Read CrackBerry's Full Review and In-Depth Walk Through of BlackBerry 6!
In the smartphone market where competition and consumer demands are ever-increasing and tech journalists and Wall Street are becoming less forgiving, BlackBerry 6 is RIM's response to those who have said they needs to fix their browser and get a more modern operating system. Finally, after months of teasing us with sneak peeks and previews, BlackBerry 6 is hitting the hands of consumers, debuting on the BlackBerry Torch 9800. BlackBerry 6 ushers in a number of new features, subtle tweaks, behind the scenes performance improvements, and a revamped user interface - all aimed at making the BlackBerry experience more approachable, engaging and fun.
Research in Motion set the expectations high when they decided to officially "brand" their device software - prior to this it typically has been known by more geeky nomenclature such as OS 5.0. So does BlackBerry 6 live up to the hype? Is it enough to make existing BlackBerry owners get hooked on BlackBerry all over again and provide the consumer appeal needed for RIM to continue to hold their own in the smartphone wars? Keep reading for a full look at what's new in BlackBerry 6 and what it means to you.
Table of Contents
Housekeeping: It's a BIG renovation, but it's not a new operating system.
To make sure we're all on the same page here, we need to be clear up front - BlackBerry 6 isn't an all new operating system but rather an evolutionary upgrade in a long line of upgrades to the BlackBerry device software that has been donning BlackBerry handhelds for a decade. In the five years I've been a BlackBerry user I've now seen the operating system progress from version 4.0 to 4.1 to 4.2 to 4.21 to 4.22 to 4.3 to 4.5 to 4.6 to 4.7 to the 5.0 device software currently running on most in-market BlackBerry Smartphones. So whether it was labeled as OS 5.2 or BlackBerry 6, what we're discussing still represents the latest progression of the legacy BlackBerry platform. It's not like when Palm introduced their new webOS platform last year, completely severing ties with their legacy Palm OS and effectively starting at version 1 again.
For people who prefer the style with which BlackBerry Smartphones get things done, BlackBerry 6 is the best BlackBerry operating system to date by far
Framing BlackBerry 6 in this light makes it sound like RIM just tossed a fresh coat of paint and a new set of shingles on an aging house, an impression reinforced by a quick look at the OS. But you would be wrong to think that's all RIM did. With BlackBerry 6 RIM really dug deep into the BlackBerry framework and did some serious renovations. It's more like they repaired a few cracks in the foundation and reinforced it for more strength, put in steel beams where there used to be wood, swapped out all of the glass for energy efficient windows, built a new sun room and patio and then once all that was finished they re-did the kitchen and bathrooms.
Should this matter to you? It depends who you are. Some people would love a brand new house in the suburbs while others would kill for an old Victorian style manor in the country. Others still would prefer a condo downtown, regardless of whether it's new or old, as long as they can afford the payments. At the end of the day, what really matters is that your phone is able to do the things you want it to do in a manner that suits your style. And for people who prefer the style with which BlackBerry Smartphones get things done, BlackBerry 6 is the best BlackBerry operating system to date by far!
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What's New in BlackBerry 6
It was made clear to us that RIM put a lot of time and effort into the development of BlackBerry 6. A ton of consumer research was conducted and hundreds of decisions were made as to what needed to be added, changed or kept the same. RIM's software development team had three key design principles in mind while working on BlackBerry 6:
- make it look fresh, but familiar
- make it easy to use, but be incredibly powerful
- make it fun and approachable
You don't have to spend much time on a BlackBerry 6 device to realize RIM succeeded in these design goals, starting right from the time you turn the device on (which by the way has a much faster bootup time). But if you're reading this article I'll assume you don't have BlackBerry 6 yet, so keep reading and we'll walk through all that is new!
New BlackBerry 6 Setup Wizard
BlackBerry 6 better engages users to learn and personalize their device
After booting up a BlackBerry 6 device for the first time you'll automatically be whisked into the Setup Wizard which has undergone a major overhaul. On the BlackBerry Torch, clicking on the Continue button from the initial Welcome to BlackBerry screen takes you into a brief video tutorial that shows you how to navigate the homescreen and use gestures.
