Sixteen months have passed since Research In Motion released its last smartphone model, which is several epochs in the technology world. Delays in launching the new BlackBerry 10 operating system frustrated investors, but also built anticipation for the release. The survival of the company depends on the BB10’s success. Analysts predict it will sell between 9.2 million and 23 million units, making it either a huge flop or a mild success. Of course, what largely matters is the quality of the device. So, how does it compare to the iPhones, Androids and other options currently crowding the market? Technology writer Peter Nowak offers his review of the most important phone in RIM’s history.
Typing: BlackBerry users have always treasured their devices for their physical buttons, which have been typically far better to type on than virtual touch-screen keyboards. The first BB10 device, however, is all touch screen, with RIM promising a second model with a keyboard soon. Considerable effort has been made to improve the touch-screen typing experience, though. Thick virtual “frets” separate the rows of keys, forming what RIM says is a beneficial psychological barrier between them. The keyboard also predicts words before they’re typed—if the suggestion is indeed correct, the user simply flicks it up into whatever they’re writing. Lastly, the device adjusts according to where the user’s fingers actually come down, as opposed to where the keyboard appears. In demos, all of these features worked well, and fast. If they do indeed improve typing speed and accuracy over the long run, RIM will have a leg up over competitors in virtual keyboards.
Verdict: Potentially the fastest touch-screen option.
BlackBerry World: With the addition of movies and music, RIM is renaming its BlackBerry App World store to just BlackBerry World. It’s clearly behind competitors. All of the nice additions in BlackBerry 10 aren’t likely to make a difference if RIM can’t convince key app developers to create software for its new devices.
Verdict: Still a huge mountain to climb.
Flow: “Flow” is the perfect name for this feature, with your thumb smoothly moving you from one app into the other by swiping, without the need for a home button. It’s more fun than iOS or Android, but not as different as Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8. It’s a sort of “Little Bear” OS—it feels just right.
Verdict: Different, in a better way.
Balance: Nobody wants to carry two separate devices—a personal one and another for work. Balance allows users to have all their apps and media attached to a personal profile, then switch over to a work-approved one. Their employer controls this profile and can select its own approved apps or even remotely wipe it out. This nicely caters to RIM’s enterprise bread and butter.
Verdict: No need for two phones.
Hub: Communication tools have always been the core of the BlackBerry, and RIM’s given them smart play on the new BB10. The inbox—which can be set up to include e-mail, texts, tweets, appointments, BBM messages—puts everything in one convenient place. There’s also a function called Peek, where the Hub can be quickly looked at from any app without having to get out of it. Most rivals have some sort of integrated inbox, but RIM’s may just be the easiest to access.
Verdict: Comprehensive and easy.
Source: Exane BNP Paribas
Artist rendering based on available images and information. Final product may differ. Rendering by Satesh Mistry; Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Canadian Press