Review

BlackBerry 10 Review

blackberry-10-os

The new BlackBerry Z10 runs the proprietary BlackBerry 10 OS (see our Z10 review here).  In case you think it’s related to older BlackBerry operating systems, think again.  To put it in perspective, OS X and iOS have more in common than BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry 7.  BlackBerry has built an operating system from the ground up.  The foundation of QNX was used to provide a stable, real-time operating system that could provide a rock solid, secure, and powerful platform upon which to build future BlackBerrys.  This is what has taken BlackBerry so long to put together, and what will determine the success of their new platform.  After years of development and refinement, here it is.  Let’s dive right in.

User Interface

The BlackBerry 10 user interface is centered on three main views: the “Hub”, multi-tasking pane, and the app grid.

The Hub is the messaging and communication center for every type of notification.  Whether its phone calls, emails, twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, BBM, texts, appointments, tasks, it’s all there.  The Hub itself is an aggregation of all these types of media into a single list.  You can go through the hub to power through all of your recent notifications, ideal in situations where you have many messages from different types of media.  Upon first booting up the Z10, the Hub does take a few seconds to populate.  You can either use the “Hub” directly, or choose a specific category of media, such as Twitter for example.

The app grid is what you’ve seen on iOS and Android for as long as they’ve been around and it really isn’t too different here on BlackBerry 10.  Each app icon does have a dark rounded silhouette making darker backgrounds look better than lighter ones.  I would have preferred the style found on the PlayBook, but it’s very subjective.

The multitasking screen shows your currently running apps as active panes.  It is not like Windows Phone 8 in the fact that only apps that are running are shown. Apps are either static, update with information, or show a smaller icon of the app.

Universal Search

The universal search feature has been a must-have for any smartphone in the past couple years, and it’s great to see that BlackBerry 10 has it from the get-go.  The universal search function scans and indexes the entire Z10 for your search query.  You can further customize which apps it searches in as well.

The universal search is accessible via the bottom of the main app grid or multitasking screen.  It works very well and finds what you need very easily.  It is very similar in function to the great one found on BlackBerry 7, but looks much better.

Phone

As far as phone apps go, there hasn’t been much innovation going on.  Give people a dial pad, contacts, and a list of recent calls and they’re as usually pretty happy.  On BlackBerry 10, receiving a call is possibly one of the best experiences.  As you receive a call, a bar drops down and gives you the option to answer or refuse the call by pulling the bar down or up.  The action is very fluid and prevents “pocket answering” calls.

There are three main tabs in the phone app: Calls, Contacts, and Dial Pad.  The Contacts tab is the same as the contacts app, while the Calls tab lists the most recent calling events.  Pressing on the Dial Pad gives you the traditional tones with each key press.

Swiping down from the top gives you no shortage of calling options such as call forwarding, call audio, voice mail, holster behaviour, bluetooth, smart dialing, call waiting, call blocking, fixed dialing numbers, hearing aid mode, TTY,and Call Summary.

BBM

Almost synonymous with BlackBerry, BlackBerry Messenger(BBM) is a huge reason why people buy BlackBerry.  The unrivaled reliability, integration, data conservation, features, security and ubiquity are the primary reasons for its success.  On BlackBerry 10, BBM has been completely revamped to follow the BlackBerry 10 UI.

Almost all the features in BBM 7 are found in BBM 10.  BBM Groups, broadcast messages, picture/video/file messaging, PIN/Barcode/NFC/e-mail adding, emoticons, voice calling, music player integration, they’re all there.

But there’s more.  The rumoured BBM Video chatting is a new highlight that allows contacts to video chat each other, much like Apple’s Facetime.

Keep in mind that you can’t make BBM Video or BBM Voice calls without Wi-Fi, yet.  Let’s hope BlackBerry at least enables BBM voice-calling without Wi-Fi.  BBM Video chatting works as well as can be expected.  The call quality naturally depends on your Wi-Fi connection but I’ve generally found it to have about half a second one-way lag in the call.

Remember

As a new addition to the OS, the Remember app is also one of the simplest.  As an analogue to the old Memo Pad in BlackBerry 7, Remember helps you, well, remember things.  Only this time, its more sophisticated (partly because you couldn’t get any simpler than Memo Pad).  You can now input content and organize them into various folders, all while marking them with tags for quick reference.  Each entry can be in text, voice, video, or website form.

