BlackBerry Bonus: TiPb vs. Storm Hands-On
A friend of mine works as a rep for a carrier and so, in the middle of my BlackBerry Round in the Robin, we made a deal: she would let me test drive the Storm and I would let her try out both the iPhone 3G and the BlackBerry Bold (don't tell Kevin!)
Sidebar: She is an avid BlackBerry Pearl user who, disappointed with the lack of current Qwerty hotness on the CDMA side, was very impressed with the Bold. She is also an avowed iPhone hater. Or rather she was. While I don't think Apple's little touchscreen wonder won her over, she was amazed at the apps, especially things like Google Earth. The Storm... suffice it to say she wasn't a fan.
Okay, fine, what was my take? Read on...
First time I picked it up I was immediately unimpressed with the build quality. Again, the iPhone is an iconic, singular slab of glass, metal and it-doesn't-blend composite backing. The Bold, while lighter and not quite as solid, is still a Cadillac when it comes to build quality. The Storm felt cheaper somehow. I'm not sure what gave it that feeling, but it was definitely there.
I turned it on and was greeted with a very familiar BlackBerry experience. I used to dislike the word "experience" in that context -- and it's overused -- but Kevin nailed the BlackBerry model when he said they currently provide the BlackBerry experience in a variety of form factors. You want a front facing Qwerty? Bold or Curve. Candybar? Pearl. Flip? Flip. And now, you want a touch screen? Storm.
The looks was similar to the Bold but stretched out over an iPhone-eque full touch screen display. I'm still not sold on the discoverability (Dieter's word) of their iconography. The neon wireframes take a little while to visually distinguish and remember, especially without labels like the iPhone has, and extra-especially when you can have multiple similar ones in close proximity. The BlackBerry interactive metaphor of select vs. execute translated better than I'd presumed, however, with touch replacing scroll and press replacing click rather intuitively.
Yup, the whole-screen button held together -- in that narrow circumstance. Typing wasn't nearly as as bad as I feared. Actually, having heard so many bad things about it, I ended up surprised at how, well -- not good -- but not bad it was. Having to press down emphatically each time was slower than the iPhone, and did give me momentary pangs of BlackBerry Claw-itis in my forearms, but all in all I think it was an innovative idea from RIM and I'm glad they tried it. No doubt Storm 2 (Blizzard?) will improve on it still.
Where the whole-screen button failed, however, is where it needed to succeed most: the touch. It jiggles and slides around inside the frame. That's stupefyingly incomprehensible to me. I tried playing BrickBreaker and as I attempted to move finger around to control it, the screen moved with me! Not only was this annoying, but it destroyed a large portion of the direct interactivity a capacitive screen is supposed to enable. Total touch fail.
When I laid the device flat on a table and tried to swipe and gesture, the combination of ridiculous teeter-totter speaker-feet and jiggly screen made it all but comedic.
RIM and Apple both make truly excellent integrated hardware and software devices, but have very different focuses and philosophies. The Storm may have been trying to bring the best of both worlds to Vodafone and iPhone-rejecting Verizon, and while I think it's an important first step, needed innovation, and valiant attempt, I don't think the Storm is ready for prime time yet.
Apple built the iPhone OS specifically for touch, and RIM adapting their already dated Java MicroEdition foundations while workable, certainly isn't ideal.
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