BlackBerry Storm2 Review: OS, Mail and the Online Experience

With the first part of the review we looked at how the Storm2 looked and felt. This time we are going in a bit deeper with the OS, mail and the online experience.

Let’s first look at the OS. No I am a Nokia user so I really did not know what to expect with the Storm2. I, personally, have never really like touchscreen devices for quite a few reasons. So it was a double whammy for me. A non Nokia device and a touchscreen at the same time!

The homescreen is not so different from a Nokia homescreen, the layout is different but you will find all the alerts and network activity displayed on the top. Any new emails, messages and updates are displayed as small icons on the top, just below where the time and day are displayed. Just next to it on the left hand side is the speaker icon, this icon lets you select the profile and set it as per your convenience.

Selecting the network area lets you select the other modes of connectivity – Bluetooth and WiFi. Selecting the time lets you set an alarm. Nothing new in this, but it definitely is the right approach.

You can select up to 4 rows of icons on the homescreen. But in order to have your favourite icons displayed on the homescreen, you need to play with the layout in the menu. What I did not like was the fact that the themes have the permissions to completely change the layout without your knowledge. This somehow annoyed me as it allows a theme designer to change the layout that I chosen. Hitting the menu button when you are in an app allows you to see all the option in the app. This means that every app will give a full screen experience and only when you hit the menu button will the options pop up. Neat I say! When it comes to settings for how the OS should look and behave, you will find that there are a lot of settings, fonts, font size and a whole lot more to change to your liking. I have not come across any OS that allows one to do so much.

Each application that comes with the phone has so many setting options that if you are buying your first BlackBerry phone then I suggest that you give it a good 2 hours to set it up the way you want.  Trust me these 2 hours will be well spent.

The OS is definitely fresh especially if you have been working with a Symbian OS. However I personally thought that the icons on a Symbian OS, I mean the Nokia devices are better. However for a touchscreen device it could have been more fine-tuned. The current form apes the QWERTY BlackBerry devices and although that maybe a good thing, it robs the touchscreen user from getting something extra.

The one area where the BlackBerry OS fails is the manner in which the QWERTY keypad is displayed in landscape mode. You will be able to view only two lines of text. This completely destroys the user experience. I found it very irritating and was put off by it. The other modes – Suretype and alphanumeric are good but there is always something missing as one has to hit too many virtual buttons to get the right symbol. This input solution on the Storm2 is absolutely one of the worst I’ve seen on any touchscreen phone. I think you need to revisit this ASAP BB!  I just did not like it. The piezoelectric screen’s feedback while typing has to be the best thing that a touchscreen can offer when one is typing. The feedback one gets is reassuring and absolutely does work for me. Other places it might just not do the trick. But typing is where it shines!

Now let’s not forget what makes the BlackBerry so famous, email. The email experience on a BlackBerry is known to be one of the best, at least that’s what hardcore BB users say. Setting up email on a BlackBerry is simple. I had no trouble doing it. The experience is quite similar to the one with Nokia messaging – enter username and password and you are all set to receive emails onto your phone.

Where the BlackBerry’s email app is different from the rest is that the integration is extremely tight. An email received can instantly be sent as an SMS or tweeted from the menu itself. This is something not even a Symbian OS can manage.

When compared to the speed of receiving emails, I found that Nokia Messaging and BlackBerry are almost equally placed, there were days when the Nokia Messaging app outdid the BlackBerry and other days vice versa.

The BlackBerry email solution does do a good job of displaying images and HTML text, a feat that Nokia is perfecting still. The secret of BlackBerry’s success is that email and chat is at the heart of their OS and hence it most definitely will perform better. Until Nokia is able to get Nokia Messaging into the heart of its OS, you will find a disconnect there. The BlackBerry email solution is certainly good and that explains why it has so many takers. It does not disappoint on the Storm2. Definitely is the best out there, no doubts about that. Again the only thing that takes away the complete experience is the QWERTY keypad.

The last part of this review focuses on the online experience. The BlackBerry Storm2 is quite adept at browsing the web. Twitter, Facebook integration is nothing like I have experienced before. Something you read on your mail, SMS can be tweeted, put on Facebook… it’s that simple. The Twitter app that the BlackBerry comes with is pretty good and for a free app, it’s wonderful. I had a chance to use Übertwitter and found that it is equally well integrated as the Twitter for BlackBerry. This kind of integration means that the whole experience is seamless. One does not need to switch apps; instead you can do it from one app. Let me explain it with an example. You get an SMS joke from a buddy, you like it so much that you want to tweet it, now if you are using a BB then you hit the menu button and choose the option to tweet it and without leaving the Messaging app you tweet it. No need to copy it, open your twitter app paste it and then send it.

If you are using Facebook and have email notifications, the BlackBerry is a boon. It automatically recognizes all your Facebook notification emails and shows it as a Facebook notification in the aggregated Messages application and not as an email. Believe me its one heck of a smart thing to have your phone do. Once you see it as a notification selecting/clicking it takes you to the Facebook application and you can see it there and respond and then simply close it. Trust me you will find movement between apps a blessing and most certainly this marks the next step of smartphone evolution. The Facebook application is also much better than the one found on the S60 platform. The ability to view notifications and birthday alerts is the single biggest advantage.

The internet experience is pretty nice. I have a strong hunch that all the service providers give the BlackBerry users priority in terms of speeds when they use the internet. This is because on Wi-Fi the Nokia N97mini is faster, but on a cellular data connection – the Storm2 blows away competition. Once a page is downloaded, simply click the screen and zoom in to view the page.  Everything is good until you go to YouTube. The flaw in the browser gets exposed. I was not able to play a single YouTube file on a Wi-Fi network. This is really bad and I’m sure users of the device will find this thing to be a huge letdown. Imagine having it all but YouTube support. I have no idea why BlackBerry did not provide Flash support. I hope they will fix this. What good is having a large screen device and no support for flash videos?

Overall I think the BlackBerry Storm2 will appeal to a lot of people who want something different from a BlackBerry.

Stay tuned for the next and last part where we give you our views on the IM clients, BlackBerry messenger, music and accessories.