I recently got my hands on an evaluation unit of the BlackBerry Storm, which like the iPhone, features a large touch screen interface. Of course, detractors would probably scoff at its user interface as lacking compared to the iPhone’s, regardless of its SurePress “clickable” screen.
With the strength of RIM’s BlackBerry platform in the enterprise, however, I thought it would be interesting to evaluate its suitability in the enterprise. As it is, I went ahead and used the Storm as my personal phone for one full week.
So how would I rate the BlackBerry Storm in terms of its usability in the enterprise?
Absence of physical keyboard
The Bold spearheaded the appearance of BlackBerry Smartphones with faster than 2G connectivity options as well as a whole new bag of software features to boot. On the other hand, the Storm is really about the transition from a keypad-centric device to touch-screen hardware and, of course, the absence of a dedicated keypad to enable the larger display. As such, any appraisal of the Storm will unavoidably touch on these two areas.
It is apparent even after an initial twiddling of the Storm that RIM has invested painstaking efforts to tailor the BlackBerry OS 4.7 to enable a seamless touch-screen experience. Regardless of the number of tweaks though, the absence of a keypad means the inability to meaningfully use any application or device-specific shortcut key. And while well-designed, BlackBerry applications should not be crippled as a result; productivity for certain enterprise applications involving repetitive entries might decline.
Now, note that I am not saying that the lack of a keypad is all bad. Certainly, I really enjoyed the additional display space, as well as the ability to scroll around Google Maps or view documents in Cerience’s RepliGo client. The tactile response enabled by the SurePress technology was also rather fun to use when it comes to clicking buttons or, in my case, setting my daily wakeup alarm.
With some practice, I was able to type rather quickly on the virtual keyboard too. However, after having used the Storm for one week, I can unequivocally say that I will not be able to type as fast on the Storm as on my Bold. Enterprise use for applications where there is a lot of user input would be unlikely to be satisfactory.
It is clear that RIM made many enhancements to the traditional user interface of the BlackBerry platform in order to leverage the Storm’s touch display. The configuration parameters under the default Options application, for one, is double-spaced in the Storm to allow for easier selection with a finger.
On the other hand, applications will need to be specifically enabled for the Storm in order to take advantage of its ability to display the user interface in landscape mode. As it is, applications with many buttons or controls on a page might not fare as well and would likely need to be tweaked if not redesigned altogether.
As an example of what could possibly go awry, one of the Social Networking applications that I use, TwitterBerry, did not implement full support for the Storm. As such, I was not able to use the larger virtual keyboard that appears in landscape mode. In addition, scrolling down through the list of tweets from my friends also means drawing downward with my finger — when the intuitive direction would be to drag my finger upward.
Overall build and usability
In my decidedly unscientific side-by-side comparison, the Storm is actually a tad shorter than the Bold as well as noticeably narrower. Battery life is comparable to the Bold despite the much larger and higher resolution of the display.
Overall, the Storm bears the traditional touch of ruggedness and heft of Smartphones from RIM. Under the hood, its usability is also similar, barring the issue of application support as noted earlier.
As a BlackBerry Smartphone, the Storm works just as well as any of the recent models from RIM. Its large display is clearly superior for tasks that involve little or no data entry. When it comes to applications that require more data entry though, the Storm can be a mixed bag. At a minimum, existing applications will need to be tweaked to work properly with the Storm.
For executives considering getting the Storm, I would recommend that they be given an opportunity to take one for a short spin first before making a final decision. Mileage will vary with individuals, though this advice is especially pertinent if they have used previous models with keypads.