MediaFile

BlackBerry Z10: The empire strikes back

February 8, 2013

There’s a lot to like about BlackBerry’s new Z10 smartphone, which makes its serious shortcomings all the more disappointing.

BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion, has clearly paid very close attention to how other smartphone makers have thrived over the past few years as it floundered. It has spent two long years preparing for this bet-the-farm moment — and is so desperate for the new traction that could come from a fresh start that it pre-announced a phone it cannot sell in the United States until March.

First, the good news: In look and feel this is a mature smartphone. It is both businesslike and fun to use and easy to imagine as the choice for road warriors and consumers alike. It is sleek and light; it fills the hand properly and can convincingly be operated with one hand most of the time. At 4.2 inches the screen is larger than the iPhone 5 but smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S III. Resolution is greater than on both: 1,280 x 768, matching HTC’s Windows 8X and One X.

 

It sports 2GB vs. the 1 GB of RAM of its major competitors, and a fairly-standard 1.5 GHz dual-core processor. The difference shows: the Z10 is unhaltingly fast when launching and switching between apps and doing just about everything else.

But while BlackBerry has learned from the success of others and from its own mistakes — this is not the company’s first multi-touch phone — the Z10 has two major shortcomings, one hardware and one software.

The hardware problem has been well documented: battery life is bad. But my experience was decidedly mixed. On one day, with no use whatsoever, my review unit died in fewer than 12 hours (connected to 4G, not a hotspot). During an average hour or so commute of steady use another day — also using 4G — considerably more than 50% of the juice was consumed. Other days of average use, almost entirely in WiFi hotspots, I only had to top-off the charge from time to time, which is typical for all smartphones.

On the upside, the battery can be swapped out on the Z10 (unlike the iPhone). I can imagine road warriors carrying a couple of spares of this wafer-thin $33 battery. It’s not a bad compromise considering that cases which also provide back-up battery power generally cost about $80, and add weight and design compromises.

The Z10’s more serious flaw is in BlackBerry’s new approach to desktop management, message wrangling and notifications. It took Apple years to get it nearly right (and the iPhone still isn’t perfect). But this is an area where BlackBerry curiously chose not to adopt some pretty obvious best practices. It’s a big swing and a miss.

BlackBerry’s conceit is to rely on a “Hub” where all messages reside — phone calls, Twitter interactions, email, texts, Facebook messages, etc. On paper this isn’t a bad idea. It can be argued that a message is a message whether it arrives via a data network, a social network or in a person-to-person phone call. It’s how the iPhone and Android handles it, each its own way.

The problem is that the Hub is hidden. It can be as many as three gestures away*. When you are in app you must close that app to access the Hub. If you are deep inside “Settings” you have to back out screen by screen before you can even close that app out. If you (for example) left a draft reply to some message in the Hub and went away, you even have to clear that before reaching the Hub again. On competing platforms the notification screen is always available, one swipe away.

It gets worse. Unlike the iPhone and Android devices there is no passive indicator to preview the content or source of a message. On the iPhone, for instance, a banner pops up showing you it’s an email, or a CNN alert or a Tweet. The Z10 it makes a noise and flashes a light telling you you have a message — but it doesn’t give you a clue what it might be. Sounds are somewhat configurable, so you can know when you get an email, but without a hint about what the email’s about you still have to drop everything and check the Hub. This only creates the worst-case scenario. Most of us get a steady stream of messages. It’s no service to be alerted when you get a message, unless you also have enough information to decide to ignore it or drill down. I found myself navigating to the Hub like Pavlov’s Dog and finding, as is the case with most messages, that the latest was of a very low priority. It quickly became useless.

The miscalculation on workflow extends even to the basic arrangement of apps. There is no “tray” to deposit those you use most, available on any of the expandable number of app screens. And the main screen is completely wasted as an archive to the last eight apps you’ve opened. In other words, this prime real estate is used neither for dynamic communications updates nor the apps to which you want easiest access. It’s reserved for where you’ve been, not where you’re going, and that is hard to overlook.

I’m a fairly heavy Siri user, primarily for dictation rather than semantic search or as a personal assistant. The Z10′s voice feature is usable, but very crude and not very intuitive. If you tell it “note to self” it stops taking dictation and asks what you want to do next when you’ve paused, making it impractical as a real dictation tool. It should be smart enough to open “notepad,” and allow you to dictate as much as you want.

