BlackBerry Storm 2 £458
27th Oct 2009 | 14:04
Can it fix the failings of the original Storm?
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Overview, design and feel
RIM has rebooted its touchscreen range with the Storm 2 9520, featuring re-tooled clickable touchscreen technology and new, intuitive text input options.
It's still going to be seen as RIM's attempt to rival the likes of the iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre and HTC Hero, but are the updates on the Storm 2 enough to fix the issues that were so widely condemned on the original Storm?
The Storm 2 is the same size as the original, but 5g heavier. We'd have imagined this would have given it a weightier and premium feel, but in practice this isn't the case with the phone feeling a little too heavy in the hand.
However, it sits well in the palm, with minimal dexterity needed to shuffle up and down the screen and also hit the on/lock screen button on the top left-hand side, which is a crucial feature often missed by mobile designers.
The Storm 2 is pretty button-packed around the edges, with a number of rubberised buttons (which are apparently manufactured this way to stop them falling off, a problem with the original Storm).
The left-hand side of the device holds the microUSB port (without cover, so watch out that it doesn't get too dirty in there) and a function key that can be re-assigned to provide access to your favourite shortcut.
The top of the phone hold two buttons embedded into the phone itself – the power/lock button and the mute key. The 3.5mm headphone jack is now recessed into the phone and lives on the right-hand side of the phone, just above the rubber-cased volume/up and down keys.
Finally the camera shutter button is also located on the right-hand side, although far enough away from the other keys that you can easily avoid striking it.
The buttons on the front of the phone – call, menu, return and terminate –have been embedded into the LCD screen for the new Storm 2, as these were also apparently prone to falling off. They're now part of the SurePress click screen too, making them ever so slightly harder to use in one hand mode.
The button layout is well thought through – the only slightly difficult key to hit is the mute key on the top right. However, given we probably used this least (and only when we got a call) that wasn't the end of the world.
The screen is built on four piezoelectric sensors, and clicks when you press down on it. This system is similar to the first Storm, which also used a clickable screen (known as SurePress) but where that only had one mechanical sensor, the Storm 2 has four.
This means the screen has less travel in it, and is easier to press down. You can also click two parts of the LCD at once, which means faster typing.
But when the phone is put into sleep mode, RIM has come up with a cool trick – the screen will lock and cannot be clicked down. This obviously annoyed enough people on the first Storm for the company to change it, and it's very cool.
The call/terminate keys can be pressed though, meaning the screen will light up if you accidentally strike down there. Speaking of lights, there's an LED indicator at the top which blinks different colours for things likes charging and new messages - handy when the Storm 2 is in sleep mode.
The idea of the locked screen is to add to the premium feel of the device – constant pressing of the old Storm's screen made the whole process feel a little bit cheap and poorly made.
There's another problem with the Storm 2 though, and that's that the battery cover doesn't sit so well on the rear of the phone, meaning that there's a little bit of give in it.
This means that when you hold the phone in your hand there's a lot of movement in the supposedly static chassis, which once again ruins the premium feel.
Removing the metallic battery cover is difficult too – it can't be done with a finger so you'll need to find some extra implement to help you. It's an odd choice, and we thought there might be something in the box to help, but there isn't.
The microSD slot lives under the battery cover, next to the not-insubstantial 1400mAh battery, which falls out with a simple pat. It's a simple system, although the fact it feels like it's guarded by Cerberus himself thanks to the locked down battery cover is very annoying.
In the box
The BlackBerry Storm 2 box is as luxurious as you'd expect a flagship device to be. RIM has thoroughly eschewed the minimal packaging favoured by HTC and Apple, and gone with a nice black box.
The phone is centre stage when you open it up, but beneath layers of cardboard live a whole host of goodies. We're talking microUSB travel charger (why do we have to have a travel version? We want a home one!), USB cable, 3.5mm headphones, a pouch and a nice cloth to wipe the screen with.
