There’s been a lot of hullaballoo about the BlackBerry Storm over the last couple of weeks. David Pogue, normally so mild mannered, used his print column to lambast the device from several different directions. Another example of the kind of critiques that have been going around is here.
Pogue’s column generated a fair amount of both commendation and condemnation according to his latest blog post, and understandably so. He seemed unusually vituperative about the device compared with his normal even handedness, and you sensed a certain amount of annoyance at the way Verizon Wireless refused to acknowledge the bugs in the device and that this annoyance might have colored the rest of his commentary. At the same time, many users (including me) seem to have experienced similar problems and he gave their frustration voice.
All in all, I agree with some of what Pogue said but don’t feel quite as strongly about it all as he did. I like a number of things about the device:
- the exterior is very attractive - both front and back - the black glassy finish over the front looks nice and sleek and the brushed metal finish on the battery cover adds further class. Feels more solid than the Curve and a number of other recent BlackBerries.
- The user interface is also attractive, although the default Verizon red is a little offputting. The new wireframe icons that debuted with the Bold and continued with the Flip are here too and look pretty good on the whole (although downloaded applications still use the same logos they always have, making them look out of place among the minimalist native ones)
- The email and other PIM functions BlackBerries are famous for are still first class.
But there are a number of problems with the device, too, and the main one is the implementation of the touch screen. I’ve never understood why anyone thought tactile feedback was a useful thing with a touchscreen. If tactile feedback is your thing, then you should really buy a device with a keyboard. If you like touchscreens you don’t get tactile feedback and that’s just fine. What does that tactile feedback do for you anyway? If you hit the wrong key on the virtual keyboard (or more likely in the Storm’s case, select the wrong item in a menu) the feedback is the same - the same clicky sound you’d have got if you hit the right key or selected the right menu item. The Sprint Instinct tried to solve the same perceived problem in a different way - with “haptic” feedback (little vibrations confirming virtual key presses) which was just as useless and also a little distracting.
RIM has made the mistake of assuming that people who want a touchscreen are actually closet QWERTY keyboard addicts. Even if they pretend they’re willing to forego the keyboard they really want a clicky feel afterall - they’re just in denial. No. They actually prefer the flexibility of a keyboard and have made a deliberate decision to do without the clicky keyboard, thank you very much. If I wanted both a touchscreen and a keyboard I’d have bought a Treo.
I had the same issues as David Pogue as regards using the virtual keyboard and the touchscreen in general. Coming from the iPhone (which is my main personal device) the two-layered touchscreen (selection via regular touch, action via hard push) was unintutive - I kept finding myself wondering why things weren’t happening after I had clearly touched the screen as indicated by the on-screen highlighting on the object touched. Admittedly, one would get used to this after a while, but it also takes considerably more effort to push the screen down to the point of clicking compared with other touch screens, which would get old quickly and tiring soon after.
Then there’s the portrait mode implementation of the virtual keyboard, where the device uses the Suretype keyboard layout instead of just a more tightly spaced QWERTY layout as the iPhone does. This is frustrating for those of us who don’t regularly use suretype or other predictive text keyboards. And using the keyboard in landscape mode takes up so much of the screen as to be useless too.
RIM should have realised that, in other areas too, other touchscreen phones - especially the iPhone - have now defined the expected user experience. In Google Maps and the web browser, multi-touch commands like pinching are now the norm on other devices, but not on the Storm. You double-click (as with the iPhone) to zoom, but have to hit the back button to zoom out again (never would have figured that one out on my own). As with the Bold, where this also annoyed me, even perfectly visible links can’t be clicked on until you’ve zoomed into the page - an issue you don’t have with the iPhone where precision finger clicking can be done when in full page view of a webpage.
The acceleromter-powered screen rotation is either much too slow or much too eager - taking ages to turn when you rotate the device very deliberately but constantly switching to landscape mode when you so much as look at the device at a different angle. I don’t know how RIM has managed to create both problems at once but they have.
I’ll stop complaining there - I actually like the device a lot, and a lot of its foibles just take some getting used to. But it really feels like RIM was making a device for reluctant touchscreen users instead of touchscreen enthusiasts, and as a result has rather handicapped what could have been a much more compelling device. Instead of trying to reinvent the full-screen touch device, it should have recognised that Apple defined that space with the iPhone, creating certain expectations, and that the best BlackBerry could do was match the iPhone for ease of use and design and improve on it with all the stuff BlackBerries do best. Instead of which, they’ve combined a sub-par interface with those BlackBerry goodies and come out behind the iPhone instead of in front of it, at least for this user.