Back in October 2008 I blogged about the BlackBerry Storm, RIM’s first touch-screen device. At the time I was totally seduced by the idea of having a full-screen BlackBerry… until I tried it. The usability of the original Storm was deservedly much-maligned, and indeed I spent ten unsuccessful minutes trying to enter my name into the contact list, eventually resulting in the word ‘Dappem’. No, I’m not joking. The design of the device was lovely, the big screen was bright and crisp, but it really was a pain to use… the scrolling was jerky and the movement-sensed screen orientation (executed so well on the iPhone) was random at best. It also didn’t have Wi-Fi, which seemed a major omission that RIM were responding to the iPhone juggernaut.

A while ago I was offered a Storm 2 to try out, and I took possession of it a few days ago. Cosmetically it’s almost identical, the only difference I can see is that the control buttons are now part of the screen panel rather than being separate buttons. Some of the specifications are the same… for example, the screen and the overall dimensions. The key differences (I should say ‘improvements’) are under the hood. The whole touch-screen experience has been revamped – the one under-screen physical button of the first version has been replaced by four corner-located piezoelectric sensors. The result is an all-round better touch experience and more accurate typing. Okay, it does take a bit of getting used to but it doesn’t take long – at first I was hitting ‘r’ instead of ‘e’ every time, but that bad habit has already disappeared. I will admit that the physical keyboard of the other devices is easier to use, but it’s early days and I am speeding up.

Other aspects associated with navigation show huge improvements, namely scrolling (now very smooth) and more reliable screen orientation.

The Storm 2 supports Wi-Fi and 3G, so there’s no longer any major connectivity omissions. It has a 3.2 megapixel camera – not an astounding feature these days, but it has a flash (a win over the iPhone), the picture quality is very good and the fact that you can use a swipe of your finger to zoom in and out is really rather cool.

And there’s a number of other things which are well-implemented – the dialling screen allows you to quickly switch between the dial-pad, call log and contacts (maybe this was in the original Storm, but whatever, it’s a step above the previous BlackBerry devices I’ve used). The message-thread approach to SMS messages is also very good – this may be a feature of OS5 and therefore available on other devices, but I like it anyway.

In summary – the touch-screen experience is a vast improvement on the original, and any small disadvantages in not having a physical keyboard are compensated for by that gorgeous big screen which almost all applications benefit from. If you tried the original Storm and were put off, I’d recommend that you give the new model a chance to win your affections.

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