The headphones are average quality but double as a hands-free kit with call answer button, and are decked out in a nice chrome and silver look – if that's your kind of thing.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Interface
The Storm 2 is sporting the new BB OS 5.0 interface, meaning the latest in functionality and gadgetry RIM has to offer.
The main thing about the Storm 2 interface is the fact that it feels like it's two phones – one as a normal touchscreen, which is a nice and responsive capacitive effort, and another the clickable display, which confirms any selection you make.
It's very disconcerting the first time you use it – it takes a long time to start trusting this method, as your natural reaction is that pushing into the screen is going to ruin accuracy.
The first thing you'll notice when turning on the Storm 2 is just how long it takes to boot up - we're talking minutes here. All well and good the first time you turn it on – a little more annoying when you find you have to do it with every subsequent boot-up whenever the battery is removed.
The interface itself is a fairly clean affair, especially if you're familiar with a BlackBerry – the home screen offers a half menu in portrait mode, with your eight favourite applications, and when moved into landscape all the menu icons become available.
Pretty much every icon on the screen can be clicked on to display further information – such as the connections tab in the top right-hand corner, which gives access to the full list of all active and inactive connections on offer, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile data.
As we mentioned earlier, the Storm 2's capacitive screen is excellent, and has been upgraded over the original. This means dynamic scrolling with a really fluid motion that puts it on a par with a number of other touchscreen smartphones on the market, such as the iPhone 3GS or Palm Pre.
The screen is well set for touch input, with each icon well sized for a finger. And it needs to be, as to make a choice on any element of the screen you need to click down, which as we said before can be a little disconcerting.
And try as we might, we can't see ourselves ever becoming fans of the SurePress technology. Essentially, it's hard to see the point of it – RIM clearly realised that its customers crave a QWERTY keyboard or similar, so it tried to mimic the sensation of pressing buttons.
But the difference is that touchscreens are quickly becoming mainstream and their text input understood, and we'd have to question why it's necessary to include an extra level of input into the whole affair.
We're not saying the SurePress doesn't work, but it does get a bit tiresome to use over and over again. Also, sometimes the OS can slow down slightly, and when this happens all the buttons will lock, meaning you can't do anything until the system has fixed the momentary issue.
The difference between the BlackBerry OS and other systems is that each screen is fairly minimal, with further information options activated by hitting the menu button.
This is a nice touch, as elements like messaging or contacts aren't cluttered up with extra icons to expand the selection.
Overall, we're impressed with the BB OS 5.0 interface, and especially the way it's been implemented on the Storm 2. Very rarely could we find a time when the phone would slow down or lag in a noticeable way, and most things popped up the second we asked them too, which is a real bonus in a smartphone.
It could all do with being a bit less convoluted, but mobile phone ecosystems are built on evolution rather than revolution – RIM wouldn't want to completely re-invent the BB OS just to make it seem more 'iPhone-like'.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Calling and contacts
Call quality on the BlackBerry Storm 2 is excellent, which isn't something we were expecting on a messaging-centric device.
The clarity both to and from the caller was crystal clear, although we did have a few problems with dropped calls. In one instance the call dropped three times in the space of four minutes – it was almost iPhone-like in its stability (which is not something to aspire to).
We're hoping it's a one-off problem with the device we were given, or a temporary problem with the network, but it's the first time this has happened to us and it's always odd when a random problem affects a review handset.
Coverage was good though, with 3G hanging on well when necessary. One quibble would be an apparent desire to drop to GPRS on occasion when it was proved we had two bars of signal – clearly RIM is looking for a more stable signal for voice and messaging rather than looking at a fast connection at all times, which you can understand given its low-data heritage.
The calling interface was good though, with an easy-to-read set of names laid out on a white background. Scrolling through was easy enough, either through a simple flick or by clicking the down arrow to move through at a faster pace.
