When RIM launched the BlackBerry Storm in 2008 it was greeted with a mixed reception. Some loved it, others (like Stephen Fry) hated it. So can the second attempt fix the problems and give BlackBerry users a viable touchscreen experience? We've been using one for a couple of weeks to find out.
At a quick glance you'll think it's the same phone as last year. The design is similar, the form factor is virtually the same and the operating system doesn't look too different either.
Of course it isn't the same and RIM has worked hard to address all the minor and major issues associated with the first version of the handset. The software is faster and more responsive, the bottom buttons are now a part of the screen rather than separate, and overall it's a far better experience than before. Say what you want, but this is how the original Storm should have performed.
So does that make it another contender for phone of the year? In short, no. While the Storm users we tracked down were impressed - noting it was much improved in performance levels - the world has moved on from the innovative, if not controversial, approach of the first handset.
If you are moving over from a Bold or Curve, with its hard QWERTY keyboard, then the notion of having to jab the screen to accept your commands (SurePress as RIM calls it) won't be that annoying, but moving from a capacitive touchscreen device you will find it a shock.
The system works by floating the entire high-resolution 480 x 360 pixel 3.25-inch screen so you have to physically press it down to accept your command. It's not as bad as it sounds, but if you're looking to type a long email you will really feel like you have gone 10 rounds in a thumb fight: it's hard work.
Upgraded from a single hidden button underneath to four actuators in the corners of the screen you get a more responsive press and therefore feedback to your actions. It also means it doesn't shift around as much as the first screen did in its cradle as it's held in place at the four corners rather than the centre. It will allow for two finger pressing, but not pinching to zoom for example.
Hardware-wise it's the usual story, following the "we don't need Wi-Fi" stance on the Storm, the Storm 2 now has Wi-Fi. Personally it's not that big a deal as Verizon and Vodafone's 3G coverage is very good, but if you were upset by the lack of Wi-Fi you now don't have to be. Wi-Fi joins 3G, CDMA (for Verizon) Bluetooth and GPS on the connectivity front. Multimedia wise, you get a 16GB microSD card inside to store your stuff on, a 3.5mm headphones socket, a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash, auto focus, image stabilization, and a 2x digital zoom as well as that very crisp screen ideal for watching movies and BlackBerry OS 5.0.
There's also a bump in Flash memory (double in fact from 128MB to 256MB) and on-board memory for storing Apps goes up to 2GB from 1GB.
The Operating system is the same, obviously adapted for the touchscreen, as you'll find on the latest BlackBerry handsets like the Bold 9700. Those who have used a BlackBerry before know what they are getting here and the Storm on that front doesn't throw up any surprises.
We tested a Verizon handset in the US, although it is available on Vodafone in the UK. Verizon pre-install their VCast Sony ID, VCast Videos and VZ Navigator as standard on the unit. You can choose to remove them if you want, and there isn't any further customisation. It's not as violent as carriers used to be with dedicated skins for example.
There are tweaks to the software over the original making it a better experience all around, but ones to note are the Inertial Scrolling w/Snap Back that means you can swipe down with your finger and watch the page carry on scrolling (just like the wheel of fortune) and we especially like the ability to now press on the network coverage logo and get direct access to the connections. It's the same for the clock (i.e., alarms) and the volume, although you do get a physical volume button to mute it for when you hit that important "do not disturb" meeting.
Email is fantastic, giving you real power to search. Add that to Xobni's BlackBerry app when it comes out and this, for communicating on the go, will be hard to beat. It's what RIM do best after all, but that's true of the BlackBerry family, not just the Storm 2.
However get into web browsing and the browser is incredibly slow on Wi-Fi and 3G, a shame as Verizon's and Vodafone's 3G coverage is very good. Pages seem to take forever to load and while you can opt for the nippier Opera browser you can't set it as the default, which means you'll soon forget about it when you go to open a link in an email or tweet.
The BlackBerry Storm 2 is a vast improvement on the Storm. It's a better hardware design and better software build that gives you a better experience all around.
In the year since the Storm launched however, we've seen plenty of high-end smartphones hit the market in the UK and the US. The iPhone 3GS, the Palm Pre, the HTC Hero, even the Motorola DEXT show us what can be done with touchscreen and slider devices. In a segment of the market offering great possibilities from a large touchscreen, the Storm 2 just can't keep pace.
So the final result? It's a condescending "well done" to RIM for making it better, but unfortunately it's just not good enough when you compare it to the competition that's now available.