One month ago, I got my hands on the newest product from BlackBerry – – the Z10. The Z10 is a great looking device, has a vibrant and crisp screen, is the perfect size for both typing and viewing content, feels great in the hand…. but that is about all I have to say about the Z10.
That is, the device itself isn’t what needs to be reviewed. You see, the new BlackBerry devices don’t need flashy hardware and 8-core processors to keep users happy, nor will they ever grab any headlines for having the most advanced hardware on the market. Unlike Android, BlackBerry 10 is an operating system designed to run on hardware that doesn’t need to be top-of-the-line. The review I’m about to do is for the real product that launched a month ago… BlackBerry 10.
BlackBerry 10 (as displayed on the first BB10-capable device, the Z10) is a quick and efficient operating system that never lags. When I say never, I mean not when 2 apps are running, not when 8 apps are running, not when an OS update is performing in the background… never. BlackBerry users from years past will be blown away by this because lag was something OS7 and prior users had grown used to. The old BBOS dragged and took its time through even some of the most minor tasks. It still got them done (and done well), but the speed at which it accomplished these things was always what suffered. For example, I think all BBOS 7 and prior users can agree that upgrading apps was a painful process. Not only did it take several minutes and bogged down the phone throughout the process, but most updates required full device reboots that took upwards of 3 minutes or more. BlackBerry 10 can basically be viewed as the complete opposite experience. Upgrading apps is as painless as turning Wifi on and off.
Let’s get to some of the actual features of BlackBerry 10 and how they work on the Z10. The first, and I believe most important feature, is what’s known as the BlackBerry Hub. This is your one and only inbox on your device. Now, this doesn’t mean things are hard to find because they’re all mashed together in one spot, it just means things are all easily located in one spot. The Hub contains all the email accounts, Twitter messages, Facebook messages, LinkIn messages, calls, voicemails, and notifications on your device. You can view and reply to Twitter and Facebook messages from within the Hub; opening up the individual app is redundant. The Hub is particularly great for two reasons:
1) It’s always open and accessible with one simple gesture (Swipe up and right) from any app, at any time, while doing anything. Imagine you’re in the middle of reading a great article and your phone vibrates. Instead of either closing the article temporarily or having an annoying pop-up while reading, BlackBerry 10 let’s you peak into the Hub and see if this message is worthy of interrupting your article. If it isn’t, just release the gesture, and you’re back reading the article without ever leaving it.
2) It is easily customized and organized based on your needs. For me, I don’t want my work email in my main Hub view, so through Hub Management, I’m able to make it only accessible by clicking the email account and then viewing all its content. What this means is that my work email is now separate from all my other content in my Hub. Another example of this is phone calls. When I first got my Z10, everything was showing up in my main Hub view, including several phone calls. Once I played with my Hub Management, I was able to remove Calls from the main view, but I’m still able to easily select and view them with a quick and easy swipe into the Hub Menu.
Another great feature of BlackBerry 10 is the keyboard. I believe this will be true for the Q10 (physical keyboard BB10 device), but I’ll focus on the virtual keyboard found on the Z10.
Coming from over 10 previous physical keyboard BlackBerry devices, I was almost convinced the Z10 would not be for me simply because it lacked a physical keyboard. Boy, was I wrong. The Z10 keyboard is phenomenal! I am as quick or quicker than I was on my previous BlackBerry devices, and to me, that says a lot. The keyboard has learned my way of typing/speaking over the last 4 weeks and most words I use are showing up above the 2nd or 3rd letter of each word I type. The “flick” up is turning out to be an absolute genius move for one-handed, on-the-go typers. I use it constantly while walking outside, and it proves to be almost as fast as full two-handed typing. I am genuinely impressed.
BlackBerry 10 isn’t perfect though. Here are some areas I believe BlackBerry needs to improve on in order to make BlackBerry 10 a true success:
1) Active Frames – – force developers to make better use of Active Frames and make them “InterActive” Frames so that the information they display can be of more benefit. Active Frames are the minimized states of running apps. One thing BlackBerry 10 does better than any other platform is multi-tasking, and making use of minimized apps is how it does it. Minimized apps show up as larger rectangles and, if programmed properly, can display the most vital information about the running app (for example, the minimized calendar app shows the next upcoming appointment, and not just a micro-sized calendar that is minimized). For the most part, developers that actually make use of the Active Frame philosophy are few and far between. I believe they can be somewhat useful, but until they’re adopted by all developers, they might as well just be considered minimized apps.