For information, the voice UI was a complete failure. In a silent room, inches away from the mic, I asked the simplest question as Superstorm Nemo approached: “What is the weather like?” The Z10 could not comprehend the last word, which it interpreted as “white” or “for” in eight attempts. Siri got it right away and responded: “Some bad weather coming up through Wednesday… down to 7 degrees and snowing,” and displayed a seven-day forecast graphic.

In another important area, the Z10 shines: the onsceen keyboard is first-rate. It devotes more space to the keys rather than the space around them, which makes fat-finger typing much more forgiving. It shows numbers by default — you don’t have to toggle between alpha-numeric states. And it employs a novel predictive algorithm which reveals possible words over various keys as you type even one letter. If you see the word you intend to type after a couple of letters you can then “flick” the word up to the page.

BlackBerry says it also learns your writing patterns, altering suggested words as it “remembers”  combinations you’ve already used. Efficacy is difficult to assess except over a long time, though my Z10 seemed spookily self-aware on one occasion: It suggested the very-obscure word “Chappaqua” from “cha” the first time I typed it. Was that a location-informed choice because I happened to be in Chappaqua at the time?

“Suggested words” isn’t unique to Blackberry — though the implementation is lovely. In practice it’s difficult to imagine this being a big boon to the power typist, and it doesn’t seem nearly as efficient as gesture typing, an option on some Android devices. In situations where speed isn’t of the essence but hitting as few keys as possible is — outside in the cold, using only one’s hand — this can come in quite handy.

I have a handful of smaller complaints:

  • It takes three clicks to delete an email, including a ridiculous confirmation;
  • The browser is not recognized as a mobile browser, so you are served up full-sized web pages
  • Tethering is possible only under Bluetooth, not WiFi — but when you turn on tethering it doesn’t automatically turn on Bluetooth, or even tell you it’s off;
  • When you download a new app, it can’t be launched right from the download page. You have to find it on an app screen.
  • No provision for creating a favorites list of most called contacts
  • It’s NFC-enabled, but there’s no e-wallet yet


But these aren’t deal breakers, and, again, can be addressed in future software updates.

This is a tough call for me: Under the right circumstances I could add a Z10 to my go bag. The form factor and performance and keyboard are all winners. The desktop UI and power consumption are not. There are still lots of apps I depend on that aren’t in Blackberry World, and all must be re-configured for this new OS. Most of this is software related (even energy usage could be somewhat addressed in the operating system) and since there is still more than a month before US sales begin, there’s time to refine the OS. Apps will follow only if this new new platform shows signs of life.

As a means of getting the BlackBerry back on track, the Z10 may be too little too late. That would be a shame: the company, which sparked the mobile revolution, is finally onto something again.

*Correction: The original article mentioned that the Hub was “as many as four swipes away”

Comments
27 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“The problem is that the Hub is hidden. It can be as many as four swipes away. When you are in app you must close that app to access the Hub.”
This is completely incorrect. The Hub can be reached ANYWHERE you are no matter how DEEP you are in any app by a swipe up and to the right. You can peak at the Hub this way or commit to it. This is the beauty of the Hub and its major selling point. When you peak at the Hub, you can see what your email,text,etc is about..You should correct this to your users because the points you mentioned afterwards assumes this non-existent flaw. Thanks

Posted by JackieParker | Report as abusive
 

Your article is rife with misconceptions and errors about the Z10 and BB10.

1. Your complaint about there is no “tray” to deposit those you use most, available on any of the expandable number of app screens.
Answer: Yes, you can. There is functionality to create folders and put any number of your icons/apps into these folders. You can rename these folders and arrange them as you please on the devices “desktop”. Just touch an icon and keep your finger on it, it will then allow you to move and rearrange and drop them into another icon to create folders.

2. And the main screen is completely wasted as an archive to the last eight apps you’ve opened.
Answer: This is completely false. I don’t know what Z10 you are using, but the main screen is static to the icons/apps/folders that you place there.

3. The problem is that the Hub is hidden. It can be as many as four swipes away. When you are in app you must close that app to access the Hub. If you are deep inside “Settings” you have to back out screen by screen before you can even close that app out.
Answer: COMPLETELY inaccurate. If you are ANYWHERE in an app, no matter how deep you are into the settings. Just simply swipe up (from the bottom bezel) and to the right and you see the HUB. That is one swipe (one and a half if you really want to get particular).

These are just a few points of inaccuracy and errors in your article. Please keep it honest and accurate.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive
 

Good article and review but a few things I noticed.

You can always get to the hub by moving your finger up on the bottom of the screen and to the right (don’t let go). This enables you to peek at the hub from any screen or app. So when a message comes in you can just peek to see what it is.

