The new BlackBerry Storm 2 9550 by Verizon is shaping up to be the BlackBerry touchscreen device we’ve all been waiting for. I remember back when Mike Lazaridis was taking criticism for the original Storm and his response was “sorry it was the number 3 selling smartphone in North America. I wish it could have been number 1.” Well this is the second time out the gate and they definitely have it right this time.
Will sales of the Storm 2 beat the original Storm? If the hardware is the deciding factor I would say yes. But what about all those who have bought the original Storm? How many will upgrade? How many new touchscreen BlackBerry users will this device convert? These are all questions that will have to wait to be answered until after the device launches, which we expect to happen in early November. Some are suggesting late October and this could also be true. We’re seeing a lot of leaks happening which means we are approaching launch date. Until then, lets take a look at the pre-release version of the Verizon BlackBerry Storm 2 aka 9550.
Something to keep in mind about this article is that it’s about a pre-release device. While the form factor will remain, it’s hard to say what will happen to the software. Also, it’s difficult to say what iteration of 9550 I have in my hands. I have heard rumors that the Storm 2 has gone through over 8 iterations as the RIM continually improves on the touch interface and the end user experience.
As previous leaks have mentioned, the latest BlackBerry Storm 9550 has some technology under the hood that makes for a much better typing experience. While the first BlackBerry Storm had a single contact point, the latest BlackBerry shows four contact points, dispersed equidistant to each other across the touch screen. It’s just speculation but this is largely what makes the typing experience so much better on the Storm 9550.
The touchscreen is really what you first fall in love with about the device. With my original Storm, it had a bit of a shake to it, and it felt a little loose in its casing. The BlackBerry Storm 9550 doesn’t have this in the slightest. The screen is a rock solid piece of glass, and pressing the screen really gives you a feeling of confidence.
As you can see from the pictures, the outside of the device has had some significant changes. The major change is obviously the Call, End, Return and Menu buttons are built into the screen, rather than being separated. While using our pre-release device, I found that at first the keys were slightly unresponsive, but a battery pull really helped. Because these buttons are now, and I’m assuming here, driven by software rather than physical keys, much of their stability and usability are dependent on your device’s performance. Again, this is one of the downsides of reviewing a pre-release device, you’re trying to comment on something that isn’t a finished product, so there’s really no telling if it will be like that when it launches. Other form factor changes include the side keys which are now rubber. This adds some durability to the device.
The typing experience is definitely improved on the BlackBerry Storm 2. Once you pick up the device and start typing, you can feel yourself getting to speeds that are closer to that of the QWERTY devices. It is really apparent that the new multi-contact point system means you can be pressing keys much faster and the device has no problem recognizing the letters. While I was making mistakes, it was a huge leap over the Storm 1.
When we first posted about the Storm 2, we asked BlackBerry Cool readers what they would like to know about the device, many readers asked questions that we simply can’t answer such as exact release dates and carriers, but there are a few we can address. Many readers wanted to know about the battery life. I really can’t say this battery is a huge improvement in any way over the original Storm. I was able to use the Storm 2 for an entire day without fully draining the battery, but any power user will tell you that regular battery charges are common for a BlackBerry.
The camera on the BlackBerry Storm 9550 is a standard BlackBerry camera. It’s a 3.2 megapixel camera, and the video quality seemed about the same. The pre-release Storm 2 I was using still had the camera lag that I experienced with the Storm 1, but it was slightly better. Camera lag is one of those issues that will certainly be addressed when the device officially launches, and being a software issue, I can’t say anything for certain about it given this isn’t the final version of the device.
The media player is slightly improved on the Storm 2 which is great considering this will be a device heavily marketed to the consumer space. If you use the speaker often, you’ll like the fact that the speaker is located at the bottom of the device, meaning you get better sound quality as it sits on your desk.
As you can see from the above picture, this device is using OS version 126.96.36.199. I can’t say for sure if this is the OS that the 9550 will have when it launches, but there are some decent improvements that I can see already. One of the most obvious changes is that the device finally has threaded text messaging. There are also some minor changes such as menu transitions and the overall responsiveness of the device has been improved. Switching from portrait to landscape was completely seamless and there was almost zero lag.
When RIM acquired Torch Mobile, it became official that they were developing a WebKit based browser and that we can expect a browser comparable to other smartphones such as the iPhone. It is really too bad that we aren’t getting that browser on this device, because the Storm 2 could have greatly benefited from it. While the browser was slightly better, it wasn’t anything spectacular. I really appreciated the ability to browse over WiFi, even though the device has 3G. As we mentioned before, the device now has multi-touch support, which is great for things such as copy and paste, but I was really hoping to be able to zoom in and out using two fingers as per the iPhone. Again, being a pre-release device, this may come when the device launches, but I doubt it. This sort of functionality will likely come with the WebKit browser that’s in development.
Overall, this device makes for a much more solid touchscreen smartphone experience. So many of the issues that I had with the Storm 1, which were all software related, have largely been addressed. What’s really positive is that this device isn’t even a finished product, and it already feels like a winner. Once we get closer to launch, we’ll see even more software improvements, which go a long way in making the end user experience better.
We’ll continue to post about the Storm 9550 and get around to answering more of your questions about the device. As we draw closer to launch, we’ll probably get our hands on an updated Storm 9550 which could prove to be even more solid than the one we’re using now.