A week with BlackBerry 10

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“A tremendous amount of profundity is conveyed by even the simplest of gestures or forms.”

— Jakusho Kwong “No Beginning, No End”

I’m typing this, my third BlackBerry 10 article, on my new BlackBerry Z10. After a week of solid use, I am just tickled with both the device and the software. In my evening reading, I found the quote above. It may well have been the guiding principle for development of both BlackBerry 10 and the Z10. The peek and flow gestures of BlackBerry 10 work very well day-to-day, and the overall simplicity, subtlety, and understated nature of both the device and the software indeed make for a potent and profound combination.

No one thing about the Z10 may be an order of magnitude better than what else is out there but the overall experience is definitely better than what I have experienced with any other device or platform.  Unlike either an iPhone or a contemporary Android Nexus device, I can just plug my Z10 into any computer and drag and drop any type of file to it, and I can expand the device with affordable microSD cards.  The Z10 doesn’t force iTunes or the cloud on me, though it works well with either, if that’s your cup of tea.  The Z10 can deal with local storage as well as cloud-based options such as Dropbox and Box.  The way they do this allows for simple addition of new services, and immediately opens these storage options up to all installed apps.  Dropbox files work just like files on the SD card, unlike on other platforms.  Brilliant.

Moving past the essentials of getting data on and off the devices, the core features provided out of the box are efficient and well thought-out.  I loved the webOS calendar.  The Z10s is the closest I’ve used, and is immediately better than any of the dozens of options I’ve tried for either iOS or Android.  It’s great and I have no reason to replace it.  The same can be said for the Music, Contacts, and universal search apps. They’re simple and perfect.  Docs To Go is a welcome default.  I’ve already used it to create, edit, and view documents.  Of course, it works perfectly saving to and reading from Dropbox.  The browser is functionally unparalleled, and is very intuitive.  It is fast and fluid and is at least equal to the latest versions of Mobile Safari and Chrome.  Like “the big two”, it is based on WebKit, so you don’t have to do anything special to target it when you’re designing sites.  Unlike the latest offerings from Apple or Google, the Z10 continues to support Flash, though it is disabled by default.  I loathe Flash and always have, so it will stay that way for me.  Still, that should allow some sites to work better on the Z10 than they otherwise would on a phone.  All the same, mobile is the reality in 2013.  People should be moving away from Flash, end of story.

Then there’s the keyboard.  I’ve long been a physical QWERTY guy.  I’ve used the Galaxy Nexus (Android 4.1) and iOS, but on-screen keyboards have always frustrated me.  Until the Z10, they have been inferior.  They are slower, less accurate, and less predictable.  Yes, the extra screen real-estate and the thinness they afford are nice, but I would take practicality and utility over this any day.  Given my experiences, I was extremely sceptical and utterly unprepared for the BlackBerry 10 on-screen keyboard.  I can just blaze away on the Z10 keyboard, safe in the knowledge that the software keyboard will correctly predict what I mean to type.  Out of the box, it is scarily good and learns my words and names very, very quickly.  After a week of use, I can honestly say that I have no interest in the upcoming Q10, and I will be shocked if BlackBerry continues on with a QWERTY version after it.  It is a bridge device made just for the BlackBerry faithful who are unwilling to try the Z10.  The software keyboard is so good that there really is no reason to bother with a QWERTY device.  Moreover, the Z10’s 4.2″ screen is indeed the perfect size for one-handed use.  Reviews criticize BlackBerry for the large bezel, but as will the PlayBook, it is necessary for the gestures that work so well to make the device and platform unique.  They nailed it with the Z10.

They battery life thus far has exceeded my expectations.  It took a day or two for things to settle in, but I now easily get a full day on a charge.  After 13 hours of normal use, I have 60% of my battery left.  Would it be nice to get three days on a charge like I did with my Motorola Defy Pro?  Yes, but it was constantly annoying and buggy to use, and part of the battery life was because it was so painful to use for normal things like browsing and playing music. I’m easily using my Z10 twice to three times as much in a day as I did the Motorola.  As a bonus, I can swap batteries if needed, and there is a great little BlackBerry charger that includes a second battery that can either go in the Z10 or charge it or any other device over micro USB.  Clever.

With the Z10, BlackBerry has provided a platform and device that works as well as an Apple device but has the flexibility that iOS lacks. Where both Android and iOS behave like thoroughly modern smartphone platforms, the Z10 and BlackBerry 10 feels like a full computer reduced to the size of a phone.

Real multitasking, great user experience and the ability to run Android apps make BlackBerry 10 a compelling new platform. Running Android apps may be a double edged sword, as it creates a disincentive to build truly native apps, but it absolutely makes the platform more usable on day one than anything else our there. webOS had a similar feel but without the ability to run apps from another platform. Because of this, it was always fighting a lack of apps. BlackBerry, by contrast, is able to easily line up day one apps with the promise of much more to come.  Making a BlackBerry 10 version of an app from an existing Android version is a no-brainer for most app developers, and as the platform continues to grow, if BlackBerry sells well, developers will have a reason to consider a proper BlackBerry Z10 port.

Just to be clear, I still don’t like cell phones. That said , I do like carrying a pocket computer. I also find it remarkable what modern smartphones allow us to do.  The Z10 and BlackBerry 10 do everything I need them to.  The device is a perfect size and weight, with a build-quality that I’ve never seen with an Android device, and the software, at least for my uses, far exceeds what iOS or Android offer me.

Welcome back to the smartphone party, RIM.  You may have taken your sweet time releasing your bet-the-company platform and device but the extra time in the oven seems to have been a wise move.

GoSaBe Blog - Feb 16, 2013 | BlackBerry