From there, the main Setup screen has been partitioned into three sections: Setup, Personalization and Help & Tutorials. The Setup section should ensure new BlackBerry users are ready to rock and roll on their new phone as soon as they hit the device homescreen, and I hope the Personalization section means we'll see less BlackBerry owners rocking the default ringtones and wallpapers (BlackBerry 6 includes a whole bunch of new ringtones and alert sounds to boot!). If you ever get stuck, the Help & Tutorials section offers a number of How Tos, Tips & Tricks and Video Tutorials to get you up to speed. If you're still stuck, don't fret. Just hit the web browser and go to CrackBerry.com. We've always got your back.. err.. thumbs.
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New Homescreen Experience
While an improved setup experience is welcome, the first BIG BlackBerry 6 change you'll notice that really impacts the everyday use of the phone is the new homescreen. While the changes are subtle at first glance (it still looks like a BlackBerry) there are quite a few things going on here other than the new coat of paint on the icons (which do look pretty sweet in my opinion). In addition to the application shortcuts, the BlackBerry 6 homescreen experience also features the following tappable/selectable areas as illustrated in the screen capture above:
a) Navigation Bar
b) Notifications Preview
c) Manage Connections Shortcut
d) Universal Search
e) Sound Profiles Shortcut
Let's walk through the BlackBerry 6 homescreen changes in detail.
Navigation Bar / Shortcut Filtering
left: Navigation Bar dragged to top (open icon try); right: Favorites shows user-favorited shortcuts
Sliding your finger left or right on the new Navigation Bar allows you to view your homescreen icons in five different views: All, Favorites, Media, Downloads and Frequent. The five views are in an infinite loop, so you can continuously scroll through them. The icon tray can be fully opened by tapping the Navigation Bar or dragging it up to the top. The Navigation Bar can also be pulled down to the bottom (hiding all shortcuts) if you prefer to see more wallpaper, or it can be partially opened as you desire. Double tapping the menu key (BlackBerry button left of the trackpad) will also open the full icon tray on any given view.
BlackBerry 6 gives off the impression that the operating system before you is a lot bigger than the physical piece of glass you're looking at.
This concept of having multiple views definitely adds complexity over the standard (boring) Precision theme of OS 5 where you basically have just a straight dump of icons, but it's good complexity for the design team to have added. First, it makes BlackBerry 6 give off the impression that the operating system before you is a lot bigger than the physical piece of glass you're looking at. That's a key sign of a modern mobile operating system. Second, it exposes more of your BlackBerry's apps to you. A lot of current BlackBerry owners, myself included on occasion, only use their device for a fraction of what it's capable of because so much of the good stuff is hidden in folders by default (such as the media apps). BlackBerry 6 is constantly reminding you that your BlackBerry can do so much more than email, make phone calls and BBM by putting it in your face. Third, in addition to having application shortcuts or BBM contacts/groups on your homescreen, BlackBerry 6 allows you to create shortcuts for webpages and contacts.
As always on BlackBerry, Folders can be created on the homescreen and shortcuts can be moved to folders, different views or hidden alltogether. By default (and as you would expect) all application shortcuts are viewable from the All view and any installed applications will appear in Downloads. The Media view is home to apps such as Music, Videos, Pictures and the new-to-BlackBerry 6 Podcasts and YouTube apps (more on them later). Any homescreen shortcut can be marked as a Favorite, which will then appear on the Favorites view.
New Quick Access Points
Manage Connections (left) and Notifications Preview (right) are easily accessed from homescreen
New access points have been added to the BlackBerry 6 homescreen that allow you to quickly manage connections and preview newly received notifications.
Tapping/selecting the upper area of the homescreen (where the date, time, signal strength, etc. are displayed) drops down the Manage Connections screen. From the Manage Connections screen you can setup and turn on/off your radio, WiFi and Bluetooth. An alarm clock preview and shortcut to the Clock app have also been added.
The notifications section on the homescreen has now become an access point as well, which when selected drops down a preview of newly received messages/notifications and upcoming calendar appointments. Tapping the notifications bar will hide the preview, or you can choose to jump straight to a message by selecting it.
As was the case in the 5.0 software, selecting the speaker icon from the homescreen launches the Profile window, allowing you to choose a different active sound profile.
