BlackBerry OS 10 Review
|BlackBerry OS 10|
In past few years BlackBerry OS has earned the reputation of an “ancient wonder” in the smartphone industry. BlackBerry used to dominate the market, but only before the birth of iPhone. After iPhone came out, BlackBerry OS started to become a history. If you ever want to show your children what using a smartphone meant to be in early 2000s then just take them to a ‘rare’ store where you can still find a BlackBerry Bold. Show that BlackBerry Bold to your children and let them gaze on the smaller screens and tiny buttons of history.
BlackBerry also tried to change it’s historical image with BB7, but it turned out to be just another disappointment. Then Playbook showed what was possible with a clean approach of BlackBerry OS, and we demanded that experience on a smartphone. Now 2 years later BlackBerry has presented that experience under the name of BlackBerry 10. Actually it will be better to say, an even better experience as compared to that of Playbook. Sure shot it is the best BlackBerry experience ever, and has been praised by many tech geeks and media journalists. But is this experience enough for saving BlackBerry’s continuously falling market share? Let’s find out in the review.
OS LAYOUT AND USAGE Of GESTURES
Gestures, gestures and gestures. BB10 is all about gestures. You want to go to home screen from an app? There is a gesture! You want to check your mailbox? There is another gesture.
So if everything is handled from gestures, then there must be a learning curve in the story right? So yes, it is… but thankfully, it is not too curvy and most gestures you can learn by the end of this review.
BB10 makes use of several gestures for completing different tasks. And that’s why it has no physical buttons on the front, unlike most other smartphones. So if everything is handled from gestures, then there must be a learning curve in the story right? So yes, there is it… but thankfully, it is not too curvy and most gestures you can learn before the end of this review.
Most gestures begin from the bottom bezel of the OS. The most important one is swiping from the bottom bezel which brings you back to a tiled view of your apps. This tiled view has been named “action frames” by BlackBerry and provides you a quick and real-time updating view of what is happening in all your running apps. Just swipe up from the bottom bezel and you will always land in your home screen. This gesture is also used for unlocking the phone so it is the most important gesture for your device. This gesture may be the familiar one to Playbook users and is one of those lucky gestures which survived from Playbook to BB10.
8 apps can be run on one time in the OS and you can view the real time updating action frames of those apps on the home screen. Entering in the environment of an app just requires a tap in it’s action frame. For properly killing an app, just tap on the “x” button in the lower right corner of that app and that’s it! And playbook users, this gesture may seem a bit ornery to you but flinging an app to the top of the display will no longer work in BB10.
Coming back to the home screen. From here you can swipe left or right as per your requirement. If you swipe to the right then you’ll land in a grid of tiles where a number of 4×4 sized app icons will be available. Akin to Android, repositioning is done by tapping, dragging and then dropping an an icon on the screen while creating a folder requires dropping an icon on another icon. Folders are also represented in the icon space of one icon, but with a smaller set of other icons which live inside the folder. However, since there is no other characteristic for recognizing folders, it becomes a bit harder to find them if you have a sea of apps.
App icon pages and folder pages continue to extend to the right as we pack more things inside them. And yes, there is no gesture for categorizing them. Once again, this is unlike Playbook where you could organize your stuff with “Favorites” and “Media” pages. Widgets and other android-like or desktop-like features are not available here. Only icons live in this ecosystem. But a bit of room was saved for creating a static area that holds three special controls – a camera, a phone and a search glass.
Call history in BB10
From here if you tap on the phone icon then a dialer interface will come ahead. Now, this is divided in the three sections. Leftmost section gives you a look on your recent calls. In the middle resides your contacts list extracted from BBM, G+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other service. On the rightmost side there is a standard dialler interface with a number pad for those people who are still lucky enough to remember a phone number in their hard disk.
Search icon will take you to a universal search where you can search your contacts, your calendar appointments, your messages and even your web browsing history. Now this is fantastic, but since it looks in several locations, results page can be sometimes a bit longer or even overwhelming in some cases. And it seems like Blackberry guys knew about it, so thanks to them for adding the functionality of breaking results into categories. And one more thing, if aforementioned things aren’t enough for you in search, then you can hook up more apps too. Just tap on an app icon in the bottom of search results page and your text will be handed over to that app in a search format.
As you may guess, camera icon brings in the photography interface where you can capture photos. We’ll explore this thing in more details, but in it it’s own dedicated section.
