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BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha Early Hands-on Expert Review

There’s never been a harder time for RIM to reboot BlackBerry and make BlackBerry 10 the essential OS for work and play.

Android Jelly Bean and Apple iOS 6 have evolved far beyond their debut editions – RIM is starting from scratch, without a physical keyboard – but can it work?

BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha: Interface

RIM believes the BlackBerry 10 OS is so strong that it hasn’t actually revealed any key specifications of the new BlackBerry smartphones that will use the OS in early 2013.

We played with BB 10 alongside Roger Enright, Regional Leader, EMEA product management for Research in Motion. He claims BB10 is “designed to present the best of the mobile internet”.

The touchscreen only interface ditches the permanent notification bar of past models such as the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and includes a ‘peek and flow’ system, basically an Android style system of flipping between ‘active frames’ which house apps and a notification sidebar.

It’s slick and divided into Work and Personal modes, so your work emails are secure and you don’t have to see work updates or docs when you’re on holiday if you don’t want to.

The ‘peek and flow’ system is designed to be used one handed – unified messages (BB Messenger, email and FB) all appear as a side menu when you swipe to the right from the customisable home screen which allows eight frames for apps, games or browser pages. RIM confirmed that BB10 is Flash compatible but needed to switch on a developer mode to access the functionality.

“we believe the messages you get, you want to see them all together – other smartphones offer a ‘in and out’ experience which is why we don’t have a back button”

BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha: Keyboard

The virtual keyboard is large, ditching numbers on the first of three frames for letters only. The auto recognition system allows you to ‘throw’ predicted words up into your message and suggestions are placed on the keyboard keys, rather than in the message window.

RIM claims the process is used to minimise the distance that your eye and fingers travel while typing. During our demonstration, typing ‘Roger’ was followed by a suggestion of ‘Federer’. RIM claim that all suggestions will be based upon the words you use on emails, BBM and apps like Facebook.

The text editor instantly switches between languages for word suggestions too – a clever touch, especially for business use.

RIM suggested that other keyboards would be available to be created by developers using the BlackBerry 10 API system but noted that it wouldn’t replace the standard keyboard in the core OS functions.

BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha: Apps

BlackBerry App World now looks like Google Play, divided between apps, music and games in the typical paid and free columns. During our demo, we saw a Facebook screen but the app itself wasn’t launched. The built-in browser was fast and offers a simple reading system for complex pages, converting pages into large text and images like iOS.

The challenge is for RIM to populate BlackBerry App World with apps and games – a challenge still facing Windows Phone platforms. We’ll see more app announcements closer to the ‘early 2013’ BB10 release date promised by RIM as the first selection of smartphones arrive. Currently, just 5000 developers have access to BB10.

BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha : Camera

Without revealing the camera spec, RIM demonstrated the ability to take a snap with the ability to zoom in and ‘rewind’ part of the shot to remove a blinking person.

The Dev Alpha unit focused quickly and snapped at speed but the general image suffered in low light – the overall performance looked like a traditional 5 megapixel camera and lens on mid-range smartphones, perhaps because the actual screen resolution seems impressive.

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Verdict

The new BlackBerry 10 OS is a novel blend of the simpler elements of Windows Phone with a nod to Android. Future BlackBerry smartphones will offer a neat interface but it may seem a bit restrictive for Android fans.

For business and cleverly dividing ‘Work and Personal’ modes, BB10 will win over BlackBerry fans but iOS 6 and Android options now offer evolving support for many apps and a smaller ecosystem of apps and developer inventions has seen Windows Phone flounder.

Likely to be a premium work device for the travelling corporate high-flyer, we can see the appeal of BB10 if the keyboard gains general acceptance among fans of physical keyboards but, at the same time, we can see the appeal of rivals including larger, business focused smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

The main problem is that BB10 is already late to the touchscreen party and the OS is not finished, making a January 2013 launch seem like a very difficult achievement.

BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha release date: Spring 2013

BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha Early Hands-on Expert Review

 

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