RIM released its new OS, BlackBerry 10 and a pair of handsets (the Blackberry Z10 and Q10) that run the new operating system just over a day ago – we spent that day trying out the new system and the BlackBerry Z10 to bring you this hands-on preview…
The BlackBerry Z10 has a lot to live up to as the first handset to run the new operating system – however good the OS is, if the hardware doesn't do its job, it’s going to be a letdown.
Our first impressions of the handset were rather mixed – it feels good to hold, with a decent heft and a soft-touch reverse to help grip. It’s more chunky and longer than the Apple iPhone 5 – it’s probably more like the LG Nexus 4 in terms of size. It’s thicker than the Samsung Galaxy S III but not far off when it comes to height and width.
Looks the business
As you might expect from BlackBerry, the Z10 has the usual business-like design – no fancy colours or curvy bodies here. The phone is finished in black and there are plastic borders atop and below the display and around the edges. It’s not a phone to wow – but it does look business-like. It has a 4.2in display in the middle of the front panel, with borders that measure about 2cm under and on top, with about 5mm either side.
The power button sits right in the middle – which seemed a little odd to start with, but we soon got used to it. The volume controls are on the right edge. In between them sits a button that loads BlackBerry’s voice Control (its version of Galaxy Voice and Siri). On the other edge sit the Micro USB and Mini HDMI ports.
The reverse plate is easy to prise off to get to the SIM card and Micro SD memory card slots, as well as the battery. The backplate doesn't seem to fit very well though, and there always seemed to be a little bit of a gap between it and the back of the handset. If you dropped the handset, we suspect the back plate would come flying off.
Setting up is pretty easy – sign in with your BlackBerry ID (or create one if you don’t have one already) Then you can start setting up accounts such as Twitter, Gmail, Facebook and so on. It takes a while, but there were no problems.
Not my swipe
If you’re used to OS and Android, the layout and swipe gestures of BB10 may be disconcerting. If you’re used to heading back to the home screen by pushing a button, here you have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen. It feels unnatural, but no doubt you’d get used to it.
The home screen shows the last eight apps used on a scrollable grid, which is nifty if you use the same ones a lot. Swipe to the left to get to the app icons, and rearrange them as you wish – rather like iOS.
Swipe to the right though and you’re taken to BlackBerry Hub, the core of the OS, which gives you a neat way to see all your notifications at the same time. So Facebook notifications, emails and so on appear in date order. Here you can quickly type out an email or text or search for a certain post. Load up the individual apps if you want to go into Facebook profiles or see what your contacts are tweeting. The Hub is well presented and it’s simple to switch off individual accounts (or turn them on) as you wish.
Typing is key
There’s plenty of interest on the Blackberry 10 keyboard too. It’s well laid out with some nice shortcuts (we like that you can hide the keys by holding down the spacebar) – and loads of odd smileys too!
Begin typing and you’ll see there are words popping up above some of the keys – BB10’s predictive text. Type ‘hap’ for instance and ‘happy’ appears sitting over the P key. To complete the word, flick up from that key. It may be useful for people who are slower at typing, but we hardly used it. Nonetheless, it shows BlackBerry is happy to do its own thing rather than just copying what everyone else is doing.
BlackBerry has put its own twist on Samsung’s Galaxy Voice and Apple’s Siri with its Voice Command facility, which lets you get to the main features and fire up apps by speaking at your handset. It did a good job of understanding us, even with a slight Northern accent.
The only thing is you have to get commands exactly right – ‘open camera’ works but ‘open the camera’ doesn’t! ‘Send a text’ will get you nowhere, but ‘text Bob’ (or whoever) will do the job.
We’re never sure how much these voice services get used, once you’ve tired of asking it silly questions or swearing at the phone, and BlackBerry Voice doesn’t even have the benefit of a personality, like Siri.
The new OS runs ultra smoothly on the BlackBerry Z10. On setup we did have some lag when updating the Hub or going into emails but that stopped, so we’re putting that down to first-day issues. We hopped in and out of menus with ease and web browsing was speedy, especially using the 4G connectivity.
Battery life seems decent enough – it hadn’t died after 18 hours of quite substantial use, but we’ll update you on that when we’ve had more time to try out the BlackBerry Z10.
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