Since its announcement and reveal on January 30th, 2013, BlackBerry 10 has evolved tremendously. Three full major OS updates and less than two years later, BlackBerry 10.3 has officially arrived on the newly launched BlackBerry Passport. Check out our Passport review here.
BlackBerry 10.3 is a fresh take on the world’s most powerful, multi-tasking operating system. While the most of the OS’ UI may have been refreshed, what makes 10.3 the best iteration of a mobile computing platform is what BlackBerry has added to fuel even more productivity. There’s a lot to talk about, and here’s it all breaks down.
BlackBerry 10.3 UI
App Icons and Active Frames
BlackBerry 10’s icons have gotten a refreshed look with the new OS. BlackBerry has opted to go with a flatter, more intuitive and modern design for all their app icons, and they look pretty great. If you’ve been using a BlackBerry 10 device for a while, this UI change may come as a bit of a surprise, no doubt, and even look slightly strange at first. But trust me when I say it’s for the better. The company has gotten rid of those hideous shadow frames around the icons that previous OS versions had, which makes icons fit and look better on the homescreen.
Another great part about these new icons is how well they fit around third party app one as well. If the developer has taken the time to make a good looking icon, it first right in with the native ones.
Active Frames on BlackBerry 10.3 got some tweaks visually as well. Gone is the see-through bar with the name of the app that’s opened, and now a flatter, solid white bar with the app’s name occupies its place. This subtle change in color goes perfectly with the tweaks that the BlackBerry Hub has received on 10.3.
The BlackBerry Hub is one of the most distinguishing features of BlackBerry 10. Thankfully, with 10.3, the Hub gets even more useful with a few welcome tweaks.
The BlackBerry Hub has been altered a bit visually. The top and bottom bars are now white, with the latter featuring new signature actions. These new icons reflect whatever main action most logically fits what you’re doing at the moment. For example, in the Hub’s main tab, ‘Compose’ is the signature action icon. If you open an email, the signature action icon becomes ‘Reply’ or ‘Reply All.’ If you’re already replying, it changes to ‘Attach.’ As with instances all over the OS, the BlackBerry Hub’s new signature action feature adjusts to you.
The BlackBerry Hub also features instant actions that help you get more done. Instant actions is a pretty simple feature, but extremely useful. When you back out of email, for example, two instant action icons will show up on that line of the Hub allowing you to take action on that particular item. You can set these instant actions to be flag, delete, mark as read; etc. These can be set in the Hub’s setting labeled Speed Triage.
That’s not the only way to access instant actions on the Hub though. The top right hand corner of the Hub features a little icon (it’s three lines across with a small check mark) that when clicked, lets you take these same actions on everything in your Hub without having to open an email or even leave that main tab.
BlackBerry 10.3 Functionality
BlackBerry is introducing a brand new camera UI and functionality with OS 10.3 that will make it easier for newcomers to the platform to enjoy taking pictures. Starting with this new update, the camera will have a dedicated on screen button to snap pictures. Many of us hardcore fans have gotten used to tapping anywhere on the screen to take a picture, but in reality, most people in general need a button, or icon to press. It may sound dumb, but making this swap is a great move for BlackBerry and the 10.3.
BlackBerry 10.3 also includes a native panorama mode that will be perfect for those times that a super wide shot is required.
The phone app has also gotten a nice makeover. A new solid white backdrop makes names and numbers stick out even more. The new flatter design also gives a nicer touch area when dialing a number on the dial pad.
We’re used to BlackBerry 10’s drop down settings menu being accessible from the homescreen and the Hub. However, on 10.3, you can reach the quick settings from anywhere on the OS. The trick is using BlackBerry 10.3’s new two finger swipe down. Even if you’re in an app, the two finger swipe from the top will bring up the main settings, not the app’s. If you’re thinking that this new gesture has been borrowed from Android, you’re not alone. But then again, everyone borrows from BlackBerry, so it’s kind of nice to see them take a useful gesture from a competitor and incorporate it into their own OS.
Back on June 18th, BlackBerry announced a major partnership with Amazon to bring another great storefront for apps to BlackBerry 10. With the launch of the Passport, and BlackBerry 10.3, the Amazon Appstore makes its first official appearance. Amazon’s app storefront will be pre-loaded on all devices launched with OS 10.3, and will be available for in-market devices with the upcoming OS 10.3.1 update.
Amazon’s Appstore brings a ton of apps to BlackBerry 10 users that they would have had to previously sideload independently. Major gaming hits like Candy Crush, Subway Surfers, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and many others are now available to anyone with a BlackBerry 10.3 device.
In terms of apps, Netflix leads the way of featured apps that the Amazon Appstore now gives BB10 fans access to. Add to that HBO Go, Hulu+, Roku, Flixster, Fandago, and many, many others, and the horrid app gap doesn’t look that bad anymore, right?
Now, to be fair, the Amazon Appstore doesn’t have every app Google Play and the App Store have. You won’t find any apps that use Google services – like Google Maps, Google+ – for example. Even though Instagram is available for Amazon Kindle Fire, for some reason it’s not available in the Amazon Appstore on BlackBerry 10.3.
