REVIEW: Apple and Google have nothing to fear from BlackBerry 10 -- but Microsoft does
Thorsten Heins, CEO of the company formerly known as Research in Motion and now named simply BlackBerry, has kept his core promise to retool the BlackBerry OS for the modern era. The BlackBerry 10 OS announced yesterday, and available in the new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone in the U.K. today and the U.S. in March, is a big shift away from the outdated platform that has all but faded in terms of sales.
But the BlackBerry 10 OS poses no threat to Apple's iOS or Google's Android, which are both much more sophisticated and much more capable. It's Microsoft that should worry about BlackBerry 10, both because Windows Phone 8 pales in comparison and because BlackBerry 10 echoes many of the familiar messaging capabilities that will appeal to those old-school BlackBerry users who have so far resisted iOS and Android.
The sharp BlackBerry Z10.
The Z10 is a slick smartphone, made of textured plastic that is comfortable to hold and Apple-like in its simple design. The 4.2-inch screen is sharp, though middle of the pack in size, larger than an iPhone's and smaller than the popular Samsung Galaxy devices running Android.
Although BlackBerry promotes the device as perfect for one-handed thumb-centric use, the screen is too large for most people's hands to reach the top, plus I found that thumb taps were often ignored by the touchscreen. The culprit seems to be angle: The screen is quite good at detecting direct, straight-down taps such as from an index finger when holding the device with one hand and tapping with the other. Directly down thumb taps are also registered, but those that come in at 45-degree or shallower angles often are not.
The hardware specs are comparable to other quality smartphones, though the mono speaker is a bit "breathy" and flat compared to the iPhone 5's excellent ones. The battery is replaceable, which is important given the so-so battery life; you'll get a workday's use, like most Android smartphones, but not the two-day life an iPhone typically gets. You can also add an SD card for increased storage beyond the 11.4GB of available capacity on the device, such as to store media files.
Overall, the BlackBerry Z10 is a solid smartphone in line with its competition. The other new model, the BlackBerry Bold-like Q10, isn't yet available, so I could not test it.
After they've completed their approval process, AT&T and Verizon Wireless plan to sell the Z10 for $200 with a two-year contract. T-Mobile says it will offer the Z10 but hasn't disclosed a price. Expect the smartphones to be available at those carriers in March.
Welcome to the Hub -- and mixed messaging capabilities.
For some time now, RIM -- I mean BlackBerry -- has been trying to act young and hip, even though its core market has long been 50-year-old execs like me.
In addition to the now de rigeur media store, BlackBerry has followed the messaging centrism that Microsoft debuted in the terrible Kin a few years back and then successfully re-debuted in Windows Phone's People app. The Hub lists all your messages and updates in one big list.
It's great for seeing what's new, but I found the list also gets overwhelming quickly -- and I set up just my two main email accounts, my Twitter feed, and my appointments. But you can narrow down to just one stream by tapping the top of the Hub and selecting the account you want to focus on. Tap there again and select the Hub to go back to the view of everything.
All in all, the Hub concept works quite well, and if you're primarily a messaging or reactive email user, it's perfect.
For email, the Hub works like the traditional BlackBerry email app (in fact, BlackBerry 10 has no separate email app). If you like how the BlackBerry has historically handled email, BlackBerry 10 will be comfortingly familiar. I dislike it: Seeing my replies mixed up in my messages just confuses me as to what each message is and clutters what I perceived as my inbox. Fortunately, as in the old BlackBerry, you can turn that reply display off via a preference setting.
The folder navigation for email is very clunky, requiring a trip to the Hub's account list. And when you file a message from the mail list into a folder, you're often moved to the folder with the message open, so quickly filing messages for later is not at all quick, as it is in iOS and Android. But sometimes, filing a message worked as expected, keeping me in the email list; go figure. Also, messages filed to folders on other devices or computers -- common for those of us who move among a tablet, computer, and smartphone throughout the day -- don't get marked as such in BlackBerry 10, unlike iOS or Android.
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