BlackBerry 10 and Z10 Review: BlackBerry Catches Up


As in the case of Apple's iPhone, the BlackBerry 10 operating system is built around pages of apps. Swipe to the right and you will see pages of your applications, swipe to the left while on the first page of apps and you will see your open applications, or what BlackBerry calls Active Frames. Apps are minimized on this page and you can see a snapshot of what is happening inside the app, similar to Microsoft's Windows Phone or Windows 8 tiles.

Swipe left again from that page and you're at the BlackBerry Hub. The Hub is a messaging portal where you can view all your messages in one universal Inbox, including your emails, BBMs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn messages. You can log in to all those accounts when you first set up the phone. It's a nice and convenient way to manage your messages. And yes, the phone still has the blinking red light to let you know you have a new message.

If you'd rather not be distracted by your personal email, a feature called BlackBerry Balance will also allow you to separate work applications on your phone from personal apps. It needs to be set up by your IT department.

There are no physical buttons on the front of the phone and no back button, which was confusing to most people to whom I handed the phone. Instead of pressing a button, you use gestures to move around (or what BlackBerry calls Flow). To minimize or back out of an app, you swipe upward from the Blackberry logo on the bottom on the phone. Swipe up and then over to the left and you can get to the Hub.

It all becomes second nature after a few minutes and it is one of the easier ways to multitask on a phone, but it requires instruction at first.

Not one person I handed the phone to figured it out on their own. BlackBerry says they will be teaching users about the gestures via advertisements and marketing. However, one of my colleagues might have said it best: "Who wants or has time to learn how to use a new phone?"

A Keyboard to Rule Them All
There's one part of the phone that is actually easier to get used to than its counterpart on the iPhone, and that's the virtual keyboard on the screen. I know, the first reaction to a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard is "What's the point?" I've heard it from too many over the last week, but physical-keyboard lovers will have to give BlackBerry's software version a chance since I am convinced they will really like it.

The keyboard is extremely well spaced. BlackBerry even put in distinctive frets to separate the rows of letters and used white letters on black keys, much like the traditional BlackBerry keyboards. On top of that, the software picks up your mistakes and learns with you. As you are typing, small words appear over the next letter you might tap. If the keyboard guesses the word you want to type correctly, you can swipe it forward to put it in your sentence. It also learns your vocabulary.

I have been a long-time hardware keyboard user and the Z10 is the first software keyboard I've used that didn't feel entirely uncomfortable to me. While I can still type more quickly on the Bold's full physical keyboard, especially when not looking down at the screen, the software bests the options on the iPhone and many of the ones available for Android phones.

Maps and Apps
The camera, however, doesn't. The 8-megapixel camera doesn't take shots as crisp as the ones you'll get from the iPhone 5 or Samsung's Galaxy S 3, and suffers especially when taking low-light or macro shots. The autofocus is also slow to adjust. BlackBerry does compensate for some of that with a cool feature called Timeshift, which captures a few shots at a time when you're taking a group shot. Tap a face after taking a shot and you can drag a virtual knob to find the best frame and face.

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