Storm Is a Fun BlackBerry, but No iPhone Killer

Keyboard offers no breakthrough though touch screen makes it a cooler and easier BlackBerry

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The BlackBerry Storm

Clicking on the BlackBerry Storm doesn't do much for me. The new touch-screen phone injects more fun and ease-of-use into the BlackBerry world, and might stem defections to the Apple iPhone and other competitors.

But its keyboard is no breakthrough, meaning avid messengers will want to stick to BlackBerrys with hardware keys. And someone after the best touch-screen software should stick with the iPhone.

The Storm looks much like the BlackBerry Bold that was released earlier this month, except it has a larger screen that can spread across its face because of no keyboard. The big LCD is a plus, and the BlackBerry operates well as a phone and multimedia device. It falls short, though, in the messaging that has been BlackBerry's strength.

My hopes had already faded that BlackBerry maker Research in Motion would somehow deliver a touch-screen keyboard that worked better than others. It tried with software keyboards that respond with an audible and physical click. The screen is like one giant button -- or single piece of glass riding on a button.

While useful, the click feedback is less so than the iPhone's approach of magnifying whatever letter you've pushed. I found myself having to look at the Storm's typed text to make sure I'd tapped the right letter.

Aside from the hit to typing speed, a touch screen is a nice addition to the BlackBerry family. Tapping to jump between applications or maneuver within them is quicker and more intuitive than navigating with a side wheel or scroll button. The bigger screen is a big plus for videos and photos. And the BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion, has done a nice job of converting familiar applications for a touch screen. In a day's use, I haven't suffered any of the freezes that other reviewers have complained of.

The Storm is packed with useful hardware. It has a great, 3-megapixel camera that also shoots video. The screen is vivid and high-resolution, making it fun to watch videos even outside in daylight. It comes with an 8-gigabyte memory card and can use larger cards. The Storm operates on Verizon's high-speed, 3G network. RIM also made sure it has enough battery to get through a full day.

All those better the iPhone. But the iPhone also has Wi-Fi, which I find useful at hotspots and friend's homes and which the BlackBerry Storm lacks. The BlackBerry software, while also perhaps more productive with included Office-like applications, also pales next to the iPhone's. The iPhone software is prettier, more intuitive, and more enjoyable. There is a bounce to scrolling text after a finger flick, and two-fingers can pinch or expand images.

So I don't think the Storm will steal customers who want an iPhone. But for someone feeling loyal to their BlackBerry, or who is tied to one because of corporate support, the Storm offers a cooler and simpler-to-use alternative. Just don't count on typing as fast.