Remind you of another popular app?  Perhaps Evernote?  Well, those who use Evernote are in for a treat, the app itself is integrated with Evernote so all your notes are seamlessly loaded onto Remember.  The Evernote folders are marked with a special icon.

In addition, Hotmail or Outlook users (as if there is any difference these days), have automatically synced folders in Remember.

Print to Go

Originally appearing on the PlayBook a while ago, Print to Go is a great app.  It’s one of those apps that you’ll rarely appreciate until you use it.  Print to Go allows you to virtually “print” a document to your device over Wi-Fi as if it were a printer.  I won’t go talking about it like it was the second coming of Christ, as it really is just a glorified PDF printer.  It’s the amalgamation of a few neat concepts that makes it shine though.   Since not much has changed, read on here to read the Print to Go review on the PlayBook 2.0.

Docs to Go

The native document suite on BlackBerry smartphones has been called Docs to Go for a while now.  Despite the same name, it is again like BlackBerry 10 in that it is a completely different suite altogether.

Under the “Docs to Go” umbrella, there are three distinct apps: Word to Go, Sheet to Go, and Slideshow to Go.

Each can be secured using a password and BlackBerry’s uber-secure BlackBerry balance framework which lets the presentation exist on the work side of the device.

Using the HDMI port on the Z10, you can present your content to an audience very easily.  Another very interesting use is when you use the document suite while sharing your screen during a BBM video call, allowing you to semi-collaborate on documents in real-time.

Word to Go

Word is Go, you guessed it, is the Microsoft Word document editor.  You can create new word documents, edit them, and save them.  Thankfully, that’s not all.

The quick formatting options are quite reasonable for a mobile document editor.  At the top bar, you have the typical text formatting options such as bold, italic, and underline.  You can control the justification, indenting, and also add bullet points as needed.

At the bottom of the screen, you have general file-level options, such as Close, Save, Share, Find, Word Count, File Info, Save As, Format, and an option to hide the formatting bar.

The full formatting options are the most interesting ones.  With these, you have the power to add lists of different types, create lists within lists, add sub/super-scripts, choose among four different fonts, change the font size/color, highlight text, lock capital letters, strikeout your text, change the margins, change the line spacing, and that’s just about it.  It’s also nice to see undo, and redo buttons when editing anything. The app itself is clean and a very solid offering on BlackBerry 10.

Slideshow to Go

First thing to note, you still cannot (technically) create a PowerPoint presentation on your phone. You can only edit currently existing ones.  However, this can easily be overcome by opening up a blank PowerPoint presentation saved on the Z10 and selecting “Save As…” to create a new blank slideshow.  Since you can’t add any images or videos though, don’t expect to make impressive slideshows with Slideshow to Go.

The transitions on the pre-loaded demo slideshow are impressive (especially the pixelating one).  Unfortunately, you can’t add transitions or animations at all.  While presenting, you have the option to view your notes (but not edit them).  You also have most of the formatting options as Word to Go.  In short, this is a great PowerPoint viewer, but a poor PowerPoint editor.  At this time, you can only edit the text in PowerPoint presentations.

Sheet to Go

For spreadsheets, BlackBerry Z10 users can go with Sheet to Go.  It’s not a bad offering at all.  The interface is very similar to Word to Go, so you’re instantly familiar with the UI.  Navigating the sheet is quick and effortless.  Sheet to Go supports quite a few formulas, such as SUM(), ODD(), DATE(), etc.  It didn’t seem to recognize more obscure formulae, such as ROUNDUP() or WORKDAY(), but I doubt I’ll find too many people heartbroken over these.

You can actually resize columns and rows very easily, something that was impossible on previous BlackBerry smartphones. Most of the text formatting options are there from Word to Go.  You can’t unfortunately create more sheets, but you are given three to start out with.  While this solution isn’t ideal, if you do ever require more, you could always just make a new excel file.

You can easily select multiple cells and format them, move them, or copy them.  You can even do the same with rows and columns.  The undo and redo features are there too.