Though these simple access point additions to the homescreen may not seem all that flashy, they actually do add a lot to the user experience on the device. Once you have them, you'll wonder how you lived without them on 5.0. Another thing I like about the re-vamped homescreen is that it sets a tone for the rest of the device experience. For example, the scrolling between views -- where you can see the leading text left and right at the top of a view to indicate there is more to see -- is carried throughout BlackBerry 6. It's in the new Application Management screens, the new Social Feeds app and App World 2.0. The top access point also is a hat tip that this is sometimes the case within other apps, such as BlackBerry Messenger where selecting your name at the top of the main BBM app opens My Profile.
Universal Search lets you search for anything and everything - including device options!
Perhaps the most valuable homescreen improvement made to BlackBerry 6 is the addition of Universal Search. It really has fundamentally changed the way I use my BlackBerry. Universal search makes it easy to find content that resides on the device such as contacts, messages, music, pictures, appointments, operating system options, etc. as well as content you want to bring back to your BlackBerry such as search results from various sources. Web results come from Google by default, but changing the default search engine within the web browser will change it in the Universal Search as well. Search Youtube is installed by default too. RIM has opened up the Universal Search API to third party developers to take advantage of. Expect to see a Search CrackBerry app soon! Going to Options > Device > Search allows you to control what applications provide search results, so you can disable any search sources you do not want to see.
Perhaps the most valuable homescreen improvement made to BlackBerry 6 is the addition of Universal Search. It really has fundamentally changed the way I use my BlackBerry.
To activate Universal Search, you can either select the magnifying glass icon from the homescreen or simply start typing on the keyboard (you can disable this setting if you would rather launch apps from the keyboard). On devices where you have a full physical keyboard, using Universal Search can become really addicting. On the BlackBerry Torch 9800, I no longer hunt and peck for icons when I want to do stuff - I just slide out the keyboard and start typing. The fact that system settings are included makes the device much easier to use as well. Want to change your trackpad sensitivity? Just start typing trackpad. You'll see the "Options" results which when clicked will display "Trackpad Sensitivity". No longer do you have to think about where those settings are located [note: only the main options from the actual Options screen have been indexed - currently RIM chose to not index the options from within apps such as the Email Options or Phone Options]. Again, this is one of those features that once you begin using you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. "Just Start Typing" is my new mantra.
Beyond Universal Search from the homescreen, the notion of search is reinforced throughout BlackBerry 6. Within the email app, you can now launch a simple Message List search by tapping the magnifying glass icon. Within the web browser, search is integrated into the main URL field. As always, the media apps are search-friendly as well. BlackBerry 6 is all about Search.
What the new homescreen doesn't have - widgets
While the new BlackBerry 6 homescreen experience is much improved, it still primarily serves the purpose of launching apps (similar to the iPhone screen). To view info, you need to first open an app. A lot of users have been hoping to see a broader range of homescreen widgets come to BlackBerry, like those offered on some other mobile platforms. [ note: I'm referring to widgets here in the proper sense of the term - a mini-app that sits on the surface desktop/homescreen and displays info and can run alongside other widgets. ]. The reason I like the widget concept is that it helps you get more info out of your phone, without ever having to open an app (ie. run a weather widget, stock widget, headlines widget, etc.). My hunch is that if it was easy to do this on the existing BlackBerry platform, RIM would have done it, so for now it'll have to go on the wishlist for BlackBerry 7.
What about third party themes?
Good news and bad news here. The good news is theme developers will be able to develop third party themes for BlackBerry 6. The bad news is they won't be able to exercise quite the same level of creativity over their designs. The official word I received from RIM was: "The development of custom Themes will be supported on BlackBerry 6 however, the breadth of customization of the Home screen experience will be limited due to the integration of new functionality, including the status UI, expanded notifications, application tray and integrated search." My take on this is that theme developers will be able to change up the icons, wallpapers and color scheme through the operating system as much as they like, but this homescreen theme experience is pretty much set in stone. We'll find out exactly how creative theme developers can get once the updated Theme Builder is made available.
