(Pocket-lint) - BlackBerry OS 10.3.1 is being rolled out to all BlackBerry 10 smartphones and it brings a whole swathe of new features. Most of them were already available as part of OS 10.3 for the BlackBerry Passport and Porsche Design P'9983, and the Classic comes pre-installed with the latest operating system from the box. But other BB10 users will appreciate the update which adds new functionality to their phones.
The update is hitting Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific regions first but other areas will get it in the "coming weeks". So, for those that are yet to get it, here's a guide on the main additions you can expect to receive.
Visually, you'll see that BB 10.3.1 has a more modern look, losing bloat around the apps, for example, dropping the shadows they used to have. In many cases rounded corners are now square, too.
Menus now take on a black background, but things are very much what you'd expect, with most of the menus offering many of the same options and visuals as previous versions of BB 10, so you won't be lost following the update.
Welcome homescreen wallpaper!
BlackBerry 10 has always missed something, a homescreen. You were either in the Hub, looking at your active frames, or in your apps menu. BB 10.3.1 brings you a homescreen at last, which now appears with a new home icon, so you can quickly jump there. If you close all your active frames, your homescreen remains blank, so you can add some presonalisation here.
Active frames stay where they are
The active frames behave slightly differently too. On BB 10.2 and older, the open frame minimised top left, so the stack was always rotating as you did things. On BB 10.3.1 you can rearrange apps and they keep their positions. That means you can basically open your favourites and always have them on your homescreen where you expect them. You can have up to eight Active Frames on your homescreen.
Don't want to see your wallpaper?
If you don't want your homescreen wallpaper revealed when all your apps are closed, you can turn it off in the settings menu.
Lock screen information
You've always been able to lock screen notifications, but now you get more control over them. You can now have the screen turn on when you have a new notification - great for if your BB is on the desk on silent - as well as limit the information to sender only, meaning that the person next to you can't read what's in the the message.
Instant access to quick settings
You can access the quick settings by swiping down from the top of the screen. The panel will slide down revealing a shortcut to the settings menu, as well as hardware toggles. New to BB 10.3.1 is the ability to access this in any app with a two finger swipe. That means you can engage flight mode from Facebook without having to leave the app.
This isn't a new feature, but in the menu you can also opt to customise the options that appear in that quick settings menu, as well as reorder them.
Action Bar is smarter
The Action Bar in BB 10.3.1 is one of the biggest changes. In each native app you open, the most common function appears in the centre, designed to give you a quicker experience. Open an email and reply is central, because that's what you do most often.
Open BlackBerry World and search is central. This feature, of course, only applies to BB apps using the Action Bar - so it doesn't appear in Twitter or Facebook apps for example - which is a shame, as it's really handy.
Dialpad look-up, finding people
When you start dialling a number through the dialpad, BB 10.3.1 will find matching numbers in the background. It only works with phone numbers, however, which is a little restrictive, because sometimes just tapping in someone's name is easier, without diving into contacts first.
However, universal search/Assistant, is already very good at this, but it's got better in BB 10.3.1. Just start typing the number or the name, and local results appear. You can also combine them, so results based on numbers and text will be returned. For example - you might use the local dialling code and taxi to return the you results you want.
Expand your storage
BB 10.3.1 now supports larger capacity microSD cards (microSDXC), so you'll be able to use cards up to 128GB to expand the storage on your device. That's perfect for carrying files, be they movies, music, or documents.
BlackBerry Blend allows users to install a dedicated piece of software on a PC, a Mac, or any Android tablet and then instantly get message notifications, read and respond to work and personal email, BBM or text messages, and access your documents, calendar, contacts and media in real time. If you are on BES10 you can even securely access your company intranet and other corporate resources through your Work Browser like corporate email or view and edit address book.
The new software will relay all the messages in real time to the BlackBerry Blend software effectively allowing you to not even have the BlackBerry in the same room or building. As you might expect with BlackBerry, the new service will be powered through the BlackBerry network with system admins having the ability to set BlackBerry Blend parameters for users that match their security guidelines.
BlackBerry Assistant is the company's answer to Cortana, Siri, and Google Now and is designed to help you manage your email, contacts BBM, calendar and other native BlackBerry 10 applications through both voice and typed commands.