Overall, the entire document suite has that native BlackBerry 10 feel.  The smooth scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, a modern UI, a “suite” of useful options all required impeccable execution on BlackBerry’s part. The implementation is quite remarkable considering the modest size of the Z10.  At 4.2”, the UI makes clever use of the screen real estate and looks to be well thought through.  The suite has quite a few must-have features, while still remaining quite easy to use.  While it is not a game changer in the world of smartphone document suites, it is certainly up there with one of the best.  Straight up, I’m impressed.

BlackBerry World

Now let’s forget the three-piece suit.  It’s app time!  First off, BlackBerry has renamed their “BlackBerry App World” to “BlackBerry World” for a variety of reasons: simplification of their brand, a generalization to music, videos, and shows, and because their Annual conference in Orlando is now named “BlackBerry Live”.

Let’s first talk about the elephant in the room–then proceed to kick it out the door.  Apps.  The bane of BlackBerry’s existence?  Not quite.  BlackBerry World has over 70,000 apps at launch, the largest number in a first generation platform EVER.  And this isn’t just some reference to total app number (including PlayBook and older BlackBerry apps).  This is the total number of apps for BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

It is on pace to blow by Windows Phone.  And what about all those apps made for older BlackBerry devices?  Relegated to the old BlackBerry App World, never to be seen again (on any BlackBerry 10 smartphone at least).

BlackBerry 10 apps ≠ BlackBerry 7 apps.  In fact, BlackBerry 10 apps >> BlackBerry 7 apps.  The old apps that you may (or may not) be familiar with on BlackBerry 7 are non-existent on this platform.  This is good news, as the older tools provided by BlackBerry were limited, harder to implement, and honestly made most apps look like garbage.  BlackBerry 10 is a whole different story.

Now, onto BlackBerry World itself.  The user interface is very fast.  At the top of the screen, you can see the main featured images of some of the most popular apps.  Just below, you get a view of the top trending app under BlackBerry’s new trending engine. Further down, you’ll see previews of the paid games, apps, music, videos and TV shows.  The side menu allows you to narrow down your search to apps, games, music, videos, or all your downloaded content.  Each category is very easy navigate once you get used to how BlackBerry 10.

You can search for apps using the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen.  Swiping down from the top of the screen gives you the option to scan an app barcode off someone else, check downloads, adjust settings or go to help.

The settings menu is quite simple, but sufficient for its purpose.  You can set parental control, payment options, control where music and movies are saved to, and force apps to download over Wi-Fi.  It’s also interesting to note that apps over 50Mb will not download without Wi-Fi access.

The app selection isn’t phenomenal. And this is to be expected for now because there is honestly extremely few BlackBerry 10 users at the moment because it technically isn’t out yet for the vast majority of people.  Remember when the iPhone and Android platforms launched?  The app selection was either non-existent or horrible (both is possible too I guess). Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, and tons of other big-name apps are all on BlackBerry 10.  And yes, Skype will be coming soon.  But no, there isn’t any Instagram, or Netflix, or <insert game of the month> here (yet).

The point to take home is that while BlackBerry 10 doesn’t have all the apps that Android or iOS have, the developer tools and support that BlackBerry has as of now is unrivaled.  Apps will easily come to BlackBerry 10 as users come to BlackBerry 10.  The BlackBerry 10 app store is and will be the fastest growing mobile app store for the next few years, even with 70,000 apps already.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see it hit 200,000 within a year.

For now, it is way too easy to whine about lower number of apps when Google and Apple get a free ride for treating their developers poorly.  I’d even argue that many of the native BlackBerry 10 apps are superior in design and performance when compared to what you find on Android or iOS.  It is also my opinion that too much weight is being associated to apps, and this is due to platforms which have used third-party apps as a crutch to their lack of innovation in the operating system department. BlackBerry has done a remarkable job in catering to developers and the app selection is astoundingly good considering their situation.

Calendar

The native BlackBerry 10 calendar has a similar look to the calendar app on the PlayBook.  You have your typical Day, Week, and Month views.  In the Week and Day views, you can pinch to zoom to adjust how much of the day is in view.  The Month view has a neat feature that shows larger numbers for the days that have the most amount of appointments and events.

The settings menu allows your personalize your calendar just the way it suits you.  You can set the default view, the first day of the week, the first week of the day, working hours, the standard meeting duration and a whole host of features that you’d naturally expect in a BlackBerry.

The calendar supports tons of different calendars, including Gmail, Hotmail, and Outlook, Facebook, and all their birthday and holiday calendars as well.  For those using the desktop program Outlook, the BlackBerry Link Desktop software syncs calendar events from your desktop as well.

All-day events show up at the top of the calendar.  If there is more than 2 “all-day” events, the calendar simply says “+2” events.  Adding a new event is easy and fun.  You can pick up and move the new event to wherever you want on the calendar and it follows your finger.

Switching between weeks, days, or months is as simple as a swipe, as you’d expect.  The interface is very fast and smooth, and you can move around the app without any stuttering.  After all, this is BlackBerry 10.

Overall, I’ve found that the appointments that I have made on the Z10 sync beautifully with my Hotmail and Outlook calendars.  Gmail still seems to be an issue.

Browser

The Blackberry 10 browser is one of the highlights of the entire platform.  It dominates browser benchmarks and it is extremely fast.  The user interface is quite different than anything you’re used to.  The address bar is located at the bottom of the screen, along with two buttons that allow you to control the tabs and other actions and settings. Swiping down from the top of the screen simple tells you what page you’re on, nothing more.

You have the usual browser gestures such as pinch to zoom, double tapping to align to text, and flick scrolling.  The experience is very good.  No checkerboarding at all.

As far as synthetic browser benchmarks, we’ve used HTML5test.com and Sunspider.

The Z10 scores 485 points plus 11 bonus points at the HTML5 test.  This is the highest score of any released mobile browser (and desktop browser) ever, only bested by the pre-release Tizen 2 browser.  In real life, this means that the BlackBerry 10 browser is very good browser in terms of compatibility.

To test browser speed, the most commonly used benchmark is SunSpider.  This benchmark measures how long it takes the browser to render commonly-used JavaScript functions (highly cpu-dependent).  The results of this test are disappointingly low at a score of 1755 +/- 6%.  I would have expected it to be at least beat the 4G PlayBook and its OMAP4460 at its score of 1453.  Because of this, I’m willing to bet that with some updates the browser can catch up in this benchmark.  As of now, the iPhone 5 sits at the top of the pile with an amazing score of 914.7.

Contacts

The contacts app generally the same across most platforms.  You have a list of contacts and you select one to get more info, you know the deal.  For BlackBerry 10, it’s the same deal.  You can “link” contact information from different places like on Android to organize contact information better.  As usual, you can create different fields and add that contact information as you see fit.  Contacts from Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, BBM, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook, and your Sim Card can all be brought into your contact list.  You can also sort your contacts by these categories as well.

Sliding your finger down the right side allows you to “power scroll” your way through the list by first name.  This may come in handy if you’re best friend is Zack.  Of course, you could always perform a search and find a contact that way.

Pictures

The pictures app is organized into three sections: “Recent”, “Camera” and “Albums”.  The first two are self-explanatory, and the last one simply groups your pictures by source.  To edit a photo you’re looking at, simply press the pencil icon at the bottom and you’re brought into the picture editor.

The picture editor allows you to enhance and apply filters a picture that you select.  There are the usual things to adjust such as saturation, contrast, brightness and host of others.  The effects can be either selected or literally dragged over the photo to help you see the difference.  Pictures can also be cropped, rotated as well.  The app is fun to use and works great.

While it is by no means extensive in features, it is a very good app. Compared to the more mature offerings such as iPhoto, it does come out lacking quite a few features and the fact that you have to open up a separate app just to edit a photo doesn’t help prove BlackBerry’s new “flow” philosophy.

Music

For music, the Z10 has a dedicated music app that can play songs, organize them into playlists.  Par for the course for any music app.  Because of the DLNA support, you can now play them wirelessly to another device with DLNA support.  You can also share them via the share menu in a whole bunch of ways.  The songs do take a second to play, which is a little slower than I had expected.  This could be due to the read speed of the memory card however.