At the top there's the option of looking through the list by searching for the name – but we don't think anyone's going to do that on a touchscreen as it's simply too much effort.
If you've got Facebook Connect added to the Storm 2, you also get a spot of Facebook notification as well with your contacts. Scrolling through the list will show where they work (or what group they belong to) and will also add in their Facebook picture too.
We're great fans of this functionality on the Motorola Dext and the HTC Hero, and it's good to see it here. It also means you can poke or message the person direct from their contact profile, which takes the hassle out of social networking.
There's a variety of information you can add to a contact to make it easier to interact with them from the Storm 2 – obviously you can pop a picture on there, but you can also add a birthday, web page or company information too, which is useful when it's a work contact (or someone you like to stalk but are pretty forgetful).
The dialler is similarly simple to use – it has large, easy-to-hit buttons and a call list to choose from. It doesn't allow smart dialling (where you can start typing a name using the keypad and it presents a list of possible names to choose from based on the keystroke combination) but you can select a contact and find out your exact call history to and from that number.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Messaging
As you can imagine, it's at this point the BlackBerry Storm 2 comes into its own – messaging is just a dream. We'll get one of the major negative points out of the way first – although Facebook Connect is provided, there's no support for other social-networking applications in terms of direct messaging.
It might sound petty, but the likes of the Motorola Dext have shown us how awesome it is to be able to send messages directly from the contacts menu.
But enough of that negativity, things are all looking up from here. The main thing to note is that the Storm 2 is built on a strong core of BlackBerry Enterprise connectivity – providing your company supports it, email set up is as easy as entering your address and password (and perhaps a few extra details depending on your server).
It is a little bit of a hassle having to register online to set the account in motion, but once that's done it's plain sailing.
Similarly, if you're on an Exchange platform, you can access corporate email that way – but you'll have to download a pretty pricey piece of software to do so.
Messaging is a breeze on the Storm 2 though, thanks to a radically overhauled text input system with BB OS 5.0. Basically you can enter text as fast as you like, and if you're working with commonly used words the intuitive text auto-correct will take over nicely.
This means you can really speed up on typing things out, and emailing becomes a breeze. We're not fans of the SurePress screen as we've stated above, as even the simple task of entering the message editor is a bit difficult by having to click here, there and everywhere.
But once you get going, entering text is blindingly simple. We're currently also using an Acer NeoTouch, based on Windows Mobile, and trying to enter text with any degree of accuracy is terrible. We then switch to the BlackBerry Storm 2, and it feels like the difference between swimming in treacle and pure spring water.
Add to that the fact it's super easy to copy and paste (simply tap the screen and grab the bars that appear left and right to select) and we can see why RIM remains king of the message. You can also search for messages from a certain contact simply by holding down on their name – the search quickly returns all options.
If texting isn't your thing and you don't fancy a spot of corporate email, it's similarly easy to add in your personal email as well, with the same simple email and password options used to create the account.
In fact, you can add up to 10 email accounts on the Storm 2, so you'll never run out of places to receive all that important electronic mail from. In fact the only downside is there's nowhere to store a pigeon, as it seems all other forms of communication are catered for.
The messaging centre allows you to view all your received mail at once – be it Facebook, SMS or email. You can also choose to start an IM conversation from here too, with the likes of Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger included in the box.
As you can see, messaging is a real winner on the Storm 2, and far better than the original thanks to auto-correct and a multi-touchscreen, which lets you type on two areas at once. If RIM could have thought of another way of entering text without the SurePress, we would have preferred it, but we guess there will be some fans out there.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Internet
Messaging is a hard act to follow, and the internet browser doesn't really manage it with any kind of aplomb.
The touchscreen and SurePress clicker are the two main components of the browser navigation, and neither particularly covers itself in glory.
One of the main problems with the browser is it's slow, and that's not just on connection. On mobile sites it's fine, with minimal lag, but crank it up to HTML and then things start to get pretty dicey.
