BlackBerry Storm Blasted by David Pogue: Why NYT Storm Review is a “Dud”
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
The world’s first touch screen BlackBerry, the Storm, landed in the United States late last month, and much to RIM’s chagrin, the device has already been slammed by a number of high profile gadget reviewers, including the New York Times’ David Pogue, who dubbed the Storm “the BlackBerry Dud.” That’s fine. Opinions are just that: opinions. We’ve all got ’em. The problem is that Pogue’s review misrepresents the new BlackBerry, which, though far from perfect, shows some real potential—at least in my opinion. Here’s why.
First of all, some important background on Pogue: Though he reviews a wide variety of gizmos and other electronics for The Times, he’s largely considered an “Apple reviewer,” because he’s one of the few folks lucky enough to regularly receive new Mac products from Jobs and Co. before they’re publicly released. (Pogue was, in fact, recently named one of the top 10 Apple influencers of 2009 by MacLife magazine). Pogue’s Apple-related reviews tend to be positive, as well—with the exception of his July piece on MobileMe, which was particularly critical of Apple, though it would’ve been difficult not to be following that fiasco…
It’s also worth mentioning that Pogue wasn’t alone in his harsh assessment of the Storm. Quite the opposite, really; early Storm reviews were largely negative, with one bad review seemingly feeding off of another. I could list them here, but the only one that really got my blood-boiling was Pogue’s—probably because I respect the guy as a fellow gadget reviewer and because he’s so well-read–and as such, I’ll focus on that review.
What follows is a list of some of Pogue’s complaints about the Storm, as well as my commentary on why most of his points don’t add up.
From Pogue’s Storm review:
“[I]n its zeal to cash in on some of that iPhone touch-screen mania, R.I.M. has created a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard. Hello? Isn’t the thumb keyboard the defining feature of a BlackBerry? A BlackBerry without a keyboard is like an iPod without a scroll wheel. A Prius with terrible mileage. Cracker Jack without a prize inside.”
My take: RIM isn’t doing away with physical keyboards. The vast majority of its devices feature some of the most functional smartphone keyboards on the planet, including, three of the four latest additions to the BlackBerry family: The Pearl 8220, Bold 9000 and Curve 8900. If you want a BlackBerry with a keyboard, you’ll have no trouble finding one in the future.
It’s true that RIM’s attempt to market a touch screen BlackBerry represents the company’s desire to capitalize on the popularity of the iPhone, but it also demonstrates that RIM is attempting to innovate in a market where a lack of innovation can quickly lead to trouble—just look at Palm.
Oh yeah, and considering Pogue is a bit of an “Apple Guy,” you’d think he would realize that Apple’s high-end iPod touch—the “funnest” iPod to date, according to Apple—doesn’t feature a scroll wheel because Apple decided to try something different…
From Pogue’s review:
“The entire screen acts like a mouse button. Press hard enough, and it actually responds with a little plastic click…As a result, the Storm offers two degrees of touchiness. You can tap the screen lightly, or you can press firmly to register the palpable click…It’s not a bad idea. In fact, it ought to make the on-screen keyboard feel more like actual keys. Unfortunately, R.I.M.’s execution is inconsistent and confusing.”
My take: I’ve got to agree with Pogue here. RIM’s execution of the new “SurePress” touch screen and the associated user interface is confusing, and it’s far from perfect. However, it’s also brand new and completely original, meaning even the most gadget-friendly technophile would need to get used to it, and the learning curve may be steep for other, less-tech-savvy users. After using the Storm for more than a week now, I can honestly say that I’ve taken a liking to the SurePress screen—though I, like everyone else, was quick to condemn it at first.
I’ll offer one caveat before further responding: The BlackBerry Storm shipped with handheld OS v22.214.171.124, which, to put it lightly, was not ready for prime time. It’s that simple. For whatever reason, RIM and Verizon Wireless shipped the Storm with poor code, and that means early adopters and reviewers made first impressions of the device based on flawed—and very buggy—software. Not at all a wise decision on the part of either company, but any reviewer worth his charging cords should have immediately realized—or at least suspected—that the many of the initial “issues” were related to the OS—I did within minutes of unboxing the thing.
