Want a touchscreen interface that promises a decent email experience? That's what RIM want to achieve with the launch of the Storm, but have they created that Mecca? Pocket-lint managed to get hands on with the new smartphone ahead of the global announcement to find out.
Apparently Vodafone sent RIM back to the blackboard several times before it gave the thumbs-up to the BlackBerry Thunder - or Storm as it is now called - which was finally launched officially today after months of rumours, leaked pics and speculation.
RIM has been making increasingly Bold moves (ha ha!) into the space between business users and high-end, or simply adventurous, consumers with the likes of the Curve, the Bold and the Pearl. As RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis told Pocket-lint: “Smartphones are penetrating the mid-tier market, and soon the bulk of contract phones will be smartphones”.
On a basic level - you get a 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.55-inch HSDPA phone capable of 7.2Mbps data transfer, which supports quad-band: 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz GSM, GPRS and EDGE networks.
But here’s the key development. Rumours were circulating that the Storm would boast full touchscreen capabilities with haptic feedback. But it’s got something better.
How many times have you managed to cut off a call on your smartphone simply by touching the screen with your cheekbone, or have had to type an email really slowly because your fingers are just too big for the keyboard - virtual or not?
RIM thinks it has come up with something that will change all of this. It has combined a capacitive multitouch screen with a new suspension system, which is underneath the screen itself. As Mike Lazaridis told us: "This combines the navigational tools you need with the confirmation tools" - in other words - you can scroll using the touch tech you have on other smartphone models, but to type a message or open an email, you press on the screen, which will click you through (and you actually feel the screen click, which is comfortingly like a real computer keyboard).
This really does make a huge difference especially coupled with the good sized virtual QWERTY keyboard the Storm has. The keyboard orientates itself to whatever way you are holding it, and RIM has made sure that the quick access keys at the bottom of the screen are easy to use whether you are left- or right-handed.
But this new touch tech has also enabled all sorts of nifty tools. Like the Bold, for example, when you are looking at a list of emails, you can click on the name of a sender, and the Storm will then pull up all of the emails sent to you by that person (you can also quick search using the date).
And, yes the rumours were true, it also means that the storm follows the Nokia 5800 in giving users a Cut and Paste option in a touchscreen smartphone. You simply use two fingers to designate the text you want to copy and then paste it where you need it, whether in an email, in your calender or on a word doc. You can’t do this with pics as yet but you can with content on the web.
The click through tool also makes it easier to browse the web as your cursor will change (as it does on PCs) when hovered over a live link, and you can then push your screen to go through. (Incidentally, you can also take calls when browsing the web, which is handy.)
This click through feature is bound to enamour the device to business users and consumers alike, but, when coupled with the array of apps (and there are more to come thanks to today’s launch of the BlackBerry SDK), and also media features, you really realise that this phone could contend with music-focused Nokia and Sony Ericsson devices right through to, yes, bravely stated, being an iPhone alternative.
The high-resolution 480 x 360 pixel colour display is surprisingly sharp and is big enough to comfortably watch a movie on without squinting. Movie support is for MPEG4 H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile and WMV files, and audio-wise, you can listen to MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA and WMA ProPlus files.
If you want to create your own content the Storm has 30fps video capabilities and a 3.2-megapixel camera. There are apps pre-loaded on the phone that let you load your pics and vids straight up to YouTube, Facebook and Flickr amongst others.
The phone takes microSD cards so you can snap or film as much as you want.
The phone also packs in stand-alone and Assisted-GPS, and comes preloaded with BlackBerry Maps, which disappointingly is still poor, although you can get around this by downloading Google maps.
But with all of these energy hungry applications, does the Storm run out of power fairly quickly? Time will tell, but the RIM rep who showed us the new model claimed that he had been using his all day to demo and only one-third of the battery was gone. The official specs say you get 6 hours of talk time and don't mention what happens when you start to use all the other features.
It seems such a silly thing, but being able to type on a phone with the same ease as you can on a real computer keyboard makes such a huge difference. No more faffing around with a stylus you'll inevitably lose for a start.
But there is more to the Storm than the touch tech. The interface is easy to navigate, and all of the business tools that the BlackBerry line-up has offered right from the beginning are there.
However, there's also fun stuff for when you are sick of answering emails, and would rather sit back on the train and watch a film, or listen to music. And, while the Storm only currently offers one game, following on from the launch of the SDK, there are sure to be many more soon.
So what you have at the moment is an all-rounder, but with the possibility of even more tools and apps to come - something Apple must be a little bit worried about. While the iPhone will always have its fans, the Storm has the potential to blow some of the competition down.