Review: BlackBerry Storm -- better for business than the iPhone?

BlackBerry's Storm may be an iPhone wannabe, but it's a powerful smart phone that will be particularly attractive to business users.

Is Research In Motion Ltd.'s new BlackBerry Storm just an Apple iPhone wannabe or is it an innovative, highly usable smart phone in its own right? The answer: Yes, on both counts.

The Storm is obviously a response by RIM and Verizon Wireless to the runaway success of Apple's iPhone, which is offered exclusively in the U.S. by AT&T. Features such as a touch-screen-only interface and automatic switching between landscape and portrait modes are sure indicators of that. But the Storm also has some appealing advantages over the iPhone, such as the ability to read and edit Microsoft Office documents.

Business first

While Apple has taken steps to make its iPhone enterprise-friendly, RIM has far more experience in that regard. For example, the Storm's e-mail capabilities are basically the same as other current RIM smart phones. Besides connecting to personal e-mail accounts, Storm works out of the box with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, Novell GroupWise and, of course, BlackBerry Enterprise Server. And many IT folks are already familiar with BlackBerry's e-mail capabilities, making it easy to integrate the device into existing setups.

The Storm comes with two other significant advantages for enterprise users. The first is DataViz's Documents To Go, which enables you to view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. A longtime staple on Palm smart phones such as the Treo, this application provides seamless access not only to Office documents uploaded from your desktop computer, but also to e-mail attachments. In addition, the BlackBerry Storm has support for cutting and pasting, a significant shortcoming with the iPhone.

Another big advantage for business users is Storm's ability to travel the world. True, it is currently available in the U.S. only from Verizon, which uses CDMA technology, including EV-DO Rev A for 3G data access. CDMA technology is proven and reliable, but it is not used as much as GSM technology outside the U.S.

But the Storm also comes with a subscriber identity module (SIM) that enables it to work on GSM cellular networks worldwide. This makes the Storm a true world phone, a capability that is rarely built into other CDMA phones.

Another advantage for travelers is that, unlike the iPhone, the BlackBerry Storm has a removable -- and replaceable -- battery.

BlackBerry Storm
Like the iPhone, if you turn the Storm 90 degrees, it switches between portrait and landscape modes.

Given these capabilities, Storm is quite useful for document-centric mobile professionals and business users, especially those with business in other parts of the world.

Using the Storm

The Storm is a bit shorter and about as wide as the iPhone, but it's noticeably thicker -- .55 inches versus .48 inches for the iPhone. Still, the Storm felt comfortable in my admittedly large hand.

One lovely feature is its 3.25-in. screen. With 480-by-360 resolution, it has a somewhat sharper image than the iPhone's slightly larger 3.5-in. display with 480-by-320 resolution. Images, text -- everything, really -- displayed beautifully.

Because it relies entirely on touch-screen navigation, the Storm is very different from its predecessors; it doesn't have a physical keyboard, a side-scroll wheel or a navigation button on the front. As a result, longtime BlackBerry users have to get used to the Storm. But that shouldn't require much time -- this device is easy to use.

It's impossible, of course, to review the Storm without making comparisons to the iPhone. Like the iPhone, it lets you scroll through items such as documents and Web pages with finger flicks; I took to this method immediately, with no learning curve.

Also like the iPhone, if you turn the Storm 90 degrees, it automatically switches between portrait and landscape modes, which simplifies reading things like densely packed pages. By default, the Storm performs this trick in more circumstances than the iPhone. For instance, its collection of home-screen icons and the built-in e-mail program both rotate.

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