I have had the pleasure of using my BlackBerry Z10 smartphone for about a week now and it has been a crazy ride. I am coming directly from a BlackBerry Bold 9900, so going full on touchscreen has been a big change. The BlackBerry Z10 has been in the works at RIM for a long time and you can tell the labor of love that went into it. Off the bat, I was impressed since I was dreading to pick up a half baked product like the PlayBook at launch. I will be splitting this review into sections with this first section covering the BlackBerry 10 OS and the second section covering the BlackBerry Z10 hardware itself. I will also be following up with quite a few deep dives into specific features of BlackBerry 10. With that said, let’s dive in!
At first glance, the BlackBerry Z10 looks slick. My model was not in the retail box, but what we have seen so far looks nice. When turning on the device, you will be immediately taken through the process of setting up your BlackBerry ID. You will also be given a software update if one is available, but once that is set up, you are greeted to a beautiful home screen. Since BlackBerry 10 is a gesture based OS, RIM has come up with a slick way of unlocking your phone. You don’t need to push any buttons, you simply swipe up from the bottom bezel to about half way up the screen. A few centimeters into the swipe, you will see the screen turn on, showing you the notifications and time/date, and allowing you to quickly swipe back down to shut the screen back off. This has to be one of my favorite features of BlackBerry 10. You just have your phone on the table and see the red light blinking? Just perform the gesture to see what is going on.
RIM has also placed an icon on the lock screen for the camera. If you hold it down for a few seconds, the camera launches. Hopefully they will speed up the waiting time, but the camera launches quickly once it triggers. There is also a little tab on the top of the lock screen that you can pull down for “bedside mode,” but we will cover that later. You continue the swipe up and the phone is unlocked. You can also view the lock screen by just clicking the ON button on the top of the phone. Either way, you end up on the home screen when the phone is unlocked.
The BlackBerry 10 Home screen
The BlackBerry 10 home screen has similar elements to those of other mobile operating systems, including legacy BlackBerry devices, but RIM has definitely upped the bar in many respects. If you do not have any running apps, your home screen is essentially just your “App Drawer.” The second you open up an app they start showing up as “Active Frames” and that becomes your home screen. This makes it easy to just switch between running apps. If you swipe all the way to the left, you get the BlackBerry hub. RIM has included some shortcuts for getting around, like being able to swipe across the home screen page numbers on the bottom to fly between the pages and a little notification on top of the Active Frame one that tells you if you have more than 4 apps running. The live tiles by default show you a minimized version of your application, but many apps have live updated tiles that show you relevant info in a smaller box. For example, the calendar will show you an upcoming appointment.
If you swipe down from the top of the home screen, you get a really easy to use menu I call the “Power Menu.” This menu lets you easily access the full settings or perform major actions like enable or disable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Rotation lock, change profiles, and edit your alarms. They added a nice touch here: the icons and the text perform different actions when clicked. For example, clicking the Wi-Fi icon toggles it on and off. If you click the text, it takes you to Wi-Fi settings. This is the same for the profile toggle that switches between your current and previous profile.
If you swipe up from the bezel from inside any app, you will be shown the home screen if you let go. Alternatively, you can swipe up a little bit and hold, and it will show you your notifications as you can see above. If you swipe back down, you are back into your app. If you continue the swipe up and to the left you are invoking the “Peek” gesture that lets you quickly peek into your Hub. More on that later!
If you hold down the power button, you now get a new power off menu counting down to a power off. If you let go, it just shows you the screen above.
I was also happy to see that the BlackBerry 10 app drawer has support for folders. You just tap and hold an icon and place it above another and it will create a folder. You can then swipe up from the bezel when you are in a folder to close it. You rename it by holding down on the name. You can move around apps just by holding down on the icon for a few seconds until it starts “breathing” and then moving it. You can also delete it by clicking the trash icon beside it.
On the home screen you will become very familiar with the Active Frames. Your frames get reshuffled every time you open an app, with your last used app in the top left. You can close apps easily by clicking the X by them.
All in all, RIM has done a great job revitalizing the BlackBerry home screen into something that is extremely easy to use yet familiar to current BlackBerry users and other mobile OS users. Last but not least, you will see the three static icons on the bottom of the home screen that fire up the phone, universal search, and the camera. Notice that when you are on a call it shows your call details… It’s these small things that I really dig.
