For years now, the BlackBerry OS has occupied something of a special state, almost feeling as if it were thrown down into a pit and locked into a bar of carbonite, preserved in stasis for future generations to see. Want to show your kids what using a smartphone was like in 2006? You just needed to find a Bold on display at the local electronics store and let your little ones gaze wide-eyed at a sea of menus and tiny buttons.
BB7, then, was a disappointment for many, feeling like a bare-minimum update to those versions that came before rather than the complete QNX-based retooling we’d all been waiting for. The PlayBook showed us what was possible with a clean-sheet approach to a BlackBerry OS, and we wanted that on a phone. Now, two years after the release of that tablet, here we have it. It’s BlackBerry 10. It’s a wholly new experience, very different even than the PlayBook, and in general it’s quite good. But is it good enough to thrive in a world dominated by iOS and Android
The input-free BlackBerry Z10 drives home the need to use gestures to interact with this new OS, because there’s a complete lack of buttons on the face — only the volume controls and a power / lock toggle on top remain. Even the touch-heavy9850 Torch made room for a suite of discrete inputs, but not here. So, it’ll be gestures, then, which means there’s a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, it’s a slight one.
So, it’ll be gestures, then, which means there’s a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, it’s a slight one.
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. This will be the gesture most familiar to PlayBook users, and is one of the few that survived. (Swiping from the left or right bezels to switch apps, for example, isn’t possible here.) 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, an action that feels a bit ornery compared to the fun of flinging an app that you no longer needed off the top of the PlayBook’s display.
From here you can swipe your way left or right. To the right lies a grid of icons, on the Z10 arranged in a 4 x 4 matrix of rectangular tiles, each holding an app icon and a name. Repositioning 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.
App icon and folder pages extend off to the right as more apps are installed and there’s no attempt at categorizing them, again unlike the PlayBook, which had pages for “Favorites” and “Media” apps. Widgets and other desktop-like controls are not supported here. Just icons. But, a bit of room was carved out to create a static area holding three special controls: a phone, a search glass and a camera.
Tap the phone and the dialer interface shows up. This is split into three sections, with the leftmost giving you a look at your previous incoming and outgoing calls. In the middle is a long list of contacts (sucked in from BBM, Facebook, Twitter and Google Contacts, among others) that is searchable and, in the right tab is a simple dial pad in case you’re one of the lucky few who can actually remember a phone number.