The BlackBerry Storm 9500 is something of a departure for RIM, and not just because it's the first touchscreen BlackBerry. It's also a handset that has been jointly designed by its customers - the mobile phone operators Verizon and Vodafone.

Unlike some phones, which launch initially on one mobile phone network but are later rolled out and offered by several, the BlackBerry Storm 9500 is completely tied in to these two carriers. You can buy the Storm through Phones4U in the UK, but the only network you can buy it on will be Vodafone.

RIM BlackBerry Storm 2 review

In some ways, this makes it easier for us to assess the BlackBerry Storm 9500's performance. Aside from the effectiveness of its touchscreen, it will live or die based on its 3G mobile connectivity. Vodafone's is very good, as we found when testing its over the air music downloads and when accessing the web.

The 158g BlackBerry Storm 9500 is physically larger and heavier than other BlackBerry phones. It has a brushed aluminium back with a rubber surround and a 75mm-deep transmissive screen that dominates its front. The usable area measures 80mm diagonally (61mm deep and 49mm wide). By comparison, the iPhone's touch-sensitive area is 81mm diagonally (64mm deep x 49mm wide) and it weighs 144g.

Unlike other phones, the BlackBerry Storm 9500's touchscreen is not just touchable but clickable, so to select an option or a specific area of a web page, you press down firmly. Once you get used to pressing a bit harder than you would on other touchscreen devices, it becomes quite satisfying, but we did have to train ourselves to apply that extra pressure.

The BlackBerry Storm 9500's onscreen icons are the large smart ones introduced on the BlackBerry Bold and are the ideal size for selecting with a thumb or finger. Typing on the BlackBerry Storm 9500 is wholly different experience than on previous BlackBerry smartphones, though.

NEXT PAGE: take a letter >>

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The BlackBerry Storm 9500 is something of a departure for RIM, and not just because it's the first touchscreen BlackBerry. It's also a handset that has been jointly designed by its customers - the mobile phone operators Verizon and Vodafone.

BlackBerry Storm 9500: Take a letter

When used in portrait or standard phone mode, you are presented with a two-character-per-key SureType layout. This is pretty good at divining what you are attempting to input and suggesting words, but far too often we found it didn't recognise which of the two keys we wanted - not so useful when entering names or other character strings that aren't listed in a standard dictionary.

Although RIM assured us that the glowing blue halo that appears around your finger to confirm that you've pressed the intended button means users will be able to type confidently on the BlackBerry Storm 9500, in practice, we found entering text using the SureType keypad a slow and clunky process.

It's far more effective to turn the BlackBerry Storm 9500 on its side and enter characters using the more familiar qwerty layout. As with many phones these days, the Storm automatically reformats the onscreen display when you switch orientation, so you don't need to invoke any special menu option to bring this up - just turn the Storm sideways whenever you want to compose an email or text message.

Given that Dataviz's Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow to Go come preloaded and can be used to open, edit and resave documents on the Storm, before sending them as attachments over email, it's important that text entry is efficient and accurate.

BlackBerry Storm 9500 review

Video: PCWorld.com's BlackBerry Storm 9500 video review

NEXT PAGE: calls and contacts >>

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The BlackBerry Storm 9500 is something of a departure for RIM, and not just because it's the first touchscreen BlackBerry. It's also a handset that has been jointly designed by its customers - the mobile phone operators Verizon and Vodafone.

BlackBerry Storm 9500: Calls and contacts

The other area it's vital that the BlackBerry Storm 9500 gets right is, of course, basic phone and contact features. Here, as ever, the BlackBerry really shines. You can import contacts, synchronise them, add them on the fly and associate ringtones and photos as well as email addresses and search for them. Four web addresses, three locations with fax, page and phone numbers, plus notes on each contact can all be added.

The voice dialler feature hooks into this too and can be initiated via the silver hardware button on the BlackBerry Storm 9500's lefthand side. There's a large microphone above the BlackBerry branding at the top of the screen. Audio output from the speaker is pretty loud too. Calls we made were clear and remain central to the Storm's setup: pressing the green phone handset icon takes you straight to a keypad, with the address book and call log listed as options above it.

The audio feature can also be used to record voice notes to yourself (if you prefer these to creating Task lists - both options on the main menu). SMS and MMS share an icon but, again, are default options on the Storm's main screen. As with email, you can compose messages and send attachments - whenever you take a photo using the BlackBerry Storm 9500's 3.2Mp camera, you are given the option to send it as an MMS.