I’ve purposely held off writing my own Storm review for this very reason; I knew I’d be writing another one after an OS upgrade if I went ahead and reviewed the device right away. Since I first received the Storm in late November, I have upgraded the OS to v126.96.36.199, and though that version isn’t technically “official”—Verizon didn’t release the software, it was leaked—it’s light years ahead of the code the Storm shipped with, and many of the issues Pogue complained about have been resolved.
More from Pogue on the subject:
“In principle, you could design a brilliant operating system where the two kinds of taps do two different things. Tap lightly to type a letter — click fully to get a pop-up menu of accented characters (é, č, ë and so on). Tap lightly to open something, click fully to open a shortcut menu of options. And so on…On the Storm, a light touch highlights the key but doesn’t type anything. It accomplishes nothing — a wasted software-design opportunity. Only by clicking fully do you produce a typed letter.”
My take: The “two kinds of taps” indeed do two different kinds of things. In fact, they do far more than just two kinds of things, depending on the application you’re using.
For example, gently pressing icons on the Storm’s Home or Icon screens without fully clicking allows you to highlight apps, while clicking launches them.
More from Pogue:
“Where to begin? Maybe with e-mail, the most important function of a BlackBerry. On the Storm, a light touch highlights the key but doesn’t type anything. It accomplishes nothing — a wasted software-design opportunity. Only by clicking fully do you produce a typed letter.”
My take: Absolutely not true.
In the mail application, gently holding your finger over a contact’s name without clicking it lets you search your entire mail folder for all correspondence from that contact, while clicking the contact’s name opens that specific message. And if you’re composing a new message, you can lightly hover over vowels and other letters to type accented characters and not just the traditional alphabet. (For more on Storm touch screen tips and tricks, read, “20 Touch Screen Tips and Tricks for the Storm.”)
“[T]he Storm shows you two different keyboards, depending on how you’re holding it (it has a tilt sensor like the iPhone’s)… When you hold it horizontally, you get the full, familiar Qwerty keyboard layout. But when you turn it upright, you get the less accurate SureType keyboard, where two letters appear on each ‘key,’ and the software tries to figure out which word you’re typing.”
My take: Again, this isn’t quite accurate. The Storm actually offers three different virtual keyboard types: full QWERTY; SureType; and multitap.
From there, Pogue goes on to blast the SureType keyboard. I actually agree with Pogue on this point, as well: SureType keyboards suck. However, that’s a very different issue, since SureType keyboards aren’t new and have been on BlackBerry devices for years. In fact, the Storm has a leg up on all those other BlackBerrys, including the uber-popular Pearl, in that it gives users a number of keyboard options instead of sticking them with SureType.
Towards the end of the piece, Pogue states:
“I haven’t found a soul who tried this machine who wasn’t appalled, baffled or both.”
My take: I for one am not appalled, nor baffled. More like a bit let down, but anxious and excited. Let down that RIM and Verizon decided to rush the device out with software that clearly wasn’t ready; let down that the device is getting such a bad rap before it’s truly ready for its close-up; and let down by this first wave of negative reviews.
But I’m equally excited about the next round of Storm reviews, which you can bet will be much more positive than Mr. Pogue’s early slam.
And I’m anxious to see what devices will come from the foundation RIM built with the Storm.
Throughout the entire piece, Pogue only says one positive thing about BlackBerry Storm, and it’s buried in complaints, about halfway through:
“It’s all too bad, because behind that disastrous and balky screen, there’s a very nice phone.”
In other words, clean up some of the OS issues and you’ve got a quality mobile device. This might be the most accurate statement in the article. Take it from me, the Storm is well worth your attention, especially since many of the common complaints from Pogue and other reviewers will likely be non-issues in the very near future.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.