The BlackBerry 10 Hub
The BlackBerry 10 Hub is a beautiful evolution of the current universal inbox idea on BlackBerry legacy devices. I am not sure why no other competitor can do this while RIM keeps on improving communications. The Hub on BlackBerry 10 is always just a swipe up and to the right (the Peek gesture), and shows you everything from your notifications and email to your Facebook and LinkedIn messages along with upcoming appointments. RIM lets you easily add your accounts through the setup and it supports ActiveSync along with IMAP and CalDav/CardDav for contacts and calendar. The arrow on the top BlackBerry Hub bar allows you to access the different folders in each account, which is awesome! Sadly, they do not allow you to easily select more than one email. You have to hold down one email until the action menu pops up. You can then click the multi-select button and select multiple emails (hopefully, this is being improved).
By default, RIM turns off the conversation view in the Hub, but I love conversation view. Sadly, it does not combine emails as reliably as BlackBerry 7, but it does get the job done. The trick to go between messages is to swipe to the right on the text of the message and then click on the next one. I am trying to get RIM to create a sort of gesture to go between emails in conversation or regular view.
RIM also allows you to easily filter what you are seeing in the Hub by swiping on the Hub BlackBerry Icon on the bottom left.
Search gets even more interesting with loads of options and recent search history.
When you hit Compose, it asks you what you want to compose. Once you click on email, you will see a message screen that remembers who you usually contact. If you swipe down from the “To” field, you can change what email address you are sending from. You can also start typing contacts and it will remember the people you usually email together. For example, when I type Luis it would recommend someone from the rest of the BerryReview team. It also does a very nice auto complete of email addresses as you type, with the ability to modify an email address by clicking on it. Very nice touches.
Once you open an email, you have the regular options, but the addition of HTML email formatting options, which I love. No more plain text emails!
From each email, you can do the regular options, but they have added the ability to create a meeting out of an email! They also let you associate an email with a contact to combine into their profile. They have also retained the ability to file emails.
Check out the rest of the Hub options below, including the ability to set up a signature per email.
The BlackBerry 10 Keyboard
I will start this by saying I am a die hard QWERTY lover. I don’t like typing on glass. With that said, RIM has really blown me away with the BlackBerry 10 keyboard. At first, I was confused with this swiping up of words and other features. What really sold me on the virtual keyboard was the auto correction and predictive wording. As you can see in the screencaps above, I can type without even looking at the screen, and the keyboard will automatically correct it. Notice the words on the space bar? That’s what it is automatically correcting to when I click the spacebar. If I want literally what I typed, I can swipe up on it.
Unlike Android and other keyboards that just correct it to the most common word, RIM has done something different with BlackBerry 10. It not only learns from the words I type, but on top of that it also understands how words flow together, unlike other engines like the popular SWYPE on Android. RIM has also thrown in some awesome gestures that make typing easier on glass, and the gestures are smooth since the Keyboard is written in OpenGL.
One of my favorite gestures is the ability to swipe from right to left to delete a whole word. You also can swipe down to insert just one special character, and the keyboard reverts to letters. That way you can easily add a question mark or percentage symbol. You can swipe down a second time to get more special characters. You swipe down on the keyboard area with two fingers to hide the keyboard.
All in all, this typing on glass on BlackBerry 10 is growing on me. I just wish it didn’t take up so much of the screen. The swiping of words up using the predictive engine is useful for one handed typing, but power users will still use both thumbs with no swiping. It’s ridiculously fast. RIM just needs to add the ability to click on a word to modify it once you have already hit spacebar.
Voice Dictation & Voice Control
One of the nice new additions to BlackBerry 10 is voice dictation and voice control. On the keyboard above, you will always see the voice dictation button on the period key. You can also kick off voice dictation when the keyboard is open by clicking on the button in the middle of the volume keys on the side of the BlackBerry 10 device. The voice dictation is actually shockingly good at detecting words, even in loud environments. I actually found it much easier than typing when walking. It’s not foolproof, but it’s very useful.
Voice Control in BlackBerry 10 is also fired off by holding the button in the middle of the volume keys on the side of the device. RIM has come a long way with voice control and it works beautifully for sending emails, creating appointments, sending BBMs, searching the Internet, and other functions. On the other hand, it is not extensible nor has the ability to do things like checking the weather. This is all server based, so I think RIM could easily add these features in the future. I was also impressed to see the results are always returned very quickly. I wonder what is running the service…
You can also edit your results.
The BlackBerry 10 browser is light years ahead of the current BlackBerry legacy browser. It is hard to even compare, but it’s the closest I have seen to a desktop experience on mobile, but sadly lacks plugins, like ad blockers. My favorite new feature is that it lets you save your username and passwords for websites, including BerryReview! It also lets you edit and organize bookmarks using tags.