If you extend this important gesture of swiping up from the bottom, then you will see a new thing that BlackBerry calls “Peek”. Swiping up from the bezel and holding in the middle of screen brings a row of your emails, calendar events, Facebook notifications, Twitter notifications and so on. If anything has a red asterisk, then it surely has something new that you have not yet noticed. For checking out what is new inside, just continue your gesture towards right and you will land in ‘BlackBerry Hub’. We’re going to explore BlackBerry Hub in the next section.
BlackBerry thinks that this place will be so vital for your BlackBerry 10 experience and that’s why it has been made accessible just one swipe away regardless of where you are right now in the OS.
This app has significant importance for the BB10 OS and also for the company which has created it. BlackBerry thinks that this place will be so vital for your BlackBerry 10 experience and that’s why it has been made accessible just one swipe away regardless of where you are right now in the OS.
Whenever you swipe up from the bottom and turn right you see the entire list of your Twitter messages, your BBMs, your Facebook notifications, your emails, your calendar appointments, your missed calls, direct messages and so on. BlackBerry Hub combines all that you have got in a single place. Even system update notifications are collected here.
If a single place combines this much data, then surely it may become overwhelming; especially if you have got multiple accounts on every service. Theoretically it may seem amazing to have a glance on everything you have got with only one swipe, but personally I found it a bit cumbersome when handling large amount of messages.
If you want to select multiple messages and file them away, then it takes only two taps to enable multiple-select mode. If you want to delete a message, then it takes three taps. One tap to select it, other to bring a menu and third one to delete it. However, it can also be done by holding your finger on a message and then tapping on delete from the popup menu.
But in GMail app it is actually a lot more easier to delete an email. Just swipe the mail towards right or left and it’s gone.
Entering into calendar invites has been made a lot easier in the app. Just scroll down in the hub and they will appear on the top for your help. And as like always, if those meetings take place in a conference bridge, then just tap the number for dialing in. This type of experience has been a trademark of BlackBerry from very beginning, and it’s really great to see it here too.
If your mega-messages list is becoming too overwhelming, then you can choose the most important content to be shown in the hub. This can be done by filtering the hub by an individual account. For instance, you can select Tweets only from your work accounts to show up in the hub or you can also select only your BBMs to appear in the hub. This can be done by grabbing the lower-left icon in the app which has three notches drawn on it. Just drag it to the rightmost side of the screen and it will show you a list of all the accounts you have added to your hub. From here you can control the amount of content you want to see in the hub. This gesture is the common one among many stock apps. From this place you can also compose messages through any of these associated accounts.
Overall I can say that if you get a few emails or messages everyday spread evenly in a number of accounts, then BlackBerry Hub is just amazing for you. But if you handle the mountains of emails daily then it will soon become cumbersome for you.
|BB 10 Keyboard|
The stock keyboard of BlackBerry 10 delivers best typing experience ever found on a mobile device. Only one thing I have to say — this is the best stock keyboard that you can’t find anywhere at this moment.
Much part of the keyboard has been adapted from one of those old and BlackBerry’s traditional QWERTY keypad devices; but this time without compromising with the screen size. The stock keyboard of BlackBerry 10 delivers best typing experience ever found on a mobile device. Only one thing I have to say — this is the best stock keyboard that you can’t find anywhere at this moment. Sorry iOS and Android fanboys!
It all starts with a comfortable and easy layout. The layout includes a row of generously sized keys which are separated by gray bars for evoking the chrome bars you might have found on a traditional BlackBerry keyboard. This provides enough space to your fingers for tapping the keys.
The four-row layout has no dedicated buttons for numbers and characters except a few characters like comma, period and a space bar. But for finding those numbers and special characters you just need to swipe downwards. There are two pages of special characters and one page of QWERTY keyboard so the entire keyboard has been made in three pages and you can go to other pages by just swiping downwards or upwards according to your requirements. A swipe from right to left deletes the word you just typed.
Now talking about the most discussed feature of the BlackBerry keyboard – Predictive text. The keyboard browses your entire emails and message history for finding what phrases you commonly type after which word. As you continue typing, it helpfully suggests what you want to type next. And you know what, it predicts words in a very amazing way. It hovers words on the keys, and for using a word, you just need to swipe up from the key on which that word is hovering and that word will be entered for you with a space. So you don’t even need to hit the spacebar after entering a predicted word and you can start typing right after entering that word.
Overall we can say that keyboard of BB10 is undoubtedly the best stock keyboard for now. You can’t find this much amazing typing experience on any other smartphone.