Rows of text will display OK, but get any Flash lite involved and things start to go a bit pear-shaped. We're talking text crossing over itself, a freezing device and a generally slow experience. It's better over Wi-Fi, although still not as zippy as it could be in our opinion.
The variety of sites we tried not only didn't render as they would on the 'normal' internet, they also came out grainy and fuzzy for some reason. And when the display freezes on the Storm 2, the screen itself also locks, so you can't force it to go back or exit a program. In extreme cases this caused us to have to remove the battery at times, although this was fairly rare.
That said, the browser on the Storm 2 can be pretty slick - when working well over Wi-Fi, you could argue that it rivals that of the iPhone 3GS, although the all too frequent slowdown blighted the experience somewhat.
It lacks the complexity of the likes of the HTC Hero's browser, complete with the ability to post links to Twitter and Facebook, and the reformatting doesn't always perform as well as it should, leaving you with text off the screen even when you've engaged the 'Column View' smart-fit technology.
Another problem we had was selecting the right link. You can scroll to the link using the touchscreen, with each one under the finger being highlighted, but when it comes to selecting it, you can easily miss when the SurePress screen rolls under the finger when clicking.
Also, it's easy enough to zoom in by clicking on any part of the screen, but it's not so easy to zoom out, with the reverse zoom key needed to be engaged over and over again to get back to where you were.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Camera
As you can imagine, the camera on the BlackBerry Storm 2 is not going to rival the likes of the Samsung Pixon12 or the Sony Ericsson Satio, but this 3.2MP effort with single LED flash performs well enough when necessary.
The camera is very much what you'd expect a camera to be from a BlackBerry - it's functional, it performs well enough in decent light and it works quickly. Shutter speed could be improved somewhat as we had to wait a little too long to start another picture, but overall we were fairly impressed.
While the Storm 2 only has a 2x digital zoom, a nice touch comes in the fact you can stroke the screen up and down to zoom in and out - this is something we think more touchscreen phones should employ, as it's the kind of 'cool factor' they can and should exploit.
The rest of the camera functionality is basic - you can set the single LED flash to fire or not, a half press of the easy-to-find shutter button will bring decent autofocus and the image stabilisation seems to work pretty well.
Pictures don't always come out in the best quality, especially when an element of low light creeps in, but then again you're not going to be trying to win any photography prizes with the Storm 2 we suspect.
Some nice touches once the photo is taken do appear though - not only can you edit and set the photo for use elsewhere on the device (for a contact or as a wallpaper, for instance) but there's also an option to email it, send it as an SMS or post it on Facebook or Twitter if you've got those applications installed.
In fact, the gallery mode is much as you'd expect in the same way as the camera - it just does what you need it to do - you can slide through the pictures with a simple finger swipe and post them to various locations as described above easily.
Taking pictures is all very well, but sometimes you want to see many of them in very quick succession, almost like the pictures are moving. This is called video, friend, and you'll be pleased to know video recording is carried on the Storm 2 as well.
It's even more basic than the camera - the options are simple - you can turn the LED on or off to act as a video light (a very nice touch, by the way).
RIM hasn't published specs on the video recording quality, but a quick poke through the settings tells us its HVGA (most decent mobile phone cameras carry at least VGA) and we'd estimate it runs at 24fps, as the footage taken is actually fairly smooth.
Oh, there is another cool thing - when you move the phone from portrait to landscape the on-screen settings move with you. It's the little things that keep some of us amused.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Media
As you'd expect the media experience on the BlackBerry Storm 2 is pretty good, which is necessary as it's a very big reason as to why the phone is devoid of a QWERTY keypad.
The music player on the Storm 2 is pretty basic, but does the job with aplomb and pumps out your tunes the way you want them, which is all we can ask for in such a device.
The opening of the music player gives access to a well laid out list of songs by Artist, Album and even Genre, with a 'Shuffle Songs' option included so you can play your whole collection on a random loop.
