Blackberry 10: just enough, just in time

25 Feb
The Blackberry Z10 has some bugs and glitches but is a quality device that positions the company well for a comeback. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Blackberry Z10 has some bugs and glitches but is a quality device that positions the company well for a comeback. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The launch of the new Blackberry Z10 really was do or die for Research In Motion (RIM). The Canadian company, once a leader in the smartphone industry, has suffered serious declines in sales, stock price and credibility after getting left behind by newer, cooler smartphones.

The company seemed to concede that everything was at stake, in changing their name from RIM to Blackberry.

The phone was released to the public on February 5, though demos were made available to tech reviewers before that – and I have never seen such a divergent range of opinions, from “not good enough” to “good job” and everything in between.

I received a demo unit early in February, and sat in on a “virtual learning session” to learn more about the device.

I didn’t switch my phone number and email from Bell to Telus, because that’s just too much hassle – though I’m sure Telus would debate me on that – so I’ve not been totally immersed in the Z10.

That said, I had full network access and can offer an opinion on the basic Z10 experience.

The user interface is completely new by any measure. There is a touch screen, of course, but no home button – you navigate between utilities and apps through a sweep of the finger. The closest thing to home would be the “Hub”, where critical functions like email, text messaging, contacts, calendar and message notifications (from Twitter, Facebook and other platforms) reside.

Imagine the Hub sitting to the left of the screen, and the various apps to the far right, with a tableau of open apps – the “Active Frame” – in the middle. To switch on, press the power button on top or swipe upward from the bottom of the screen. Then, swipe from the left to get to the Hub and from the right to see apps. Swipe downward to open settings. The phone, search and camera icons are present on every screen for easy access.

I don’t agree with tech critics who have panned the phone for its “counter-intuitive” navigation system. It’s new, yes, but if Blackberry had mimicked Apple or Android, they’d be accused of being copycats. I was navigating easily within the phone in a matter of minutes. The reviewers who say it’s difficult to learn sound like a crowd of young fogeys, unwilling to think outside of their Apple or Android boxes.

Yes, there are some bugs and glitches. For example, rather than use Google Maps, Blackberry developed their own maps application – as Apple recently did – and with predictably bad results. The camera is merely adequate, when it should have been exceptional, and the voice recognition software is stone age compared to Apple’s Siri.

There are other bugs too. However, these problems can be expected with the release of a completely new operating system (OS). I don’t agree with critics who give the phone a thumbs down because of them. I expect the techies at Blackberry are taking careful note of every glitch and will resolve them in the next version of the phone’s software and hardware.

Criticisms aside, there are things that Blackberry is doing better than the competition.

A standout for me is the keypad, probably the most important function on any phone. I found the Z10 keypad more comfortable to use and the predictive spelling system more intuitive than iPhone or any other device I’ve used. I made fewer typos and quickly adjusted to the flicking gesture that auto-completes words. It is a pleasure to use.

Keyboard aside, I’ve not seen enough on the Z10 that would persuade iPhone or Android users to switch. This may change as Blackberry refines its OS, irons out its glitches and adds more (and better) apps beyond the 70,000 currently available. It’s evident that Blackberry is looking to protect and expand its existing market share, which is business people, government and any organization with an interest in security.

Frankly, no smartphone can come close to Blackberry’s security features. There are too many to list here, but the most obvious is the phone lock, which allows the use of numbers, symbols and letters – upper and lower case – in the selection of passwords. This is vastly superior to the numeric passwords on other phones.

Another unique feature of the Z10 is the dual platform that enables two active email addresses. That is, you can receive work email to one account and personal email to another, with a firewall between the two. If you copy text from a work email and attempt to paste into a personal message, an alert will bring this to your attention. This feature holds no special attraction for me because I’m self-employed with a single email address, but many employees and employers will love it.

The Blackberry Z10 has succeeded in updating its smartphone platform, offering a solid OS, an innovative navigation system, the best keypad of any phone and the strongest security features in the industry. There are glitches but none that can’t be resolved in the next release.

It’s a serious contender that should be enough to keep Blackberry in the game.

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