VOICE RECOGNITION ENGINE
If you use voice recognition more often than typing, BB10 provides full voice recognition for your help. Just like Siri and most other voice recognition engines, it also makes use of network. So you will need to be connected if you want to use voice recognition engine of BB10. It offers a voice dictation feature which requires holding down of the period key for activation. During my testing I found the voice dictation to be quite impressive. It was able to type simple sentences like “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and even the most complicated ones like address of someone’s home which requires several commas, slashes and periods to be in proper place.
After voice dictation there is Voice Control. The feature allows you to control your phone through your voice — akin to siri, you may say. Hold down the play/pause button of your phone (which resides in the middle of the volume up and down keys) for a few secs and a feminine voice will ask you what do you want to do. From here you can say things like “Call Alex”, “Send a message to Jack” and so on. And yeah, you can say some complicate things too like “BBM Fernando: I’ll be there in 10 mins” and don’t worry your task will be handled with accuracy.
Voice recognition is powerful, but sometimes it reminds us that ultimately it is a “voice recognition system” and not a human. For instance, when I asked it “call my brother”, it was actually looking for a contact named “brother” instead of asking which of your contacts is your brother. And yep, it is unable to answer even the simplest questions like “how many inches are there in a feet?” and sends all of those questions to Bing. So if there would be more commands, it could be a lot better. Still it’s quite accurate, helpful and amazing.
As I told above, Camera app of BB10 has a dedicated icon on the bottom of the screen. The interface of app is pretty simple — it has a focus reticle in the center which helps you in focusing the object(s) because it changes to green and contracts slightly when you successfully achieve the focus. An ellipsis in the lower-right corner of the app brings a menu from where you can switch to front camera/rear camera, select a pre-defined scene, toggle shooting modes, enable or disable flash and finally switch to 16:9 or 4:3 images.
While taking photos, there is no dedicated shutter button here. Yup no dedicated shutter button — neither physical nor virtual. Just tap anywhere on the screen and you have captured the photo. To select a different focus point you will have to manually drag the focus reticle to your desired location.
The app also has a Time Shift function which captures a burst of photos within seconds. If you are taking a group photo, then this option is seriously amazing for you. It will take several images of your group and after the shots are completed you can choose the best shot for every individual person who’s appearing in the photo.
After capturing the images you can either review them or if you like then also edit them in a very rich image editor that comes bundled in the BB10 OS. Crop them, rotate them or apply funkier Instagram style filters — it’s all your choice. No official Instagram available yet, but stock image editor is still pretty good in several things.
If you have a smartphone powered by BlackBerry 10, then chances are also a bit higher of losing it. So for protection purposes, BlackBerry Protect is back with BB10. Enabling the service means that you’re enabling it to phone home when it is lost. This is basically handled through a BlackBerry operated website, which provides the ability of tracking a smartphone if it is lost.
The website doesn’t only allows your smartphone to call you, but you can also make your device play sounds, display messages and you can also lock it remotely. If things go nearly out of control, then you can also wipe it with a simple click.
You need to have a BlackBerry ID for doing all these things. So create a BlackBerry ID and ensure that you have set up a secure password for your ID. After logging in, it will also ask you to create a separate password via website. Once you have all this set, you’re done.
In my testing, these signals took nearly 5 minutes to get delivered to the device (Z10 in my case). It happened after website showed a failure to communicate error on my lappy’s screen. But the good thing is that those commands were actually delivered.
This is the place where you can spend money on your BB10. Here you get apps, games, themes, music, movies and all the stuff you may need to rock your BB10. Of course, there are several free apps too but you’ll find a distractingly low ratio of free vs paid apps as compared to Google Play or iTunes Store. And yes, since it is a new OS, there is of course a shortage of apps and you will not find 700,000+ apps like iTunes Store or Google Play.
There are a lot of well known apps like Angry Birds, Dropbox, Foursquare, RediffNews and Box but a lot of important apps are also missing as well — for example Netflix, Hulu and Kindle. Thanks to Amazon, it says Kindle is coming. Many Playbook apps are also available for download, but when opened, they look terrible. Seriously terrible. Controls are stuffed together in those apps and it seems like they have been placed here and there for just filling the screen. A number of apps become useless due to this reason.
A lot of premium music is available, but pricing is relatively higher as compared to anywhere else.
