New BlackBerry Phones: Both Sweet And Sour
As I was finishing up today's review of Research In Motion's BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Storm, a colleague stopped by my desk, curious about the second, heavily-advertised phone. He picked up the Storm (a Verizon Wireless exclusive in the U.S.) briefly tapped away at its SurePress touch-sensitive screen--and pronounced that entire interface unusable and unacceptable.
Now this guy uses an iPhone, so the concept of a touchscreen that also requires pressing down to initiate an action might have just seemed too kooky for him. In contrast, I thought that people used to pressing physical buttons would not find this screen too weird--at least for basic tasks like dialing, as opposed to typing out lengthy e-mails or memos.
Evaluating the Storm required a lot of these subjective judgment calls. Others: How much typing will people do on the thing? Will a typical user be switching from another BlackBerry, from a competing smartphone or from a plain old phone? Given the amount of consumer marketing Verizon has put behind this phone, I opted to assume a less-technically-oriented, less-experienced user.
The BlackBerry Bold, sold only by AT&T Wireless in the U.S., was an easier device to review--think of a BlackBerry Curve with a better software interface. To an extent, that made it a less noteworthy device; RIM didn't exactly swing for the fences with this model. The Storm may be a mess in its present form, but at least it's an interesting mess.
Other details about these two phones:
* To judge from the Bold's cluttered home screen, AT&T hired some of the same people responsible for littering the desktops of millions of Windows PCs with irrelevant links and shortcuts. Why, for instance, does anybody need separate icons for the Bold's default browser and AT&T's MediaNet site?
* The Storm seems to have a slightly better camera, with a 3.2-megapixel resolution compared to the 2-MP camera on the Bold. Both models can record video too.
* The Storm has more storage out of the box, since Verizon includes an 8-gigabyte microSD card. Given the ever-cheaper prices of flash memory (and the odds of buyers of a $300 phone already having their own microSD cards), I didn't feel inclined to get on AT&T's case about that.
* I liked the Storm's simple key lock/unlock button, which doesn't need to be held down for a few seconds to work--but I didn't like the fact that RIM couldn't be bothered to have either device lock its screen or keyboard automatically. On the other hand, the Bold made better use of its left-side "convenience button"; it brought up the phone's Application Switcher interface, not the distracting voice-command application the Storm's equivalent button invoked.
* I was pleasantly surprised to see Bluetooth done mostly right on both phones. The Bold and the Storm each paired up with the Bluetooth hands-free kit built into a Toyota Prius and received photos sent via Bluetooth from an Apple iMac and MacBook. But while both could transfer photos to the iMac, neither could do the same with the MacBook.
* To get iTunes's sync feature working in Windows Vista, download this updated version of RIM's MediaSync program. (I found this update mentioned towards the end of a tech-support article that first labels this problem a "previously reported issue" that has no "resolution time frame." Memo to RIM: You've already resolved it! Now put this version on the CD that comes with the phone.)
Have other questions about these devices, the overall smartphone market or gadget shopping in general? Today is your last chance of the year to ask me in my Web chat, starting at 2 p.m. You can submit a question or comment for the chat in advance--or just post it right here in the comments...
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