You also have the option to leave Flash off by default, but it will offer you the option to turn flash back on when it notices a website that is heavily Flash dependant. This means you can leave it off and not see advertisements, and then turn it on for websites that need it! Heck, I even managed to run the Flash-based version of speedtest.net.
You can also change search engines along with getting real time auto complete results as you type in the search bar. I also like how the keyboard gives you buttons to move between fields.
There really is not enough room to go into the browser fully here, just assume it is freaking awesome and you will be about right. I did run into two random browser crashes, but it offered to reload them practically instantly.
RIM brought back universal search in BlackBerry 10 with some great tweaks. It searches all of your applications, contacts, documents, settings, music, video, pictures, browser, SMS, BBM, tasks, notes, calendar, and messages. It’s pretty powerful and lets you filter down dynamically based on the available search results. The best part is that it is practically instant and gets results as you type!!!
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) With Video/Voice & Google Talk
RIM really did a number on BlackBerry Messenger in BlackBerry 10. The whole interface has been revamped. My favorite part of all is that RIM has killed the broadcast message! (mostly…) You now can no longer blast your whole BBM contact list. Instead, you have to select the recipients you wish to receive the broadcast. Unlike BlackBerry Messenger 7, there does not seem to be an “All Contacts” option.
RIM has also added BBM Video and Voice that works over cellular networks! That means you can use BBM to make phone calls around the world. You can easily see who is available and it’s much more useful now that it is no longer Wi-Fi only. You can voice chat users on BlackBerry Messenger 7 devices. On top of that, you can share your screen over BBM Video so you can collaborate. Very cool feature that we will go further into once we have more devices to test with! I tried a demo with some folks at RIM and it worked beautifully over AT&T’s LTE.
The groups view has also been revamped. Most of all, everything is fluid and fast. You have the familiar filtering menu and the ability to easily contribute to your group.
Updates are also pulled to the update folder instantly. One of the coolest new features is the ability to scan your contacts, Facebook, and other systems to see if your friends are on BBM, and it will suggest them as contacts.
The options are similar to previous versions, which is nice to see.
Google Talk is also working beautifully on BlackBerry 10. It seems to work using a new server system since I get notifications even when I am not signed in. It then pulls them down when you click on them in the Hub or fire the app up. I think there has to be a new server component going on here…
BlackBerry World (Formerly BlackBerry App World)
BlackBerry World is the new home for BlackBerry content. RIM has totally overhauled it in BlackBerry 10 with some beautiful improvements. My favorite is the ability to view larger screenshots in product views. Finally!
On top of that, I have also noticed that if you login to the website from your PC, you can send apps to your BlackBerry 10 smartphone and have them installed remotely.
The options are minimal, but you can limit larger downloads to Wi-Fi and save items to the memory card.
You can easily filter what you are trying to find, or search through everything.
There are loads of games going on.
You can also check out your previous apps and install all of them at once!!!
The music selection has improved.
BlackBerry World also has a vast movie and TV selection available, with the option to purchase or rent content.
They even have previews.
You can also click on the subcategories to get more details and summaries for TV shows and other content.
Pricing options vary (purchase and rent) along with a variable price for each movie or TV show based on release date and other factors. For example, purchasing a classic movie could be $9.99 while a new release could be $16.99 or $19.99.
Camera with Time Shift and Photo Editing/Manager
RIM has given the camera app in BlackBerry 10 a huge overhaul. The pictures come out great during the day though they do get a bit grainy at night, but I hear there is a software fix coming. The camera has great auto focus with it shrinking the focus when it locks, and you can move the focus point around. There are three modes for the camera: Regular, Video, and Time Shift. Sadly, I cannot take screenshots of the camera app, so you will have to trust me.
By default, the camera fires up in regular mode. I think this is because flash is disabled in Time Shift mode and adds the extra time shift option after each shot. This is because time shift takes many pictures at once and lets you change the picture back and forth in time. It is amazing that this works so nicely. It’s a jaw dropper.
In normal mode, the camera takes pictures instantly. They just slide down and you can easily access the pictures you took. You can then edit your pictures and apply filters, crop, and do quite a bit more using the apps provided. They are surprisingly good for built-in apps, and this will really raise the bar for third-party apps.
Just look at all those options. This is not some half-baked photo editing app.
RIM offers a pretty nice picture manager app beyond the file manager. It has the prerequisite slideshow mode and similar features.
