BlackBerry 10 operating system explored
BlackBerry 10 - or BB10 as it's commonly called - is the company's new operating system. But how does it work, it is any good, and are there included elements that you'll pine for enough to switch over to the new system? Here we've outlined some of the more interesting aspects of BB10 before diving head first into a full review of the BlackBerry Z10 once we've spent a more significant period of time using it.
A new beginning
It's a new beginning, a new way of using your BlackBerry phone. That's a fairly accurate way of describing the first 24 hours of using BB10, although you'll soon start to notice a mish-mash of features from previous BlackBerry operating systems, and other operating systems too.
The main influence has been the BlackBerry PlayBook. BB10 has inherited gesture control from the PlayBook's OS, so there is no home button, for example, while the grid icon layout is like iOS and the opened apps panel akin to Android.
Gestures and swiping
Get ready to use your thumb, and use it a lot. Like the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, BlackBerry 10 uses a lot of gestures: left, right, up and down swipes - each control how you can use the phone, each diving into a specific section within the keypad display, for example. Furthermore there is a inverted L-shaped move that will take you to the BlackBerry Hub no matter where you are within the OS.
If you like a Qwerty keyboard you'll have to opt for the Q10 (which is the BlackBerry Bold replacement), but we suspect most will want to try out the Z10 - the brand new all-touchscreen affair.
Like Windows Phone 8, the BB10 lock screen gives you a peek at what messages are waiting for you without revealing those messages in full.
The services you have signed in to will dictate what will be on show, but essentially if it's in the BlackBerry Hub then there will be an icon on the lock screen. That includes phone calls, email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, text messages, BBM and Evernote messages.
The lock screen doesn't include any other details at the moment, such as weather forecasts or stock reports, but does feature a funky reveal that you'll have hours of fun playing with your finger. Not that this will add to your productivity of course.
The App grid is like any other application grid on any other OS out there. You can folder apps, you can re-arrange them, essentially manage them as you would with BB7, iOS or Android.
Downloading new apps from the BlackBerry World store adds them to the grid at the last spot and from here it's possible to move things around after the download. With multiple pages you can tap on a small icon at the bottom of the screen to zip over to the page in question without having to swipe through pages one by one as you do in Android devices.
The open apps page lists up to eight apps you have opened so you can see what is going on throughout. The apps themselves are suspended and are presented in a similar way to how BlackBerry does it on the PlayBook.
However, rather than swipe up from within the app window to close it there is a simple "x" in the bottom right-hand corner of each pane. The panes themselves look like widgets and, depending on how the developer has programmed the app, BlackBerry tells us that it's possible to have them update breaking stories or other details - effectively turning them into widgets. On the Z10 you'll see four on the page, with a further four visible once you scroll down.
BlackBerry users like their inbox. In particular a unified inbox with all messages present, regardless of where they are from - work, home, and so on - in one place. BlackBerry knows this and has created the BlackBerry Hub.
The rest of the phone is all about serving this area of the operating system and if you aren't interested in apps, or doing stuff on your phone other than getting your emails and status updates, you could probably get away with existing just within this bit - as many existing BlackBerry business users are known to do.
The idea is that all your messages are held in the Hub and you can break out into individual inboxes via the Hub navigation pane which is revealed by a further swipe to the right - see, we told you there was a lot of swiping.
The design and feel of the Hub is all very BlackBerry. It's clean, crisp and easy to use.
Understanding that people want to see when they have an appointment, rather than going into the separate Calendar app, users will be able to swipe down - like you do when you refresh an Android or iOS inbox - to reveal a mini calendar detailing that day's appointments.
It's in the Hub that Twitter and Facebook replies can be managed, along with BBMs, text messages, and anything else you have linked. If you're already a BB user and haven't gone elsewhere because you like the unified inbox, then you will be in heaven in BB10.
What shows the BlackBerry Hub's importance even more is that you can access it at any point, regardless of what you are doing, by performing an inverted L-shape gesture as we mentioned earlier. It makes the Hub the core centre point of the OS in many respects.
