RIM has reinvented itself as BlackBerry, and this morning I got some very brief hands-on time with a BlackBerry Z10. Here are my initial thoughts on BlackBerry's new platform and the first BB10 smartphone.
Actually, my very first thought was "Why isn't Lifehacker editor Gus doing this? He's the admitted BlackBerry fan in the office." Then I remembered he's busy doing excellent work in Canberra at Linux.conf.au right now for the World Of Servers project.
I've long had a soft spot for BlackBerry's excellent keyboards and email optimisation, but a BlackBerry has never been my go-to smartphone of choice, just so you know. At the moment, the BlackBerry 10 platform exists only on two smartphones, and the Z10 was the only one present at the Sydney launch, so that's what my observations are based upon.
What I Like
Basic operation.. The Z10 I briefly tested — which was a preproduction sample — was smooth and fast in basic operation. I couldn't load my own email details onto it to see how I'd adapt to it on a day to day basis, but presuming that the new codebase hasn't killed BlackBerry's ability to make messages appear like magic, that should work fine. The browser is swift, the gestures are sensible, and the build quality appears good.
BlackBerry Hub. The BlackBerry Hub is a clever take on notification panels. Certainly, everyone has their own version of these — some more obviously inspired than others — but the ease with which I could do a right hand hook swipe and quickly see what was going on socially and work-wise is inspired. I'm still not sure about whether you can add new apps to the Hub — and couldn't quite get a clear answer on that — but it's promising stuff.
What I Dislike
The keyboard. Not so much the predictive side of it, which uses a clever upwards flick motion, so that if you're typing, say "excellent", by the time you've typed "ex", it'll show "excellent" above the c, and perhaps "extra" above the t key, but the general responsiveness and shape of the keyboard itself. That may be a learning curve issue, however. I hope so, because BlackBerry's previous touch keyboards have only ever been ordinary at best.
The enterprise focus. I get that enterprise is BlackBerry's bread and butter, but when you're stating that you'd like to have your split of the market at 55 per cent enterprise and 45 per cent consumer, you need to have hooks into the consumer market. Searching the BlackBerry apps, there's no Viber. No Spotify. BlackBerry is promising Angry Birds, but everyone has Angry Birds. There's less of a consumer "hook" to this phone, unless I've missed something.
The March launch date. I know, I know, testing takes time. Still, BlackBerry is coming from behind in the consumer space with the Z10, and that means capturing the public's imagination as quickly as possible. BlackBerry's Matthew Ball even stated that the launch was today so that it was away from the noise of other launch periods. The Z10 feels (from admittedly limited testing) like a fine phone, but by the time we see it in Australia, Mobile World Congress will have come and gone. It's launching in the UK tomorrow, but we've got at least a month (or more) for it to land here — by which time it's undeniable that other promising phones will have emerged. It will be on Telstra and Optus, but we haven't seen plan details.