Mobility

Could BlackBerry Storm leapfrog iPhone in the enterprise?

The first touch screen BlackBerry has finally arrived and the iPhone is clearly in its crosshairs. Learn the pros and cons of the new BlackBerry Storm and see how well it stacks up against the iPhone as a business device.

 The first touch screen BlackBerry has finally arrived and the iPhone is clearly in its crosshairs. Learn the pros and cons of the new BlackBerry Storm and see how well it stacks up against the iPhone as a business device.

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Research in Motion's BlackBerry Storm has been one of the most widely anticipated IT products of 2008, and for RIM it is a critical product for the future of the BlackBerry brand. This is RIM's answer to Apple's iPhone, which is increasingly chipping away at BlackBerry's lead in the smartphone market.

Because there are so many executives, salespeople, road warriors, and information workers who love their smartphones, over the past month a lot of these folks have been asking me the same question, "What do you think about the BlackBerry Storm?"

Now that I've had the chance to kick the tires on a review unit of the Storm that I got from Verizon Wireless - the exclusive carrier of the device - I'm ready to say that there is a lot to like about the Storm.

Specs

  • Price: $199 with two-year agreement and mail-in rebate
  • U.S. Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • Global connectivity via CDMA/EVDO, UMTS/HSPA, and EDGE
  • 3.25" glass display with 480x360 screen
  • SurePress touch screen
  • 1 GB on-board memory plus microSD slot
  • 3.2 megapixel camera
  • Integrated GPS
  • Integrated Bluetooth 2.0
  • 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
  • Removable battery

See full photo gallery of the BlackBerry Storm.

Who's it for?

The Storm is aimed at corporate users who are tempted by the iPhone's flashy touch screen and multimedia features, but can still benefit from the BlackBerry platform for enterprise messaging, security, and manageability. This device is aimed at keeping them in the BlackBerry fold.

The other target audience is prosumers who are either focused on a rich multimedia experience in their smartphone or are buying their own smartphone to use for both work and personal use.

What problems does it solve?

The Storm marks RIM's first foray into touch screens. Its innovative screen-click approach is an attempt to bring tactile feedback to on-screen keyboards in order to make them more usable.

Also, for those who don't want to switch to AT&T to get the iPhone because they prefer the Verizon Wireless network, the Storm offers a multimedia touch screen device that's in the same class as the iPhone.

Standout features

Good battery life: For a 3G phone, the Storm has pretty good battery life. In my tests, it lasted two days without needing a recharge. That's about twice as long as the iPhone. Excellent display and speakers: The first thing you notice on the Storm is that it has a very high quality 480x360 screen. It's similar to the screen on the recently released BlackBerry Bold, which has a 480x320 LCD. The Bold and the Storm have the highest quality screens I've seen in a smartphone, with the iPhone just a half step behind them. The Storm also has the best speakers I've ever heard on a smartphone. It is a genuine multimedia device. Effective on-screen keyboard: The Storm's SurePress technology adds a new innovation to touch screens by making the screen clickable. Basically you hover over and highlight the thing you're going to press and then click the screen. It takes some getting used to, but I quickly found its on-screen keyboard to be much faster and more accurate for me than the iPhone's keyboard, although I still prefer a hardware keyboard like the one on the BlackBerry Bold. Can be tethered as a broadband modem: Using the Verizon Wireless VZAccess software, the Storm works as a 3G modem that you can tether to your laptop in order to get broadband on the go. In my tests using the Storm as a tethered modem, it averaged about 1.5 Mbps for downloads and about 500 Kbps for uploads. Business-ready: The biggest benefit of the Storm for IT leaders and their businesses is that if you already have a backend BlackBerry infrastructure in place, then the Storm will plug right in and immediately have the kind of security and manageability that enterprise IT departments demand.

What's wrong

Interface and navigation problems: The Storm interface is not nearly as intuitive as the iPhone's. The iPhone essentially needs no instructions. You can hand it to most people and tell them to start touching the screen and they'll figure it out. Not so with the Storm. It requires instructions and it takes some getting used to. Even after using it for awhile, I still found myself inadvertently clicking the wrong things and ending up in places I didn't mean to go. No Wi-Fi: Unlike the BlackBerry Bold and the iPhone, the Storm does not have Wi-Fi. This is unexplainable and a real disappointment because Wi-Fi can help reduce phone charges and provide a better Web experience when you're roaming around at home or at the office. Non-standard power and USB adapters: The Storm also comes with a new set of USB and power adapters that do not match up with the standard BlackBerry connectors on current phones. This is a major pain in the neck, because if you already own a BlackBerry you probably have all of the adapters you need for the car, your laptop bag, the office, and maybe even a cradle at home. None of them will work with Storm so you'll have to buy new accessories. Web browsing could be better: Although Web pages look great on the Storm's high quality display, the Web browsing experience on the Storm is much more clunky than the iPhone, which was the first device to make the Web usable on a smartphone. The iPhone still has the best Web viewing experience I've seen on a smartphone - by a long shot.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

With the BlackBerry Storm, RIM has succeeded in building a true next generation smartphone that takes its platform to another level. The advanced screen, usable on-screen keyboard, tethering capability, and enterprise readiness will make it attractive for a lot of businesses. The biggest caveats are that it's not as user-friendly as the iPhone, it lacks Wi-Fi, and doesn't offer the same powerful Web browsing experience that you get on the iPhone.

For those who want an iPhone-like touch screen experience in an enterprise-class smartphone - or those who like the iPhone but prefer Verizon over AT&T - the Storm will be a very attractive device. However, for hard core BlackBerry users who work well with the current trackball BlackBerries, as well as professionals who send a lot of e-mail messages from their phone and/or do a lot of data input, the Storm is probably not going to be a great choice.

Ultimately, I still think the hardware keyboard and mini trackball are much more efficient for getting work done than using a touch screen, so I consider the Bold to be the top-of-the-line smartphone for business users. However, a lot more users are gravitating toward touch screens and the Storm brings a powerful

RIM hasn't caught Apple yet. The Storm isn't as good of a consumer device as the iPhone, but it's in the same ballpark and RIM could certainly translate the advantages of its smartphone platform - better messaging, monitoring, and security - plus having Verizon Wireless as the Storm's network partner into wins in the enterprise market. In fact, a year from now I wouldn't be surprised to see more Storms than iPhones in the enterprise—at least in terms of the official smartphones deployed by IT.

Video: See why Verizon's new BlackBerry is stirring up a Storm

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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