NEXT PAGE: photos and video >>

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The BlackBerry Storm 9500 is something of a departure for RIM, and not just because it's the first touchscreen BlackBerry. It's also a handset that has been jointly designed by its customers - the mobile phone operators Verizon and Vodafone.

BlackBerry Storm 9500: Photos and video

The BlackBerry Storm 9500's camera - a step up from previous BlackBerry handsets which came with a 2Mp camera - has both a zoom and a flash. We also like the fact that you can rename files on the fly and instantly send them to a contact. Again, this isn't the first BlackBerry with this facility, but it's worth having.

What's different about using the camera is that the zoom must be operated using the hardware volume keys on the righthand edge of the handset. However, you can zoom in incrementally with quite a lot of control and the sensor is able to work out which is the main subject of your shot and optimise its operations around this. Taking a snap isn't an instantaneous process, however. If you want a snapshot cameraphone, try a Sony Cyber-shot instead.

Video is worth trying too. The BlackBerry Storm 9500's excellent vibrant and detailed screen lends itself to video playback - the sample videos we were given to test this feature were glamorous film trailers, but we activated the YouTube application and imported some footage of our own to see how a more average video clip would look.

The fairly ropey wildlife clip we tried (a recommended clip on our iPhone) was full of artefacts, but we ran the clip on the Storm alongside the T-Mobile Android G1 and was noticeably brighter on the Storm. Part of this may well be because the Storm has a glass screen rather than a plastic one (as on the G1), but we know which we'd sooner use to view video.

NEXT PAGE: web browsing >>

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The BlackBerry Storm 9500 is something of a departure for RIM, and not just because it's the first touchscreen BlackBerry. It's also a handset that has been jointly designed by its customers - the mobile phone operators Verizon and Vodafone.

BlackBerry Storm 9500: Web browsing

When it comes to web access, the fact that the Storm is a 3G handset really comes into play. The Vodafone network operates at up to 7.2Mbps, so access is really zippy. The Vodafone browser has been set up so Mobile versions of major websites are presented unless you tweaks the settings, but we had no trouble viewing content on the non-optimised PC Advisor website. To zoom in to items you can double-tap the area in question, or you can use the onscreen magnifier icons to zoom in and out. You can also slide a finger across the screen to scroll around.

While not quite as accomplished or as accurate as the web browser on the iPhone, this is easily the best BlackBerry web browsing experience so far and a huge leap forward for existing BB customers who have been frustrated about this key aspect. If you've got a non-3G BlackBerry phone and wondering whether to upgrade, the data connection and browsing experience alone should convince you to do so.

NEXT PAGE: music and media >>

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The BlackBerry Storm 9500 is something of a departure for RIM, and not just because it's the first touchscreen BlackBerry. It's also a handset that has been jointly designed by its customers - the mobile phone operators Verizon and Vodafone.

BlackBerry Storm 9500: Music and media

Although we were perfectly happy using the proprietary USB cable supplied with the BlackBerry Storm 9500 to hook it up to our PC and use the media manager to synchronise tracks from our iTunes collection, we also tried out the Vodafone Music service. For this, we had to agree to go online (not a problem, since we were helpfully told that it wouldn't cost us any money to do so).

We chose current track So What by Pink and were treated to a 30-second clip of it before electing to download it. Options included buying the single track for 99p or buying the whole album or a group of other tracks at once.

We downloaded the one track but were intrigued by what else was suggested as a ‘You might also like' prompt. We were offered an old All Saints track we chose for nostalgia's sake but could have chosen a pack of 7 songs for £5 or 15 tracks for £7.50, rather than buying them single. Flogging a decade old song for 99p certainly seemed a bit steep.

No matter, the process is painless and we needed merely to press firmly on the Single track option to initiate the download - you get a confirmation that this is about to happen and need to click ok to agree to it.

We wouldn't recommend spending much money listening to songs on the BlackBerry Storm 9500, however - at least not without dumping the nasty plastic earphones it comes with. We found these painful to wear even with their protective muffling. The Storm has the same 3.5mm standard headphone jack you get on the iPhone (and indeed, almost any digital media player), so any earphones that are compatible with this will also fit into the Storm's headphone socket.

Having made the switch, you'll find the BlackBerry Storm 9500's media manager a pleasure to use. The quality of our two sample downloaded songs was every bit as good as that of the album we had transferred from our PC. Had we built up a large collection of music, we could use the search to scoot through tracks, while a playlist manager allowed us to instantly add a song to an existing playlist or create a new one.

