BlackBerry 10: Hands-On With the BlackBerry Z10
The Z10 features a 4.2-inch touch display and a button-free front facade. It's thin enough—as thin as the iPhone 5—and attractive enough. The front glass is slick, but the texture on the back makes it comfortable to hold and feel secure in the hand. It looks neither cutting-edge nor out-of-date. It's a perfectly nice, neutral envelope for what's inside.
The back of the Z10 features a material created exclusively for BlackBerry, according to CEO Thorsten Heins. There's an 8-megapixel camera on the back, which can take 1080p HD video, and a 2-megapixel front camera with 720p HD video recording. They take lovely, crisp photos—though not in low-light conditions, where other hardware makers, like Apple, Nokia and HTC, now focus much more attention.
On the top of the device is the headphone jack, a microphone and a power button, for turning the Z10 on and off. To launch the device directly past its passive home screen, though, one can instead swipe up from the bottom-center of the display—basically from anywhere on the BlackBerry logo.
Volume, Voice Control
To dwell a final moment on the hardware ... on the Z10's right side are volume-up and down buttons and, between them, a button for a Voice Control feature, much like Apple's Siri. In theory, one can use Voice Control to do a long list of things, from updating a Facebook message to sending a BlackBerry Message (BBM). In practice (and again like Siri), it's quicker and less frustrating to just perform the task by hand.
Past the home screen—which displays if a user has missed calls, new emails or updates to anything included in the Hub (more on that in Slide 8)—is a screen showing open applications. A single tap will open an app to full screen, and a swipe from the bottom of the display will minimize it back to the grid. Clicking the X in the grid closes the app. The five symbols below the apps are navigation guides; to the left of this screen is line-by-line information in the BlackBerry Hub, and to its right are three screens of app icons.
Applications can be grouped into folders by simply dragging them on top of each other. There are now more than 70,000 BlackBerry 10 apps, and when the Z10 arrives in the United States, that number is expected to exceed 100,000. While BlackBerry officials say they have the top 1,000 apps, regionally, users may find popular local apps missing. New Yorkers, for example, may be disappointed to find HopStop and Seamless apps as yet unavailable.
The Magic of BlackBerry 10
But enough about the basics. Much of the beauty of BlackBerry 10 is in how a user accesses information. From the open-apps screen, sliding a thumb up from the bottom of the display reduces the open-app windows to make room for a menu to pop out from the left. With that one gesture, a user is alerted to all information changes, from new emails and BBMs to a new call or a Facebook or Twitter update.
With the thumb still in the center-screen spot depicted in the previous slide, a user can then drag it right, and the open-apps screen will push to the side (a gesture called Peek) offering a view of the BlackBerry Hub—a central place to view new notifications, BBM, text messages, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and calls. Users can also choose to see a list of a single kind of information, for example, just text messages. While pushed aside to Peek, a screen still stays live. For example, if you Peek to email while watching a video, it will keep running, unless it's pushed all the way aside and the user lifts her thumb, choosing email over the video.
Here is a close-up of the Hub, showing the last call placed, the last opened email, the last text message sent and the last emails that were replied to. In a glance, a user is saved the need to open and view several applications.
While tapping on any item in the Hub will open it, it's sometimes more efficient to use the menu that pops up on the right when a finger is held on the item.
One criticism of the solution is that the Twitter and Facebook views offered in the Hub are rather bare and unattractive, compared with the full applications.
By contrast, this is what the Twitter application looks like when it's launched from the Twitter icon in the applications section.
Again, also wanting is the Voice Control feature. In BlackBerry 10's defense, this feature—like the keyboard software—is said to improve with use, as the software "learns" about the user.
Another convenient feature is a "shade" that pulls downs from the top of the display, offering quick access to various settings. While it works in the Hub and delineated areas of the Hub, it's not available while inside applications.