You can go back to the “Now Playing” screen by clicking the icon on the top right of the screen.  Through the general settings menu, you can toggle to skip songs by holding down the volume up or down keys.

Videos

The videos app shows videos you have either recorded using the camera, or videos you have on the media card.  The interface is fast and smooth and has very few options.  While playing a video you can pinch to zoom, display it over Wi-Fi via DLNA, set it automatically repeat, share it, or edit the video.

Yes, you can actually edit videos on BlackBerry 10, but it’s pretty limited.  The first menu, you can trim to the right size.  In the enhance menu, you can adjust the brightness, contrast, color and volume.   In the transform menu, you can crop or rotate the video as well.

The app is a great simple app for play and quickly editing videos on the fly.

Compass

The compass app is a great example of the polish and modern design of BlackBerry 10.  The main user interface is a floating 3D compass that point you North, as it should.  It also adjusts its visual orientation using the gyroscope so that the face of the compass always points upwards.  This makes for a stunning effect as you tilt and turn the device.

Maps

The native Blackberry 10 maps apps, on paper is a combination of BlackBerry’s previous maps app and their BlackBerry Traffic app.  The panning and zooming about the map is usually fast and fluid.  The GPS kicked in right away to instantly find my location within a few meters.  There are two main tabs at the bottom of the screen: “Maps” and “My Places”.  The “Maps” tab obviously displays the maps.  The “My Places” tab is what previous BlackBerry users would recognize as “BlackBerry Traffic”.  Simply put, it’s just a list of favourite locations that you can navigate too.  The app also reads the addresses of you contacts so you can navigate to them if their address exists on the phone.  What’s different this time around is the fact that you have visual turn-by-turn navigation instead of just a voice telling you when to turn.

As far as I can tell, the maps work well enough.  I’ve accurately used the GPS, turn-by-turn navigation, and search to find places nearby. However, compared to the king of maps, Google Maps, it just can’t compare.  There is no street view, no map tilt, no latitude-type features, no check in, no 3D, no terrain, no transit info, no bike lanes, no satellite view, no landscape view, no zooming in navigation view, etc.  On top of this, the maps load up slower, there are bugs in the colours of parks, the search isn’t very clever, maps don’t cache after the app is closed, maps don’t render properly all the time when panning, you can’t exactly navigate from a location other than your current one, and so on.

Bottom line, by today’s standards it’s still super basic and doesn’t step up the plate.  Google Maps and even Apple Maps and Nokia Maps wipe the floor with it in every category.  And it’s understandable.  This is really the first attempt at the maps app on a completely new platform.  We all remember the overblown Apple Maps fiasco.  Honestly, with a standard like Google Maps, I think Apple did quite a decent job considering the situation.   Google has had plenty of time to squish all the bugs and upgrade its software over the years.  While I believe BlackBerry Maps is a good start, it is no way going to match any of the other major competitors anytime soon.

To be honest, part of me believes that BlackBerry isn’t even going to try.  Why compete with the very developers that you’re trying to attract?  BlackBerry has put huge emphasis on third party applications and giving developers the tools and support to make amazing applications on BlackBerry 10.  In fact, I would bet that BlackBerry would love to have Google maps or some other map app come and be the #1 map app on the platform.  I wouldn’t mind either.  I used Google maps on the Z10 (ported over from Android) and it actually works great.

Story Maker

BlackBerry is aiming for something fun with this one.  The idea?  Throw some images and a song together and you’ve made a story!  The premise is simple, and the implementation is as well.  You can choose among 6 types of themes to customize the visual appearance of your movie.

It’s incredibly quick to use and the result, while basic, looks good.  You can re-order images, enhance them, decide how long they play, change the movie titles, or crop images.  To re-order the images, you have to be precise on how long you press and hold.  Too short and you haven’t selected them.  Too long and the menu comes up.  A little more refinement could be used in the UI, but overall it isn’t bad at all.

When you’re happy with the result, you can save it as a 720p video and it shows up as a story in the app’s main screen.  The simplicity of BlackBerry’s Story Maker almost makes Apple’s iMovie feel professional-grade.  On the plus side, Story Maker is incredibly easy to use.

BlackBerry knows how that Story Maker is unlikely to be used to make the next blockbuster movie. I am disappointed that there isn’t any proper video editing solution.