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A Refined and Enhanced User Interface
Beyond the homescreen experience, RIM really went through the operating system and made a ton of tweaks that overall deliver a really enhanced user experience. I know that sounds a bit like marketing speak, but it's kind of actually true in the case of BlackBerry 6. No one change on its own is that overwhelmingly crazy, but if you pick up your BlackBerry running OS 5.0 after using 6.0, it makes version 5.0 feel ancient.
left: tap and hold gesture produces a contextual pop-up menu
right: new application switcher screen makes multitasking on BlackBerry more intuitive
In addition to the new coat of paint throughout BB6, the experience is more fluid and modern feeling thanks to smooth transitions between apps and screens. On touch devices, in addition to the standard BlackBerry menu (you know, the one that pops up on the left side of the screen that contains every option you can possibly think of) enacted by clicking the physical menu key, new contextual pop-up menus exist throughout the OS. When you touch and hold down on the display, the pop-up menu displays the most popular options. The pop-up menu always display a link to the full menu too, so if you get in the habit of using the pop-ups you can still easily get to the full menu.
When you touch and hold down on the display, the pop-up menu displays the most popular options.
You can multitask as you did in OS 5 by holding down the menu button for an extra moment which launches the Application Switcher, but the Application Switcher has received a new look to make it more clear. Instead of a horizontal ribbon of apps loaded on top of the fully visible background, the open apps are now fore-grounded with the background muted out.
Anybody who has ever used a BlackBerry before knows that the operating system is packed with options, arguably too many options. Clicking on the Options wrench in the past has always brought up a scary white screen with plain text links in alphabetical order displaying links like About and Advanced Options at the top, which when pressed bring up more screens and options that the average person doesn't care about (and frankly are a little intimidating). On BlackBerry 6 the Options have been reorganized and made a lot more friendly (there are icons now!) and should be more intuitive to the average BlackBerry user. Of course for existing owners there is now some re-learning to do, but the changes here are most welcome.
Unlike Apple who places all native app settings (and even most 3rd party app settings more that matter) within one main settings section, RIM decided to leave app options (apps like email, web browser, phone and calendar) within each individual app. I personally sort of like the Apple approach of putting all settings for the phone in one place, but RIM's consumer research and testing showed users prefer to see the options within the apps themselves, so the location of these options were left unchanged in BlackBerry 6.
left: revamped Device options are more intuitive;
right: SMS and MMS become Text and add grouping
Another simplification made in BlackBerry 6 was to scrap the SMS and MMS terms and treat them as one and the same. BlackBerry 6 now refers to text messaging as Text. New in the text app, you can now Group Conversations. It's a little like BlackBerry Messenger Groups but for all your non-BlackBerry friends. In addition to sharing pictures, video, and audio via text, you can also share your location, which uses either the GPS or Cell Tower to display a map of where you are, which you can pan and zoom and send as a picture to your contacts. Pretty handy!
Connecting your BlackBerry to a computer is also a friendlier process in BlackBerry 6. Instead of the slightly scary "Do you want to turn on Mass Storage Mode?" pop-up in OS 5.0, there's a new pop-up that tells you your BlackBerry device is plugged in and allows you to choose if you want to use the USB Drive, Sync Media or Charge Only. Bluetooth has been enhanced so you can now select to pair a new receiving device during the sending flow, and the user doesn't have to put their device into Receive mode for already paired/trusted devices. WiFi setup has also been simplified by automatically scanning for networks upon entering the app.
Core apps like email and calendar received some subtle BlackBerry 6 enhancements as well. The BIS email setup has been simplified, and in addition to the already-mentioned Enhanced Message List Search the messages app also has enhanced message forwarding which allows you to forward a messages to other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. You can also manage your mail folders more easily - a search box is now presented after you choose View Folder from the menu. The Calendar application also received a modest BB6 overhaul, with updates to the look and feel of Day View, Agenda View, Event Details, Month View and Week View, and there is of course support for the contextual pop-up menus which come in pretty handy within the Calendar. Perhaps the best subtle update to the calendar application is the homescreen icon, which now actually shows you the correct date!
left: New inbox search makes it easier to find emails
right: Homescreen Calendar shortcut now displays correct date!
One enhancement I would have liked to see in BlackBerry 6 that didn't come to fruition is a reduction and simplification in all of the legal warnings and application privileges crap you get bombarded with as you use the device and install apps. BlackBerry 6 does such a good job of treating the end user as a consumer that it's a little alarming and off-putting when you get these non-friendly and non-human sounding agreements and messages to have to deal with.
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The New BlackBerry Web Browser
left: WebKit renders webpages more accurately; right: BlackBerry browser now with tabs!
left: Simplified browser options; right: Add webpages to homescreen and RSS
Long story short, the BlackBerry browser no longer sucks.
- Enhanced Web Standards Support - the browser achieves an ACID 3 compliance score of 100 (http://acid3.acidtests.org/) and includes support for CSS3 and HTML5.
- Tabbed Browsing - simply tap the New Tab icon in the top right corner of the browser and you are prompted open another web page. With multiple pages open you can tap the same button to toggle between pages
- Add Webpage Shortcuts to the Homescreen - When you're on a webpage you want to create a homescreen shortcut for, you can find the Add to Home Screen option by tapping the Globe icon
- Bookmarks / Subscribe to RSS Feed - bookmarks can easily be added under the Globe icon. Also under the Globe icon is an option to subscribe to the RSS Feed, which adds it to the new BlackBerry 6 Social Feeds app (more on that below).
- Pinch Zoom / Text Auto Zoom - you can now use the pinch gesture (on touchscreens) to zoom in one pages. The browser also features an auto zoom mode. Double tapping on a block of text zooms in and re-flows the text for easy reading, eliminating the need to pan
- Updated Start Page - the web browser start page has been also been cleaned up. Instead of separate fields for Search/URL they are now combined into one.
- Updated Browser Options - the browser options have been simplified to a single page. You can now set a homepage of your choosing, set the default search client and manage content, privacy and security settings. The Clear Browsing Data section is at the bottom of options page, where you can choose to clear out passwords, history, cookies, cache and pushed content.
- Enhanced URL Sharing - when on a webpage, the Send Page Address option can be accessed from the menu, allowing page URLs to now be shared via the Social Feeds app, Facebook and Twitter, in addition to email, text message, PIN, group message or messenger contact.
- Automatic Browser Transport Selection - the browser now automatically selects the optimal transport mode based on the data connections available (no more having to first switch to the HotSpot browser in order to use WiFi). If the device is connected to WiFi the browser uses that connection and goes straight out to the internet. If WiFi isn't present, the browser goes through RIM's BIS Optimized WebKit Proxy (BES users go through the BES proxy).
The improvements to the web browser experience alone make BlackBerry 6 a stellar operating system upgrade. Putting the brower to use, web pages load faster and render more accurately and pages re-render much faster as you scroll down a loaded webpage. Considering the browser is said to be 3x more efficient when browsing over the network than the competition, the performance gains really are huge. Speedwise it's not quite as quick as the competition, at least when we tested it on the BlackBerry Torch 9800. When we put the Torch 9800 head to head against the Apple iPhone 4 and Android-based Samsung Captivate it didn't win any browser load test battles, but it never trailed by much. Considering the Torch 9800 lacks CPU power compared to these devices, it actually shows the browser is even better than it appears. As RIM upgrades their processors on future hardware, the browser will be even faster. [checkout the browser head to head shootout here]
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Camera and Media Applications
You can tell with BlackBerry 6 that RIM is hoping to shake the stigma so many people have that BlackBerry Smartphones are no fun and just meant for work. Not only do the media applications now have a dedicated view on the homescreen, but they have been updated as well. RIM has also introduced two new apps -- Podcasts and YouTube -- to fill in previous media gaps on BlackBerry.
In addition to RIM upgrading the camera hardware on new higher-end BlackBerry families to 5 megapixels, the camera app software on BlackBerry 6 has received a major update.
Camera viewfinder has been redesigned
The Camera viewfinder has been redesigned for simplicity. There are five buttons along the bottom of the Viewfinder for the following:
- Camera Pictures - this shortcut opens the Camera Pictures folder, display the last taken photo in the default folder (once here you can scroll through previously taken photos.
- Geo-tagging On/Off - this button toggles geo-tagging on and off.
- Shutter button - centrally located and the biggest button on the row, this one snaps the photo. As always, you can also use the right-side convenience key to snap the photo.
- Flash - you can tap this button continuously to toggle between flash On, Off and Auto settings
- Scene Modes - new to BlackBerry 6, you can now tune your BlackBerry 6 to take better photos in specific circumstances by choosing the appropriate Scene Mode. Scene Modes include Auto, Face Detection, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Close-Up, Snow, Beach, Night and Text.
