BlackBerry 10 review

BlackBerry 10 review

T3 4
  • BlackBerry 10 is slick, fast and strikingly different from Android or iOS and BB's new OS will be as crucial to the company’s success as decent hardware

    BlackBerry 10 review

    Love

    • All-gesture interface
    • The Hub: great unified inbox
    • Strong multitasking

    Hate

    • Still not enough apps
    • Interface has a learning curve
    • Icons sometimes pedestrian

    It’s no secret that BlackBerry had lost its way. The once-winning company was still producing snappy pieces of hardware like the BlackBerry Bold 9000, but the operating software had become idiosyncratic, complex and unintuitive.

    There were few apps – the new currency of smartphones – unexceptional maps and a slow browser. No wonder BlackBerry had lost ground to Android and Apple.

    So BlackBerry decided to create a whole new system, incompatible with previous versions. And that meant starting the app count from zero again. That system, called BlackBerry 10, is almost unrecognisable to users of the previous OS, BlackBerry 7.

    BB 10 was unveiled alongside the new flaghsip BlackBerry Z10 and the QWERTY keyboard-toting BlackBerry Q10 and is the first serious contender to take on iOS 6, Android and Windows Phone 8.

    It offers many innovations, extra features and gesture control from the ground up. It has a somewhat demure look to it – business-like describes it – and that’s not a surprise. But it means that some of the app icons, say, can look a little humdrum.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: Features

    First of all, BB10 accentuates the company’s focus on email and communication with the Hub, a unified inbox that shows your emails, texts, tweets, Facebook updates and more. You choose what’s there and it’s ready for you whenever you want it.

    Gesture control is at the heart of BB10, so much so that there’s no home button on the phone. You wake the phone without having to reach for a power switch on the top edge, you just swipe your finger up the phone screen and the screen turns on and unlocks. This feels intimate and satisfying.

    Other swipes reveal active apps or give quick access to settings like orientation lock or notifications. It is a nimble but sophisticated set-up.

    BB10 is great at multitasking, so if you’re watching a snatch of video and you hear the sound that tells you an email has arrived, you simply swipe your thumb across the screen to glimpse the Hub – the official BlackBerry word is Peek. Swipe back again and you’re where you were before, at the exact same point in the video. It’s very smooth and fast.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: Keyboard

    The BlackBerry Q10 is due to land in the coming months, bringing with it a physical QWERTY keyboard – one of BlackBerry’s standout hardware achievements.

    But for now there’s an exceptional virtual keyboard to be found in BB10 on the Z10. Predictive text, where the app guesses what word you’re intending when you’ve entered a letter or two, is familiar enough. This keyboard predicts your next word before you’ve begun it.

    The word appears on the keyboard between the letters. If it’s the right one – and it is with a spookily high frequency – you flick it up and it appears in the text box. British software company Swiftkey does a similar thing for Android, but this just as effective.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: Apps

    Where the BlackBerry 7 OS had relatively few apps, and missed many of the biggest names, the new BlackBerry App World has much more to offer.

    There were 70,000 apps available on day one, a huge number for a new OS, though still only a tenth of what Apple or Android can claim. Even so, there are many top-name apps available, like Skype, Twitter and Angry Birds.

    The apps still aren’t as cheap as they are on rival stores but the feeling is no longer of an over-priced and exclusive market.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: BBM Video

    In fact, maybe you don’t need Skype after all. BBM – that’s BlackBerry Messenger, the free instant messaging service that bewitched teenagers into buying BlackBerry handsets in their millions – now comes with video.

    It’s FaceTime for BlackBerry, then, and is simple to set up and use. You can talk to BB7 users but video is for BB10 customers on both ends of the line.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: BlackBerry Balance

    Now this is clever. It’s meant for business users and it’s enough to make IT directors the world over welcome BB10 with open arms. Effectively it divides your phone in two, creating a work space and a personal space. And between them is a wall.

    It means that you can’t accidentally (or deliberately) copy something from a work email and paste it into a personal one, or worse, on to Facebook. You can’t even see your personal apps when you’re in work mode – they’re greyed out. It’s very clever and may be enough on its own to restore BlackBerry’s success with corporate customers.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: Remember

    Have you noticed how hard it is to find a decent to-do app on a mobile phone? There’s Remember the Milk and the truly wonderful Clear on iOS, but there are few other options that are easy to use, intuitive and inviting. This is much less exciting than Clear but is usable and you can paste video and voice notes into Remember.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: Camera

    The camera software is great, especially because of TimeShift which takes a sequence of shots when you press the trigger. If there are multiple faces in shot, the software spots this. Then, and this is the clever bit, if your mum was blinking in the first shot and your brother gurning in all but the last, you can choose the good bit from different shots and combine them. An end to eyes-shut portraits!

    BlackBerry 10 OS: Performance

     

    This is a nippy OS – it’s hardware-dependent, of course, and the only hardware so far is the Z10 but it certainly works at speed here. The browser is hugely improved and builds pages speedily. Despite the complex and rich multi-tasking of which BlackBerry is so proud, there’s no noticeable slowdown. It all adds up to a new and powerful operating system that deserves to do well.

    Some elements still need tweaking to improve performance, though. For instance, if you’re reading an email, there’s no way to swipe to the next one, as there in in BB7. Here, you must go back to the email folder and choose the next one you want to read from there. That slows you down more than anything else in the system.

