The company formerly known as Research In Motion unveiled its new BlackBerry 10 (BB10) mobile OS and touch-and-gesture-controlled Z10 smartphone this week, and the early-bird reviews are in. After years of hemorrhaging market share to Apple and Android device makers such as Samsung, BlackBerry desperately needs BB10 devices to get the company back into the smartphone game.
The overall impression is that BlackBerry has come out with a very strong handset, but most critics are reluctant to call it a surefire hit. For BlackBerry fans, the Z10 just may be the next-generation BlackBerry they’ve been waiting for. In the grander scheme of things, there are some agreed-upon drawbacks to the Z10: ho-hum camera performance, disappointing battery life, and a catalog of third-party apps that is missing some very popular titles.
We’ve posted our first hands-on impressions of the BlackBerry Z10, and we've also put together a chart that compares the phone’s hardware to its Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone competition. Right now, let’s delve into what some of the best-known tech critics are saying about the new phone and OS.
"Feels good in the hand"
There was near-universal support for the way it feels to hold the BlackBerry Z10. Most critics were impressed with the physical weight of the device, which clocks in at a not-too-light-or-too-heavy 4.85 ounces (0.30 pounds). The rear side of the Z10 was praised for its “dimpled, soft-touch material that I found myself habitually running a finger across,” as critic Joshua Topolsky wrote for The Verge.
Best software keyboard, bar none
Traditionally, one of the biggest strengths for previous BlackBerry devices have been their physical keyboards. According to critics, BlackBerry definitely doesn't disappoint with the Z10's software keyboard.
“The Z10 keyboard is the best and fastest out-of-the-box virtual keyboard I've used,” wrote technology critic and reputed Apple fan Walt Mossberg for The Wall Street Journal. “It was faster and more accurate than either the native keyboards on the iPhone or Android.”
The software keyboard in BlackBerry 10 still maintains the distinctive look of BlackBerry's hardware keyboards, complete with on-screen "frets" between each line of keys. While you type, word suggestions show up in these frets and you can add them to your message as you type by flicking your finger over them. Writing for The New York Times, David Pogue, another well-known Apple fan, called the BlackBerry 10’s predictive typing feature “Freaky and brilliant and very, very fast.”
Mixed praise for the BlackBerry Hub
In general, most BB10 critics liked the idea of the BlackBerry Hub, the system's universal inbox. Instead of having to switch between apps to view and reply to email, BlackBerry Messenger messages, and posts from social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook), BlackBerry Hub brings all those messages and updates into one place. From within the Hub, you can respond to messages, forward messages, flag messages, and take other actions without launching the appropriate app.
But several critics didn't like how you couldn't easily navigate from one open message to the next. Once you tap a message in the Hub to display it full-screen, you have to go back to the Hub's inbox to view to your next message. In the current Gmail app for Android, you can just swipe left or right to move from one open message to the next.
The display is great...
The Z10's 4.2-inch screen, which has a 1280-by-768 resolution and a pixel density of 356 ppi, was also lauded by critics. CrackBerry said the Z10's screen compared well to the iPhone 5 and outshined the Galaxy S3 and the Lumia 920 in terms of image display and readability. The Z10 also appears to be a very responsive phone when it comes to typing and gestures.
...but the gesture controls take practice
When using that touchscreen, prospective Z10 users should expect a learning curve when figuring out how to navigate BlackBerry 10. BB10 uses a two-step gesture to navigate away from a running app to the BlackBerry Hub. “In some cases, I found that common controls required too many steps,” wrote Mossberg.
The camera’s image quality is not so hot...
While previous BlackBerry devices have been known for their good keyboards, the brand has never been associated with grade-A cameras. If the early reviews are any indication, that will continue to be the case.
The BlackBerry Z10's 8-megapixel camera apparently leaves a lot to be desired. Most reviewers glossed over the camera, calling it good, fine, or some other pedestrian term. Based on some of the real-world results showing up online, the Z10 camera doesn't look that great.
Check out CrackBerry's comparison, lining up the Z10 against the Lumia 920, iPhone 5, and Galaxy S3. Based on CrackBerry's results, the Z10's results appear mediocre at best. Gizmodo also tested the Z10 camera in low-light situations and concluded that the Z10 camera had the “worst low-light performance we've seen in a long time.”
...but the camera software is neat
Critics may have a lukewarm reaction to the camera itself, but the camera software is getting good reviews, especially for the “Time Shift” feature. In “Time Shift” mode, the camera software starts snapping a few pictures before and after you press the shutter button. From there, you can manually choose between several expressions on the faces of people in the photo to create the perfect composite shot. The Times' Pogue called the feature “brilliant,” but the Verge's Topolsky wrote that he wasn't “entirely convinced it makes the camera on the Z10 any more useful than an iPhone or decent Android shooter.”
Battery life is not a strong suit
The battery life on the Z10 leaves a lot to be desired, the critics say. There were no formal tests done, but if you wake up with a fully-charged Z10, you can expect to have to recharge the phone towards the end of the day or the early evening.
RIM-turned-BlackBerry made sure to point out that BlackBerry World would offer around 70,000 third-party apps for BlackBerry 10 at launch. That's a healthy number of apps, with some big names in the mix: Skype, Evernote, Dropbox, Amazon Kindle, Rdio, Angry Birds, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Whatsapp. But there are also popular apps still missing, such as Instagram, Netflix, and Spotify.
As for the 70,000 titles that are already on BlackBerry World, Topolsky said he “felt like it was really something like 69,000 really mediocre (or just plain bad) applications.”
BBM has some nice additions
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has been beefed up with video calls and real-time screen-sharing. There wasn't much excitement over video calling across the board from first-wave reviewers other than to note that the feature exists. Screen sharing got a bit more attention, as it allows remote viewers to look at documents, presentations, and photos while their chat partners narrate the show.
This story, "BlackBerry Z10 and the BB10 OS: The early reviews are in (video)" was originally published by TechHive.