Powered by SwiftKey, the keyboard is one of the most important parts of the new touchscreen phone, especially when you are trying to convince all those owners of the Qwerty keyboard-laden BlackBerry Bold that you've got the best offering on the block.
Designed to look indentical to the new Qwerty keyboard of the Q10 (which itself is a modernisation of the Bold keyboard), the keyboard is not only well spaced out and easy to use, but BlackBerry has also made it predictive. There are two ways of benefiting from this: the first is that you just type as fast as you can and it learns your typing skills to auto-correct your mistakes, including any lack of hitting a spacebar; and, second, you can swipe up on the words that appear on the keyboard to save you typing them out in full.
Go to type "dot com" for example in the browser and a "com" word appears above the letter "c" for you to swipe up to.
How you embrace the keyboard is up to you. Some will love the predictive words, while others the auto-correcting keyboard. Yes, there is copy and paste, yes it works in virtually the same way as Android, and yes you will be able to type a lot quicker than you have in the past.
BlackBerry has done a lot to improve the browser and even on a standard 3G connection (via our Vodafone test unit), the speed was very impressive.
Taking cues from Windows Phone and its Internet Explorer, the address bar is now at the bottom of the page rather than the top and a swipe to the right brings up a contextualised menu system offering you further points to move on. A swipe to the left also reveals extra information (a la Firefox mobile browser) and it's here you can manage multiple tabs.
In speed performance the BlackBerry browser out-performed the iPhone 5 and Chrome browser on the SGS3 we've been testing it against, although we have to emphasise we are still testing it as we write this. It's a huge leap forward when compared to the state of the BlackBerry browser just a couple of years ago.
The BB10 browser still supports Adobe Flash, for those who still care, and that means you do still get to use services like BBC iPlayer without worrying that there isn't a dedicated app (the one in BB World is just a link to the website).
However we've struggled to get the browser to work with mobile sites, but that might be just a teething problem we are experiencing.
BBM and BBM Video
The BBM service will now add video calling into the mix, as it looks to expand beyond the text and recently added voice capabilities of the instant messaging service.
The new BBM Video feature is available to all BBM users and will let them use both front and rear-facing cameras on the new smartphones.
Unlike FaceTime on iOS, however, BBM Video will also allow users to share what is on the phone's screen directly with the other user. That's going to be handy if you are working on a project together or want to show somebody a presentation without actually sending it to them, or just want to get help tweaking your new device.
The company's new BlackBerry Balance feature allows users to separate work from pleasure within the phone. IT administrators will be able to block the feature or block the app from seeing classified documents on their users' phones, BlackBerry confirmed to Pocket-lint.
Core BlackBerry apps
There are a number of core base apps like a compass, the iconic BlackBerry alarm clock and stopwatch.
Our test Z10 phone was pre-installed with Box and Dropbox, although there isn’t any preferential treatment as you get with Samsung giving you 50GB of free storage for example. Apps like Docs to Go, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Weather are all present too, with confirmation at the launch of BlackBerry 10 that apps like Skype and WhatsApp are coming, so you can communicate with those users on other platforms too.
For those who like to get lost, there is a maps app that seems to work as described. Powered by the same company that also does the Verizon Navigation software in the US it will give turn-by-turn navigation, however it won't let you opt to walk. It's BlackBerry's way or the highway for now.
The good news however is that it doesn't seem intent on letting you get lost, nor does it struggle to find places in the same way that Apple's Maps does. We had no problem locating ourselves or getting directions to other places, however a lack of satellite view or anything other than a basic offering does come considerably short when up against Google maps on Android.
If you are a consumer then you are unlikely to ever see this part of the phone, but for big businesses it will be the one of the main reasons to go BlackBerry. The idea is that the phone earns itself a Jekyll and Hyde personality clearly separating work and pleasure. System Admins will be able to ensure you get access only to the apps and important stuff in work mode, while you can do what you pretty much like in pleasure mode.
In reality it should mean that you don't have to carry two phones with you all the time, while work will be safe in the knowledge that you aren't emailing company secrets to some random Gmail account.
Other bits and bobs
Importantly the phone's dialpad is decent and easy to use, although BlackBerry users will be annoyed they can no longer just start typing in a number or a name to get contacts' details up.