working up a blackberry storm

A few weeks ago, the folks at Latitude Wireless asked me if I would be interested in doing a test drive of the new Blackberry Storm, touch-screen cellphone. My response was, "Sure, you bet.

A few weeks ago, the folks at Latitude Wireless asked me if I would be interested in doing a test drive of the new Blackberry Storm, touch-screen cellphone.

My response was, “Sure, you bet. It has been a while since I did anything in this column purely nerdy, and this looks like a good opportunity.”

So we did the deal, on amiable terms:

I am not required to just write a “puff piece” on this new iPhone competitor, but they get right of first view on what I am going to say in public about it.

A fair deal, on both sides, I thought, and it gave me a chance to play with a technology I have had only a marginal connection with, over the past few years—“smart phone” technology.

The original deal was for one week.

I would get the phone, use it, download some of the applications for it, and see what I thought.

Later, we extended the deal to two weeks, because of two factors:

First, by chance and circumstance, I had not had as much time to use the device as I had hoped when I received it; second, I was becoming curious to see if, after a couple of weeks, I would degenerate in to the kind of “crackberry” addict now made so famous in the media.

The Blackberry Storm is the Canadian company Research in Motion’s reply to the challenge of the touch-screen-driven Apple iPhone, which has been such a huge hit in markets that challenge the ascendancy of the Blackberry handheld cellular device.

Like the iPod, it features a graphic, picture-driven interface you manipulate by touch.

But the Blackberry Storm makes a serious attempt to go beyond simple “me, too” technology.

Ambitiously, it looks to meet the iPhone in the same market place, and match it, and maybe go one better.

That is does this adds a lot to its credibility as a product.

That is succeeds in doing so in some areas, and is less successful in others, is a predictable result, and a hopeful development.

I have no way of doing a direct “head to head” competition between the iPhone and the Storm, since the iPhone (if you stay legal, at least) does not function in the Yukon.

But I have had a similar device—the iPod Touch—under my hands for well over a year.

It is the same machine, basically, but does not work on cellular networks

It depends on publicly available wireless networks.

That device has a user interface identical to the iPhone, though, so, I could at least compare those two things.

Also, because the Latitude people also kindly provided me with access time to their cellular bandwidth (which I tried seriously, and more or less successfully, not to abuse), I could compare the utility of the on-board programs on the device, and also the utility of various randomly selected, downloadable “add-on” applications.

Without being the least bit “sold-out,” I can say the Blackberry Storm has no problem holding its own in either of those areas.

Though it requires a little getting used to, the “SurePress” technology used on the touch screen (which allows you to navigate through the icons on your screen with your forefinger) is superior to the competition because, like a good, old IBM computer keyboard, it provides “positive feedback” to your finger touches, telling you the machine has responded to your command.

Also, the suite of available, downloadable applications on the Storm compares very favourably with their competition, both in terms of diversity, price and functionality.

In fact, since I limited myself to “for free” downloads for the Blackberry Storm (I am not going to have the machine for long, right?), I can say that the quality of “freebee” applications on the Storm is, on the evidence of my relatively brief experience, superior.

On the other hand, when using this device, you have to remember that you are on a cellular, not a high-speed, wireless internet connection.

Given the bandwidth and speed restrictions that currently obtain in Yukon cellular technology, the download and operation times of some of these applications can seem very slow—but, on the other hand, you can download and operate pretty much anywhere, in any town in the Yukon.

There are also some oddities with the touchable display screen, which sometimes becomes confused about whether it is in horizontal or vertical mode in your hand—and this can also cause you problems about whether you are using a computer-style keyboard on the screen, or a telephone-pad style keyboard.

After a day or two, though, your hand learns the minor motor-skill adjustments you need to make to solve that problem.

So, am I now a certifiable “crackberry” addict?

Not really, though I will probably have one of these phones, as a personal possession, within the next few months.

For me to become a certifiable crackberry-head, we would need one of two things:

Either, faster digital service on the cellular network; or (even better) a device like the Storm that could detect when it could use faster wi-fi networks or needed slower, cellular networks.

In other words, a kind of combination of the iPod Touch and the Blackberry Storm.

Then I would not need to compare, I could just enjoy being a nerd!

But the experience of the past two weeks has been pretty satisfying, too, nerdily speaking; so thanks to the Latitude Wireless people for laying it on.

Rick Steele is a technology junkie

who lives in Whitehorse.