CrackBerry's review of BlackBerry 10, now that is has been updated to version 10.2.1, which brings the ability to install Android apps directly and more!
When BlackBerry 10 was first introduced on the BlackBerry Z10, there were some noticeable things missing that just should have been there from the start. For longtime BlackBerry users moving from BlackBerry OS 7 to BlackBerry 10, some big functions seem to have been kicked to the curb — including (but not limited to) bedside mode, custom notifications for contacts, level 1 notifications, and deleting messages server-side. Updates to BlackBerry 10 added in many features that were mysteriously missing from the start, but there was still a ways to go to get things where they needed to be and to have a solid mobile OS.
The first major update was with OS 10.1. This brought along many tweaks and fixes and included updates for native apps like Twitter and Facebook as well as more technical additions like simple password, gestures for messages and better e-mail synchronization options. It was a great update and arrived just six months after the launch of BB10, but it still left users wanting more.
Then came OS 10.2 — the most feature-packed update yet. This one came with all kinds of new features and was arguably what BB10 should have been when it launched nine months earlier. OS 10.2 offered up new features like lock screen previews, instant preview and reply, priority hub, camera updates, the Android Jelly Bean runtime, multiple alarms within the clock app and much, much more. (See our master change log for the full list of updates).
OS 10.2 was widely adopted by many carriers across the globe, but some decided to skip 10.2 in favor of OS 10.2.1 — an update that would bring along even more new features. Starting on January 28th, 2014 BlackBerry began their global rollout of OS 10.2.1 to carriers across the globe.
So let's dive into OS 10.2.1, which we'll just refer to as BlackBerry 10 here, and see all of the greatness that makes it tick.
Getting started with BlackBerry 10 is easy. You can start your setup without a data connection. Previously you needed to have an active cellular or Wi-Fi connection in order to start the setup process on a new BlackBerry 10 device, but now you can actually use a simplified setup process that will allow you to start using the device even if no data connection is present. You can return to finish the setup when you have data, and after 5 days you will be required to establish a data connection in order to complete the setup.
If you haven’t used OS 10.2.1 before (or BlackBerry 10 in general) you’ll also find an on-device tutorial that will walk you through the basics of navigating the OS and using gestures.
The BlackBerry Hub can be accessed by swiping up and to the right from anywhere in the OS, or from the BlackBerry Hub icon. The Hub is no doubt the main component of BlackBerry 10, so having two options for quick access isn’t a bad thing. Most people will swipe their way into the Hub, but others may prefer to have an icon instead, or use both.
Apps are laid out as icons across the home screen. There are also permanent icons for phone, camera and search along the bottom of the screen. These cannot be changed, however you can move around any apps icons as you’d like. To move an icon, simply tap and hold until it begins to “jump”, then move it where you'd like. You can also delete apps from this action by tapping the X on the jumping icon. Note that some built-in apps cannot be deleted.
Navigating around BlackBerry 10 is done through a series of gestures — swipe up & to the right to get the Hub, right and left to scroll through your home screens. Within an application you can swipe up from the bottom bezel to close the app or down from the top to access the settings and other items.
Apps are minimized to Active Frames — smaller windows that display relevant information for the app. These Active Frames are organized by the most recently used and can be fully closed by tapping on the X. A small set of apps are called headless apps and will still continue to function in the background, even when closed. Other apps that are not headless will need to be left open in an Active Frame in order to work in the background.
In the Hub you’ll find all of your accounts and inboxes — e-mail, SMS, phone calls, Twitter, Facebook etc. There is also a box for notifications (alerts or third-party apps) and the Priority Inbox, making it easy to find the most important messages in your inbox.
The Priority Hub learns what conversations are important to you and displays them accordingly with a highlight bar in the Hub. You can change the settings for the Priority Hub to perform for your needs. Tapping and holding a message will allow you to add it to the Priority Hub as well and there is also a view for only Priority Hub messages. The Priority Hub also learns as you flag or unflag messages and will tweak itself over time to only offer what you classify as priority e-mails.
With the pinch filter gesture in the BlackBerry Hub, you can choose to instantly filter messages to either Priority Hub, Unread, Flagged, Drafts, Meeting Invites, Sent Messages or Level 1 alerts. Pinch to activate the filter, pinch again to return to the main Hub view. This is a very cool addition that adds to the speed of getting things done within the OS. Rather than jumping through menus or tapping to get what you need, you can simply pinch to view the specified filter in less than a second. This setting for this can be changed within the Displays and Actions menu.