You can turn off delete confirmation message notifications in the hub settings and I only had to use 2 clicks to delete not 3.

Posted by shubsens | Report as abusive
 

“The problem is that the Hub is hidden. It can be as many as four swipes away.” This is incorrect; you only need one swipe. From any app, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and then to right in one motion.

Posted by PeteL | Report as abusive
 

This supposed “unbiased” review is not quiet what it is supposed to be. Since when iPhone has become a standard candle for all smartphones to be compared to? iPhone is not perfect but almost? I smell something unusual here.

Posted by zzzh | Report as abusive
 

Hi John, have you actually used this phone? The Hub is always one swipe away (from anywhere, even the last screen). Swipe up and right in just one move.

Deleting an email is always 3 taps away (on any platform). You have to select the email, then tap on the delete icon and then confirm (because emails are important).

The fact that the browser is not recognised as a mobile one is normal. Website owners have to configure their servers so that you get redirected to the mobile site. This requires them to add the new browser’s user agent string to a list. It will happen gradually and it’s not BlackBerry’s fault.

Tethering can be done over WiFi as well, but in that case it’s called a Mobile Hotspot.

When downloading an app YOU CAN launch it straight from the BlackBerry World application. Swipe down from the top and you will see a downloads folder. From there you will be able to launch the app.

In the Contacts app YOU DO have a Favourites list. Swipe right from the left, it’s the second menu item.

Again, have you actually touched this device?

Posted by TheoRadu | Report as abusive
 

I disagree with your comment on tethering by wifi, as a similar function is available called “hotspot” which is effectively the same thing. It is the nicest phone I have ever used, the only major issue is the shortage of major apps, hopefully this will be solved in the next few months. The hub does take some getting used to, but it is really not that bad in my opinion. Battery life is similar to other Smart phones, but not as good as older Blackberry’s, I expect the upcoming Q10 model with a keypad and smaller screen will have better battery life if that is important to a user.

Posted by awa656 | Report as abusive
 

The comparative graphic is almost-completely unreadable in the article, or after enlarging.

Posted by JimLosAltos | Report as abusive
 

@TheoRadu
1) On the iPhone you can delete in one click. There’s a trash can on every mail.
2) So we agree on mobile browser. It doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. I said “isn’t recognized”
3) That’s not launching an app from the BlackBerry World. That’s switching to downloads.
4) Contacts isn’t the phone app. But you are right, from contacts you can make a favorite. My mistake.

Posted by johncabell | Report as abusive
 

@zzzh An “unbiased” review is an oxymoron. These are all my opinions, as a critic.

Posted by johncabell | Report as abusive
 

@PeteL @shubsens @JackieParker Seeing items in the Hub and navigating to the Hub are different. The first is of extremely limited use — as I say, we get messages all the time. The real benefit is being able to something about it. Like I said the big problem is the lack of verbose notifications — a reason you needn’t have to go to the Hub as often. But it isn’t true that you can access the Hub with one swipe from anywhere, even if you can see it.

Posted by johncabell | Report as abusive
 

@Anonymous Folders and icons on one of what could be many screens aren’t static shortcuts. There is no tray which is ‘always’ there.

Posted by johncabell | Report as abusive
 

It’s unbelievable how many inaccuracies exist in this article. Did the author spend more time dreaming up this article than he did actually testing the device? Shame!!!

Posted by sk8er_tor | Report as abusive
 

Since everyone else corrected you on the major ones, ill handle the little ones:

1. It takes three clicks to delete an email, including a ridiculous confirmation;
- everything takes 2 clicks(3 with a confirmation) to delete. The “Ridiculous” confirmation can also be disabled in the settings. Try looking. 
2. The browser is not recognized as a mobile browser, so you are served up full-sized web pages
- depends on the coding of the website. Proper coding will get the option. Everyone complains that you can get full enriched web content on a smartphone, when you finally get it, you complain. Next time try reader mode. 
3. Tethering is possible only under Bluetooth, not WiFi — but when you turn on tethering it doesn’t automatically turn on Bluetooth, or even tell you it’s off;
- tethering is available over WiFi. Try mobile hotspot. 
4. When you download a new app, it can’t be launched right from the download page. You have to find it on an app screen.
ok you got me there
5. No provision for creating a favorites list of most called contacts
- well couldn’t be farther from the truth. Every contact in the address book has a star(fave) option. In the left menu is a database called “Favourites”. Also within the phone app itself. Across the top, what’s that? Favourites.
as for another complaint you had about not knowing what your notification is, have you not seen any of the million demonstrations on “Peak”? Swipe up and hold (from any screen or app at anytime)

