisfying ecosystem). Time will tell...

On the Storm2 Mulligan... BB merely hit it into the first cut of the rough with the Storm 2 rather than shanking it out of bounds like they did on the Storm 1.

Hard to believe there's still so many BlackBerry users who haven't heard that other phones have email now.
What a tiresome, tiresome, tiresome argument anymore.

All these big manufacturers are doing everything they can to move toward their competitor's strengths. However, right now, there are clear reasons to choose one particular phone over another one. For the present, I just switched back to the Blackberry 9700 from my iPhone 3g. To mention just a few reasons....multitasking...the ability to have a today screen...simply to have a better PHONE!...the great keyboard...and certainly the most important reason - email and messaging. Imagine managing a half dozen email accounts and tapping your way in and out of each account on an iPhone many times every day just to check emails.....taptaptaptaptaptaptap till you die! With the 9700...one simple message folder for every kind of message...one click and you're in. Several other phones have email, but only one handles it like a Blackberry.
There are also other clear reasons to choose an iPhone, Android, or some other smartphone. Eventually this collection of differences in all these phones will become less of a factor as they all begin to solve each other's strengths and add them to their own brand.

@fastlane. There's a big difference between push e-mail and push notification. With a BB you get a copy of your e-mail in a SMS/MMS form pushed instantly into the device. All your emails go into a single inbox. If e-mails are of the utmost importantance then a BB is the way to go. I have a curve issued to me for work. Its no iPhone but the e-mailing is fantastic and being to msg all my co-workers on BBM is great. Plus the security on a BB is insane. Just ask any hacker.

@kev:
Very good points (that I'm already aware of). I realize BlackBerry's emailing has advantages.
But most users come here and constantly repeat things like "I use BlackBerry because I email a lot" or "I need to email, so I need a BlackBerry and a physical keyboard"... as if no other phone can provide general email capabilities. It gets old.
Thanks for being different by actually pointing out the differences.

I support 5 models of blackberry and the iPhone at work
both types of phones definently have their place
after 2.5 years on an iPhone there's no denying bb 8830 is totally solid but hugely limited. No new model was really a replacent until the bold 9700
ironically, the worst part about the blackberry is the trackballs tend to fail

@fastlane. You're welcome. Good to know that you're well informed. Many people switch from BB to the iPhone without knowing the differences, and then are stuck in a two year contract. The iPhone e-mail works fine, but not as nicely as on a BB. If you text a lot the physical keyboard really helps. Different people have different needs, and as you can tell by the market share numbers the majority of the pepole are content with a lil BS flip phone.

The BB Bold 9700 with Bolt Browser 1.6 installed (just visit the website) is awesome. It's extremely fast and renders pages accurately. On my BB, I can browse the web, email, and text message back and forth, all while listening to Pandora. Because I use T-Mobile, I can call and message over any WiFi connection, an important feature AT&T disables in the 9700. Even on occasion when I don't get 3G, the EDGE network with Bolt is still fast. Unlike the iPhone, I have a battery that lasts for 2-3 days with moderate usage! I have expandable memory up to 32GB, and can switch memory cards limitlessly. Oh yeah, and I have a camera flash. These are a few of the reasons I chose my BB. I use an Apple computer, but I wouldn't trade my 9700 phone for any other.

I have owned iPhone and iPhone 3G. I love my iPhone. As I approach my end of contract I am finding myself leaning towards giving the bold either the original Bold or the 9700 a good try. They seem capable of a lot and suit my needs. But for my work, iPhone is great too. To ne it's preference and Att isn't bad where I live.
But my opinion is size. I am one of those few that actually like width and thickness as long as it's in a sleek form. The iPhone is pretty big itself. But the Bold is bigger obviously not as pretty as the iPhone. But the size assures me that the device won't break as easily. (not true in some cases) lol.
But my problem is now, the compromised size of the 9700, Or the the "full sized Cadillac limo" that is the Bold original.
But until apple deploys an iPhone that delivers more functionality, I will be swaying over to the berry side. And that's a given, all three phones have a contract renewal price of 199.99 hmm.

