By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
BlackBerry 10 is the new mobile operating system running on the BlackBerry Z10 and the upcoming BlackBerry Q10 smartphones. An entirely new OS built from the ground up on the QNX kernel, it propels BlackBerry forward and gives it many of the features that are expected of a modern flagship smartphone while presenting the market with the newest mobile OS yet. This is a companion review to my BlackBerry Z10 review posted a few weeks ago.
BB10 is a fast, fluid and highly responsive modern smartphone OS. Powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM, BB10 on the Z10 is as fast and responsive as the iPhone 5 and various flagship Android devices we’ve owned.
The layout is composed of a series of app icons, not unlike what we’re used to seeing in other mobile OS’s. The advantage of BB10 is that it is entirely designed for one hand use. Even on the large 4.2” display of the Z10, I had no problem navigating my way around the phone.
The top power and on/off button brings the screen to life but you can also enable the homescreen with a simple upward gesture, which will wake up the device.
The homescreen also serves to give you a one-glance look at all your messages and calls as well as any updates on any social media apps you might be signed in to.
You can drag icons into each other to make folders similar to the way iOS and Android enables the creation of folders for similar apps.
You always have access to the phone app, a universal search function and the camera from the home page, these three icons are present at the bottom. You can also quick scroll through your homescreen by sliding your finger through the small dots deliniating the pages or you can slow-scroll anywhere on the screen to move back and forth
Flow is the underlying theme of BlackBerry 10, the OS is designed around efficiency and quick access to critical applications such as email and messaging. Flow makes it easy to move from application to application with up to eight simultaneous open apps available on the home screen.
Using the Peek feature, users who receive notifications from any app they are on can quickly check what that notification is about without closing or leaving where you are. If you want to further pursue said notification, simply slide away from your screen and you’re in the messages section.
Coming from notification heavy mobile operating systems where one is constantly bouncing in and out of apps, the simplicity of BB10’s approach is very refreshing and actually matches the ‘glance and go’ usability of Windows Phone in terms of ease of management. Most users new to the BB10 will 'get it' within a few hours of use.
The Hub integrates all your messaging, text, calling and social media accounts into one repository which is always running in the background. This means you can always access these accounts without having to open the application they belong to. Being able to get to the most important aspect of messaging with a simple gesture is leaps and bounds above what other mobile OS offer.
Notifications in iOS and Android are handled differently from the actual messaging apps so you get a notification you need to open the app to go see what the message is all about and then leave the app to go back to what you are doing.
An email comes in while you are watching a YouTube video on BB10, simply engage Peek with the L shaped gesture and if the email isn’t critical you can go right back to your video.
The BB10's new Webkit browser is fast, responsive and has the best Reader mode (strips out formatting and images for an easier on the eyes text-only mode). One of the few mobile browsers that's happy to run Flash, the BB10 does a very good job of accessing and rendering webpages and is comparable to many Android devices (although the iPhone 5 is still a second or two faster on the same WiFi connection).
Messaging in BB10 is hinged on the software keyboard and this component is nothing short of genius. Yes, predictive text features exist in most smartphones and systems that can learn their user's vocabulary and substitute common words and phrases do exist but none are as elegant and as effortless as BB10's solution.
Typing on the BB10 software keyboard is a far better experience than typing on any stock keyboard on any competing platform. The only thing that comes close for me is using Swype on some Android handsets and even that is an acquired taste. BlackBerry put a lot of effort in understanding how people type so that using their predictive technology, they can float the next possible word or phrase right next to the button the user might press next.
Using the BB10 keyboard for a few days, I've become proficient in sending out quick messages and since the keyboard is learning my commonly used words and vocabulary (even locations and oddly named nearby places), I can blaze through my correspondence easily. If I don't want to type, there's also the option of using the voice dictation feature which in my limited use seems to work generally well.
I have to switch smartphones quite often on a daily basis, specially since I review various apps on iOS and Android but it is the BB10 keyboard that makes me keep coming back to the Z10.
I feel this software keyboard is the future for all smartphones and possibly tablets moving forward and shows that BlackBerry still excels at innovating in this area. One thing about the software keyboard, the predictive function doesn't seem to work universally. I doesn't come up in certain apps and it won't come up when typing on Google. What's up with that?
BBM or BlackBerry Messenger is very much alive in BB10 and does not require a special service to be set up with your mobile provider. I haven't used it yet but will add my comments once I've had a chance to test it as well as the video chat and screen sharing features.
BlackBerry World is the all-in-one app, music and video store where BlackBerry 10 users can buy content. It looks just like any mobile storefront with images of the icons, pricing and some reviews of the apps. BlackBerry tries to curate the content as best it can.
Most of the apps are either free (advertising driven), demo (with option to purchase full version for all the features) or paid. Pricing is generally higher than what we've come to expect from iOS and about the same as the Google Play pricing. In terms of selection, there's a lot of apps available but the top tier ones aren't there yet although they are coming.
Personally, I find that throwing in music and movie titles with apps in one place confusing. I would prefer two or three different stores. Since I don't buy music or video on my smartphones, I'd much rather have the app store standalone.
Speaking of apps, you can buy them using your credit card or if you're a TELUS subscriber you can charge your account and will be billed at the end of the month.
I was quite happy that BB10 on the Z10 ships with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare as preloaded apps. These are some of the apps I use the most. While these are decent ports of versions from other mobile OS's, they do have some rough edges which I feel i need to point out here.
With the Twitter app, running a keyword search seems to take forever or sometimes nothing happens at all. The Facebook app seems to be delayed by at least hours if not days in terms of what it refreshes. Posting photos to your status has weird orientation issues (you need to orient the photo manually before posting).
These apps feel like they were rushed to market but at least they are available and they work for the most part so that's a good thing.
BlackBerry and their partner developers have a window, albeit a short one, to bring quality apps to BB10. They need to strike now and put themselves out there to sustain interest in the platfotm. If I had WhatsApp, Amazon Kindle, a Squarespace app and a good Google News Reader, I'd be less inclined to switching away from the Z10.
BlackBerry 10 is in every way a modern mobile OS and I'd love to see how it will be implemented in the BlackBerry PlayBook. A true multitasking OS and one that seems rock solid, although I've had the Z10 restart on me once for no apparent reason.
On the Z10, BB10 works great. Some rough edges and many more apps that users actually use would help the cause and this will take time, which is a luxury BlackBerry just doesn't have. Still, this is the newest mobile OS in the market right now and it looks promising in many ways, specially in the areas of messaging and communications which are what matter the most.
As this is currently a work in progress, I'll continue to add my impressions to this review and will wait until the key apps I'm used to using are available before submitting my final rating for this OS. So far so good but it could be a whole lot better.