The interface for each song is nice too, with nothing more than necessary information displayed on the screen. This means nice and large album art, a touchscreen scrollbar to skip through the song and easy to press track management buttons, such as play, pause and shuffle.
Another nice feature is the ability to click an artist's name and hold it down - doing this activates a search that brings up all other songs by said artist, which is neat if you have hundreds of songs on your BlackBerry Storm 2. The bundled 2GB card will hold a fair few, but we'd advise upgrading if you want a decent amount of videos on there too.
Speaking of video, the movie player is similarly good when it comes to media on the BlackBerry Storm 2. In fact, it's better than good - we're impressed with how clear it looks on the HVGA screen, compared to smaller, more high-res options on the market, such as the LG Crystal.
There's not a huge amount more to say on the video player other than it does what you'd expect it would, ie play a large amount of video formats and size them easily to fit the screen nicely. It supports MPEG4, WMV, H.263 and H.264 formats, so you'll need to convert your AVI files to get them working on the phone.
Having a 3.5mnm headphone jack helps enormously in this situation, as you don't have to worry about using an adaptor or Bluetooth headphones.
However, we did test out a pair of Jabra Halos, and while the Storm 2 did struggle to connect to them at first, once paired wireless music worked like a dream for both music and video.
There's sadly no FM radio on board as far as we can see, so this won't be the device you take to football with you to listen to the commentary while you watch your team lose time and again.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Applications
The Storm 2 comes pre-loaded with a number of applications out of the box, with some a lot more useful than others. From a productivity perspective, the main applications are the pseudo-Office options, which allow you to view and edit Word and Excel documents on the go (which is highly useful for those who need to interact with the office on the move).
From a more consumer perspective, there are a number of social networking and IM applications included from the beginning. Over here in the UK we're still reeling at the notion that ICQ is still prevailing in the US, but of more interest are the likes of Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger, along with the previously talked-about Facebook.
While the IM clients are functional enough, it's Facebook that works the best, integrating itself instantly with your contacts and updating groups and some statuses on a regular basis.
It also has a well laid out interface, offering the chance to send messages, check pokes and messages and also look at your news feed, all from the dedicated BlackBerry application developed by RIM.
7 Digital has also included an application to access its content on the Storm 2, allowing you to download tracks for a small fee (around 50p) as well as organise your music to complement the downloads within the program.
The UK version of the phone on Vodafone (where it will be exclusive for the first few weeks) has allowed the red network to muscle in on the musical game, whereby you can download tracks from the portal. Sadly, this option didn't work on our unit, but we're (surprisingly) assured by the network it will be a valuable option to the Storm 2.
Other than that, you're looking at the usual range of applications to see you through the day. There's the calculator we all love, voice dialling/commands and a password keeper, which we assume looks after your passwords on the device.
The gaming side of things is also well catered for, with the likes of BrickBreaker (better with a trackball) and Flight Path, which uses the built-in accelerometer to guide planes through hoops. It's as riveting as it sounds.
But, of course, today's smartphones wouldn't be complete without a bewildering array of applications to play with on the go - and that's where BlackBerry App World comes into the equation.
Basically an evolved version of the fairly large ecosystem of applications already developed for the BlackBerry range (but only available on the web until now), it's filled with functional items like translation software and meeting reminder applications.
However, this is all set to change in the near future as BlackBerry extends the source code compatibility to a wider range of applications - it's not going to worry Apple, but it will bring a nicer experience to the Storm 2.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Battery life and organiser
We're not sure what to make of the battery life on the Storm 2, as it fluctuates wildly between being rather good and very poor indeed.
We've come to the conclusion that heavy use of the SurePress touchscreen, along with a fair amount of web usage and three or so push email accounts will force the battery to drain more quickly than it should, especially when you consider it's a 1400mAh unit under the hood.
But even at its lowest ebb you can still eke out a day's worth of use from the phone - it's just a lot less than the 270 hours of standby time quoted by the manufacturer in the spec sheet.