A historical complaint with the camera on BlackBerry devices to date is that it takes too long to snap a photo - as in the time between pressing the shutter button and actually getting capturing an image is too long as the camera focuses and executes, so you end up missing the moment altogether. By default, the camera now enables Continuous Auto Focus which eliminates the previous need to do the half-button press to focus the camera. With Continuous Auto Focus the camera shutter button will immediately take the image, only focusing first if really necessary. If you'd rather not use the Continuous Auto Focus, you can disable it from the options menu. Once you snap a photo, a new simplified review screen allows you to delete the photo or take it again (there are settings to adjust how long the review lasts or disable it altogether).
left: Scene Modes allow for better photo taking; right: Continous Autofocus enabled by default
RIM's goal with the camera app was to make it something a person will really want to use in their everyday life, with photo quality that doesn't just look good on the BlackBerry but will look amazing when printed. The camera definitely has the capabilities to deliver quality photos, but it also means if you want to get the most from it you'll want to experiment with it beyond leaving it in Auto mode. The Face Detection will automatically detect and provide better focus for faces - it will draw a box around a primary face as well as additional faces (I've had it get up to four). [ Side note: the photo at the top of this section made for an interesting observation. When the entire iPad was visible, as shown, the Torch's camera would never draw a green box around the iPad face. However, if we got close enough to the iPad so only the face was showing on the display (no borders/edges of the iPad were showing), then it would detect the iPad face. Smart camera! ]. For action shots, the Sports mode features a zero lag shutter -- it's literally just a snap shot of whatever is present in the viewfinder at that moment, so you'll never miss a photo again.
From the Camera options menu you can jump over to the Video Camera, which records at 640x480 resolution. I honestly think the new 5 megapixel camera is capable of capturing video at a higher resolution but the current Marvell chipset used in GSM devices like the Pearl 3G and Torch 9800 just can't handle more (considering the Pearl 3G's 3.2 megapixel camera also records at 640x480). Once we see RIM introduce a new chipset, I bet we'll see this jump up. I can't wait for the day I can record HD from my BlackBerry.
left: Pictures gets a makeover; right: Picture Library separates photo sources by headers
The Pictures application also received an overhaul, which makes it much friendlier and better to use. The Camera Pictures link shows all photos snapped by you on the camera, while the Picture Library shows all pictures on the device but keeps them apart by grouping them by their folder and separating them with headers. For me this is a HUGE change as you no longer have the pictures posted by others to a BlackBerry Messenger Group mixed into the same timeline as photos you have captured yourself (this little hiccup has got me into some major trouble with Miss CrackBerry in the past... Hunny, I SWEAR I didn't take that photo!). Links have also been added to the Pictures homescreen to toggle the view between Date View and Folder View, to enact Search and to create a New Folder.
When viewing the Picture Library, you can toggle the folder headers on or off, enable search by tapping the magnifying glass (or just start typing on the keyboard), toggle between list and thumbnail view or start a slide show. When viewing thumbnails you can select multiple images at once (they don't have to be beside each other) for sharing, deleting, copying and pasting etc.
left: New menu bar added to bottom of photo view; right: Pinch to zoom with location map
The individual picture view also gets a change up, showing with a dedicated row of buttons now present allowing you to share, rotate, play in slideshow or go to the next/previous image. The pinch to zoom gesture works here on touchscreen devices, and when zooming a location map is displayed so you can track where you are on the image.
left: BlackBerry Music Player makes better use of album art to enhance the experience
right: While songs are playing you can still scroll through albums
The BlackBerry music player looks MUCH better now and delivers a more compelling experience thanks to a graphics overhaul and a greater presence of album art throughout the app. When a song is playing you can flick through the album art coverflow of upcoming and previous songs and jump to one immediately. Two thumbs up here. With BlackBerry 6 I think we may just see a lot more people using their BlackBerry for music.
The BlackBerry music player looks MUCH better now and delivers a more compelling experience thanks to a graphics overhaul and a greater presence of album art throughout the app.
New to BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry Desktop Manager 6 is WiFi Music Sync, which allows you to sync your entire computer library of music data with your BlackBerry device. With Wireless Music Syncing you always know which songs from your entire music library are on or are not on the device, and you can mark/unmark songs to be synced automatically over Wi-Fi the next time you hit your home WiFi network (or connect via USB to your computer).
left: Movie Player also gets updated with auto-generated thumbnails
right: Playback size button allows you to change video size formats on the fly
The BlackBerry video player experience has been enhanced too, with automatically generated thumbnails making the experience more visual. When viewing a video, a new playback size button can be accessed on the top right corner of the screen, which allows you to toggle between Fit Screen, Full Screen and Actual Size.
