Unless you’ve been living under your iPhone, Android or Windows phone, you’re well aware BlackBerry is back.
Waterloo, Ontario’s Research in Motion – now rebranded as simply “BlackBerry” – has redesigned and reengineered its once-iconic phone, and the first device powered by the all-new BlackBerry 10 platform is here.
While not a flawless offering, BlackBerry Z10 ($149 on 3-year term) does in fact deliver the goods — if my more than two weeks with the phone is any indication. Without abandoning what made BlackBerry so sought after to begin with –effortless typing, fast and reliable messaging, the best battery in the biz and rock-solid security – BlackBerry 10 adds a ton of new features you’ll care about.
Here’s a look at a few highlights, followed by some suggested areas of improvement.
BlackBerry Peek, Hub
You’re playing a game, watching a video or browsing the web and you feel your phone vibrate, which means you have a message. With the older BlackBerry, or other smartphone platforms, you need to leave the app you’re in to see who’s writing, and then need to re-launch the app you’re in to keep playing, watching or browsing. Not with BlackBerry 10: Simply swipe up and to the right of the screen with your thumb to peek in at who wrote and if it can wait, let go of your thumb to snap the app back into place full-screen. Neat, huh? Speaking of your messages, the new BlackBerry Hub is a unified inbox with all your correspondence in one place — including emails, texts, BBMs, tweets, Facebook notifications, and more.
Solid virtual keyboard
While some might be reluctant to go to an all-touch BlackBerry – especially with the BlackBerry Storm fiasco a few years back – the BlackBerry Z10’s virtual keyboard rocks. Somewhat resembling a BlackBerry Bold’s physical keyboard, the onscreen buttons are not only spaced out well on the 4.2-inch device but it cleverly predicts what you’re going to type and will suggest the word – seen just above the letters — and you simply swipe up with your thumb to accept the suggestion. For example, it might suggest “computer” if you start typing C-O-M, and so on. The phone will even suggest the next word you might want to type in the sentence.
BBM Video with Screen Share
OK, so BlackBerry is, er, late, by only offering video calling (in 2013!) – but the BBM Video experience inside of BlackBerry Messenger works flawlessly. As long as you’re chatting with someone who also has a BlackBerry 10 device, you can initiate a face-to-face call right from within BBM and the video quality is incredibly smooth and clear. As with Skype or FaceTime on other devices, you can tap between the front- and rear-facing camera – but BlackBerry goes one step further with a feature called Screen Share. As the name suggests, during a video call you can let the person you’re chatting with see your phone’s screen – perhaps you want to show them a presentation you’re working on – and you can talk at the same time.
Camera with Time Shift
While the camera quality isn’t quite up to par compared to most other smartphone cameras, BlackBerry 10 has a cool feature called Time Shift. When you snap a picture, the device actually takes a bunch of photos before and after you press the button and then you can go forward and back through time with your finger to select the best shot. Even if two out of three people are blinking in a photo, you can tweak each person’s face independently to create one “perfect” photo. Another feature called Story Maker creates a sentimental slideshow with your photos on the fly, complete with transition effects and music, before you share it with the world.
Finally, another standout feature of BlackBerry 10 is BlackBerry Balance, allowing you to conveniently segregate your personal and professional life on your one device. In other words, when you’re at work, you can choose to only see and access all your business apps, media and services. Then, afterhours, have your BlackBerry Z10 look different – perhaps with wallpaper from your favourite sports team, and you’ll see all your personal apps, media and services. In fact, your IT department won’t even be able to access your personal content whatsoever. Great idea.
And now for the not-so-good news…
The BlackBerry World app store has a very impressive number of downloads available for a new platform — about 70,000 — but BlackBerry is missing some key Top 10 apps available elsewhere, such as Netflix, Instagram, Google Maps and Flipboard. If you’re asking people to come back to BlackBerry, you shouldn’t expect them to make some sacrifices.
Also, many apps seem more expensive on BlackBerry World than on other app stores, such as charging $2.99 for Babel Rising 3D when it can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store or Android’s Google Play for just $0.99 cents.
As expected with new software, there are also some stability issues. The BlackBerry Z10 froze on me twice over the past week and I had to remove the battery from the back in order to do a hard reset.
But what might bug prospective BlackBerry buyers most, at least right now, is not having the keyboard-based Q10 model available at the same time as the all-touch Z10. There wasn’t even a launch date announced for the Q10.
Some customers prefer a keyboard and not having the Q10 as an option is a slap in the face for those patiently waiting for BlackBerry to get its act together.
Overall, however, BlackBerry 10 is an impressive and competitive platform with a lot going for it, and the Z10 is an excellent “comeback” device for a company that desperately needs it.