The BlackBerry Storm 2 dispenses with RIM's iconic Qwerty keyboard and offers an innovative clicking touchscreen instead. It can't quite live up to its touchscreen rivals in terms of usability but, if you need the security of a BlackBerry or you find normal touchscreens too sensitive for your clumsy fingers, you'll find it offers plenty of great features.
The Storm 2 is available for free on a £30-per-month contract, or SIM-free for around £430.
BlackBerry by nature
Since its birth ten years ago, the BlackBerry range has perfected the art of mobile email, thanks, in no small part, to RIM's Qwerty keyboard. But the rise of touchscreen smart phones, such as the iPhone, has left the BlackBerry brand stuck in a rut. The Storm 2 is RIM's latest attempt to cash in on the touchscreen frenzy.
The Storm 2 has all the email features we've come to know and love in other BlackBerry devices. It uses the BlackBerry server service to push your email to you in real-time, so you don't have to wait for the phone to check if something new has arrived. This also increases security, since everything is encrypted as it goes back and forth. Note that you must have a subscription to a BlackBerry-specific contract to make these features work, though.
The Storm 2 does a good job of putting all your contacts in one place. As well as separate inboxes for each email account, there's also a super-inbox that combines them all. If you have the Facebook app installed, you can see your Facebook messages in there too. The address book is similarly well-integrated with Facebook, and you can also grab your contacts from your Gmail account.
Setting up your email is one of the first tasks you'll want to tick off with the Storm 2. Unfortunately, it highlights the phone's most significant feature and flaw -- its touchscreen. The on-screen keyboard isn't bad, but it's nothing like the physical keyboard that first made the BlackBerry brand famous, and we think it misses a trick.
Rather than offering easy shortcuts to numbers and symbols using the 'Alt' key, as on a traditional BlackBerry, or via a long press of a button, like on the HTC Hero, you have to press a button and skip to another keyboard. The Storm 2's keyboard doesn't offer the advantages of a physical keyboard, but it doesn't really offer the advantages of a virtual keyboard either. For example, the buttons don't change to show when you're using upper-case or lower-case letters.
On the other hand, the clicking 'SurePress' screen does give the virtual keyboard a comparatively physical feel. We found it easy to type accurately on the keyboard, thanks to the fact that you can touch a key and see that it's selected before committing it with a click. It's also great that you can click more than one letter at once with the screen depressed, so you can hold down the shift key to enter several upper-case letters, for example. But the physical clicking makes typing slower and requires a fair amount of effort. With all that pressing, this heavy, 150g phone can be rather tiring to use.
Overall, the SurePress screen could be advantageous for anyone who finds other touchscreens too fiddly or wants more feedback when typing, but the trade-off is that you lose some of the speed and intuitiveness of other touchscreen phones.
Browsing for trouble
We also appreciated the SurePress screen's clicking action when surfing the Web. Accidentally clicking links while scrolling around a page is a common problem with touchscreen phones, but the Storm 2's screen completely solves this issue. The same applies when flicking through menus and lists.
Unfortunately, the BlackBerry Web browser is so poor compared to the competition that we can't recommend the Storm 2 as a Web-surfing phone. You can install Opera Mini, but it's still not going to offer the Web-browsing chops of other touchscreen smart phones.
Despite a weak browser, the Storm 2's large, 83mm (3.25-inch) screen does make surfing the Web more bearable than it would otherwise be, and it looks fantastic when watching videos.
The Storm 2 is also a decent music phone, thanks to its standard 3.5mm headphone jack and straightforward media player. The BlackBerry App World is a good place to go browsing for video and music apps to make the Storm 2 even better. The 7digital app is free and great for buying MP3s on the go, for example. But paid-for apps do tend to be more expensive than on the iPhone or Android phones.
There's space for your videos and music on the Storm 2's 2GB microSD card, but it could fill up quickly if you plan on using the handset to replace your MP3 player, so plan to shell out for a bigger card.
The Storm 2 packs in the smart-phone features, including great connectivity, thanks to 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and HSPA for fast Web surfing over 3G, and BlackBerry Maps, although we prefer Google Maps, which you'll have to install yourself.
We didn't find the Storm 2 suffered from any of the crashes or sluggishness that plagued its predecessor, the BlackBerry Storm. There was the occasional pause when we launched a program or opened a new message, but nothing worse than we've seen on most phones, and we didn't find it irritating.
Happily, the Storm 2 doesn't skimp on call quality either. In our tests, calls were clear and loud, the volume was easy to adjust, and our friends heard us clearly.
The Storm 2 does a good job of taking everything BlackBerry-flavoured and packing it into a touchscreen handset. But the user interface isn't as glamorous as that of other touchscreen phones, despite the Storm 2's lovely, large screen.
Also, since the BlackBerry range's strength is reliable, secure email, we think the Storm 2 may have jettisoned the best part of the BlackBerry brand -- the easy-to-use Qwerty keyboard. Nevertheless, the SurePress screen is an innovative solution that should appeal to people too clumsy to use a traditional touchscreen. If your work requires the security of a BlackBerry, but you're desperate for a touchscreen, the Storm 2 could be just the ticket.
Edited by Charles Kloet