Most people don’t need a full movie editing suite in their pocket.  On a tablet it’s a different story.  For a quick slideshow, its simplicity is its strongest suit.  If you think about it, I have yet to see a wedding slideshow beat a “story” from Story Maker.  Brides, this one’s for you!

Games

With the acquisition of Scoreloop a while ago, BlackBerry has made it clear it wants to take gaming seriously.  The games app on BlackBerry 10 is a social gaming network like Xbox live and Game Center on iOS.  Games is a cloud-based service, allowing you to save precious game progress, scores, and unlock achievements.  You can add friends from your timeline, check their achievements,

YouTube

The native YouTube “app” is more like a web launcher.  Actually, it is a web launcher.  It runs well enough on BlackBerry 10 though that it’s hard to find too much to dislike.  The mobile site is very easy to use.  Scrolling is fluid.  And videos load up just fine.

You can’t adjust the video quality, and there isn’t much to do beside searching and playing videos.  This isn’t an exclusive app to BlackBerry 10, so talking further about it would just be a review of the YouTube mobile site.

Newsstand

Here we have another Newsstand app from another fruit company.  BlackBerry’s newsstand app looks much like its BlackBerry World app, only it sells magazines instead of apps, games, movies or TV shows. When loading, you instantly get the feeling your dealing with beta software.  The app talks to you in the third person and forces you to “authenticate user” (whatever that means).  Once in the app, you have two tabs on the bottom: “Store” and “Search”.  Both are pretty simple to understand.

The user interface is smooth and fast just like BlackBerry World.  The top of the screen has a strange dial that lets you “tune” the type of magazines you want.  It works fairly well, but you have to be precise as you don’t have much of the screen to work with. You’ve got a featured section, as well as a new arrivals section.

Swiping down from the top of the screen, you can change which countries’ magazines show up in the app.  You can also directly send your feedback to developers, check your downloads, and adjust your download preferences (Wi-Fi only or enabled downloading over mobile network).

The magazine selection is good, but it’s far from stellar.  I found lots of popular magazines like Marie Claire, National Geographic, Chatelaine, Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Flare, Motor Trend, Good Housekeeping etc.  On the other hand, I couldn’t find House & Home, Vogue, FHM, or anything on hockey. The search function can be incredibly slow and frustrating, doesn’t give you room for typos, and doesn’t offer any suggestions like Google normally does.

On the main screen, there is an awesome feature that seems to make most magazines free to download.  At least that’s what I got from it.  It might represent downloading a brief trial version that expires, but who knows?  It technically isn’t “buying” the magazine, but all I know is that I was able to browse through the latest Motortrend magazine for free.  And free is always good.

Voice Control

Once Apple’s Siri came out, voice commands became the next must-have feature on any smartphone.  While being slightly gimmicky, proper voice command applications do have a place on smartphones.  While Siri and S-Voice are known to demonstrate lots of “sass” and respond more humanly than traditional voice command systems, BlackBerry just doesn’t get it.

Try a “What’s the weather today?” and the Z10 will default to a web search.  In fact, try anything other than:

  • launching an app
  • searching the device
  • searching using Yahoo, Google, or Wikipedia
  • browsing to a website
  • checking the current date or time
  • create a “Remember” entry
  • scheduling a meeting
  • sending an email, text or BBM
  • update Twitter and Facebook

…and you’re looking at a web search.

The actual voice recognition software that BlackBerry 10 uses is quite good, in fact.  It rarely gets anything wrong and the voice is fairly pleasing (I happen to like her with a British accent). But after using Siri or S-Voice, Ms. BlackBerry (I’m calling it that for now) just doesn’t understand typical questions.

For weather, you’re going to have to say “Launch weather” to get your weather app out.

Ms. BlackBerry can’t tell jokes, understand silly questions, calculate anything, map a route for you, or give clever responses.  It’s straight to business.  Clearly, Ms. BlackBerry

Calculator

The native calculator app is the same one from the PlayBook.  While it doesn’t really follow the same theme as the rest of BlackBerry 10, it does work well.  Swipe down from the top and you’ll notice, like the PlayBook, it comes with a unit converter and tip calculator.  The unit converter is quite easy to use and has support for most the most commonly used units.  The tip converter is simple but well done as well.