Thankfully, you can still sideload whatever apps aren’t there, so if you can’t find them, put them on there.
Apps, Apps, Apps
Native apps on BlackBerry 10.3 run like they’re on steroids. Seriously, they run that well. If you’re a regular consumer, you may end up using more Android apps than native ones on the Passport and P’9983 and that’s where things are still a little tricky.
To be clear, the ability to run Android apps has gotten a lot smoother with this 10.3 update. The Android App Player has been improved – though it still sits at Jelly Bean (Android 4.3) – so you’ll see an increase in fluidity when running apps from the Amazon Appstore, for example.
On the flip side, one of the frustrating parts about running Android apps on 10.3 though is the still-present lack of notifications and alerts for Android apps when they’re not running on an active frame. This may not be a big deal for some, but if you’re running apps that typically push notifications and alerts to the user out to the user (like Swarm, Instagram, Vine; etc) and you expect these to work like they do on an Android device, you’ll be disappointed. There’s currently no way for an app to send you an alert to the Hub if the developer of said app hasn’t specifically made tweaks to the app for it to happen (like Skype, for example).
BlackBerry did tell us they’re looking at ways to get these Android apps to push alerts and notifications to the Hub in a future update, but for now, the lack of this feature is the most disappointing part of BlackBerry 10.3.
On BlackBerry 10.3, the order in which you open an app is what determines where its active frame will be placed. Let’s say you open the Music app, minimize it, open BBM, minimize it, open BlackBerry World, and minimize it. The Music app would stay in the first slot (top, left), BBM would stay in the second place (top, middle) and BlackBerry World stays in the third slot (top, right). Even if you went back and opened BBM, and minimized it again, its active frame would stay in the same exact place.
On the Passport, you can open three active frames on the first/top row, and three more full active frames on the bottom row. When you open, and minimize the seventh and eight apps though, it gets a little confusing. The GIF above shows the sequence BlackBerry has chosen to go with, and frankly, I’m not sure exactly why they did. It is one of those things you just get use to, but I’m wondering if it’ll change with future OS updates.
One of my favorite additions to BlackBerry 10.3 is the new BlackBerry Assistant. Think of the BlackBerry Assistant as a more productive version of Siri or Google Now. Yes, the BlackBerry Assistant can give you the weather where you’re at, but what makes it unique is the fact that you can use natural speech to set up meetings, alarms, reminders, among many other things.
I can just say something like, “Set up a meeting with Lucas Atkins tomorrow at 9am” and the BlackBerry Assistant understands it’s a calendar event and sets it up for me immediately.
The BlackBerry Assistant can be reached from any screen by pressing and holding the Play button (the middle button between the two volume rockers), or through the homescreen. If a user wants the BlackBerry Assistant’s help, you simply start typing on the Passport’s keyboard and you will automatically be launched into its services.
Check out how the BlackBerry Assistant functions in the video below:
No Limit of Apps in Folders
Say goodbye to the days of having to pick and choose which apps you can put in which folder because you’re running out of space in one of them. In BlackBerry 10.3, there’s no longer a limit to the number of apps you can keep in a folder.
Another great new feature that’s been added to BlackBerry 10.3 is Advanced Interactions. Advanced Interactions let you do some pretty cool things based on how the device is oriented. For example, you can use ‘Lift to wake your device’ to have your Passport’s display turn on if it’s face down and you pick up to look at it. Advanced Interactions also has ‘Flip to mute’ and ‘Flip to save power’ as additional features that you can have set up. They’re pretty self explanatory in what they do, and actually do help save a bit of battery life.
Separate Lock Screen Wallpaper
BlackBerry is adding the ability to set a specific wallpaper for your lock screen that differs from whatever you have as your regular backdrop on your device. This new option is found within the System Settings, and will probably end up making a lot users very happy. These are the type of small touches that I feel make a difference with the regular consumer versus someone who may be all business.
BlackBerry 10.3 is a fantastic OS to launch on the brand new Passport and P’9983 smartphones. It’s a multitasking powerhouse, and elevates media and apps to a level we hadn’t seen before on BlackBerry 10. This new OS also works perfectly on both a large touchscreen – like the Passport’s – and a smaller one – like the P’9983.
For now, these two devices are the only ones that will get BlackBerry 10.3. We’ve known for some time that 10.3 will not be available for current in-market BlackBerry 10 devices because they’ll instead be getting the upcoming 10.3.1 OS update later this year.
For now though, if you do decide to pick up a Passport, you won’t be disappointed with BlackBerry 10.3’s experience on it. The OS is smooth, lightning quick, and looks absolutely beautiful.
With 10.3, BlackBerry has reemphasized their focus on efficiency and getting things done, while not forgetting that even the busiest of people want to use their devices for a little fun too. BlackBerry 10.3 can probably be best described as a new fresh, and modern take on productivity and fun. And that’s a pretty great combination if you ask me.