Blackberry Z10 Review – OS and Ecosystem!

Blackberry has been off the scene for a while. Be it Blackberry OS  7 on the whole, or one of their failed hardware designs a la Torch, Blackberry, formerly known as Research in Motion, has found itself missing the bulls eye as a result of not capitalizing on the benefits afforded by improved touchscreen technology.  The concessions the phone maker has historically made in its previous forays into touch just left it struggling to keep up.  One could argue that the brand’s absolute dominance of the mobile QWERTY keyboard only added to their reluctance to adapt to the wonderful world of capacitive touch.  After all, only Palm and its Treo series of phones ever came close to then-RIM’s ability to reproduce an effective keyboard on a mobile device.   That said, this isn’t 2007 and the market has made it abundantly clear to the newly branded Blackberry that, kicking and screaming, it’s either coming with to the next generation of mobile technology on the market’s new terms or it’s destined to rest eternally in the icy depths of obsolescence. Blackberry Z10 is the latest in the line and the most different from what they have before.

  • Dual Core 1.5GHz Processor (Make unspecified)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16 GB Internal Storage (Expandable to 48GB total via SD card slot)
  • 4.2” 1280 X 768 LCD Display (356 PPI)
  • 8 MP Rear Camera (1080p capable for video)
  • 2 MP Front facing camera (720p capable for video and video conferencing)
  • Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, LTE/HSPA+ radios

Operation System

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Let it be said:  There’s nothing terribly wrong with Blackberry’s newest OS.  Notification Hub is actually a novel idea and performs incredibly well.  Notifications from any of your registered accounts (facebook, Twitter) are incorporated into the Notification Hub, alongside native applications such as BBM, SMS, email and phone.  You can choose to drill down into any one of the apps via the hub and work more closely with your notifications/communication, or merely use the hub as a means of quickly replying to or perusing any of the alerts you’ve been presented with.  Nice.  I was using this Z10 alongside another of the underdogs fighting for relevance in the mobile space – a Lumia 920 running the latest build of Windows Phone 8 – and the benefits of the Notification Hub were perhaps even amplified by WP8’s inherent lack of a notification center.  Truth be told, going back to the Lumia 920 during alternation between the two was always painful in this regard.  Notification Hub takes the idea of the Notification Center found in iOS or Android and perfects it, at least conceptually.

The biggest issue I found with its actual execution comes in the fact that it feels further removed than one might like.  Granted Blackberry has incorporated a gesture to quickly get the user to the Hub (a swipe up from very bottom of the screen and to the right), but I found the gesture failed about half the time.  Instead, I would arrive at Blackberry’s version of Multitasking.  One swipe over and I was at the Notification Hub, but frankly I could do without the double barreled gestures.  I’m reminded why the android notification shade (I refer to Android here because the shade originates from that OS) works so well.  It’s a simple gesture.  Not something to be confused over.  It’s logical and simple.

Blackberry Z10 is clean and smooth, if not terribly memorable in any given way.  Transitions between lock screen and home screen are a pleasure to behold. MOVING BETWEEN screens is done with nary a stutter.  There’s something to be said for that.  Blackberry has created a modern operating system with all of the functionality of its competitors, encased in an entirely capacitive friendly shell. But as the folks once involved in the all but defunct Palm can plainly tell you, a good OS does not alone on its own yield success. Rather, interest must be garnered. Via apps, great marketing and, nowadays, better viral advertising. Blackberry, by its nature, is not nearly underground. There is a cult following to this day, however, despite upwards of two (some might say five) years of the company floundering.  Walk into an AT&T store and take a moment to ask a sales rep. It seems that the BBM faithful still pop in to ask about the company and any upcoming phones. Those that don’t necessarily frequent tech blogs, but use these devices solely out of necessity of function within the enterprise environment are and have been waiting anxiously, many since BB 6 or even BB 10, for this phone and OS combo to be dropped.

But I digress.  All in all, the newest BB OS proves competent in most every way. The home screen has too few icons on it and feels like a rip-off of the iOS home screen or, worse yet, Touch Wiz.  Gross.  The gestures to bring you back to the multitasking app select screen (a swipe up from the bottom of the screen) are fine, though without a home button I found myself aggravated that there was no direct shortcut back to home.  Instead, it’s either Notification Hub-to-Home Screen or Multi-tasking-to-Home Screen.  Cumbersome.

Lastly, and I’ll touch only briefly on this, BBM still exists.  And it works just the same as it always did.  Blackberry was smart not to mess too much with this.  After all, BBM is one of their greatest holds on their already dwindling user base that they have.  It’s an asset.  Personally, I don’t understand why it’s kept in a separate app from SMS/Messaging, but that’s more a personal preference than anything else.

Ecosystem

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Regarding BB 10’s app ecosystem, well, it ain’t great, but it’s not bad, either. Again, using this phone alongside the Lumia 920 I can tell you things could be worse for Blackberry World. Most of the apps people frequent day to day are accounted for. Many aren’t native, true, given the OS’ ability to run some Android apps, which it does without hiccups.  While having access to so many apps is indeed a big help, it also points to a lack of uniformity in style and design language that, to this point, Blackberry has seemed content with. They shouldn’t be. In the long run, its confusing for the user.  One of the strongest elements to Apple’s app store and the OS/ecosystem as a whole is its uniformity of design language.  Things like the ‘drawer’ that popped up in a single, popular app have become standard fare in any number of others. It’s considered part of the baked in experience.

Another issue I’ve found is that Blackberry World itself is kind of like a mobile iTunes. So much content all in one place proves an overly confusing and bloated experience. It’s like being in a Super Target or a Costco with the sole intention of shopping for, say, a loaf of bread. It just feels inefficient.  Moreover, there’s no easily discernible way of identifying an Android app from a specially developed Blackberry app. Another cue that makes it clear Blackberry may not be ready to do so much highlighting of its OS exclusive titles (or lack thereof).