REVIEW: BlackBerry Storm2 9550 Bests Predecessor on Performance, Touch Screen

 
 
By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2009-10-28
 
 
 

REVIEW: BlackBerry Storm2 9550 Bests Predecessor on Performance, Touch Screen


Research In Motion's new BlackBerry Storm2 9550 smartphone is born of lessons learned, both good and bad.

Gone are the balky, unresponsive touch screen and laggy performance that were the hallmarks of the device's predecessor. Instead, the Storm2 9550 provides reliable performance, touch-screen technology that delivers new on-screen capabilities, and more connectivity options both domestically and abroad. 

The Storm2 9550 is also the first device RIM has shipped with the BlackBerry OS 5, which adds a number of enhancements for users, particularly those working for companies already using the latest version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

The BlackBerry Storm2 9550 (I'll just call it the Storm2 from here on out) is available now on the Verizon network. With month-to-month pricing, the Storm2 costs $540; with a two-year contract and online discounts, the smartphone can be had for as little as $180.

The Storm2 measures in at 4.43 by 2.45 by 0.55 inches, and weighs 5.64 ounces--a slight, 0.14-ounce increase over the first iteration of the Storm (the Blackberry Storm 9530).

Like its predecessor, the Storm2 comes with a 3.25-inch touch screen with 480-by-360-pixel resolution. Unlike its predecessor, however, the Storm2 ditches the mechanical subsystem used to provide a clickable touch screen, using instead an all-electrical iteration of the SurePress screen. According to BlackBerry representatives, the Storm2 display "is mounted on four actuators that generate an impulse when the screen is pressed." 

Using the new SurePress screen is a little weird but oddly effective, as it seems to combine the attributes of both a resistive and a capacitive touch screen in the same device.

The pressure-based touch differences have allowed RIM to introduce its own gesture language to Storm2 users. A single light tap highlights a link or dialog box; a light double tap triggers a zoom action; and users can flick the screen in any direction--left and right to move around-as in a photo gallery or the pages of a presentation.

But most welcome is the up and down flick, along with a new feature in BlackBerry OS 5.0 that allows for inertial scrolling. This action lets users more easily scroll along in very long Websites or documents, thereby alleviating one of the biggest annoyances I've had with BlackBerry devices since they standardized on the trackball in the majority of the device fleet.

This new screen technology promises multitouch capabilities, as well as faster and more accurate typing than was possible with the Storm 9530. In my tests, I found the multitouch capabilities a little underwhelming, due to some limitations with the sensor approach RIM has taken.

For example, say I wanted to capitalize two letters in a row. This would require me to hold down the Shift key for a few beats as I typed the letters. If one of the letters was too close to the Shift key (X seemed to be a particular problem for me), I found the Storm2 would only occasionally recognize that I was trying to hit that key. In the end, triggering the Shift Lock instead was a less frustrating means to the same end.

As with every other on-screen keyboard implementation, users' mileage will likely vary when it comes to typing speed and accuracy. In my short time with the device, I did not find my typing particularly fast or accurate, although I've been improving gradually.

However, I was grateful to see that various keyboard options are now available to the user. For example, when in landscape viewing mode (the accelerometer recognizes the shift in orientation to switch the screen, as the iPhone does), the on-screen keyboard is QWERTY.  In portrait mode, the device defaults to a SureType keypad (organized like the keyboard on a BlackBerry Pearl), but the user can easily change it to QWERTY here, as well.

Increase in Memory


 

Under the covers, the Storm2 doubles the amount of onboard memory and storage that came with the Storm 9530. The Storm2 ships with 256MB of Flash memory and 2GB of storage built in. The Storm2 also comes with a 16GB MicroSD card preinstalled, so there's plenty of headroom for documents and media files.

The Storm2 comes with the same processor as the Storm 9530, but the increase in memory and updated software make the new device seem faster than its processor, with response to orientation changes notably improved.

Like its predecessor, the Storm2 is designed to be a world phone, with on-board cell radios to support both CDMA/EVDO Rev. A networks (800 and 1,900MHz bands) and GSM (850/900/1,800/1,900MHz), with HSPA/UMTS  (2,100MHz) for international functionality. The GSM/UMTS radio is locked to Verizon's international partners, however, and the devices come with a Verizon/Vodaphone SIM preinstalled.

When using Verizon's network, I found call quality to be quite good when using either the handset or a corded headset, although callers on the other end of the line consistently reported that my voice sounded tinny or mechanical.  The speakerphone was adequate, but not capable of anything close to the rich, full sound of the speakerphone in HTC's Touch Pro 2.

In a welcome improvement over the previous model, the Storm2 comes with a Wi-Fi radio, adding support for 802.11b/g.  As has been the case since RIM began shipping Wi-Fi on its phones, profile wizards are easy to use, wireless security support is absolutely outstanding, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting tools are quite handy. Of course, mobile administrators can configure and deploy all of these settings via BlackBerry Enterprise Server. 

The Storm2 comes with a 1,400 mAhr Lithium cell battery. When connected to CDMA/EVDO networks, the battery is rated for 5.5 hours of talk time (11.2 days standby); the rating bumps up slightly when connected to UMTS/HSPA networks (6 hours of talk time, 11.7 days standby). According to the specifications listed at www.blackberry.com, the battery performance for the Storm2 may be slightly decreased from that of the Storm 9530.

The BlackBerry OS 5's built-in Web browser is more usable than previous versions were, but it's certainly nowhere near the industry vanguard. JavaScript is now enabled by default. The tabbed browsing that was rumored earlier in the year is nowhere to be seen-at least not yet-but the browser does come with built-in support for Google Gears.

BlackBerry OS 5 offers additional benefits for enterprise customers that have already moved to the latest version of RIM's enterprise management offering, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.

During tests, I activated the Storm2 from eWEEK Labs' BES 5.0 for Exchange implementation (see my review here), and found a few changes of note that were not accessible when using legacy BlackBerry devices.

For instance, when using a Curve 8900 running BlackBerry OS 4.6, I could only open and view the contents of an Exchange folder. When using the Storm2 with OS 5, I could also rename, move, create and delete Exchange folders directly. These changes were reflected quickly in Outlook and Outlook Web Access.

With the Storm /BlackBerry OS 5 combo I could also now view and open attachments to Outlook calendar entries-a function not possible on 4.x-based devices such as the Curve 8900.

When viewing a calendar entry on the Storm2, the list of attachments appears at the bottom on the Appointment Entry in the Notes section. From there, I could select and preview supported attachment types. During tests, I was able to view Word and PowerPoint 2007 files, as well as a PDF.

Interestingly, the PowerPoint presentation could be viewed only in landscape mode on the Storm2, while both the PDF and the Word document could be viewed in either landscape or portrait mode.

Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at agarcia@eweek.com.

 

 

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