Will the Storm2 appeal to more than the BlackBerry faithful?

I’ve been using the BlackBerry Storm2 for almost two weeks now and I’m beginning to see a greater future ahead for Research In Motion as it branches further into the non-physical keyboard space. It seems odd, almost counterintuitive, for a BlackBerry to have no actual keyboard. BlackBerry keyboards are one of the greatest features to come out of RIM, and it plays a large part in why so many customers remain loyal to their BlackBerry devices. Sure, BlackBerry is notorious for rolling out incremental upgrades in their device lineup, but you can almost always count on a solid keyboard. That said, I’m beginning to wonder if a keyboard is really all that important anymore. I’ve used all the iterations of the iPhone and got by fine without a keyboard before, but I’ve convinced myself that when it comes to churning out an e-mail or anything longer than 140 characters, a physical QWERTY keyboard is a must. Maybe not.

Having not used the first Storm, which suffered through many poor reviews in its early days, there were a few unique characteristics of BlackBerry’s refined touchscreen implementation that took some getting used to. At first, the whole entire-screen-is-a-button feel comes as a surprise. Each click on the screen provides impossible-to-ignore haptic feedback, which I thought would get incredibly annoying, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. Now that I’ve had a chance to use the Storm2 off and on for the better part of two weeks, I’ve grown incredibly comfortable with the on-screen keyboard, particularly the QWERTY layout that appears on the screen when the device is held in landscape mode. I’ve done some completely unscientific typing tests to compare my accuracy and speed on my BlackBerry Tour to the Storm2 and the Storm2 is a solid winner on both fronts. Mind you, I’ve been using BlackBerry devices off and on for years and in less than two weeks, I’m already finding it easier to punch away on the Storm2. I can’t speak to the improvements BlackBerry made from the first Storm, but this second generation deserves to hold a top spot in smartphone maker’s lineup for some time to come. The Storm2 is heavier than the Tour, for example, but it feels so much more solid thanks to more metals and less plastics – a worthwhile trade off. In terms of device build and quality, the Storm2 is the most sturdy offering yet from RIM. Everything else about the device will be a source of comfort for BlackBerry fans. The size of the device is right in line with rest of the RIM’s product lineup and it feels even better and more sleek in the pocket without the usual keyboard and trackball taking up half of one side. So here’s the way I see it… BlackBerry fans who are willing to give up a physical keyboard for a larger screen, should give the Storm2 a chance. There are many other devices that trump all of the features that BlackBerry devices continue to lag behind on, particularly the operating system and web browser, but if you’re more interested in what BlackBerry does best (push e-mail, voice quality and durability, for starters), then the Storm2 might be your ticket. I did see some noticeable improvements in the new 5.0 version of the BlackBerry OS, which was good to see, but it still comes nowhere near the user experience being showcased on the iPhone and the latest devices running on Android. Because of that, the Storm2’s selling points are going to be muffled. I’m not sure RIM will win many new customers by trying to lure would-be iPhone or Android owners over to what still ends up being a device that’s more business than it is fun. RIM has made very clear its desire to increase it’s popularity among consumers and it’s made some great strategic moves to work toward that. The Storm and Storm2 are targeting that consumer market that doesn’t care so much about physical keyboards as it does big screens and splashy graphics. The problem is, if the Storm2 only goes head-to-head against more decidedly fun devices like the Droid, Eris, Hero, Pre, or iPhone, RIM may only be able to convert its existing customers onto its flagship touchscreen device. Keeping your current customers and fans happy is one thing, but attracting first-time customers away from a competing smartphone is the real prize in today’s market. Just ask Apple. Disclaimer: The BlackBerry Storm2 used in this review was provided to EyeOnMobile.com as a demo unit from Verizon Wireless.