The animations are very welcome and help create a premium iOS-type experience.  The only gripe I have is with the strange color scheme.  I would have likes to see it follow the same style guidelines as the native Compass and Clock apps, which are first-rate.

File Manager

The native manager is the type of application you really don’t want to use unless you absolutely have to.  On a mobile device, it is typically a pain.  On BlackBerry 10, you can open, copy, move, rename, zip, share and check the properties of any file within the file manager.  It is much, much better than the garbage version on the PlayBook Tablet OS.

The functions within the File Manager are easy to use and cover most of what you would need in any file manager.  The framework of BlackBerry 10 allows you open up virtually any file within the file manager seamlessly, without noticing that you’re actually moving from one application to the next.  The one exception I’m looking for is the ability to edit photos from the file manager.  I’ll be looking for this integration in the future.

Swiping to the right is my favourite part of this app.  Native Dropbox and Box intergration.  Hell. Yes.  As a frequent user of cloud storage (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive), this is a blessing.  The file manager easy accesses files in the cloud as if they were local.  This is the way to go.  You don’t even need a distinct Box or DropBox app anymore.

This is exactly what I’m been talking about for years.  BlackBerry 10 is designed to allow apps to function within apps, creating a vertical structures with extensive integration between these vertical structures.  This saves me two icons worth of room on the app grid and creates a superior experience without the clash of the different branding between individual apps.

The File Manager in BlackBerry 10 is a great example of the interconnectivity in BlackBerry 10 between different services and applications.

Settings

The setting menu can be accessed from the homescreen via a downward swipe from the top of the screen.  It somtimes takes a second or two to load properly, and I’d like to see it pop up instantly every time.  There is also a bit of jittering when scrolling in the menu, which is inexcusable considering the consistent speed at which native Cascades apps run.

Inside the menu there are tons of options, and it isn’t worth the time to go over all of them.  The important ones are: “Accounts”, “Notifications”, and “Network Connections”.  In Accounts, you can set up tons of e-mail addresses, and Twitter, Evernote, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.

You can’t add secondary Twitter accounts, which is unfortunate as you’ll have to reply on Android ports for now.  I can’t imagine too many people complaining about that though since if you do enough tweeting, you might spend enough time in a designated app anyway.

Adding a Facebook account syncs up Notifications, Events, Messages, and Birthdays right to the Hub for a great Facebook experience without actually experiencing Facebook. Which is exactly what many people want, perfect!

The Evernote account is synced up to the Remember app, as discusses in that respective section.

Email accounts are easily added and sync right up (by default) to the Hub so you can efficiently manage your messages.  You can choose whether or not accounts sync contacts, calendars, messages, and even tasks.

Help

           

The help app on BlackBerry 10 can usually be accessed in different contexts, where the content depends on the app you’re in.  Navigating the help menu is annoying…unless you turn off data.  Then it’s awesome!  For some reason, the help menu spends way too much time retrieving content rather than actually showing it when you have data access.  Ridiculous?  You bet it is.  Anyway, by turning off any data connections, you can zoom through help topics instantly.

Information in the help topics is laid out clearly and is easy to read.  The topics are extensive and help you throughout the entire OS.  While I don’t think that many people read these things, it’s good to have if you can’t figure out how to perform a specific action for some reason.

Adobe Reader

The native PDF reader in Blackberry 10 is probably the same PDF reader on the Playbook with a new paint job.  And that isn’t a good thing.  The rendering is slow, the pages aren’t cached, and calling it “bare-bones” is a bit of an understatement.

The one thing I found that was nice to see was the native slider bar giving the ability to scroll through pages easily.  There is a single page mode that is barely useful.  Double tapping zooms in or out, but you can always just pinch to zoom.

This is another case where third-party PDF apps are going to dominate the playing field.  Despite this being an offering from Adobe, they clearly did not put much effort into adding features.  BlackBerry is the one that was left to update the software, and they have other priorities (and rightly so).

Camera

 

The BlackBerry 10 camera is one of the main selling features of the Z10.

There are three modes that the camera runs in.  the first is your typical “Single shot” mode.

The second the “Time Shift” camera mode is a feature that BlackBerry has been showing off for months prior to the launch of BlackBerry 10. Using patented technology from Scalado (now owned by Nokia), the feature allows you to adjust your photo and the faces it contains independently in time.

The feature works very well, as it even picked up a distant face I was Skype-ing on a laptop.  You adjust many different faces in a single photo and is a great feature to have when dealing with subjects that can’t sit still (like babies, pets, and some friends).

The last camera mode is “Video”, which records video instead of pictures.

In the main camera menu, you have five scene options: Auto, Beach or Snow, Night, Action, and Whiteboard.  You also have a Burst Mode, Stabilization Mode, and Normal Mode to choose from.  You can easily alternate between the front and rear-facing cameras in the menu.  The camera takes quick pictures and lets you view or edit them right afterwards with a touch of a button.  In the swipe-down menu, you have the option to enabled saving to the media card, and geotagging photos.

While the software is good.  You may notice you can’t take a panoramic shot, and there isn’t too many other features to play with.  The usual “Tap-to-focus”, is more of a “drag-to-focus”, in which you drag the focal point to where you’d like your focus to be.  This works reasonably well, and while there is continuous focusing, having the camera pre-focus on a designated spot should allow you to take an in-focus picture quicker.

Clock

The clock on BlackBerry 10 is one of the best clock apps I’ve seen.  The modern analog clock has a nice design while incorporating some useful functionality.  The alarm clock can be set by dragging your finger around the analog clock to the exact time you want to wake up.

A world clock is available as well, where you can add times from many different cities around the world.  Of course, you have stopwatch and timer functions, which both look and work very well.  The stopwatch uses the same interface to set the time as the alarm clock.

You can also choose between the analog and digital clocks in the swipe-down settings menu.  I would usually choose the digital clock as it’s easier to read while half asleep.

Bedside mode is a must-have feature for many Blackberry users. The ability to disable any types of notifications while asleep is great to have.  Bedside mode isn’t very flexible however.  In previous BlackBerry operating systems, you could customize how bedside mode would work.  For example, you could choose to allow phone calls and disable all other types of messages.  This is not the case in BlackBerry 10.  In order to receive emergency phone calls at night, you can’t have bedside mode on.  Of course, you can switch the device to silent every night, but you would have to remember to switch profiles all the time.  I hope that further updates to BlackBerry 10 include more customization of notifications.

Summary

The software, while basic, works well and is a solid foundation for the platform.  BlackBerry 10 lacks many of the features that you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy III, or the polish of a mature OS like iOS, but it offers a compelling alternate that has more room to grow than iOS or Android.

There are two perspectives of BlackBerry World for two types of people: ones who are BlackBerry users, and those who aren’t.

Those who are BlackBerry users will look at Blackberry World and notice that you have lots of major apps that millions of people use every day.  You have Twitter, Facebook, Angry Birds, theScore, Nobex, WordPress, Flixster, Foursquare, ESPN, the Economist, etc.

Those who aren’t BlackBerry users will see that it doesn’t have many major apps that millions of people use every day.  There’s no Instagram, Hulu, Pandora, Temple Run, Spotify, Whatsapp, Netflix, Minecraft, Tumblr, Skype (confirmed to be coming soon), Flickr, Google Maps, Shazam, Tap Tap Revenge, Flipboard, Seesmic, GetGlue….etc. The list goes on.

These apps are awesome and help make Android and iOS great.  But they will come to BlackBerry 10 in time as the number of users on BlackBerry 10 increases.  While I, and many others remain unimpressed with the current selection of apps, I am excited for the future of BlackBerry 10.  Not because of what it is now, but because of what will become of it.  The philosophy over at BlackBerry is best likened to the phrase “If you build it, he will come” from the movie “Field of Dreams”.  BlackBerry has built a great app environment with BlackBerry 10 and with some more users, it will flourish as a mobile platform (even more so than Windows Phone).

Current BlackBerry users will be thrilled with the selection of apps already in BlackBerry World.  If you are a Blackberry user like myself, you will appreciate the quality of apps, the stability and modern UI of the platform and the integration present through BlackBerry 10.







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