BlackBerry 10 Hands-on Preview

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Although two BlackBerry smartphones were announced today, their key feature, by far, is the BlackBerry 10 operating system. It’s a complete departure from previous versions, though strikingly similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook OS.

BlackBerry 10 does not support softkeys or buttons, and all navigation is swipe-based, enabling easy one-handed operation. Swipes are used to go to the home screen, navigate apps, change settings, and access the BlackBerry Hub, which contains all user notifications, including email, BBM, and Facebook activity.

BlackBerry 10BB10 has deep social media integration with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook all incorporated into contacts and BlackBerry Hub, and it’s something we’ll explore in a full review later. During our brief time with it however, it’s easy to see how this integration improves the contacts app, which is very robust and features Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, email and other contact info for each entry. What’s more, the new BlackBerry keyboard learns contact names, according to BlackBerry reps, so those will appear as suggestions when typing.

Yes, the on-screen keyboard has a nifty swipe-based erase and word-prediction feature, but its most impressive improvement is multi-language support. Users can set up to three languages, and BlackBerry 10 will recognize them on-the-fly as the user is typing.

At the demo I got today, BB10 flowed nicely, and was both quick and stable, no doubt thanks to QNX, which serves as the basis for BB10 and the PlayBook OS, as it excels at multitasking. We’ll see how well it handles a massive task load and power consumption too, when we have time to really test it out during the reviews process.

Is It Enough?

BlackBerry 10, and the two smartphones that are going to run it, the Z10 and Q10, make a solid trio at an extended glance, and it’s easy to believe that this is the best effort BlackBerry could muster to regain some of its lost market share. The real question is not whether the three are enough, but rather, will the market support another ecosystem?

Android and iOS dominate, and Windows Phone 8 with Microsoft’s mighty marketing muscle is experiencing only modest success. But BlackBerry has a very dedicated user base, and BlackBerry 10 may just be attractive enough to win back former BB users and disaffected iOS and Android users. We’ll see.

Be sure to read over our hands-on preview of the keyboard-enhanced BlackBerry Q10, as well as the one for the all-touchscreen BlackBerry Z10.



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