NEW YORK - With the recent releases of three new BlackBerrys across three different wireless providers, Research In Motion Ltd. has fired back at Apple Inc. in the Great Smart Phone Skirmish of 2008.
The introduction of the touch-screen BlackBerry Storm, business-savvy Bold 9000 and consumer-geared Pearl Flip 8220 may not have come a moment too soon for RIM, which has long dominated the market for high-end cell phones that double as e-mail devices. Consider that Apple reported selling 6.9 million iPhone 3Gs during its last quarter, while RIM sold 6.1 million BlackBerrys in roughly the same period.
But while RIM's latest offerings are packed with features like stereo Bluetooth, standard headphone jacks, video recording, multiple e-mail options and, in the case of the Storm, a unique touch screen, the multifront attack may not be enough to unseat the mighty iPhone.
BlackBerry Storm: Set to be released Friday through Verizon Wireless, the much-anticipated Storm — RIM's first touch-screen smart phone — has slick looks and tons of features. But while the device gets some things right, a number of issues make it difficult to use.
The Storm ($200 after rebate, with a new two-year contract) is similar in size to larger BlackBerry models but eschews the standard QWERTY keyboard for a high-resolution 3.25-inch touch screen that covers most of its face.
The screen smartly marries the tactile feedback you'd get from a physical keyboard or mouse button with the finger-swiping convenience of a touch screen. So you can scroll around with your finger but nothing should happen — no words typed, no links clicked — until you physically push on the screen.
I found it much easier to type messages with the Storm's keyboard than with the iPhone's. This could make a big difference to business users who have been lusting after touch-screen smart phones but hesitant to make the switch. Sometimes, though, I had a hard time clicking on icons I wanted: At times, the browser would zoom in on the icon rather than activating it. Or I'd end up clicking an adjacent link.
High-definition videos I had taken on a camcorder looked pretty good on the Storm, and its big screen is great for showing large photos, or album art when you're listening to songs. There's plenty of storage for your multimedia goodies, as the device includes 1 gigabyte of memory and an 8 gigabyte microSD card.
One neat feature is the Storm's ability to take videos in two different resolutions, the lower of which is meant for sending clips in messages. You can also take still photos with the Storm's 3.2 megapixel camera.
I dug the visual voice mail feature — something also available on the iPhone — that shows you a list of your voice messages and lets you hear them in any order you'd like.
And calls sounded pretty good on the Storm, which is rated for 5.5 hours of talk time.
But the Storm seemed to labor at processing requests if I tried to do too many things too quickly, such as scrolling through photos while listening to music. And while the screen should easily change from portrait to landscape mode when you turn the Storm on its side, I often found it quite slow to react.
The Storm includes GPS. But its lack of Wi-Fi capabilities means you can't get online in the absence of Verizon's data network.
BlackBerry Bold 9000: With its full QWERTY keyboard, crystal-clear 2.75-inch screen and bevy of wireless options, the Bold ($300 after rebate, with a new two-year contract) is well suited for business and extracurricular pursuits.
The device runs on AT&T's 3G network and can use Wi-Fi, which made it easy to check e-mail and stream videos. Calls came in nice and clear, and the phone is rated for 4.5 hours of talking time.
Like the Storm, the Bold has GPS capabilities. It includes an application that can give driving directions.
Typing messages with the keyboard was super simple — the keys are not too small and right away I felt comfortable enough that I wasn't continually fixated on what buttons my fingers were pressing.
Though I yearned for a touch screen, navigating the device with the traditional BlackBerry trackball was straightforward and quick. Unlike with the Storm, I rarely noticed a slowdown in completing operations on the Bold.
The screen, which sports the same resolution as the one on the BlackBerry Storm, is great for surfing the Web and watching videos. The Bold also comes with an application that lets you stream news videos and, if you don't mind watching them in segments, episodes of shows like "The Office" and "Ugly Betty."
There's a 2-megapixel camera included that takes fair photos, and, as with the other new BlackBerrys, you can take videos on the Bold and listen to your music on it, too.
But if you want to store lots of your own media on the device, you'll need to get a memory card for its microSD slot — the handset only includes 1 gigabyte of built-in memory.
BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220: Though its Razr-like design looks somewhat quaint, the Flip ($150 after rebate, with a new two-year contract), available from T-Mobile, is easy to use and might appeal if you're making the switch from a traditional handset.
Like other devices in the Pearl family, the Flip includes a condensed QWERTY keyboard that puts two letters on most keys — a setup that makes it easier to slip the phone into your back pocket but can take some getting used to when you're tapping out messages.
The Flip's 2.5-inch main screen is clear and bright, but not as sharp as the other new BlackBerrys'. There's also a 1.75-inch outer screen on the Flip that can give you information like message previews.
Given the small size of the main screen, it may take you a little more time to navigate the Web on this device, but it can be useful for looking up news and will let you stream video from some sites, including YouTube's mobile site.
I wouldn't use the Flip as my go-to portable video player though. A few clips I watched, including one that came with the device, looked choppy or pixelated.
Don't count on the included memory for storing videos, songs or photos, because the Flip has hardly any. You'll need to shell out for a microSD card instead.
But if you're interested in keeping up with your friends, the Flip comes loaded with several instant messaging services in addition to the standard BlackBerry Messenger, including AOL Instant Messenger and Google Talk.
You won't have any trouble making calls on the phone, and they sound good. The device is rated for 4 hours of talk time.
The device doesn't include GPS, but you can enter your location in the included BlackBerry Maps application to find nearby businesses or obtain driving directions.
One potentially big drawback: the Flip works over T-Mobile's more widespread EDGE network, but not its speedier 3G network. It does have Wi-Fi capability, though, which may help you if you're out of network range but have access to a Wi-Fi hot spot.
6 months ago