Thankfully, the same scenario hasn’t been repeated with media and music. A lot of premium music is available, but pricing is relatively higher as compared to anywhere else. For example, Unorthodox Jukebox of Bruno Mars is $11.99 here, as compared to $5.99 of Amazon MP3 store and $10.99 of iTunes Store.
Thankfully, video content has competitive pricing. For instance, Taken 2 is available for $4.99 as compared to $4.98 of Amazon and $5.99 of iTunes Store. But the worth mentioning thing here is that this content can’t be downloaded on more than 5 devices. This is an unfortunate restriction in today’s cloud-based days.
Although BlackBerry App world is still waiting to be fulfilled, still a number of stock apps are available in the BB10. Lets take a look on them:
|BB OS 10 Browser|
I’ll first of all cover the browser for two reasons — first, it is the most used stock app in anyone’s smartphone(s) and second, it is really amazing in BB10. BB10 has got a solid point with it’s web browser. First of all I want to tell you it supports Flash. For how many days, it isn’t yet clear and is entirely at Adobe’s discretion. But for this moment it supports Flash, unlike Android. It is the only one stock browser right now which can support almost any bumping and floating flash banner without having problems.
A URL bar rests in the bottom which also serves as a search field of Bing. On the left side of the bar there is a button that gives access to web browsing history and bookmarks. A vertical ellipsis on the right side of URL bar provides access to settings, bookmarking of current web page and so on. The same menu also provides access to the ‘Reader Mode’ which clears out all the pictures and ads for providing you a clear look of web page that is easier in reading.
Unfortunately, there is no method available for saving this view so you won’t be able to view it later in offline mode.
Ah yes, BBM. The heart of BlackBerry is also available in BB10, with some extended powers. Voice chat was added in BlackBerry 7, and now BBM supports video chat too with BlackBerry 10. For starting a voice or a video chat, just go to the messaging interface of a person and tap the desired icon from the upper right corner. Video Chat is available only with people who are using BlackBerry 10 but you can enjoy a voice chat with those who are on older versions. One thing is still unclear that which careers will provide this functionality on cellular connections.
Another enhanced thing in BBM is screen sharing function, the feature that received a warm welcome in the launch event. This function can make mobile enterprise support a lot easier. While having a video chat, users can share what is on their own BB10 screen with the person they are chatting. This feature can make mobile troubleshooting a lot easier. And yes, it can also help you in solving a crossword puzzle.
As I said earlier, BBM is integrated in BlackBerry Hub. So you can send and receive messages from there.
Calculator in BB10 is very similar to the calculator we found in a Playbook. It has funky colors, and has an integrated unit convertor. And yes, a handy tip calculator is also available inside the app.
Compass is just another simple-yet-striking app of BlackBerry 10. It is just a freely-floating compass that always points towards north, but is a worth looking app since it has got clean UI. I agree, it is not the most useful app here, but you will use it often for finding your way; probably more often than Maps app.
The app will work only until you remain online, not even if you start moving on your way.
Maps have become an increasingly important part of smartphones. So not having a maps app would be seriously disappointing. And since BlackBerry was not in the condition of disappointing anymore, it has included it’s own maps app with BB10. It is also functional at it’s best. You can look on a map to see where one of your contacts is located and then start navigating with the app. But remember, this app works online only — means if you once get disconnected, you suffer from a complete loss of navigation. It also won’t provide re-routing for traffic, satellite views or POI displays. Also you don’t get any gesture to look around the map when you’re navigating. The app will work only until you remain online, not even if you start moving on your way. So if you can’t ensure a good signal strength in the area, it will be better to stay away from these maps instead of wandering in an unknown area.
It is seriously challenging to say a few final words about BB10, mainly because it is an emerging star from the darkness. Just like Microsoft, BlackBerry is doing a new start with this OS. Thriving in a world that is dominated by players like Android and iOS is really a difficult thing, but as a company BlackBerry has done lot of work for ensuring that users who buy this device stay satisfied from their purchase. I must say that BB10 is truly a big thing meant for touchscreen devices and surely provides a new life to BlackBerry smartphones. It also washes the old school image of the brand. Careers also want a break from this Apple-Google monopoly and want to see a third major player in game for balancing everything, so there is still a lot of room for BB10. Overall I want to say it’s a great OS, but I’m not sure that a fascinating stock keyboard, a few magical gestures and a screen sharing functionality will be enough for unseating the current dominators of smartphone market; especially when their users are already satisfied with them.
BlackBerry OS 10 Review Reviewed by Faheem Kalsekar on Saturday, March 29, 2014 Rating: