RIM, or BlackBerry as the firm is now known, has finally delivered its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 platform, and V3 has got its hands on the first new device from the firm, the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone.
BlackBerry 10 has been billed by some observers as the firm's last chance to claw back market share from Apple and the massed crowd of Android devices, and our first impressions are that on quality and user experience, BlackBerry certainly deserves consideration from potential buyers.
The Z10 is a touchscreen device with an impressive 4.2in display boasting a resolution of 1280x768 pixels, making it a match for most other high-end handsets. At 135g, it also feels relatively light for its size.
One of the first things that we noticed about the Z10 is how fluid and responsive the user interface feels, rather like the first experience of using Apple's iPhone. It seems natural and easy to zoom in and out, or use swipe gestures to glide from one screen to another.
The key things to bear in mind with the BlackBerry 10 OS are that swiping up from the bottom of the screen gets you out of the current app or screen, while swiping down from the top brings up a menu or further options. Other gestures are pretty much what users will expect from using other touch-enabled smartphones.
BlackBerry's user interface sports the familiar screens with a grid of application icons, but the main focus is the BlackBerry Hub, and Active Frame grid, where multiple open applications can be "parked" as thumbnail images to come back to later.
The BlackBerry Hub is a kind of universal inbox for all messages, whether email, texts, BlackBerry Messenger, or social media updates. Users can "peek" at the Hub from anywhere else by swiping up and to the right from the bottom of the screen.
BlackBerry has also stuck three shortcut icons for the phone dialler, search and camera apps at the bottom of the screen, which are shown almost everywhere you are in the user interface.
The Z10 comes with a good range of built-in applications, including the standard features you would expect from a modern smartphone such as a browser, picture gallery of photos, maps, calendar, contacts, music and video players, plus YouTube.
However, BlackBerry has also included as standard Box and Dropbox clients for cloud storage, the Documents To Go app for handling Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, plus clients for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare.
Worthy of special note is Story Maker, which lets users create a ‘movie' by combining video, images and a music track, plus Remember, which lets you organise information into named folders such as 'holiday' or 'wedding'. This lets you pull together emails, web pages, photos or documents relevant to that topic, in order to keep tabs on what's happening.
There is also a BlackBerry World app store to allow users to search out and download other applications for BlackBerry 10.
BlackBerry's browser is slick and easy to use, and mostly loaded up websites very swiftly in our brief hands-on, although this is only to be expected with a 4G network connection (via the EE network in the UK).
However, we were disappointed to see that many web destinations we visited served up a mobile version of their site by default.
One feature BlackBerry has been promoting for a long time is the TimeShift feature in the camera, which lets you ensure everyone in a group shot has their eyes open. You have to enable this, however, by selecting from a cluster of icons that switch between this, video and standard still image modes.
The Z10 seems to take fairly decent, if not brilliant, images from its 8MP camera, which has an LED flash. After taking a shot, the Pictures app lets you carry out basic editing such as cropping or rotating images, applying filters or adjusting the brightness and contrast.
Overall, while the BlackBerry 10 OS is easy to use, there are some niggles. Earlier versions of BlackBerry OS tended to hide settings deep within menus, and the same is true here.
For example, while there is a battery status icon on the main screen, you have to go to Settings > About, select the Hardware category, and scroll down to see an accurate figure of the battery charge level, while this is clearly displayed on the home screen on many Android devices.
Another bugbear is that the Z10 takes a very long time to start up - almost a minute in our experience, and over 30 seconds to power off again.
However, these issues aside, the BlackBerry Z10 looks quite a promising device that could stand up against the latest iPhone or the top-end Android phones in features, user experience and performance.
In specifications, the Z10 is powered by a 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU, with 2GB memory and 16GB flash, which can be expanded by microSD card.
Check V3 later for a full in-depth review of the BlackBerry Z10.
31 Jan 2013