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RIKLReviewTM The BlackBerry Storm (Part 6)

The Blogitem That Responds to the Question:  "Will This Ever End?"

You will, of course, have noticed that "Responds" is not the equivalent of "Answers."  I do hope that this is the last numbered review part in this particular sequence this year.  That's qualifying it quite a bit, actually.

After finishing Part 5, I scanned the main menu structure of the Storm and realized I have said nothing about the included third party applications such as the spreadsheet or the various social networking site-access icons.  Most likely I never shall.  Reviewing the Storm in that much detail isn't a project, it's a career.  I've also said almost nothing about Verizon, the network provider.  I haven't mentioned their delicious greed which caused me to block the Storm's text messaging feature, nor the fact that other people's money, probably their tithe for each 160 bytes, allowed me to use the Verizon network in some of the most remote places this past year.  I don't think I've critiqued the Browser, and I haven't said much about the user interface since Part 1.  I earlier promised a few more words about the GPS.  So let me disorganize this a bit with some semi-random closing thoughts and comments.

Tilt!

I think the one small aspect of the user interface I'd like to see improved dramatically is the Storm's response to reorientation.  Example:  Portrait mode is best for viewing lists such as contacts.  Landscape mode is available for QWERTY typing.  But switching between them is not instantaneous.  Sometimes it takes seconds to go from one display to the other.  I've even caught it incompletely converting, such as in a case where a turned-sideways menu overlays part of the QWERTY keyboard, making it necessary to rotate the unit back and forth again until it catches on.  How much of this is a hardware limitation and how much a genuine bug I can't say.  Although I don't know if it's feasible, I would suggest to BlackBerry that whenever the processor isn't too busy, it should be calculating the rotated version of the current view and storing it in a buffer.  This would anticipate the possible user desire to rotate the unit and make it ever so much more responsive.  It may also be that the accelerometer is overly filtered, and the Storm simply takes too long to realize that a different view is desired. 

Another simple(?) suggestion.  When the Storm is flat on its back, it has no way of determining the user's preferred orientation.  I personally prefer the landscape mode, because the default clock screen is bigger, and the QWERTY keyboard will come up.  But if it happens to be in the portrait mode, it will remain thus until appropriately juggled.  I wonder if the Storm can actually tell if it's flat on its back.  I haven't seen any technical details of the accelerometer yet and simply don't know.  But if it can tell, it would be easy enough to add a SETUP option to tell it what default display orientation is desired in that position.

After using the keyboard for a while, I've developed enough facility with it that I believe it won't be an obstacle to modest use, perhaps even faster than 10 words per minute.  A very cellphone-savvy co-worker tried it yesterday and typed out a "Hi, Richard" in a few seconds without having ever seen a Storm, although she has used an iPhone.

How About the Cell Phone?

Sounds like crap.  To me, all cell phones sound like crap.  It's not the fault of the Storm or any other, but rather the "compression" standard used that, at least in the beginning, made digital cell phones possible at all.  Except under the best conditions, cellphone conversations suffer from the occasional dropped packet and even under the best conditions the compression algorithm sounds much worse than an uncompressed signal would.  The limitation is really the network and the standards used, so there is little point in evaluating the Storm by itself.  That being said, it works OK.  I can get and make calls.

There is actually a solution to the crappy-sound problem, although it will take a concerted effort by the industry to fix it.  The purpose of compression is to allow a large number of conversations to coexist in a narrow frequency range.  But with bandwidth to spare for internet connectivity on the newer networks, there is also bandwidth to spare for voice, at least at off-peak times.  It would not be difficult to use this extra bandwidth to make voice sound better.  What would be difficult is to get everyone to agree to do it, especially since I seem to be the only one who cares and complains. 

And the GPS?

I was originally concerned that the GPS would be "locked out" due to Verizon's greed.  Verizon has an extra-charge "Navigator" program which, at least to me, is about as useful as one tube of epoxy.  Verizon is notorious for "locking out" phone features unless you pay for them.  (I am, too.  I asked them to lock out the SMS (text messaging) service on the phone so that I wouldn't get charged $.20 for each spam.)  I was afraid that if I didn't sign up for Navigator the GPS wouldn't function at all, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it does.  I was able to get a position fix while driving, and the Maps application accurately depicted it on a rudimentary map from BlackBerry.  A nice lagniappe is the speed display in miles per hour. 

What I wasn't able to do was read and continuously update my latitude, longitude, and altitude.  The only way I could find to get the first two was to "paste" the information into an email; altitude seemed to be completely unavailable.    Rather than whine about or belabor this infelicity, I have an Idea.  More about this, with any luck, next year.  The good news for now:  The GPS works and is accurate.  And free!  Free!

Shocking Admission

Despite the length of this multipart review, I have not actually read the whole BlackBerry Storm manual, at least not the 200+ page one on the web site.  (As I mentioned earlier, the Verizon "tips" manual that comes with the Storm is almost useless.)  There is a truly amazing amount of utility, much of it hidden, in this gadget, and if I am sufficiently diligent, I will probably discover most of it by the time my contract expires and it's time for a replacement.  I've covered, I think in sufficient detail, the most important applications for me:  music player and camera, with cellphone a distant third.  I've also had a lot to say about the Storm's operation and other random aspects.  So, I shall wind this up with, as promised, a

Summary

The Storm is for now a wonderful and capable toy which has a number of very bad software flaws, both in the unit itself, and in the ancillary programs.  Clearly it was rushed into production without sufficient beta testing.  The good news is that everything I've whined about with the exception of the Micro USB connector and headphone connector location is remediable.  I have discovered nothing bad enough to make me keen to dump or return or crush it.  As has been my experience with the also-flawed Motorola Q, I will get used to and work around the flaws that BlackBerry chooses not to fix, and pester them about the more serious ones if necessary.  It shouldn't be, though, since this is a brand new product and mine is hardly the only feedback they've received about many of these problems.

All I ever wanted in a portable gadget was described in my blog almost three years ago.  The scorecard:

Feature Motorola Q (Dec. '06) BlackBerry Storm (Dec. '08) What I Want (Dec. '10?)
MP3 Player 2GB 16GB* 160GB
Camera 1.3 MP, crappy 3.2 MP, OKish Whatever, but GOOD!
Cellphone Cellphone Cellphone Cellphone

Some day I hope the What I Want column will have a product in it, as will my pocket.  In the interim, the Storm is a big improvement over the Q, and I am provisionally happy with it.  I trust a new software release will solve most of the bug problems, and that there won't be yet another unnecessary USB cable standard two years hence.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!


*Unlike the Q, the Storm allows one to stream music from a web server, so the 16GB limitation isn't as critical.  If one has a music emergency, it can be satisfied in this fashion.


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