BlackBerry Storm 2 - First Look review

RIM today announced the BlackBerry Storm 2, the second iteration of its touchscreen handset. We had our hands on the new device this morning, and this is what we made if it.

In terms of look, little has changed from previously, following those distinct BlackBerry design lines, which now includes rubberised side volume and convenience keys. The backplate is metal, so feels sturdy enough and is comfortable in the hand. Measuring 112.5 x 62 x 13.9mm, its dimensions are average, even if the 160g is surprisingly weighty.

The front sees a 3.25-inch 480 x 360 pixel resolution display, featuring SurePress technology. SurePress, RIM tell us, is designed to differentiate between touching something and actually wanting to trigger that action. So, to select something on the screen, like an icon, you press the screen, it clicks and the phone reacts.

Previously this was enabled by a mechanical system residing behind the screen. The downside was that the screen had to return to its original position before you could select something else. This system has been replaced with an electromechanical system, so you still click it, but the phone can respond to subsequent clicks straight after. If you are typing, you can now use two thumbs to bash out emails without waiting between letters.

It seems to work too and settling down to crack out an email on the landscape keyboard is easy enough, once you remind yourself to press and not just touch. This is a pretty essential point, as BlackBerrys are known and loved for their keyboards (along with the email service, of course).

Various versions of the keyboard ware available, from QWERTY in landscape and portrait, through to RIM's SureType keyboard, which Pearl users will be familiar with, and works really well in portrait mode. Predictive text helps to iron out any mistakes you might make, whilst the key you press glows blue: it doesn't give you pop-up letters like you get on the iPhone and others, but we found it accurate enough in our short play.

Of course, it is difficult to judge the overall performance of the keyboard experience without really getting down to some power email action – something that BlackBerry users know all about. Email is a core component of your BlackBerry experience, and nothing has changed on this front, which is a good thing, but from a visual point of view it doesn’t have the impact that some of the recent alternatives do.

If you are a BlackBerry user, you'll be able to pick-up the Storm 2 and know where everything is. You'll know how to access the menu, you'll know which settings to tweak. The BlackBerry Storm 2 will ship with OS version 5, which has been waiting in the wings for some time and in that regard, nothing much has changed from a cosmetic point of view.

So your home page carries a number of shortcut icons allowing you to dive into your applications. Once you've entered say, emails or contacts, you'll find it the same as other BlackBerry devices. The touch response was pretty fast, but in a device that is free from content, it perhaps isn't a fair test, so we’ll reserve judgement on how it really performs until we've played with it some more.

Searching is pretty smart however, with touch bringing information to your fingertips easily. For example, you can press a contact's name and the Storm 2 will search for that person. Press the subject of an email, and it will search for that. We didn't get the chance to really test out how far you can go with it, but if it saves you opening a search window and typing in a search string, then so much the better.

We had a little play with cut and paste too, which takes advantage of multi-touch. Put two fingers on the screen and – like the iPhone – you get two tabs to select the text you want to copy. We tested it in a number of different places, so it seems like you can copy pretty much anything – unlike the Palm Pre, for example.

But having said that, we did find it being incredibly sensitive to our touch, jumping over lines and sometimes giving us three tabs for selecting text, suggesting that it's either a system that needs some refinement, or it's going to take a little practise to really use well.

Wi-Fi is included on this model, having been omitted from the original Storm, which will please those who like to browse within a home network, or those who want to avoid the burden of data costs whilst roaming.

You get the usual combination of HSPA, GPS and Bluetooth too, to keep you connected, and around the back is the usual autofocus 3.2-megapixel camera, with an LED flash. A 3.5mm headphone jack will let you listen to your music on the move.

Verdict

Whilst we are fans of BlackBerry and their exemplary email service, you can't help feeling that the BlackBerry Storm 2 doesn't quite wow like the recent crop of touch devices. You don't get that easy OTA syncing out of the box like you do with Android devices and you don't get that super intuitive interface like the iPhone.

We pushed RIM on this point, asking about whether we would see an integrated contacts list or a "people-focused" approach, but it doesn't seem to be coming. Sure, you can install the Facebook app and use Google Sync to bring your contacts in with pictures, but it doesn’t have the buzz of something like Palm's Synergy or Motorola's Motoblur.

It is worth asking who the Storm 2 is aimed at: is it designed to dominate the consumer touchscreen space, or is it supposed to bring a larger screen to enhance the multimedia experience for business users? In today's world of smartphones is there really a difference between the two?

Taken at first glance, the BlackBerry Storm 2 doesn't seem to make inroads into the consumer space with any great pace. It gives you your core BlackBerry functions - that premium email service that BlackBerry users know and love - but you can't help feeling that over the life of your next BlackBerry contract, the Storm 2 and the BlackBerry OS is going to age quite fast.

We will be getting the BlackBerry Storm 2 in for a full review soon, where we'll see if it really keeps pace with the rest of the touchscreen pack.