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Blackberry 9500 Storm Review: Software

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The Design section of this review can be found here.

The Blackberry Storm is the first device from RIM with a touch screen, generally in the first release of an OS there are a lot of bugs and problems with it because the  company has no previous experience manufacturing these devices. In fact, here in the United States the Blackberry Storm has a bad reputation, when I show people my Storm most of them said ”I heard it is not that good”. In

this review we will explore the software that the Blackberry Storm has and we will discuss how the it performs to finally find out if the first release of the OS 4.7  and Storm was a success or not.

The Blackberry Storm runs the Blackberry OS 4.7, if you compare the Storm interface with older Blackberries the difference is evident, the Storm has a much better looking OS with improved touch screen transitions. The OS 4.7 is one of the most well balanced OS I have ever used, it does not have too much eye-candy (Eye-Candy means that has a lot of transitions that are useless to productivity but are there exclusively to impress the user) but is not that dry, the OS 4.7 has the perfect balance.

The home screen of the Storm is different in portrait and landscape mode, in portrait we have 8 icons on the bottom and then the usual blank space where the wallpaper is. If the user clicks the upper part another 8 icons appear, the same menu can be reached by pressing the BB button. In landscape mode there are 12 boxes, the wallpaper can not be seen from the landscape mode.  The OS is really simple to use, all of the device features can be accessed from the boxes previously mentioned. RIM managed to avoid subfolders with sub-subfolders, the user taps the box and the features are directly inside that folder, there is  no more folders inside that folder. By doing this RIM made the Storm an easy to use  device.

The Storm has a capacitive touchscreen, which means that the screen is only responsive to the finger and not to objects such as stylus. The scrolling is similar to the iPhone, the user slides the finger through the  screen, the difference is that as soon as the user raises his finger from the screen, the scrolling stops and does not continue like in the iPhone. The navigation in menus and other pages is smooth, I have not had lags when scrolling through emails, sms and other content, the Storm handles it very smoothly.

As many current smartphones, the Blackberry Storm includes a built-in accelerometer which automatically rotates the screen. The auto-rotation works both when tilted to the right and to the left. My complaint with the accelerometer is that is too sensitive, when in portrait mode the Storm changes too easily to landscape mode. It has happened to me many times that I have my Storm over the table and from one moment to the other, the Storm automatically changes to landscape mode. There is no way to configure the sensitivity and for users it is quite annoying.

The Storm has a bad reputation mainly because it’s famous from tending to freeze and crash, users have reported that while browsing and doing other regular tasks the Storm crashed and restarted. These restarts usually take long to complete because the Storm can take up to 4-5 minutes to boot. This is definitively  not a good thing, having to wait 4-5 minutes until the Storm boots up.

RIM has an inconvenient solution for this problem. The solution basically is that when the user powers off the device, the device does not actually power off. Instead of really powering off and stop using the battery, the Storm enters a sort of hibernation mode where  apparently all is off but it really is not. With RIM’s solution the Storm takes 5 seconds to boot-up. But this is just a trick, if the user takes off the battery the Storm will really boot up, but then it will take 4-5 minutes. But as crashing and freezing is concerned, we have not had any problem, our Storm has not frozen or crashed even while performing the most demanding tasks.

I also found the Storm to be a very intuitive device, the software is designed so that it is convenient for the user. For example, when the Storm is plugged to the power supply, it lets the user decide whether to  enter ”Bedside Mode” or just stay in the normal mode. RIM was smart and knows that most of users plug their devices at night when they are going to sleep, if the user chooses “Bedside Mode”, the radio of the Blackberry shuts off, meaning that no emails, calls, SMS etc. will disturb the user’s sleep and a nice and large clock appears on the screen. When in “Bedside Mode”, the screen dims as much as possible, then with the screen totally dimmed and the big clock on it, the Blackberry Storm becomes a beautiful alarm clock. When the alarm from the Storm rings to wake up the user, the Storm automatically switches the radio on, so that emails, SMS, and calls are received during the night are notified to the user.

Another example of the Blackberry Storm’s intuitiveness, is that for example in the music player  when listening to music, the user can adjust the volume even if the device is key-locked, and if the user long presses the volume-up button the song changes to the next one and a  long press volume-down, the player changes to the last track. There are more examples of the Storm intuitiveness, another of them is the simplicity to configure any email account with just a username and password.

The browser of the Blackberry Storm is a full web browser, it runs Javascript and supports embedded media. Unfortunately the Storm’s browser does not support Flash, so watching videos on most sites is not possible. The browser is very stable, so far it has not crashed on our Storm. The problem with the Storm’s browser is that it sometimes it becomes unresponsive, after a short time the browser is again fully responsive and the user can continue using it.

When people tell me they heard that the Storm is not that good, I reply that I believe the exact opposite, so far the Storm we have for test has performed very well. The OS 4.7 is a powerful and easy-to-use operating system, its balance is perfect and it fulfills all expectations.

Have you read the post on the Nokia Bluetooth BH-604 Stereo Headdset? Check it out at the Nokia E71 Blog

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By , International Correspondent on Dec 20th, 2008 GMT +2

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