Gmachine -- the 9700 (Bold 2) feels a lot more sturdy in the hand than the flexy Bold original. The new phone is smaller but it's also faster and without the gunk-collecting trackball, it seems more sturdy and less likely to get ruined if you carry it without a case.
I just got a 9700 for work but there's nothing better than my personal iPhone 3GS for personal fun.

@Gmachine:

I am one of those few that actually like width and thickness as long as it’s in a sleek form.

Yup, nothing wrong with that.
In fact, I wouldn't have any problem with the iPhone becoming slightly bigger and slightly thicker to accomadate multitasking, and other battery killers, until technology catches up. The iPhone's size now is extremely nice (I love it), but not necessary. I doubt that a slightly bigger screen and battery would be met with much criticism, even if it increased the iPhone's size just a tad.
However, that's just not the Apple way.

After using dozends of phones over the years and having gone thru all iPhone stages I got myself a Bold 9700 and I must admit I like the fact of having a phone that lasts longer than one day in battery life while featuring all the APPs that you expect in a smartphone in 2010. Although some of the stuff I've seen in two weeks still seems in beta stage and the twitter and facebook applications still need improvemend I like it a lot. The Blackberry Appstore is a joke compared to the Apple Appstore especially when it comes to what comsumers expect, but it's a better experience than the deserted Store Nokia has put up. It'll be interesting to see where the Blackberry platform goes.

fastlane, you got it right on the mark. The phone could use a little pumping up. Forcing the designers to maintian or even shrink the size is a huge mistake. Make it as small as it needs to be, just not for the sake of its' "smallness". We hear over and over that this could be added or that done, but it killed the battery too soon. Seems to me that is screaming where the problem lies. Instead, we get ho-hum and lame updates to try to water down the goodness to run in this enviroment. I hope (but know it won't be) that the 4th gen will be a clean build, and go in and give the phone enough power to do all the things it CAN. Hiding behind a weak battery this far in the game is not going to fly anymore. This field, that Apple created, is now getting a little crowded. If Apple wants to go back to being a little niche company like they were with their computers, then let the 4th gen be a lame update to the 3GS.

I have to disagree with your "highlight then confirm" thing... I have NEVER once had to do that with my S1. Put your finger on that of which you choose to use and click. No waiting, not 2step anything. I happen to prefer my S1 screen over the iphone and S2 because of the "big honkin' button" screen. I make far less errors on my S1 than I do when I play with my nephews iphone. And I type just as fast on mine as friends do on their iphones.

I have got the Storm 1, and it has had some problems, still I don't think it is annything less than the Iphone or a Bold. I coult not live without its massive screen and the easy pressingscreen. this week I am allowed to take an other phone. I can't decide between the Bold and the Storm 2. But I think that it will be once again a Storm(2). I follow a creative education, but blackberry is still the way to go. And far as I heard Iphone has his faults too.

Following are some of the boasting features that drives you to opt for Blackberry 9700
• It supports 3G technology which gives all the benefits of high speed along with voice and web access at same time.
• The phone is also equipped with a built-in GPS/A-GPS receiver and is compatible with mono and stereo Bluetooth devices,
• Excellent sound quality on speakerphone,
• LED flash feature facilitate the crystal clear view even in the dim light,
• Visual Voicemail and support for Corporate and Personal E-mail options.
• It supports voice activated dialing, using which you can dial anybody just by voice command.
• The voice features include a speakerphone and a Bluetooth headset; it's capable of fully hands free operation

Pretty interesting post. Couldn't of written any better. Browsing this post reminds me of my old mate. He always kept speaking about this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing! :)

great unlocked phone. i got it and the processor is awesome. very easy to get around in, great internet. i love going on facebook on this phone. touch screen is much more responsive than the first and me and my wife love it. definately worth the money and very happy with our purchase. we got both of them on gsmallover.com and it's been great. 2 thumbs up

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