While viewing e-mails, there is an overlay on messages with arrows for next and previous message, allowing you to easily navigate through rather than having to close each one, go back the Hub and open the next. The overlay can also be disabled from the Displays and Actions if it gets in your way, but we found it a very welcome feature that probably should have been there before. Alternatively, you can jump to next and previous messages by swiping to the right from within a message, then upwards or downwards before releasing your finger. You can also now pinch to zoom on text if an e-mail message has text that is too small to read. The text will reformat to the entire width of your display so you can easily read the message.
Want to quickly find attachments? You can do that easily by tapping the attachment icon in the Hub, then you’ll see a listing of all the attachments from your messages in one place. From here you can use the share icon to share them as needed. Sharing is much improved as well. The OS will learn to which services you share most and will suggest them first when you use the share menu.
One of the big things that was missed from BB7 was choosing to delete messages on the handheld only, the mail server or both. In OS 10.2.1 this option makes a return and can be toggled within the Displays and Actions menu in the Hub setting. Also added to the Hub has quick access to the dial pad from the Calls view within the BlackBerry Hub.
When composing an e-mail there is also an icon to the right of the subject field for instantly adding attachments. Support for distribution lists has also been added.
TIP: You can still swipe 5 times from the top right corner of the display to reset the BlackBerry Hub.
Most major options are tucked away on the left side, which is viewable by tapping an icon in the bottom-left. More advanced options and settings are tucked behind the top pane, which is accessed by swiping down from the top. A contextual menu is often available by long-pressing on an item.
When composing messages (such as an SMS or e-mail) the action bar for the app floats on top of the keyboard making it easier to attach files or access formatting options. In landscape mode the button labels will be hidden, however tapping and holding on a button will display the label. Whatever actions don’t show up here are viewable by tapping the three dots in the bottom-right, usually called the overflow menu.
Within BlackBerry 10 there are various settings to help better the user experience. Under the settings menu you will find options for everything ranging from account setup to password to display. Here you can dive into customizing your device through various settings. All of your fonts, screen brightness, network connections, language options and notifications are found here.
The customizable Quick Settings menu is perhaps the biggest asset. The Quick Settings menu can be accessed by swiping down from the top of the home screen. This menu can be changed up to display only the settings you need within the menu, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, Alarm, Brightness, Flashlight and others. You can add and remove items as needed and even change up the order in which they appear on the list. Also included in Quick Settings is a native Data Monitor utility that shows battery, CPU, memory and storage for the device. Users on BES10 can also switch between Personal and Work spaces directly from the Quick Settings Menu.
This is a huge step for BlackBerry 10 and one of the things that we would have loved to see from the start. The dropdown menu isn’t set to a specific set of items, rather you can totally personalize it to make it your own. You only need to show the items that you actually use and can simply hide the rest. Plus, you can reorder them as you see fit.
Search is available from the home screen, and lets you quickly access everything you need to. On QWERTY devices like the Q10 and Q5, you can just start typing and it will initiate a search. Categories of search includes all sorts of on-device data, like contacts, calendar, and e-mail, as well as web searches and app-enabled searches. There are customization options available, so you can pick and choose which search engines are offered in the universal search.
One of the more recent additions is Quick Actions, which allow users to launch directly into a task by typing. For example, you could type “tweet”, followed by a status update, and an option will pop up to send the tweet out right away.
The lock screen on BlackBerry 10 provides relevant information at a glance, including the time, alarms, battery life, network signal and also notification previews. You can view a shortened version of notifications for e-mail, SMS, BBM, Facebook, Twitter and other apps without having to unlock the device. To view the full notification in the app, simply tap the alert to open it.
To wake up the device when locked, swipe from the bottom bezel to the top in one motion. This will bring the device to the home screen (if not using a password) or to the unlock screen where you can enter your password. There is also a camera shortcut on the lock screen. Tapping and holding the icon will bring you directly to the camera app so you can snap a quick photo without having to fully unlock your device.
The BlackBerry 10 keyboard comes in two varieties — a virtual keyboard on the BlackBerry Z10 & Z30 and also a physical keyboard on the BlackBerry Q10 & Q5. The physical keyboard is pretty straightforward and will be familiar to most users. You can change a few things like he word prediction settings, but beyond that there isn’t much to fiddle with.
