The BlackBerry 10 OS Review

I'm sure that everyone is excited about BlackBerry's all-new operating system, which is the BlackBerry 10 OS. In this review, I will cover Gestures, BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Keyboard, Voice Control, Camera, BlackBerry Protect, BlackBerry World, and some other pre-installed applications. Join me as we take a tour inside BlackBerry's new OS and app ecosystem.

1. Gestures

The most important gesture is swiping up from the bottom bezel, which always brings you back to a tiled view of all the running apps. Up to eight apps can be kept running in the background on this screen and bringing one back to life just requires a tap. Or, to properly kill a running app, hit the X in the lower right.

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Image by Engadget
Repositioning of apps is performed by tapping and dragging, while dropping one on another creates a folder. Folders are represented by a smaller grid of icons within a single app icon space, with no other identifying characteristic, which makes them a bit hard to pick out amidst the sea of apps. Widgets and other desktop-like controls are not supported here. There is also a static area holding three special controls: a phone, a search glass and a camera.

Swiping up and holding causes a row of icons to arrive from the left, representing unread emails, calendar reminders and the like. A red asterisk by any of these means you have something new to look at.

2. BlackBerry Hub

Swipe up and to the right and you'll see an aggregated list of emails, Twitter replies, and DMs. Also, text messages, BBMs, Facebook messages, voice mails and missed calls. System updates and even LinkedIn messages will be listed here. It can be a little overwhelming especially if you have multiples of each type of account to manage. Overall, as a communication tool, BlackBerry Hub is powerful if you get relatively few messages scattered across multiple platforms.

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Image by Engadget
When it comes to calendar invites, it's very easy. Just scroll down in Hub and those appear up top, ready for your tapping. And, as ever, if those meetings take place on a conference bridge, just tap the number to dial in. This sort of navigation has always been a trademark of BlackBerry, and it's great to see it live on here.

But, if that mega-list of all your messaging gets overwhelming, you can filter it by an individual account, perhaps showing only Twitter messages and replies for your work account or only your BBMs. 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 is a gesture and control common on many of the stock apps. You then tap the content that you want or, for more control, you can dive into the settings and individually pop them on or off.

3. BlackBerry Keyboard

The virtual keyboard in BlackBerry 10 OS is good. It may well be the best stock keyboard of any mobile OS at the moment -- a good thing, because there's no way to replace it. It starts with a comfortable layout, which includes rows of generously sized keys separated by gray bars meant to evoke the chrome ones found on many a BlackBerry QWERTY handset in the past. This gives even meaty thumbs plenty of space.

blackberry 10
Image by Engadget
It's a four-row layout to begin, with no dedicated buttons for numbers or characters other than letters, comma, period and, of course, a space. But, to get to numbers and other special characters you just swipe downward, which kindly cycles through two pages of special characters. A swipe from right to left, meanwhile, deletes whatever word was just entered.

Finally, the most talked-about point here is the predictive nature of the thing. The keyboard snoops through your email and social history to get an idea of what phrases you commonly type and files those away.

4. Voice Recognition and Control

The BlackBerry 10 OS also offers full voice recognition -- handled via network, as on most mobile devices, meaning you'll need to stay actively connected if you want to take this for a spin. There's a dictation feature, accessed by holding down the period key. The voice recognition feature is said to be quite impressive.

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Image by Engadget
Then there's also the Voice Control feature, which allows you to give your phone some simple commands, much like Siri. Hold down the play/pause button on the phone and a female voice asks you what you'd like to do. Any attempt to get directions or navigation to a location or contact would be rebuffed, and the service is unfortunately unable to deliver answers to simple questions. It simply hands all those off to Bing.

5. Camera

The camera has a dedicated icon on the bottom of the main interface. The interface is simple, with a focus reticle in the center that changes to green and contracts slightly when focus is achieved. The typical ellipsis in the lower-right corner brings up a quick menu that lets you switch between front and rear cameras, toggle shooting modes, select from one of four predefined scenes, enable/disable the flash, and select between 16:9 and 4:3 images.

When it comes to the business of taking photos, there's no discrete shutter button here, either physical or virtual. You just tap anywhere on the screen to take the picture. To select a different focus point other than dead-center you have to manually drag the reticle around before snapping the picture, which is cumbersome.

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Image by Engadget
BlackBerry has also bundled in a feature called Time Shift that, when taking a shot of a group of people, actually takes a burst of photos and then lets you selectively choose the best frame for each individual in the photo. Once images are taken, you can review them and, should you like, open them up in a reasonably comprehensive editor to crop, rotate, color adjust -- or get more funky with a series of Instagram-like filters.

6. BlackBerry Protect

BlackBerry Protect gives BlackBerry 10 OS users an integrated way to find their missing BB handset. Enable the service on your device and you're enabling the means for it to phone home when lost. That's done via a BlackBerry-hosted website, which offers the ability to view your phone's current location, make it play a sound or make it display a message. You can also lock it remotely and, if things should go completely pear-shaped, remotely wipe it with the click of a button.