Video Recording, Editing, and StoryMaker
The video mode shoots 1080p out of the back camera and 720p from the front camera. It is super fast though a bit grainy. The craziest part is you CAN EDIT THE VIDEO after taking it. You can even apply filters, crop the video, raise the volume and more! I am simply blown away. And it is all fast and responsive. I guess they can check the “brilliant idea” column for their acquisition of JayCut.
It also gives you the ability to easily return to your original position.
But that’s not all, it gets better! StoryMaker lets you take your videos, pictures, and music/voice recordings and create an awesome themed video. It lets you easily share your experiences by selecting pictures, videos, and more that are then put into a slideshow with different effects you can choose. Then simply upload to YouTube or elsewhere!
The developer who created the video player in BlackBerry 10 really stole my heart. They listened to all our feedback and responded in kind. First of all, the video player has played practically everything I have thrown at it, including huge MKV files with AC3 codec audio.
You can play your videos, and guess what? It finally remembers where you are in multiple videos!!! Yes, you read that right. You open up the video again and it will start playing where you left off. Also, did you notice that Play On option? BlackBerry 10 is rocking some DLNA streaming, and you can also play over HDMI like you could on the PlayBook.
And here are some video editing options, even on full-length movies!!! I want to kiss the guy who made this possible. I can even raise the volume in the movie file itself… I am at a loss for words.
Phone & Contacts
It’s about time I got around to the phone and contacts in BlackBerry 10 since this is a smart->phone. RIM has added some gorgeous touches with the contacts app in BlackBerry 10. They have really taken Gist to the next level by combining contacts to the point where they even beat out Google and Android. They are pulling in information from LinkedIn, Facebook, multiple Gmail accounts, Exchange, and more to create a laundry list of everything you know about a contact. Best of all, you can search on most of these fields. You can also add multiple items in each, including multiple emails, mobile numbers, and more. It also allows you to set favorite contacts that show up on top.
There are also beautiful small touches, like being able to pull down to see your phone number
BBM Video and Audio status is built into the contacts app so you can easily just call them over another medium. It’s also built into the in call menu so you can switch over to BBM at any time. You can also swipe the letters on the side to go to that letter contact faster, which is standard on most touchscreen phones. You can also filter your contacts based on source.
Here are some options for contacts and phone:
The calendar app in BlackBerry 10 is similar to what we have seen on the PlayBook from Tungle, but taken even further. You have all of your calendars synced into one, but you can filter. It also keeps the concept of dates being larger on days with more items. This will feel very familiar for BlackBerry users, yet it has flair!
BlackBerry 10 “Remember” Tasks & Notes With Evernote Sync!
RIM has gone out on a limb with BlackBerry 10’s Remember app. This new app combines what we used to call Tasks and Notes into one home. These items in BlackBerry Remember sync to your Exchange Activesync accounts Tasks and Notes along with your Evernote items. You can have multiple tags on an item and categorize them that way.
You can add voice notes, pictures, video, and more to BlackBerry Remember
Better yet, you can have multiple items connected in one item. Best of all, the Remember option is in every “Share” menu, so if you find a browser URL or App World App or anything that you want to save in, remember you can do it in just a few clicks. It’s like RIM took Evernote and decided to make it better.
Clock, Alarm, & Bedside Mode
The clock and alarm on BlackBerry 10 really show some of the new visual flair that The Astonishing Tribe has brought to RIM. It’s just so easy to use and intuitive that you have to see it to appreciate it. It gives Swiss watch makers a run for their money.
It also has a built-in world clock, stopwatch, and timer with custom alarm.
There is also a gorgeous bedside mode that you can easily access from the home lock screen by pulling down on the tab shown above.
Social – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, & Foursquare
I won’t spend too much time on this, but RIM has the basics covered with gorgeous apps for the top 4 social networks. They work like a charm, though they need to get Facebook chat and multiple account support in Twitter.
BlackBerry Maps with Voice Navigation & Traffic
BlackBerry Maps on BlackBerry 10 is a combination of the best from BlackBerry Traffic and BlackBerry Maps, with a huge overhaul. You get all of the cutting edge features, like instant search, autocomplete and turn by turn voice navigation. It will also show you traffic on the map, but sadly, there is no pedestrian or transit information. The navigation is pretty much spot on and they have both GPS and cell tower triangulation going on.
You get some options in terms of route.
Those are auto complete search results.
And the route navigation. Without a car, it’s hard for me to tell you how well this works, but I guess we will find out shortly.
