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    Smartphone users might find some shelter in this Storm

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver March 3-9, 2009; issue 1010

    High Tech Office column

    Last week, this column looked at two touch screen smartphone models offered by Bell and Telus as competition to the Rogers/Fido-only Apple iPhone. But the HTC Touch Diamond and Pro aren’t the only iPhone wannabes.

    Bell and Fido are also offering the touch screen BlackBerry Storm 9530 from Kitchener, Ontario’s RIM – the
    company that addicted a generation of business users to typing with its thumbs.

    With RIM’s models being the most popular smartphones prior to the iPhone launch, the Storm’s release last autumn was widely anticipated – and almost universally panned by the early reviewers. The New York Times’ David Pogue said it should have been named “the Blackberry Dud.”

    I spent a couple of weeks with a Storm ($249 with plan) courtesy of Bell Mobility. Like the iPhone, its big screen can be viewed vertically and horizontally, with a virtual keyboard that pops up when needed for text entry. Like the iPhone, it can access a high-speed 3G network for e-mail and for web browsing and has a built-in camera and music player.

    In some ways it outdoes the iPhone. The Storm has a removable user-replaceable battery. When your iPhone’s battery dies (and it will), you’re expected to send the phone back to Apple. The Storm supports expandable memory cards and comes with an eight-gigabyte card; the iPhone comes in non-expandable eight-gigabyte or 16-gigabyte sizes.

    The Storm has a 3.2-megapixel camera; the iPhone’s is 2.0 megapixels. And the Storm’s camera doubles as a video camera. You have to “jailbreak” your iPhone to shoot video. And you can tether your Storm to a computer to use it as a modem.

    When typing on the Storm’s virtual keyboard, you get more feedback – keys briefly light up and the touch screen depresses. This could result in more accurate typing than with the iPhone’s keyboard.

    But there are also many ways in which the iPhone bests the Storm. When you hold a Storm vertically, you get a virtual “SureType” keyboard with two letters on most keys and software that tries to guess what you mean to type. Also used on RIM’s popular Blackberry Pearl models, it can be surprisingly accurate, but it falls down on my name, for instance, making logging in to get my e-mail between difficult and impossible. Typing website addresses can be equally frustrating. I had to turn the Storm 90 degrees to horizontal to get a virtual QWERTY keyboard whenever I needed to type anything.

    The iPhone’s virtual keyboard appears only when it’s held vertically – but that’s when you’re most likely to want to use it.

    And the Storm lacks the WiFi support built into the iPhone (and the various HTC Touch models). While Bell’s high-speed data network is available in places where there’s no WiFi, WiFi connections allow for free data connections, and, through downloaded software like TruPhone and Jajah, can be used to make low-cost voice calls. On an iPhone, not on a Storm.

    I like the Safari web browser and the music, video and photo media features on the iPhone better than the Storm’s equivalents.

    As well the iPhone can connect to Apple’s iTunes Music Store to buy music, TV and video directly. And just for iPhone users – the iTunes App Store, where a growing number of applications (yes, mostly games) are available for free or low-cost purchase. RIM is promising a BlackBerry Application Storefront, but we’ll have to wait for that.

    The Storm isn’t the iPhone-killer some had hoped for, but it also isn’t the ‘Blackberry Dud’ Pogue complained about.

    If you’re a loyal Bell or Telus customer and want a touch screen smartphone, you could be happy with a Storm – as long as you don’t expect WiFi. But if you type a lot of e-mail on the go, avoid all the touch screens – even the iPhone. You’ll be far happier with the physical QWERTY keyboard on a Blackberry Curve or Bold. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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