Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Storm is a washout

In preparing for my talk this morning, last night I thought I’d get around to checking out the BlackBerry Storm that got so many rave reviews when it was announced by bloggers (like me) who’d never seen one.

In a word, it was disappointing. The performance of the network (1x not 1xEV) inside the Circuit City store was sluggish. As reviewers have noted, it was really buggy (a firmware update is apparently out but was not installed).

The browser was particularly awful. It updated the screen in splotches (almost as though it were doing server-side rendering). When I rotated the device the splotches (or tiles) got out of sync and so the screen was unreadable. I haven’t been able to find who made the browser, but this is not the WebKit-quality browser found on the iPhone and S60. The performance claimed in Endgadget was unrecognizable:

Thankfully the browser has been considerably updated. If you have any experience with RIM's last attempt at mobile browsers (the Bold), then you know what manna from heaven any fixes would be. 4.6's browser is, in a word, unusable. Load times are painful, rendering is only sometimes accurate, and mostly it's just a tortuous mess to get around in. We can honestly say that the Storm's implementation is leaps and bounds beyond what the company has previously offered.
The sales clerk rationalized the network performance — not implausibly that there was poor radio reception inside a large 2 story building. But he said it was the worst BlackBerry he’d ever seen.

The reviews have been even more harsh. The most often quoted is the NYT review by David Pogue, which is relentless. Here is just a miniscule excerpt
It can take two full seconds for the screen image to change when you turn it 90 degrees, three seconds for a program to appear, five seconds for a button-tap to register. (Remember: To convert seconds into BlackBerry time, multiply by seven.)

In short, trying to navigate this thing isn’t just an exercise in frustration — it’s a marathon of frustration.

I haven’t found a soul who tried this machine who wasn’t appalled, baffled or both.
Apparently, Storm owners wrote in droves to agree. While I lack the BlackBerry benchmark to compare, there’s no way this device has the user experience of the iPhone I’ve borrowed or even the clunky (but adequate) Nokia E65 I bought last year with my own money.

Why did RIM ship a buggy device that would damage their reputation? Were they that worried about missing the Xmas sales season? Was it just an ordinary case of marketing promising a date that engineering wasn’t sure that it could make?

The other major disappointment was the virtual keyboard. Supposedly the clicking of the touchscreen was supposed to find a more realistic feel than regular touchscreens like the iPhone or Nokia N810. But it lacks the patented iPhone gestures for screen navigation.

Not only was the feel inadequate, but as with the iPhone — the screen goes away when you need the virtual keyboard. What’s the point of having a large LCD if you can’t use it?

The Google/HTC/T-Mobile G1 and Nokia N97 (like many LG and Samsung) phones have it right: a slide out keyboard is the real answer. However, I'm curious as to why there aren't more Bluetooth external keyboards available or in use.

Ideally, there would be something that 's portable enough to fit in a briefcase, but fast enough to support 60-80 wpm typing that an experienced computer user can hit. Something like the old GoType keyboard for the Palm PDAs, which I used for a couple of business trips and conferences. A Nokia guy told me he uses a Bluetooth keyboard with his S60 phone. Apparently one has been promised for the iPhone but not released.

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