The rumors have been flying for months: In addition to its just-released BlackBerry Bold, Research in Motion ( RIMM) has been working on a touch-screen phone that would take the ubiquitous BlackBerry to its next step. And an early look at the new device has it looking like a major contender to be the next Apple ( AAPL) iPhone-killer on the market. Photo Gallery: The Blackberry Storm Is Here For now, the company's Bold is being sold in a handful of countries, but it still isn't available for sale in the U.S. I wonder what partner AT&T ( T), which has delayed its release, is waiting for. In the meantime, Verizon ( VZ) is wasting no time introducing its amazing new BlackBerry -- the Storm. I was able to see, touch and play for a short time with a pre-production Storm last week at a private meeting with Verizon and RIM officials. What I saw was pretty amazing.
First of all, there's the high-resolution screen. While this is the first touch-screen BlackBerry, it's a touch-screen unlike any other you've tried. When you press a button, character or command on the screen, it actually feels like you are pressing a button. I know some readers are going to write and say that many other smartphones have a "haptic" response -- a little vibration when you touch the screen. But the Storm feels different, like you're actually pressing a hardware button. RIM President and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis called the screen "intuitive" and told me that it's the first time that two separate screen technologies create this effect. I have to tell you -- it's really amazing.
The handset also felt good in my hand. It measures 4.4 by 2.4 by 0.55 inches and weighs less than 5.5 ounces. There's 128 megabytes of RAM, 1GB of eMMC and a microSD card slot for extra storage. I was told the Storm would come with an 8-GB memory card packed in the box. Battery life is said to be good for up to 5 1/2 hours of talking and 15 days of standby before needing a recharge. And don't forget the 3.2 megapixel camera auto-focus with a terrific flash, speakerphone, Bluetooth, music player (with a real headphone jack) and built-in GPS services. Oh yes, before I forget, the Storm also handles all sorts of email with aplomb -- especially the corporate stuff. You know, like a real BlackBerry. The Storm has two on-screen keyboards you can use. If you want to type in when the screen display is vertical (portrait) -- you are greeted by an on-screen SureType keyboard (with two letters per key). Used horizontally (landscape), the keyboard conforms to the QWERTY standard -- the best of both worlds. The Storm is also a world phone -- it not only works on Verizon's 3G network (CDMA and EV-DO) here in the U.S., but it also has radios which operate on many of the frequencies used by everyone else. It's a quad-band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) GSM/GPRS/EDGE as well as 2100MHz UMTS/HSPA 3G networks. Models sold overseas won't have a radio to access Verizon frequencies. Video playback on the Storm looked pretty amazing during the demonstration, and the same for everything else I was shown. Verizon and RIM aren't yet saying when the Storm will be available, only that it will be sometime "in the fourth quarter." I think it's a safe bet that we'll see them by Thanksgiving. Final prices have not been announced, either. I can't wait to get my hands on one and let you know what it's like to actually live with a Storm.