Documents to Go & Print to Go
RIM has revamped their office suite in BlackBerry 10. You can create Word and Excel files with full compatibility with Microsoft Office. You can also view and edit existing PowerPoint decks, and it even supports the slick PowerPoint animations.
Here is Sheets to Go:
Here is Print to Go, which allows you to print documents from your PC so you can easily view them on your BlackBerry 10 phone instead of printing them out. It essentially installs like a printer driver on your PC.
File Manager with DropBox & Box.net Integration
We knew that RIM was coming up with DropBox and Box.net integration, but it’s great seeing it in action. RIM has allowed developers to integrate at the lowest levels, essentially allowing all apps to use DropBox and Box just by calling the File Manager. This means developers do not need to integrate Box or DropBox themselves like they have to do on other platforms. The file manager is also very powerful and allows you to easily select multiple items and move, zip, delete, and more. You can even use it to easily send multiple files via email or other sharing method. It’s very intuitive to use, though I really wish RIM would add the ability to connect to network shares and FTP sites. Hopefully, that is coming, or a third-party dev has it on their roadmap! Until then, Ghost Commander works.
Scoreloop Social Gaming
BlackBerry 10 brings better integration with RIM’s Scoreloop, a solution that they acquired. It opens up the door for social gaming with your friends and gives you a hub for social gaming on BlackBerry 10. Now we just need them to bring Chess to Scoreloop so we can have some ultimate deathmatches…
Smart Tags on BlackBerry 10 combine NFC with QR codes into one app. You can use it to create NFC Smart Tags for multiple items that you can easily share, like your contact info. You can also use it to scan QR codes. I see more developing here.
RIM has teamed up with NewsStand to bring us magazines on BlackBerry 10. Prices are a bit high in my opinion, but they have my favorite magazines, including The Week. 🙂 Hopefully, Zinio is also coming.
Options & Settings – DLNA, Network Shares, & More
I wanted to leave the options and settings for last since they really are a bit more intense. I will try to cover the highlights below.
You can easily set up your storage to be accessible over Wi-Fi as a network share, similar to that on the PlayBook. You also can turn on USB Mass Storage for the SD card. Notice that 64GB MicroSDXC card I have inserted?
We also have mobile hotspot settings and Bluetooth tethering, but they need to be enabled by your carrier.
These are pretty much self-explanatory. The BlackBerry Z10 ships with 50% brightness. Oddly, there was no light sensor automatic backlighting option, but there does seem to be a light sensor in the device…
Voice control options. Nice of RIM to allow us to include “Offensive Words.” We also have the option to turn on BlackBerry Protect so you can find your device on a map if it is lost or stolen. This is supposedly being expanded in the future.
We also have the keyboard shortcuts and AutoText support, though they now call it Word Substitution.
The keyboard also has some nice options. Personally, I recommend Aggressive Auto-Complete. It’s awesome!
I am also loving how RIM has decided to set up security permissions in plain English!!! That is a huge improvement. You can also modify the permissions of an app easily. I just wish it would let you set them at the launch of an app. Either way, it’s better than the “Trusted App” popup you get on BlackBerry 7.
Here you can easily see if a device is network or carrier locked. On top of that, you can also turn on parental controls along with sending diagnostics to RIM.
Media sharing allows you to share your files to DLNA certified devices!!!
You can also choose what is included in universal search and clear your history.
Last, but not least, you can control location services, which are needed for many features. You can also allow traffic data collection which I am guessing allows RIM to use your traffic data in their Maps app.
This has been one long-winded review, but there is just so much RIM has done with BlackBerry 10 that we had to start somewhere. This is the closest I could get to a “quick” deep dive into what BlackBerry 10 offers as an OS. I really hope this has given you a good idea of how BlackBerry 10 will fit in your life and if it is for you. I cannot wait to see what RIM does with the X10 with a physical QWERTY keyboard since that will change some of these design paradigms. Personally, I am very impressed with what RIM has managed to do and the polish really shines. I don’t have any real big issues I want RIM to fix in BlackBerry 10. Instead, I have been bugging my contacts to improve the small things like adding more gestures or adding the ability to archive Gmail emails. Overall, I highly recommend BlackBerry 10 as a huge improvement over current BlackBerry devices. It is also a compelling option for Android and iOS users who are looking for a more modern streamlined operating system. RIM has really delivered the goods with BlackBerry 10, laying the foundation for BlackBerry to retake both the consumer and enterprise markets. They just need to keep up this momentum. Let us know if you have any questions!!!
PS: Stay tuned for the upcoming review of the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone hardware!