It means you can bark orders at your BlackBerry along the lines of "Book me a meeting with Chris at 3pm on Tuesday for 3 hours in Ascot" and it will put it in your calendar for you to save you having to type it.
What can you say to BlackBerry Assistant?
There's a handy "i" for more information, accessed when using Assistant, detailing that you can make calls, send text messages, find out the weather, set alarms and use BBM for example.
You can ask it to find pizza places and so on, but it doesn't give you witty retorts to silly questions - like Google and Siri like to do.
There's also the option to limit Assistant to the local device, so it will only place calls, open apps and so on. If you don't like foul language, you can censor offensive words - this is on by default and you'll need to switch it off if you want to dictate a rude messages to someone.
What about universal search?
BlackBerry Assistant integrates universal search functions, so if you head to the BB Assistant app, you'll find the option to type. As before, you can just start typing from the homescreen and results will be returned.
There's a new range in instant actions here, which are handy: type "cal" for example, and not only do you get suggestions to call or open the calendar, but the option to add a calendar event. This make universal search through the keyboard more useful - and importantly lets you avoid voice if you want to.
Camera and video
The camera has had quite an overhaul in BB10.3.1. There's a new user interface for starters, with the central capture button, now flanked by switch cameras and video button. That means it's even faster to grab a video or a selfie. There's even a self timer now.
There's also been a change to focusing. Previously it was a case of tapping to take a photo. Where you tapped defined focus - or you could press and hold to drag the focal point. Now it's a case of tapping to set the point for focusing and metering, and then hitting the capture button.
If you pre-focus, it's fast to snap a shot. If you just hit the button, it's faster than it previously was to focus and take the shot, with less seeking (we've been testing this on the Q10 next to the P'9983).
There's also a toggle option for face detection focusing, meaning those you're shooting are always in focus.
This is one of our favourite options. If the camera detects a scene with mixed highs and shadows, it might suggest HDR mode. All you have to do is tap the banner to select it. You can then tap the HDR logo to turn it off again, as you could before. It saves having to dig into the menus.
You can now capture sweep panoramas. All you have to do is move the camera left or right and it's all stitched together for you, ready to share with the wider world.
Time Shift and Story Maker
Time Shift also gets an improvement. You can get the option to edit Time Shift photos after the fact rather than having to do it there and then once you've taken them. Story Maker also gets a new Auto-creation feature that will make a fun video story by analysing your video footage.
Adding filters to videos
You still get video editing options, but the UI makers it more immediate to get to these controls, rather than having to open up a side menu.
Once in the editing, there's the additional option to apply filters for a little creative effect.
Monitoring your data
There's a new options for Data Management in the settings menu. Here you'll find the option to set data limits, control roaming, as well as manage how email handles images - resizing and downloading.
Using device gestures
A convenient new feature is called Advanced Interaction. It lets you use the phone's sensors to enable certain behaviours like "lift to wake", "flip to mute" or "flip to save power". The latter will let you extend the battery life of the phone putting it into standby mode when you place the device face down on a flat surface. Each option needs to be toggled on or off.
The existing option to swipe to wake is still available. It's still in the display menu and we think it would be better to have all the gestures grouped together in one place.
Because BB 10.3.1 knows you are in a meeting, it will automatically silence your phone so you don't disturb everyone if your phone goes off by mistake. Again, if you don't want it to, it won't.
BBM Meetings will also work cross platform and are designed specifically for business users to organisers and take meetings through the application no matter what device they are using, as long as they have an internet connection.
New Hub and email tricks
A new feature, dubbed email triage, allows you to quickly delete or archive multiple emails at once at the press of a button, while you can now download all attachments at the same time in an email.
You can now opt to delete the original text if you are replying to a message, while your drafts are automatically saved even if you swipe away from the message to do something else.
Besides BlackBerry World, BlackBerry is now pre-installing the Amazon Appstore to improve the depth and breadth of the app choice on the platform. BB World will focus on productivity apps, while Amazon Appstore will offer lots of alternatives. It's still not the best solution in the world and Amazon Appstore is the poor cousin of Google Play, but you can still sideload APKs, if there's something you really want.
You can boost your battery life through customisation of your power saving profile. You can restrict applications to save charge and therefore increase life by anywhere up to 15 per cent.
New media playback options include 17 preset equaliser modes for audio on music or video files. You can also favourite songs, photos and videos to make them more easily available.