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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.
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.
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.
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.
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