The virtual keyboard however allows for a great deal of customization in order to get it to work better for you. You can change options such as word prediction, keypress popup and even set it to use multiple languages at once. You can choose to use word prediction and have popups in a column or “on-letter” view. As you type, the OS will predict what word you are typing and offer suggestions, which you can then simply swipe up to add to your current text. To delete a word, you can simply swipe from right to left on the keyboard, repeat to remove more words.
Both keyboards learn as you type, adjusting to your style and common words. Little tweaks like adding period after a double space and easy access to special characters are nice touches as well.
The copy/paste menu appears when tapping & holding on a word. Holding longer selects the entire sentence, while holding for an extended period selects an entire paragraph. You can adjust the selection by dragging the blue anchor points to the start and end of the selection. On QWERTY devices you can perform a “running shift” by holding the shift key and dragging the circle to your end point.
The copy/paste menu is a bit clunky at times, but after the few few times you use it, it really does get better. The issues we had were mostly with trying to select text, but once you get the hang of it you should be good to go.
The phone app features a call screen where you can swipe left to answer or right to ignore a call. As you swipe to one side or the other, the banner color changes to green or red respectively. There are also icons for when you can’t answer a call that let you send a BBM, SMS or e-mail to the current caller. There are preset messages you can send and also the option for a personalized message. The OS determines the best way to reply to the caller (e-mail, SMS or BBM).
BlackBerry 10 features BlackBerry Natural Sound which makes BBM Voice and Video chats more natural and realistic. BlackBerry claims that voice calls over BBM using Natural Sound are even more clear than HD voice, and we’re tempted to agree. Also supported is “wideband” audio, known as HD voice. The carrier-dependent feature requires both you and the other party to have handsets enabled for HD voice. An icon will display on the call screen when HD voice is active.
As always, the contacts app lets users link together information across multiple accounts, including Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Contacts can be marked as favorites for quick access, or grouped together for added convenience.
The calendar on BlackBerry 10 provides you information at a glance in agenda, daily, weekly or monthly views. It supports multiple calendars so you can easily view what you need, when you need it. You can change up some settings for default reminder times, calendar colors, meeting duration and more. Tapping into an event will show you all relevant info including times, dates, location, attendees and reminders.
Calendar alerts also give you an "I will be late option" to send a e-mail to meeting attendees with a notice that you're running late.
One great feature of BlackBerry 10 is “Instant Previews” for notifications. These popup messages allow you to receive a short toast message for certain notifications (namely SMS, e-mail, Twitter and BBM) when new items arrive. A small popup banner will display on the top of the screen and you can either tap to read the message or tap the X to dismiss. These popups will show no matter where you are in the OS, so you can always view them. There are a few settings you can tweak up within the notifications to enable or disable specific alerts, or choosing to have Instant Previews for only priority contacts.
BBM and SMS messages also feature instant reply, allowing you to respond to a message right from the popup notification. Tap the arrow, then enter your message and send without ever leaving the app you’re in.
Calendar notifications also allow you to tell your contacts if you’re running late. When an alert pops up, simply tap the “I Will Be Late” icon, drag the slider to indicate how late you’ll be, then send an e-mail to attendees.
The BlackBerry 10 browser is one of the best on any mobile platform. It’s a straightforward experience when it comes down to it, but it does have a few options that can be tweaked to better the browsing experience.
The BB10 browser has a Reader mode for easy reading of web pages, incognito mode for private browsing and also supports Flash. In addition to saving bookmarks to the browser, you can also add them as home screen icons for easy access. There is also an option to save web pages for later viewing, even if offline or without a data connection.
When using landscape mode the address bar with automatically hide when you scroll down a page and reappear when you scroll back up. This works the same in Reader mode now as well. You can also tap and hold the back button to view your current history.
A fun little trick comes by way of the 'back' arrow key at the bottom or the address bar. If you hold down on or swipe upward on it quickly, it will offer you a quick look at your browser history allowing you to re-visit any of them should wish.
BBM has long been one of BlackBerry’s top apps, and that’s true more now than ever before since BBM has gone cross platform to Android and iOS, and soon to Windows Phone as well. Now BlackBerry users can chat with contacts who may not necessarily be on a BlackBerry device. You’ll find the usual set of tools here: invite contacts, edit your profile, groups and settings.
BBM instant previews can be enabled to popup an alert when a new BBM message arrives. You can reply to the message directly from the popup, or tap the X to dismiss it.