Posted by powerwheelz | Report as abusive
 

Since everyone else corrected you on the major ones, ill handle the little ones:

1. It takes three clicks to delete an email, including a ridiculous confirmation;
- everything takes 2 clicks(3 with a confirmation) to delete. The “Ridiculous” confirmation can also be disabled in the settings. Try looking.
2. The browser is not recognized as a mobile browser, so you are served up full-sized web pages
- depends on the coding of the website. Proper coding will get the option. Everyone complains that you can get full enriched web content on a smartphone, when you finally get it, you complain. Next time try reader mode.
3. Tethering is possible only under Bluetooth, not WiFi — but when you turn on tethering it doesn’t automatically turn on Bluetooth, or even tell you it’s off;
- tethering is available over WiFi. Try mobile hotspot.
4. When you download a new app, it can’t be launched right from the download page. You have to find it on an app screen.
ok you got me there
5. No provision for creating a favorites list of most called contacts
- well couldn’t be farther from the truth. Every contact in the address book has a star(fave) option. In the left menu is a database called “Favourites”. Also within the phone app itself. Across the top, what’s that? Favourites.

as for another complaint you had about not knowing what your notification is, have you not seen any of the million demonstrations on “Peak”? Swipe up and hold (from any screen or app at anytime)

Posted by powerwheelz | Report as abusive
 

This story has a lot of serious errors. First of all, the entire operating system is designed around the concept that the Hub is always only one gesture away from anything you are doing. You only seem to slide up from the bottom bezel and to the right to “peek” at the Hub, and if it isn’t important, slide back to the left and continue what you were doing.

The “main screen” is not an archive of the last apps you used. It shows the apps that are currently running. As a multitasking OS, you can always be running several apps at once.

A slide to the left from that screen will take you to your first page of app icons (or folders of app icons) which ought to be the ones you use most. You are free to rearrange these any way you want.

To delete a message from the message list, put your finger on it, slide over to the right and, still without lifting your finger, slide all the way to the delete icon at the bottom and release. Sounds more complicated than it is and it’s only one gesture. To delete a message you are in, just double tap in the lower right corner. If you turn off the “delete message confirmation” (Settings -> Display and Actions), that all you have to do.

From the contacts list, tap and hold to get the context menu with the “Add to Favourites” function. If you are in the detail page of a contact, there is a little star to the right of the profile picture that allows you to add as a favourite.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive
 

John, your article sucks.

Posted from my Blackberry Z10

Posted by areddy831 | Report as abusive
 

Looking back at the relatively negative and condescending media coverage of blackberry 10 I think the comments here reflect an authentic disconnect between real world users and analysts whose job it is to report in an informative and unbiased manner. users of bb10 are beginning to call out and expose on shoddy and incorrect information as users are slowly gaining experience with on platform.

Posted by JackieParker | Report as abusive
 

It would appear that the utilization of new ‘gesture commands’ created somewhat of a feature block for the reviewer.

As far as I know, none of the android phones use vertical swipes for any action other than maybe unlock. Additionally, most iPhone users don’t realize a vertical swipe will open up a summary page with weather, stocks, messages, and most frequently used apps.

The Blackberry Z10 uses not only the standard left/right swipes for navigation, along with vertical navigation, but adds to the mix what I refer to as ‘turn navication’. IE: You move up and to the right (right turn), or up and to the left with your swipe (left turn) to access previews in some cases … and to altogether jump to somethings by completing the motion (the HUB), fully bypassing any other menus/apps that would normally need to be scrolled through by a back button or gesture.

This is a solid additional feature in my opinion, but will ofcourse have a learning curve associated with it since the two current major players (iPhone and Samsung) don’t utilize it.

Posted by Maurice2u | Report as abusive
 

The Hub errors have already been mentioned in the commenbts. What about the typing experience with the intelligent learning of the User? And the word suggestion? The OS it uses actually surrounds us all in every day life. Blackberry has become innovative once again. Some of the others shoud try it. And you should try putting a little more effort into your journalism. Not all your material has to come from crooked Marketing based blogs.

Posted by 456Acer | Report as abusive
 

I’ve read a lot of customer reviews and everybody loves it. i’m reading the same thing here in the comment section and happy to know there are still so many supporters. I can’t wait to get my Z10.

