Yesterday, Research In Motion unveiled the Blackberry Z10, the first smartphone to run the company’s brand-spanking-new operating system BB10. The whole premise of BB10 and the Z10 is the ability to control pretty much the entire phone, and operating system, from a couple of cleverly engineered gestures and swipes.
The phone itself doesn’t have a home button, instead you simply slide your finger up from the bottom of the screen to unveil you home screen, reminiscent iOS’ notification centre, but reversed. This then reveals the phone’s lock screen, swipe a little further and you’ll find the home screen.
It’s an interesting decision from RIM, and after a couple of minutes you’ll swiping back and fourth like nobodies business. According to RIM, the design is intended to break the current home button paradigm; whereby smartphone users are forever having to navigate through their phone’s features and functions via the clunky home button.
On the hardware front the Z10 is a good looking phone, and it’s no coincidence that it looks strikingly similar to the iPhone 5, if a little larger; as the Z10 is 0.35 inches thick whereas the iPhone is 0.30 thick.
The Z10 has a hardwearing, rubberized rear that feels good in the hand – but it doesn’t exactly feel like a premium handset compared to some of its more metallic competitors. The handset has a removable rear cover that gives you access to the micro sim, microSD and removable battery.
The screen is a bright and extremely sharp 4.2-inch LCD, with an impressive 1280×786 resolution – way beyond Apple’s current Retina display, though we expect them to go one better when they release the 5S later this year.
The snappy OS is powered via a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, with a healthy 2GB of RAM to keep the phones software quick and responsive, As well as a decent processor and RAM, the Z10 is also sporting 4G LTE connectivity.
The Blackberry Hub
The big selling point for BB10 is the new Hub, the basic principle behind the Hub is instead of switching between apps to deal with email, tweets, message or calls, the Hub consolidates all of them into one giant inbox stream. The Hub is a ever-present feature, always running the background and can be called up from any app by swiping from either side of the screen, much like the Facebook iOS app. If you swipe up you minimise your current app into the Active Frames, where minimised apps go in a neat tile formation – basically it’s RIM’s answer to multi-tasking, and on the face of it works very well.
Blackberry Messenger 2.0
Blackberry 10 comes with a new and improved Blackberry Messenger, which has been given several upgrades over the current version. Messenger now includes video chat and screen sharing, the latter allows you to call up another users’ screen via BBM to share notes, files, or just to simply just look at their screen. One Huge limitation, though, is that video chats and screen sharing will be limited to BB10 phones only.
A Camera To Be Proud Of, Finally
Like most smartphones, but unlike most Blackberrys, the Z10 has two high-end cameras: an 8-megapixel snapper on the rear and a fairly run-of-the-mill front-facing 2-megapixel. The rear camera is capable of 1080p video recording, whilst the rear can capture 720p video.
Feature-wise the rear camera doesn’t offer any form of panoramic feature, but does have a clever time shift feature whereby you swipe a circle to track back in time to select the person’s best face. Elsewhere, there’s Blackberry Storymaker, this feature allows users to splice music, videos and pictures into digital story book comprised of content you’ve taken on your phone – it’s a bit like iLife, if a little sparser.
Apps, Apps… Apps?
No discussion of a new operating system is complete without discussing apps. There are, at the final count, some 80,000 apps currently on Blackberry World (the new Blackberry app store), but there’s still some glaring omissions, for example there’s no Netflix and no eBay – but you do get stallwarts like Angry Birds, Twitter, Facebook and many others. Basically the app support is flakey at best, and is way behind what you’d get on Android and iOS.
Blackberry’s other major selling point is Blackberry Balance, a clever solution for those of you who have a work phone and a personal phone. Balance works by separating you work and personal life via a simple button press. RIM has engineered this feature at the chip level, and it says it’s physically impossible to transfer data between the two profiles. Nonetheless, a Balance-enabled Z10 has just one phone number, and you’ll never miss a single notification from either profile as all your email, texts and notifications still consolidate into the hub.
RIM has done a lot of good work with BB10 – it brings the best of Android, the now deceased WebOS and iOS together into one neat package, that is squarely aimed at business users who want the best of both worlds; a bullet-proof business experience alongside a cool and stylish apps-based consumer experience.
Our main concern is the whole system comes with a rather steep learning curve and is almost certainly never going to satisfy iOS users who love the simplicity of Apple’s offering.
Like Windows Phone, Blackberry 10 will face the same issues that Microsoft has faced. There aren’t enough apps to tempt consumers away from Android and iOS, and there aren’t enough consumers to tempt app developers to make BB10 apps as a priority. Only time will tell if Blackberry can turn this around, but we have our doubts they’ll be able to do it fast enough to satisfy the most die-hard app fans and early adopters.