BBM groups are hugely productive. Users can be a part of multiple conversations within a group, share pictures which are displayed in a shared bucket with a commenting system. Shared calendars integrate directly with the on-device app, and a task list lets group members, add, assign, and mark items as done.
BBM Channels adds to the mix with a whole new social network for BBM users, allowing you to create a channel to share information to subscribers with the immediacy of BBM. There are tons of brands on BBM Channels to follow and the service is growing bigger and bigger each day. Of course, you don’t have to be a celebrity to make a channel. Lots of everyday users are making channels to share themed content and engage in the comment section. Channel curators can open up hours for live BBM chat with subscribers, too.
BBM recently added the ability to share location through the Glympse network. This provides designated BBM buddies a limited amount of time during which they can track your specific GPS location. File transfers between users can now include Dropbox in the equation for easy access on a PC or elsewhere.
The built-in media player allows you to play back media stored on the device or SD card. Media (music and videos) can now be saved to a microSD card from BlackBerry World. BlackBerry 10.2.1 also supports exFAT with a MicroSDXC card.
FM radio is now available for the BlackBerry Z30, Q10 and Q5. You can listen to local FM stations without a network connection and it does not require a data plan, though you will need a wired headset to act as the antenna.
On the BlackBerry 10 camera you’ll find the usual set of goodies - you can take photos & video, use HDR mode, enable/disable the flash and change camera modes. Perhaps one of the coolest features is the Time Shift mode which allows you to take photos and then shift them — meaning you can scroll forward or back a few seconds to find that perfect moment in your photo.
After snapping a photo you can drag open the thumbnail right in the camera app to view it. You also have the option to share photos from here. Story Maker is a built-in app that will let you add photos and videos and automatically create a short movie complete with music and titles. On top of all that, you can also edit photos using the built-in photo editor. It allows for adjusting colors, cropping images, adding frames and more. Plus, if video is more your thing it also works as a video editor as well allowing you to adjust video length, colors and more.
The BlackBerry security features have been collectively dubbed BlackBerry Safeguard. There are basic password options for locking your device such as a simple numeric PIN password as well as Picture Password — a combination of a number placed to a specific point on an image. BlackBerry Safeguard also allows you to remotely backup data on your device, you can also use the web portal to locate, lock or wipe a device if lost or stolen.
There are various native apps built into the BlackBerry 10 OS. These include calendar, contacts, phone, BBM, weather, clock, file manager, browser and more. Each app has various settings that can be changed so things can be made to your liking. For example, within the clock app you can now set multiple alarms. Bedside mode allows you to dim the clock display and disable alerts, though you can choose to allow phone calls and notifications to chime when in Bedside mode. The weather app now allows you to see the local weather, tapping the weather icon will give you more details.
Find out more on these apps in our BlackBerry 10 help guides.
BlackBerry 10 has one feature that is perhaps the best of them all: the ability to install Android applications OTA (over-the-air) directly from the device. Previously you could run Android apps (APK files) by sideloading them on the device. This required the use of a computer and a bit of know-how to get them installed however. Now, you can easily load up these APK files directly on the device, be it in the browser, file manager, e-mail, Dropbox, etc., without having to use a computer or a sideloading process.
There are also a few on-device third-party app stores that make finding compatible Android applications quick and easy.
We’ve laid out quite a few tutorials on loading up APK files OTA on your device as well, so check them out here:
BlackBerry Link is the desktop PC client for BB10, and it handles all of the usual stuff, like backing up device data and syncing multimedia. Files can be synchronized over the local Wi-Fi network, eliminating the need to plug in over USB. One of the fancier features of BlackBerry Link is that it includes the ability to offer remote file access to your device. Designate your shared folders, turn on permissions on the device, and you’ve got your own personal little cloud. Link doesn’t even have to be running in order for this to work.
BlackBerry 10 has really grown up since its launch last year. The Hub has had some fine-tuning with priority markers and pinch-to-filter. The app ecosystem has grown a bunch, not only thanks to plenty of native app development, but also being able to directly tap parts of the Android ecosystem. BBM going cross-platform ensures you’re always going to be in touch with the important people in your life.
At this point, BlackBerry 10 is far and above what it was when it initially launched and is now a joy to use. Is there room for improvement? Always. But BlackBerry is continually improving the OS and it's now more robust then ever. Be sure to take a look at our changelog to see specific details about what’s new and drop a comment below telling us about your favorite BlackBerry 10 feature!
This article is by Adam Zeis with contributions from Simon Sage and Bla1ze.