2) Notifications – – so far, BlackBerry 10 doesn’t allow full customization of notifications like previous BlackBerry’s allowed. For example, I used to have my BBMs set to vibrate with two short vibes, emails would be two long vibes, work emails would be one long vibe, etc. This may seem trivial, but when a phone is in your pocket at the movies or somewhere else private, it’s good to know (just by feel) what message has arrived. As it stands now, BlackBerry 10 doesn’t have the custom vibrate settings I became accustomed to, but hopefully it is coming with an update.
3) PlayBook support – – so far, BlackBerry has been pretty quiet about BB10 on the PlayBook, other than saying it is coming at some point this year. As a PlayBook user and supporter, I’m anxiously waiting for BB10 to arrive, not only to see how it runs on the PlayBook, but to see how it interacts with the Z10. BlackBerry Bridge is a fantastic app on OS7 devices, but BlackBerry hasn’t carried over most of its features to the Z10 – – yet. I believe once the PlayBook gets BB10, we should see all those features return, if not more, and the PlayBook will offer a great demonstration for the power of BB10 – – ability to run seemlessly on a two+ year old device running a dual core 1GHz processor with 1 GB of RAM. It is coming, we just don’t know exactly when yet and that is not helping current PlayBook owners relax.
Common Misconceptions about BlackBerry 10
1) The battery life is just fine! Yes, LTE can be a battery hog, but the new BlackBerry is SO fast compared to previous BlackBerry devices, that LTE won’t be needed for previous BB users. For those coming from Android or iOS, you may need LTE to keep yourself happy while browsing, and with it, you’ll find similar battery life to what you experienced on your previous phone. But for those coming from OS7 and prior BlackBerry devices, just use 4G and you’ll be as happy as ever. Your battery will last the full day (or more), and your phone and browser will be faster than you’ve ever seen before. It really is a very quick and MUCH improved browsing experience.
2) Apps don’t suck! Sure, BB10 doesn’t have ALL the apps that other platforms have, but remember, it’s only one month old! The fact that it has ANY apps that other platforms have is a great feat unto itself! More apps are coming, and as BB10 sales increase and the devices are launched in the US, more and more developers will create apps for the platform and we’ll see the “app-gap” dwindle and become a non-issue. I’m very confident in the fact that BlackBerry has made it very simple and accessible for developers to create (or port) their apps to the BlackBerry 10 platform and as long as developers see good sales numbers and adoption of the platform, they should have no reason not to make their apps available for BlackBerry 10 devices.
BlackBerry 10 isn’t perfect, but it’s important to remember that it’s only a month old. Features and updates will roll out (heck, one fairly significant update was released no less than 3 weeks after the device was launched) that will continue to mold the BlackBerry 10 devices into even better BlackBerry’s. BlackBerry 10 takes the smartphone from being an “app-opener” to a platform that is literally fun to use and explore. Swiping, flicking, and peaking are gestures that keep the user entertained even while doing the most simple of tasks. They add to the experience and usability of the platform, making it the most efficient mobile platform ever.
The potential for the expansion of BlackBerry 10 is endless, from laptop extensions to automobile accessories, BB10 can create the bridge between devices that previously had little to no connection to each other. The QNX back-bone that runs BlackBerry 10 is where BB10’s true future potential lies. Device to Device communication, and the “Internet of Things” are what BlackBerry is truly after. The fact that the Z10 is a great phone and the fact that the PlayBook is a great tablet are facts that just scratch the surface at the potential of BlackBerry 10. They show just how powerful QNX can be when used correctly and if BlackBerry 10 can gain enough sales, cash, and users through its first two devices (Z10 and Q10), watch out for what BlackBerry has in its plans for the next couple of years. Phones and tablets are not their end game and they know huge profits and expansion are waiting for them in other markets. If you like the idea of all devices around us being inter-connected and communicating with each other through little or no human input, then BlackBerry is in the best position to make this happen.
BlackBerry is back and BlackBerry 10 is here.
Here to stay… and expand.