Digital Crave

Hands-on with the new BlackBerry Z10

Marc Saltzman
Digital Crave

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You know the ‘ol adage -- good things come to those who wait – and if you’ve been patiently waiting on BlackBerry’s Next Big Thing, you’ll no doubt fall in love with your next device.

While not a perfect "10," the new BlackBerry Z10 -- available in the U.S. by March for $199 on 2-year contract -- does manage to impress, if my nearly two weeks with the phone is any indication.

Without abandoning what made BlackBerry so sought after to begin with –effortless typing, fast and reliable messaging, the best battery in the biz and rock-solid security – BlackBerry 10 adds a ton of new features you’ll care about, such as blazingly fast performance, smooth multitasking, smart cameras, a killer web browser, and much more.

In other words, this ain’t yo daddy’s BlackBerry.

To offer you a glimpse into BlackBerry 10, the following is a look at some of the coolest new features worth getting excited about - and then I'll share some areas of improvement, too.

BlackBerry Hub

Imagine you’re watching a video, browsing the web or playing a game and you notice that blinking red light on top of your phone. Instead of exiting out of what you’re currently enjoying, simply swipe up and then in from the left side of the screen to the right to peek into your BlackBerry Hub. Consider this your command center for all incoming messages, be it email, text (SMS), BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, phone messages, voicemail, app alerts and more. Once you peek into your hub, you can choose to reply or call, or let the screen snap back into place if it can wait. Accessible from any app on your BlackBerry 10 device, your convenient BlackBerry Hub can help you stay on top of what matters to you – and it’s just as swipe away.

BlackBerry Keyboard

While your friends fumble over words on their so-called “smart” phone – autocorrect nightmares, anyone? – your new BlackBerry device features the same comfortable keyboard you’re accustomed to. OK, so the BlackBerry Q10 with a physical keyboard won't be ready for April or May, but you’ll be able to type quickly and accurately on the Z10's 4.2-inch screen right from the get-go. In fact, the new virtual BlackBerry Keyboard learns how you type and cleverly adapts so you can write faster, and with the least amount of effort. Your BlackBerry will suggest words as you type and if you’d like to use them, simply swipe up on the screen and keep going.

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BBM Video with Screen Share

By now you’re probably familiar with BBM Voice, which lets you chat for free with other BBM users anywhere in the world over Wi-Fi -- but what about video? Called BBM Video, you can easily switch from a BBM chat to a BBM Video conversation with a simple tap. Not only can you catch up with someone face-to-face using the BlackBerry’s front-facing camera but you can also initiate Screen Share, which lets the person you’re chatting with see what’s on your screen, be it a document, photo, video, game, web browser, and so on. Or tap to share what your rear camera sees. BBM Video and Screen Share works with compatible BlackBerry 10 devices over Wi-Fi, 4G or HSPA+.

Time Shift, BlackBerry Story Maker

All smartphones take photos, but only BlackBerry 10 devices have a Time Shift mode that captures a few milliseconds before and after you snap the photo. This allows you to scroll back and forth through time to select the perfect shot – perhaps one where your eyes aren’t closed and another, a split-second later, where your friend isn’t sticking his tongue out, and then combine them into the same photo. Once you’ve created the perfect shot by turning a couple of dials with your fingertips, tap to use Story Maker -- which lets you weave those moments together to create a movie in just a couple of swipes -- before sharing it with the world. BlackBerry 10 devices can also shoot sharp HD video.

Miscellany

We’re just scratching the surface on what else BlackBerry 10 devices are capable of. There’s also BlackBerry Remember, which lets you easily create, view and organize your interests, ideas and projects in one single location; BlackBerry Balance, to help you manage both your personal and professional lives on your one device (all your personal apps and info are kept separate and private from work data); a completely redesigned BlackBerry Browser that’s fast, powerful and versatile enough to handle whatever you through at it; and a new BlackBerry App World to browse and buy apps, music and videos, including handy app recommendations, easy sharing to social media sites or touch your NFC-enabled BlackBerry to another to exchange content with others.

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And now for the not-so-good news...

If you’ve been patiently awaiting the launch of BlackBerry 10, but you prefer a physical keyboard, you're out of luck with the Z10 as it's touch-only. BlackBerry's Q10 -- which will have a QWERTY keyboard on the lower-third of the device -- didn't get a launch date. This will no doubt frustrate some. BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) should’ve had both options at launch.

Next, BlackBerry World offers a notable number of downloads for a new platform — as high as 70,000 — but they’re not as easy to find and they seem to be more expensive compared to the same apps on another platform. For example, why does the game Babel Rising 3D cost $2.99 when it’s $0.99 cents on Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play? And where’s Netflix? Instagram? Flipboard? Prices for media are comparable to other stores, however: The Dark Knight Rises is $4.99 to rent or $19.99 to buy, for example, which is the same as iTunes and Google Play.

Finally, there are some stability issues: BlackBerry Z10 froze on me twice over the past week — so I had to remove the battery from the back in order to fix the issue. This reminded me of this reboot “game” on my old BlackBerry Torch and Curve. Sigh. Hopefully they'll iron out these problems with a software update.

Overall, BlackBerry 10 is one heck of a device. But it's not going to be easy for BlackBerry to regain the kind of market share they once enjoyed. Give it time, however, and it'll likely win back customers and gain some new ones.

Plus, it would be remiss not to mention iPhone, Android and Windows Phone users who’ve purchased software (such as apps or media) or hardware (like cases or speaker docks) over the past few years might be reluctant to leave all that behind. In other words, investing in a smartphone goes beyond the four corners of the device itself. Windows Phone users can start a Word document on their phone and continue it on their PC, while Apple users might use iTunes and iCloud to manage all their content. BlackBerry desperately needs to build and sustain a viable ecosystem to help lure people back to the platform.

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