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Blackberry 10: Unboxing, First Impressions & Technical Review (Video)

Client Computing | Posted on January 29, 2013 by Stephen Perciballi

The new BlackBerry 10 has arrived!

Because Softchoice is part of the BlackBerry Technical Preview Program, we had exclusive access to the technology (handset and server software) before its official release, and I was able to spend a couple of weeks using the device. During that time, I had a chance to form some pretty strong impressions about the new smartphone.

Read on for my thoughts, as well as a bit of a technical deep-dive into the latest offering from Research In Motion. Watch my exclusive unboxing and hands-on review, and then read on for a bit of a deep dive into technical details that business users in particular will care about.

First Impressions

Right away, I was impressed with the unit I used (Model number STL100-3, OS version 10.0.9.1673). The hardware is stylish and sturdy, and the OS is smooth. Unfortunately, I was the only one who could really appreciate it.

Outside of the internal pilot group (we were all under strict NDA) we were not permitted to physically show the device to anyone in the office – which as you can imagine is quite difficult when you’re trying to use a smartphone to do work.

The SIM wouldn’t work either on the initial build, (so no phone or SMS) likely to make sure that we aren’t walking around the street with it.  This was resolved with an update a week ago.

Hardware

Like most Blackberry devices, this one is slick and feels luxurious. The back panel that removes to cover the battery and SIM, is covered in a thin high quality rubber with small divots, allowing for great grip, but not so much that it gets stuck in your pocket. The sides of the device are made of a dense high quality plastic. The face of the device looks great. Approximately a 1 inch strip of high quality plastic across the top and bottom of the face also houses the speaker at the top and microphone at the bottom. The rest of the face is all glass, from side to side, making it appear very modern and giving the impression that it was engineered to maximize its physical dimensions. The face of the device appears similar to the iPhone 5, with the feel of the Galaxy Nexus (since we love to compare). You’ll understand when you hold one.

Battery

After the first day it seemed like the battery was going to perform like most other modern super phones, but on a full charge, with only the wifi antenna on and synchronizing and using Exchange, Gmail, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I’m getting around 15 hours ta charge. Obviously, there is some heavy fiddling around navigating all of the new settings and features. This is something most people are getting used to.

Operating System

The application tray is again similar to IOS and Android in the sense that you get screens full of icons and you can switch through screens by swiping right and left. When you start an application, you  push up from the bottom of the screen, creating a live widget of the application on a dedicated home screen reserved just for these types of widgets.  This is also the way you stop a program from running.  What is unique about this is that you don’t need a dedicated widget from the application maker. Every application can turn into a widget simply by swiping up from the bottom while in the app.

Unlocking the screen adds to the feeling of quality.  A new feature in the OS called Peek is present in the lock screen. The iPhone is basic and functional with a slide to the right. Android is more robust with multi-direction swiping that can take you directly to the app of your choice.

Unlocking the BB 10 screen starts with a fading of the lock screen as you slide your finger.  The fading is actually being pushed by your finger so as you slide there is more unlocked screen displayed where your finger is.  And as you are unlocking you get to Peek at the last screen you were on.  Pretty cool.  While you are within an application you can push up from the bottom of the screen and over to the right to Peek into your Hub (covered below) to see if you have any new messages of any kind.

Network Connectivity

The phone is super fast. I lit it up on Telus and connect at 4GLTE.  Here is a pic of the speed test I ran.  Enough said.

Applications

The screen all the way to the left is the Hub. Many platforms have a similar application. You can aggregate messages from supported accounts in a single screen.  There are two main differentiators with Hub:

  1. The first is that getting to hub doesn’t mean finding an application. It is integrated into the OS. So you can get to it by pushing up from the bottom and over to the right.  There is also a little symbol at the bottom of the screen beside the screen number indicator you can tap to get in there.
  2. The second is that it does research for you. When you go into a meeting invite, it will look at who is invited and provide you with recent emails, social media interactions, and even articles regarding them or their company. This is great when going from one meeting to another and you need to reframe yourself for the person you’re about to meet. Great for business users.

Keyboard/Text Entry

They keyboard is quite interesting.  Most keyboards provide predictive text.  So far this one has been quite accurate. Rather than having a row of potential words at the top of the keyboard as you type them out, this one allows you to swipe in the direction of the word you want.  It takes a bit of getting used to of course. But it does feel smoother to swipe up in a direction than to stop typing on the keyboard entirely and then pick a word from the top, then move back down to the keyboard.

Camera 

The camera app is pretty unique. While focusing on someone to take a picture, it actually seems to film them for a few seconds. Once you are in the photo you can actually move around in time to make sure you’ve got them with their eyes open and they are smiling. When there are multiple people in the shot it will even make sure to line up both individuals at a time, when they both have the right expression. From there you can easily create slide shows and add music, all with a couple of swipes.

Apps 

During the setup process it asks for Evernote credentials because it is (or will be) heavily integrated into the device. Evernote is integrated directly into to native notes taking app called Reminder. Similar integrations like this are available for cloud based storage solutions like Box that are viewable through the native file manager.

Outside of that, the apps are still currently lacking. During the setup process it asks for Evernote credentials because it will be heavily integrated into the device.  This beta device doesn’t have an app for it and it doesn’t exist yet in the app store. At the time of launch it is anticipated that approximately 70,000 applications will be available without having 50 different versions of solitaire or fart sound boards. This ecosystem and the way they integrate with other ecosystems will be key to the adoption of these devices. With the social media functionality of Hub and the camera, this phone and OS could definitely be seen as attractive to younger users and business users too.

Security

Balance is a feature that allows administrators to segregate work and personal apps and data.  This functionality is not a bolt on, and is embedded into the operating system at the kernel level.  This could be the home run solution for so many of the organizations I’ve spoken with about BYOD.

Administrators can create a Work profile on the devices from the management station.  From there they can push down all of the typical configurations we’ve come to love about BES like email, calendar, contacts, passwords, wifi profiles, certificates, intranet browser, etc.  The administrator can even push and delete data files on the devices. From there the user can easily switch between their Work profile and Personal profile by swiping down from the middle of any home screen.

The two options appear and they select where they want to be.  The theme seems to change so it is clear that you are in a different environment.  Then the applications you have available to you also change depending on what is installed and what the administrator allows in the Work profile.  We anticipate doing a dedicated post just to this topic.

Provisioning

New to BB10 is ActiveSync support. This allows BYOD users in particular to connect to their corporate email server. Provided by ActiveSync, it is very basic provisioning of password enforcement, email, calendar, and contacts, and full device wipe.

Most organizations are looking for more than this on all platforms. We deployed BES 10 too, which can manage BlackBerry 10, Android, and Apple devices. This allows for much greater control over the device and many more configurations that the administrator can push to the device, so that they don’t have to walk users through configuring them.

Final Thoughts

BlackBerry 10 is going to make waves both in the consumer and enterprise markets. Consumers will like the usability and built in apps. Enterprises will like the manageability and security. The third party apps will definitely contribute to the level of success that BlackBerry 10 has.

Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you are interested in discussing the features of the device or have any questions. Leave a comment below and I’ll respond as soon as I can!

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