Posted by sonbuster | Report as abusive
 

This review is disappointingly ill-informed. Like everyone else mentioned – you’ve basically picked up a brand new flagship phone, checked to see if your iOS-ingrained UI patterns still applied, and then written it off in the cases where BlackBerry actually innovated and deviated from the massive roster of iPhone clones we have to sift through these days.

Don’t dismiss your readers as blackberry zealots either – I typed this in Notes on my iPhone. I had to type it in Notes because the browser crashed twice while I tried to enter my comments directly there.

It’s just sad to see how much all these so-called “tech reviews” depend on pre-conceived notions to make long-winded assessments.

Perhaps you should spend a few extra days with a brand new device or actually look at the manual before writing it off because of your own lack of knowledge.

PS: the Telus store showed me the BlackBerry Hub and homescreen gestures within 30 seconds of showing me the Z10. Most consumers buy their phones at phone stores, rather than being sent free ones in the mail.

By the way – this site is virtually unusable on iPhone. It hangs after about 20 or 30 seconds and I have to quit and re-launch the browser.

Posted by developit | Report as abusive
 

Wow, did you actually use the phone? Some things are baked into this OS that the others will have to use sloppy patch code to duplicate. One of those things is the Hub. Anytime, from any app, you can look at it with one swipe up and respond if you swipe right. And the response is from within the Hub, not opening another app. Then swipe back and there’s your app, still running. Not check notification, close app your in, open response app, respond, close response app, reopen original app. It’s genius and will make this the most brutally efficient communication device in history. It will save seconds per communication and for active users that will be hundreds of times per day. BB underestimated the popularity of fart apps…iOS and Android underestimated this OS. Believe me they now know they are actually BEHIND in several key areas (Hub, Balance, keyboard, browser, etc)

Posted by winter_hat | Report as abusive
 

I’ve had my Z10 for a week now, having got tired of my iPhone 4G and not wishing to move up to the iPhone 5 which offered little real change. The Z10 is fantastic, feels great, great call quality, access to apps is superb and the messgaing hub works a treat – the author of this article is either deliberately misleading (i.e lying) or has not spent any meaningful amount of time (2 hours would do it) with the device prior to writing this article.

I won’t be back if this is the best that Reuters can offer.

Posted by Scalaris | Report as abusive
 

@johncabell,

1. On the iPhone you have to swipe from the right to expose the delete button first and then tap it. That’s 2 actions. As said before, the confirmation modal can be disabled on the Z10 from the Hub settings, which means the number of taps/actions will be the same as on an iPhone.

2. If it’s not a problem with the device/OS then why put it in the review? Any new browser will have the same problem for the first few months until website owners update their settings.

3. From the downloads page within the BlackBerry World app YOU CAN launch the app you’ve just installed. Trust me, I do this all the time.

4. You also have 3 slots available in the phone app for contacts you call frequently. If you admitted you are wrong, why haven’t you updated the review?

Also, The Hub IS one swipe away from any app. Everyone here said the same thing and you don’t even want to spend 10 seconds to try it. I’ll explain this again: when in an app (or a page on the homescreen) all you have to do is swipe up and to the right (like an upside down and rotated L) in one movement to open the hub. TRY IT!

Posted by TheoRadu | Report as abusive
 

Until a couple weeks ago I was still using my trusty old Samsung flip phone of five years. I had, from time to time, played around with the smartphones (iphone, galaxy…etc) of my friends, but never felt compelled to buy one myself. But…I finally decided to get with the times and picked up the Z10. So far it’s been great.

What I don’t understand is how anyone has difficulty figuring out the OS. Sure, my swiping was a little exaggerated at first, and I’m still learning some new tricks… but I figured out the basics in the store on the day I bought it. It’s not hard at all… and counting clicks vs swipes seems like a rather silly attempt to quantify the phone’s attributes.

Posted by ACross | Report as abusive
 

Either you just don’t care and hence a pitiful example of a journalist, or you are intentianally trying to mislead people now. You have been shown time and time again that your comment on the HUB is incorrect, yet the only correction to your article is the change from 4 swipes to 3 swipes, when in fact it is one gesture. Seeing the HUB and navigating to the HUB are the exact same thing! You can peek at the HUB to see if the message is of any use, if it is then you continue the gesture to open the HUB entirely and respond. If the message is of no consequence, you simply return to your current task. As other users have noted, you are simply hardwired to “your” way of doing things, and didn’t bother to try and use the system for more than 30 minutes to hunt out all the things you could say that you didn’t like.

Posted by phenz | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/