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BlackBerry Z10 Review: Part 2 – Software (BlackBerry 10)

In the first part of our review, we took a look at the hardware and camera of the Blackberry Z10 and in this part we take an in depth look into the brand new operating system.

Software

bb10--home-screenOne can say that BlackBerry has really taken their time with the OS to make it something new and tried to differentiate themselves in the already crowded market. They have taken a brand new approach which is completely gestured based has there are no hardware buttons on the device. The OS is also designed to make it easier to be used with one hand. While the OS does take a bit of getting used to, once you get a hang of the basic gestures it becomes easy to use. One can say that there are elements that are inspired by other OSes, but BlackBerry has tried to package it a new way.

The BlackBerry OS is called BlackBerry Flow. The most important gesture is swiping up from the bottom bezel, which minimizes the app and brings you back to a tiled view of all running apps. Up to eight apps can be kept running in the background on the screen and are visible as Active Frames. Developers can use this to display the app as a widget or else they will just be minimized versions of the screen. To kill a running app, one will have to hit the X in the lower right.

From here, you can swipe your way left or right. To the right lies a grid of app icons. You can re-position any app by tapping and dragging. Folders can also be created by dropping one icon on top of the other. Clicking on the folder icon will bring up the folder contents in full screen and we find this a waste of screen space. At the bottom, one will always find controls to the phone, search and the camera.

The phone app is split into three sections – call log, contacts (pulled in from BBM, Facebook, Twitter and Google Contacts) that is searchable and, a dial pad. The search icon takes you into universal search that allows use to search apps, contacts, messages, calendar appointments and web history.

If you swipe up and hold, you will get into the BlackBerry Peek section which allows you to see a row of notification icons for unread emails, calendar reminders, social notifications, BBM and the like. A red asterisk by any of these means you have something new to look at. To see what that is, just continue that gesture off to the right, which brings you to the BlackBerry Hub.

The lock screen displays notifications on the left hand side in a row as well as your upcoming appointments in the center. One can unlock the screen by sliding up. There is a nice animation which allows one to see what is under the screen without unlocking it fully. There is also a camera icon which takes you directly to the camera app if held for a few seconds.

Swiping down from the top of the home screen will give you access to various controls like connectivity options as well as system settings.

BlackBerry Hub

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BlackBerry Hub can be accessed by a gesture which begins at the bottom of most screens and then pulling it to right. The Hub is an area where all your emails, Twitter replies, DMs, text messages, BBM, Facebook messages, voicemails and missed calls – basically all your incoming notifications are aggregated.  We found this to be an amazing way of managing all our incoming communication, though at times when we did get bombarded with notifications; it took us a bit of time to go through unmarking them all.

Also when you are in the Hub, you can easily see your appointments for the day by just swiping down.

The notifications can also be sorted by an individual account, for example Twitter and Facebook messages separate in their own tabs. This is done by grabbing the lower-left icon, which has three notches drawn on the side, and dragging it right to expose all the accounts you’ve added to the phone. This gesture is a control common on many of the apps. One can also compose messages for any of the accounts from the Hub, including updating Facebook statuses, BBMs, and even emails.

One thing we did not like about the Hub was that it remained on the screen you last looked at and if you swipe out, when you return you are greeted with the same screen and need to swipe once more to the right to see the Hub menu. Also we noticed that mails and notifications between Hub and accounts open on our computers did not sync immediately and were delayed to a large extent.

Keyboard

BB10--keyboardThe virtual keyboard in BlackBerry 10 is probably the best stock keyboard on any OS right now. For those that loved BlackBerry’s traditional QWERTY keyboard this will be a joy to use. The layout is very comfortable and the keys are sized right and spaced well.

 The highlight of the keyboard is its predictive text feature. The OS is capable of going through your email and social networking to get an idea of what phrases you commonly type and suggest them as you type.

The suggestions are offered as whole words hovering above keys you might type next. To select that word, you simply swipe up from the key and the keyboard enters it for you along with a space. It is a magical experience. But be warned, just like the rest of the OS the keyboard also takes some getting used to.

Also for those that are used to seeing the predictive word appear in the same place this can be very confusing. But after we figured out the keyboard, we were banging out emails in record time.

Like the rest of BB10, the keyboard is full of gestures. To get to  numbers and special characters all one has to do is swipe down from the top of the keyboard. To minimize the keyboard all one has to do is use two fingers and swipe down from the first row of characters. A swipe from right to left deletes whatever the last word was.

The BlackBerry has full voice recognition, for which one will needed to be connected to a data network. One can dictate by just pressing the period key. We found the voice recognition to be just okay with the phone not recognizing our accent quite a bit. In a test with the Galaxy Nexus and the iPhone, the Z10 recognized the least amount of stuff thrown at it. The Voice Control feature, which can be accessed by the button between the volume rockers, can be used to give the phone simple commands.

Stock Apps

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There are a few apps bundled with the phone.

The browser does come with flash support and we must say is a pretty solid one and scored high on the HTML5 tests and was a breeze to use in the testing we did. Most sites loaded correctly and quickly. The URL bar is found at the bottom and a button to the left gives quick access to bookmarks and history. There is also a Reader mode which strips out all the pictures and ads and gives you a single, lean look at the text on the page.

The Clock app is stunning but unfortunately lets you set just one alarm. It also has a stopwatch and world clock features. One will also find a Calculator app which has a very nice interface. The Compass is another simple but visually striking and fun-to-use app. The reminder app is very well thought out and feature rich. The phone also comes with Docs To Go which is perfect for viewing and editing documents.

Maps

You will find the Maps app very disappointing, especially in India. We found it to be worse that that of Apple’s Maps on iOS 6. If you’ve come to rely upon your smartphone for finding your way around, BlackBerry 10 isn’t ready for you yet. However, the latest version of MapMyIndia maps for BlackBerry is available free which is an excellent alternative for users. Also just in case you don’t want to download each map in MapMyIndia there is always the mobile web version of Google Maps which works quite well in the browser.

Contacts & Calendar

BB10--calendar-appThe contacts section of BB10 is feature rich and will aggregate all your contacts from all your social network connections like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and also Google. It does it quite well and a picture is also displayed, and if there is a picture associated with a LinkedIn contact, that picture takes preference and is set as the primary picture, but you also have an option to choose from other networks or add your own picture.

The calendar app is feature rich and is associated with BlackBerry Hub, displaying your appointments when you swipe down from the top. It pulls your appointments from various sources like Google calendar and even syncs birthdays from Facebook. Your appointments are also displayed on the lock screen.

In the final part of our review, we will take a look at various BlackBerry services like BBM, BlackBerry Balance and Protect and also the app situation. We also give you our verdict on the Z10.