NEXT PAGE: applications >>

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The BlackBerry Storm 9500 is something of a departure for RIM, and not just because it's the first touchscreen BlackBerry. It's also a handset that has been jointly designed by its customers - the mobile phone operators Verizon and Vodafone.

BlackBerry Storm 9500: Applications

In addition to the features we've covered so far, the Storm comes with some fairly standard preinstalled applications include Tasks, Calculator, a Video Camera, a Password Keeper, a Clock and a Saved Messages folder. That's far from all there is, however.


You might be forgiven for thinking that the Apple Apps Store is a whole new way of tricking out your smartphone. In fact, PDAs, Palms and BlackBerry handsets have had their own, sizable ecosystem of software vendors and shareware creators for many moons. However, mindful of how well Apple's add-ons have gone down, RIM has centralised this function and made it prominent in the application list, with its own brash icon.

The Application Center is where you head if you want to add extras to your BlackBerry Storm 9500. Unsurprisingly (given their popularity) these include Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger and so on. To install one, you need simply to click its icon, accept the terms and conditions about it being at your own risk if you knowing install third-party applications, and you're all set.

Vodafone's Find & Go service (an operator-branded version of Telmap's solid navigation software) is not installed by default. The 1.4MB download and installation process took 47 seconds on our 3G network. You get to use this turn-by-turn navigator for free for the first six months, after which it becomes a paid-for bolt-on, should you decide it's useful to you.

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BlackBerry Storm 9500: Specs

  • Quad-band GSM, 3G, HSDPA smartphone
  • 480x360-pixel transmissive touchscreen (80mm diagonally or 75mm x 49 mm)
  • 3.2Mp camera, flash, 2x incremental zoom
  • video recorder
  • voice recorder
  • Bluetooth v2
  • BlackBerry Enterprise for Microsoft Exchancge
  • Lotus Domino
  • Novell Groupwise and other email clients
  • email, MMS, SMS, calendar, clock, task list, voice dialling/voice recorder
  • BlackBerry media player/manager, Vodafone Music downloads
  • MP3 ringtones
  • password keeper
  • AES secure encryption
  • BlackBerry Maps
  • Vodafone Telmap Find&Go (six month subscription)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • mini USB port
  • 1GB onboard memory
  • 128MB flash memory
  • microSDHC slot
  • dimensions: 62x113x14mm
  • weight: 158g
  • 15 days standby
  • 5.5 hours standby
  • Quad-band GSM, 3G, HSDPA smartphone
  • 480x360-pixel transmissive touchscreen (80mm diagonally or 75mm x 49 mm)
  • 3.2Mp camera, flash, 2x incremental zoom
  • video recorder
  • voice recorder
  • Bluetooth v2
  • BlackBerry Enterprise for Microsoft Exchancge
  • Lotus Domino
  • Novell Groupwise and other email clients
  • email, MMS, SMS, calendar, clock, task list, voice dialling/voice recorder
  • BlackBerry media player/manager, Vodafone Music downloads
  • MP3 ringtones
  • password keeper
  • AES secure encryption
  • BlackBerry Maps
  • Vodafone Telmap Find&Go (six month subscription)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • mini USB port
  • 1GB onboard memory
  • 128MB flash memory
  • microSDHC slot
  • dimensions: 62x113x14mm
  • weight: 158g
  • 15 days standby
  • 5.5 hours standby

OUR VERDICT

While the BlackBerry Storm 9500 is by no means the perfect smartphone, there are many aspects of it we admire. The clickable touchscreen works very well – we liked the fact you need to apply definite pressure to initiate a command or enter a character. It also helps distinguish this handset from the expanding pack of touchscreen devices out there. The web browsing experience is vastly improved too; for the first time, you can confidently enter a web address and view it properly, as its designers intended, and can navigate its structure as you would if accessing it from a PC. The contact management and synchronisation tools are rock solid, as we've come to expect, and we can't fault the BlackBerry Storm's phone features either. In these two respects, it shows up the iPhone's shortcomings as a straight communication handset. Even so, we think the iPhone has the edge when it comes to touch-sensitive text entry functions. In the end, which device you choose will probably come down to whether you want a business smartphone with some compelling entertainment features and a strong web browser, or a consumer gadget that serves up the web and email alongside iTunes content.

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