BlackBerry Storm and Google Phone — Neither are iPhone killers


My next column includes a look at two recently unveiled smartphones — the Storm from Verizon and the Google Phone from T-Mobile. Neither has me ready to jettison my current preferred device, the Palm Treo 680 on AT&T. My son is an iPhone user, and I've included him on the testing of the new releases.

Here are my pluses and minuses for each device:

Google Phone (G1) (T-Mobile exclusive; phone designed by Google, built by High Tech Computer Corp. of Taiwan)

Good stuff:
• Great signal strength — It's better than my AT&T in some areas.
• Android operating system — My geek friends tell me they love the Google Phone because of Android and the potential for developing applications for the system. It's difficult to separate the device from the operating system. I have a hunch the next handsets using Android will show improvements.
• Keypad — I liked the keys. The inclusion of number keys makes typing faster than on the Storm.

Bad stuff:
• Keypad system: Yes, this also on the plus side of the list, but the designers didn't get it exactly right. The keyboard restricts the user to the horizontal view of the screen, although it's possible to navigate the World Wide Web in the vertical version. Anytime I wanted to type I was forced to slide open the phone to reveal the keyboard. Lefties will feel slighted, as the navigation tools are on the right side of the device. I found myself relying on the rollerball to surf the Web.

• Camera — It is awful, especially compared with the iPhone. Although the resolution is higher, the photo quality was sorely lacking.

• Adding contacts — This was not at all intuitive. I shouldn't have to open a manual or refer to a Web site to figure out how to do anything on a mobile phone. If it isn't simple, it's hard, which frustrates me and other users.

• Security setting — My son Ben handed me the phone, which he set to include a security pattern that unlocked the screen. He showed me the pattern he set then challenged me to either change it or turn it off without referring to manual or other directions. It took me a good 15 minutes of fumbling through menus to finally land on the setting that let me disable the feature. My niece was trying to figure out the security code on a friend's phone, and after too many unsuccessful tries, the phone went into a high-security mode. The owner had to do a hard reset of the device, wiping all the data he'd entered. The security prevented the "intruder" from breaking in, but it also forced the owner to start back at square one.

BlackBerry Storm (Verizon exclusive; designed by Verizon and Research in Motion Ltd.)

Good stuff:
• Metal case and sleek design — The phone surely looks good. If only it performed as well.

• Camera — The resolution and quality are both high-quality.

• Battery life — Better than my Treo, although really heavy users will want to keep their chargers handy.

• Screen — The display’s resolution is outstanding. My unit came preloaded with a movie trailer of a live-action feature and a full version of the animated “Kung Fu Panda.” Watching was comparable to what I’ve seen on Apple Inc.’s iPhone or iPod Touch.

Bad stuff:
• Click screen — The ads call it a "touch screen," but it's really a click screen. The whole screen is a giant click pad. Although some people love this feature, I find it adequate at best. My niece, who sports rather long fingernails, could not use the touch screen at all. She couldn't comfortably press the screen hard enough to make it "click." This is a huge problem and a deal breaker for anyone with long nails.

• Vertical keypad — I still don't get the double-character keys. I found myself always relying on the horizontal view, which lets the user type on a standard QWERTY keyboard. Even with the highlighted keys I found myself making several typing errors. The TV commercial touting the ease of typing misses the mark just a little.

• No Wi-Fi — What's up with this? Verizon deserved better, as do its customers. Although the 3G network is fast, Wi-Fi will almost always be faster. The lack of this feature is reason enough to ask your Verizon salesperson for another option. There is Wi-Fi on the BlackBerry Bold, and it works great, friends who use that device tell me. No Wi-Fi = no deal.

• No trackball — Whose idea was it to remove the trademark feature of BlackBerry navigation? Sure, give me a touch screen, but leave me the option of not using the touch screen.

Conclusion:
The more I used the Storm, the more I liked the G1. If forced to choose one, I’d give the G1 the nod. Both are first-generation devices in the 3G iPhone competition. Instead of trying to be an iPhone killer, the folks at Research in Motion should focus on making the best BlackBerry. They have a loyal following and I'm sure they'll learn from this C-minus first effort. The G1 is a better first effort, but I suspect future handsets using Android will be better. I give the G1 a B-minus.

* * *
Now it's your turn. Use the comment feature to share your thoughts of these devices, or any others you use.