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BlackBerry Z10: My First Week

I love the keyboard and UI. But the BlackBerry Z10 is missing too many key apps -- and betting big on enterprise IT's approval.

The Z10's big differences come by way of navigation, and here BlackBerry has outdone itself. I gave up my BlackBerry almost two years ago, and have been using an iPhone and an Android phone ever since. It has taken me the better part of the week to get used to the Z10's navigation, but it's starting to make sense. BlackBerry uses the terms "peek" and "flow," and that's truly what happens -- simple thumb swipes move you between screens. Little pulls let you see how many new messages you have across all of your email and social media accounts, and then quickly jump to those messages. A swipe from the bottom wakes up the phone, or minimizes an app; a swipe from the top brings up a settings menu.

I had to spend a bit of time configuring my email displays -- turning off sent or filed messages, for example, or turning on the conversation view so that message threads were consolidated. These are things that iOS and Android seem to default to, and I found it to be a minor annoyance on the Z10. I could never quite get a clean, up-to-date view of my inbox, even after working with an analyst BlackBerry provided to work through some of my questions and challenges. This particular issue could simply be user error.

BlackBerry makes a big deal about its Hub, which is essentially a universal inbox that combines multiple email accounts, but also any applications that access the Hub API. These include messages within the typical social applications, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as text messages, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and voice calls. I also got alerts from the USA Today and The New York Times apps. It's a handy way to see everything, and the inclusion of accounts beyond email makes it that much better.

The BlackBerry 10 OS, like other smartphone OSes, shows screens full of apps, which I was easily able to organize into folders and rearrange as I would in iOS or on Android. However, BlackBerry also added Active Frame, a screen that displays up to eight running applications. These are supposed to be "live" applications, but other than The Guardian, I didn't see any of my minimized (widgetized?) applications displaying any changes in real time. But it was a more logical access point for running applications. By the way, any application that is registered with the BlackBerry Hub will receive alerts, whether the app is running or not.

BlackBerry crafted the original killer keyboard, and for its next act, it has created the killer touch keyboard. There are, of course, great third-party keyboards for Android. But that notwithstanding, using the BlackBerry Z10 keyboard was fantastic. OK, at the most basic level, it's just a touch keyboard and I fat-fingered plenty of messages.

But it places subtle word suggestions on top of the keyboard, and you just flick them into your message. According to BlackBerry, it learns your phraseology and its suggestions get better over time -- probably a week wasn't enough time, but I seriously wrote an entire sentence by flicking suggested words.

The phone also includes voice dictation, and it worked moderately well. I could dictate messages, call up a Web search, send a text message or make an appointment. Like most voice dictation systems, it wasn't always accurate. Voice dictation is available from the keyboard, the app, and pressing the play/pause button on the side of the phone.

One of my favorite little features is the integration of all of my outbound and social communication services. For example, when I look at an appointment, if it's with someone in my contact database, it shows me all of the relevant connections (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), and it shows me some of the most recent activity, such as any recent e-mail exchanges or LinkedIn messages. Unfortunately, it doesn't show that person's most recent Facebook status updates, for example, or recent Tweets, but it's still a handy way to see recent interactions in advance of an appointment.

Smartphone cameras get plenty of use, and at 8 megapixels (1.3 MP for the front-facing camera), the Z10's does fine. It also includes a nifty Time Shift feature that let me capture several frames and then pick the one where all of my subjects were smiling. I was able to edit my photos in the picture app, including applying various filters and effects, and then post them easily onto social sharing sites.

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/28/2013 | 3:56:39 PM
re: BlackBerry Z10: My First Week
I'm reasonably sure BlackBerry will get the apps over time, even if it just means porting Android versions, which seems like it would be a simple enough solution for developers who aren't sure. ("Seems.") I agree with you that the financial-oriented apps are vital; it's funny how I've come to rely on them being on my smartphone over the past year alone, from depositing checks (using the phone camera) to checking account balances and transferring money to making payments at retailers with apps or PayPal.
User Rank: Author
3/28/2013 | 1:39:17 PM
re: BlackBerry Z10: My First Week
you cite really important examples of missing apps -- Bank of America and American Express. Pure app makers like Evernote might have enough incentive to quickly make a BlackBerry version, but we'll likely see hesitation from non-tech companies with apps -- Starbucks, Walgreens, BMW (Eric Zeman just posted an IW story on BMW's iPhone app). that's a tough challenge for BlackBerry, and a big factor for me personally as i'm also coming up on my contract renewal.
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