    BlackBerry 10 OS: Verdict

    This new software is fast, innovative and a world away from yesterday’s quirky BlackBerry experience. There are elements which need to be adjusted and the company still needs to attract a lot more apps and fast – you’ll find a favourite or two is missing.

    Even so, 70,000 at day one is a great achievement and a solid foundation to build from. Whether this new system will be enough to help BlackBerry find its way again, it’s too early to say, but it’s certainly the best BlackBerry software yet. And in some ways (gesture controls to the max, BlackBerry Balance, the Hub) this is cutting-edge, industry-leading stuff.

    BlackBerry 10 OS release date: Out now

    BlackBerry 10 OS price: Free

  • The BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha test unit is almost ready for the public and T3 was invited along for a sneak preview of the new OS

    BlackBerry 10 review

    Love

    • All-gesture interface
    • The Hub: great unified inbox
    • Strong multitasking

    Hate

    • Still not enough apps
    • Interface has a learning curve
    • Icons sometimes pedestrian

    Update: The BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone and the keyboard-toting BlackBerry Q10 have been announced at the brand's hotly anticipated global press event, alongside the BlackBerry 10 OS. Stayed tuned to T3 for full reviews of all three. In the meantime, check out our BlackBerry Z10 hands-on review and BlackBerry Q10 hands-on review.

    There’s never been a harder time for RIM to reboot BlackBerry and make BlackBerry 10 the essential OS for work and play. Android Jelly Bean and Apple iOS 6 have evolved far beyond their debut editions - RIM is starting from scratch, without a physical keyboard - can it work?

    BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha: Interface

    RIM believes the BlackBerry 10 OS is so strong that it hasn’t actually revealed any key specifications of the new BlackBerry smartphones that will use the OS in early 2013.

    We played with BB 10 alongside Roger Enright, Regional Leader, EMEA product management for Research in Motion. He claims BB10 is “designed to present the best of the mobile internet”.

    The touchscreen only interface ditches the permanent notification bar of past models such as the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and includes a ‘peek and flow’ system, basically an Android style system of flipping between ‘active frames’ which house apps and a notification sidebar.

    It’s slick and divided into Work and Personal modes, so your work emails are secure and you don’t have to see work updates or docs when you’re on holiday if you don’t want to.

    The ‘peek and flow’ system is designed to be used one handed - unified messages (BB Messenger, email and FB) all appear as a side menu when you swipe to the right from the customisable home screen which allows eight frames for apps, games or browser pages. RIM confirmed that BB10 is Flash compatible but needed to switch on a developer mode to access the functionality.

    Enright says “we believe the messages you get, you want to see them all together - other smartphones offer a ‘in and out’ experience which is why we don’t have a back button”

    BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha: Keyboard

    The virtual keyboard is large, ditching numbers on the first of three frames for letters only. The auto recognition system allows you to ‘throw’ predicted words up into your message and suggestions are placed on the keyboard keys, rather than in the message window.

    RIM claims the process is used to minimise the distance that your eye and fingers travel while typing. During our demonstration, typing ‘Roger’ was followed by a suggestion of ‘Federer’. RIM claim that all suggestions will be based upon the words you use on emails, BBM and apps like Facebook.

    The text editor instantly switches between languages for word suggestions too - a clever touch, especially for business use.

    RIM suggested that other keyboards would be available to be created by developers using the BlackBerry 10 API system but noted that it wouldn’t replace the standard keyboard in the core OS functions.

    BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha: Apps

    BlackBerry App World now looks like Google Play, divided between apps, music and games in the typical paid and free columns. During our demo, we saw a Facebook screen but the app itself wasn’t launched. The built-in browser was fast and offers a simple reading system for complex pages, converting pages into large text and images like iOS.

    The challenge is for RIM to populate BlackBerry App World with apps and games - a challenge still facing Windows Phone platforms. We’ll see more app announcements closer to the ‘early 2013’ BB10 release date promised by RIM as the first selection of smartphones arrive. Currently, just 5000 developers have access to BB10.

    BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha : Camera

     

    Without revealing the camera spec, RIM demonstrated the ability to take a snap with the ability to zoom in and ‘rewind’ part of the shot to remove a blinking person.

    The Dev Alpha unit focused quickly and snapped at speed but the general image suffered in low light - the overall performance looked like a traditional 5 megapixel camera and lens on mid-range smartphones, perhaps because the actual screen resolution seems impressive.

    BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha: Verdict

    The new BlackBerry 10 OS is a novel blend of the simpler elements of Windows Phone with a nod to Android. Future BlackBerry smartphones will offer a neat interface but it may seem a bit restrictive for Android fans.

    For business and cleverly dividing ‘Work and Personal’ modes, BB10 will win over BlackBerry fans but iOS 6 and Android options now offer evolving support for many apps and a smaller ecosystem of apps and developer inventions has seen Windows Phone flounder.

    Likely to be a premium work device for the travelling corporate high-flyer, we can see the appeal of BB10 if the keyboard gains general acceptance among fans of physical keyboards but, at the same time, we can see the appeal of rivals including larger, business focused smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

    The main problem is that BB10 is already late to the touchscreen party and the OS is not finished, making a January 2013 launch seem like a very difficult achievement.

    BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha release date: Spring 2013

    BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha hands-on review by Richard Melville

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