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Image by Engadget
7. BlackBerry World

BlackBerry World is the all-conquering portal for spending money on BlackBerry 10. Here you can get apps, music, and movies -- the vast majority of which are all available at a premium. Yes, there are plenty of free apps, but you'll find a disappointingly low ratio of free to paid apps compared to Google's Play Store and even Apple's App Store. And, being a new OS, there's a general shortage of apps overall.

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Image by Engadget
There are a lot of heavy-hitters, like Dropbox, Angry Birds Star Wars, Box, and Foursquare. But, there are also a lot of missing players, like Netflix and Hulu, media apps that many smartphone users on other platforms use daily. (Kindle isn't there, but it's coming, says Amazon.)

That shortage of apps does not extend to the multimedia aspects of BlackBerry World, thankfully. Plenty of premium music is on offer, though we found pricing here to be often higher than elsewhere. Unorthodox Jukebox from Bruno Mars is $11.99 here, or $1.49 per track, versus just $5.99 on the Amazon MP3 Store (where it's $0.99 per track). Likewise, it's $10.99 in iTunes ($1.29 per track). Similarly, Babel from Mumford & Sons is $12.99, compared to $9.99 on Amazon and $11.99 at iTunes.

Video content, thankfully, has more competitive pricing. Taken 2 is $4.99 to rent here ($4.98 on Amazon, $5.99 on iTunes) or $16.99 to buy ($12.99 on Amazon and $14.99 on iTunes), while an episode of Modern Family is $1.99 to buy here, which matches both Amazon and iTunes. But, it must be pointed out that this content can only be downloaded to up to five devices, an unfortunate and seemingly dated restriction.

8. Browser, BBM, Stock Apps, and Others


The browser built into BlackBerry 10 is quite good indeed, and we'll get what may be its hallmark out of the way early: it supports Flash. Yes, this is one mobile browser that's happy to serve up every annoying, flashing and bouncing banner ads it can find.

The browser is a fairly traditional experience, with a URL bar at the bottom doubling as a search field for Bing. A button to the left of that gives quick access to bookmarks and history, while the vertical ellipsis on the right pops up a context menu offering buttons for things like accessing settings and bookmarking the current page. It also allows access to the Reader mode, which strips out all the pictures and ads and gives you a single, lean look at the text on the page. Unfortunately, there's no way to save that view for later offline reading.


BBM lives on, and gets the very useful addition of video chat. That adds on to the voice chat feature that was included with BlackBerry 7. To start a voice or video chat, just go to the messaging interface with that person and tap the icon in the upper-right corner. Video chats are only possible with people also using BB10, but you can do a voice chat with folks on older versions.

Also new is a screen-sharing function, which could make mobile enterprise support a far easier thing. While in a video chat, users can opt to share what's currently on their own display, making collaboration or troubleshooting much easier -- even when you're just stuck trying to fill out a digital crossword puzzle.


The calculator app in BlackBerry 10 is much the same, offering the same playful color scheme. Punch away and your figures are tallied on a virtual paper tape, which can be virtually torn off and thrown into the virtual trash bin. There's also an integrated unit converter and a handy tip calculator, if you really want to make sure your cheap friends are doing their part.

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Image by Engadget

Compass is another simple but visually striking (and fun-to-use) app. This is just a floating compass that always points north (thanks to the integrated magnetometer), but it has a very clean, simple look that makes it a pleasant thing to look at and, as the compass disk is floating freely, it's interesting to turn the phone around and see that disk from the sides and even the bottom. Granted, not the most useful app here, but you might be more inclined to use this to find your way about than the default maps application.

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Image by Engadget

In an era when mapping and navigation are increasingly important pieces of a mobile platform's pie, the Maps app in BlackBerry 10 is functional at best. The features on offer here pale in comparison to even Apple's oft-derided option in iOS 6. You can search for POIs and look at a map to see where a given contact is located and then get navigation to that destination. There is no re-routing for traffic, no satellite overview, no POI displays, no gestures to look around the map while navigating and, should you ever lose your connection, it will result in a complete loss of functionality. The app only works when you're online, not even caching routes once you get going, so you'd best restrict your expeditions to areas with good signal coverage.

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Image by Engadget
BlackBerry 10 OS entering the smartphone OS race is indeed a breath of fresh air. As such, it has a lot of potential, software and hardware-wise. It would be a challenge for BlackBerry to compete with Android and iOS, but it has a big chance of getting its market share back from Windows Phone and the vacuum that Symbian and MeeGo have left. Kudos to BlackBerry for doing its best in getting more developer support and coming up with pretty innovative smartphone features. I hope we haven't seen the last of BlackBerry yet. Whether BlackBerry will make it or break it, it is all up to the consumers and its loyal fans.

For more information about the BlackBerry 10 OS, visit where I got most of these data.


Til then...

xoxo Nash


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