The organisational functions on the BlackBerry Storm 2 are also well thought out, with the calendar making use of Google and Facebook's functionality to become a naturally useful tool.
For instance, when you synchronise with Google Mail, the phone can also be set to pull down your calendar as well, making it easier to see what's going on.
Facebook is added in a similar way, mostly with people's birthdays added into the mix so you can tell when your pals are having a shindig, with or without you.
Plus, when you enter a contact into your address book there's an option to add a birthday on there as well, which pops up on the calendar then sends you reminders before the event - very useful for remembering birthdays, although you wouldn't want to do it for everyone you meet, as you'd be jam packed with birthday parties before you knew it.
When you're constantly out and about, it's important to be able to organise yourself to know what the weather will be like in the next few hours (what if you turned up to a meeting with a super wet head because you didn't check?). Thankfully Weather Eye is developed for the BlackBerry range, so you can rest easy again knowing your weather needs are taken care of by RIM.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Connectivity
As you can imagine the BlackBerry Storm 2 is jam-packed with all manner of technology for connecting to other people and networks - and all of it works as smoothly as you'd like too.
From the home screen you've got once click access to the communication manager, which lets you turn off everything from the mobile network to Bluetooth. It also lets you set up a new connection for a number of options (most notably Wi-Fi, which will play a big part in the evolution of the Storm range after it was left out of the first model).
The way the Wi-Fi works on the Storm 2 makes a lot of people happy when they're using it, as it allows you to connect to your home network automatically when in range, transferring all the data services to this channel.
It's also necessary for the likes of the 7digital application, which only uses this method of streaming to bring you your music.
GPS is included in the box, and it's used with the Maps application. We found this a little bit basic to be honest, as when we were strolling around London we couldn't get a decent fix no matter how hard we tried - in the end we just downloaded Google Maps, but even that wasn't optimised for the Storm 2, with a pokey little window being used to see the whole map.
Connectivity is well looked after on the Storm 2, and it gets even better when you take a look at the media and desktop software included with the phone. BlackBerry Desktop manager basically allows you to back up all your files to your computer to make sure they're safe if you lose the phone.
Media Sync is one step beyond that in the fun stakes, whereby it reads your iTunes and Windows Media Player playlists and allows you to import them directly to the new device without the hassle of having to put it into mass storage mode every five seconds.
BlackBerry Storm 2 9520: Verdict
The BlackBerry Storm 2 is an odd phone to mark. When we first started using the phone, there were a number of problems (such as the dropping calls and fiddly to use interface) but these seemed to quickly melt away once we got used to the SurePress technology.
The sleek and weighty feel of the Storm 2 is that of a quality piece - the SurePress screen needs that around it. It's also busting to the seams with applications pre-installed, and a 2GB card isn't too shabby either. Texting is amazingly easy too, and it excels when actually trying to tap out a message thanks to the intuitive auto-correct.
We also liked the range of musical choice on the Storm2 - the 3.5mm headphone jack facilitated a much easier music experience through 7digital and Media Sync operations.
If you haven't noticed by now, you haven't really been reading the article. The SurePress technology just doesn't work in our opinion, as we're not sure why users need this extra level of operability into the text input system. It strains your fingers after a while, it sometimes clicks when it's not supposed to, and it generally doesn't float our boat.
The OS lag at times made the screen hard to use, as it locked itself down thinking it was in sleep mode, which was annoying at times.
We were impressed by the first Storm when we got it into test last year, but that opinion was quickly dismissed over time as we realised it's a lot harder to get used to the SurePress technology.
We'll be interested to see what's next in store for the BlackBerry Storm range, as surely the touchscreen will likely be staying around in more devices for a while longer to expand the remit of RIM into the consumer space, but for now, we're not convinced that the Storm 2 is the phone to finally take the fight to Apple and Nokia.
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