New youtube app is half launcher (takes you to m.youtube.com), half video uploader app
In line with the very social and sharing nature of BlackBerry 6, a YouTube app is now included on the device. It's really more of a half-app / half-launcher though. When you click on the YouTube app shortcut, a popup window prompts you to either Go To YouTube or Upload Video. The Go To YouTube link opens the web browser and takes you to the m.youtube.com mobile site. The experience there isn't horrible, but I'm stilling waiting to see a fully-featured YouTube client. If you choose to Upload Video, you are prompted to select a video from your device and from there can login to YouTube and complete the upload via the app.
New Podcasts app furthers the media prowess of the BlackBerry platform
There are two types of people in this world - those who listen to podcasts and those who don't. Those who do listen to Podcasts will be happy to know there is now a native podcast client in BlackBerry 6 that allows you to browse from a catalog of podcasts. This app is a little barebones right now. Heck, the CrackBerry Podcast isn't even the catalog nor can you manually add your own podcast feed (don't fret, you can always get the free CB Podcast App or full version of Podtrapper). As we've seen through the BlackBerry Beta Zone, work is being done on this app and it will likely further improve with time. It's definitely good to see RIM filling in gaps like this is in their service offering.
Add it all up and BlackBerry 6 delivers the most complete and compelling media experience to date on a BlackBerry Smartphone. Will it change how the average BlackBerry owner uses their device? Time will tell I guess, but to have the capabilities and not take advantage of them would be a waste.
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Social Feeds Apps
Social Feeds app lets you monitor all of your social networks and IM clients in one place
BlackBerry 6 includes the new Social Feeds application which allows you to follow updates on your contacts from social networks and IM clients including all in one place. Integrated applications by default include AIM, BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Google Talk, MySpace, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. Rather than creating one app that tries to have all the features of all those services, what Social Feeds does is give you a quick view of what's new in each of them via very tight integration with separate apps, where you can go for a richer, more direct experience.
Instead of thinking apps, apps, apps, sites, sites, sites I really just think people and news.
After you provide the login credentials for each application you'd like to integrate, the combined view pulls updates from each source into a chronological timeline. You can also break apart the views by filtering into a specific application and scroll through them. Polling time is driven by the options set within the individual applications. So if you set the BlackBerry Twitter client to refresh tweets every 30 minutes, that's how often they are updated on the Social Feeds application. Tapping on an update within a feed actually takes you back to the full client - if you view a tweet on the Social Feeds timeline, it takes you into the BlackBerry for Twitter client to reply, etc... You can also create new posts within the Social Feeds app, and send them out to multiple applications as once (ie. update your Twitter, Facebook and BBM status all at once).
RSS application allows you to follow news headlines within the Social Feeds app
In addition to following your contacts the Social Feeds application includes an RSS Feeds section, which allows you to follow the news headlines from your favorite websites. Clicking a headline opens the basic story (like any RSS reader) and you can choose to view the full story which then opens the URL in the web browser. Note - while this part of the application is very much like the Viigo newsreader, this application so far has not been influenced at all by RIM's acquisition of Viigo earlier this year. Any developments relating to the Viigo acquisition have yet to appear in the BlackBerry operating system.
All in all, I really am loving the Social Feeds app. Instead of thinking apps, apps, apps, sites, sites, sites I really just think people and news. It brings it all together and makes it easy to follow, and because it ties back to the fully featured apps, there's really no sacrifice often associated with an all-in-one type client. The Social Feeds app ROCKS!
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BlackBerry Application Management
Application Management now offers more information about your BlackBerry's resources
With so many apps and so much going on in BlackBerry 6, RIM added a new BlackBerry Application Management app to the device which allows all the hardcore enthusiasts out there to manage and track device resources. The app can be accessed via Options > Devices > Application Management or you can perform a Universal Search for "app" and select the Options result! Within Application Management, you can scroll between four views:
- Applications - this is the typical Applications screen normally found on the BlackBerry operating system. You can filter by All, Required and Optional apps and selecting an app allows you to view more options including the ability to Edit Permissions, Delete (if it's an app you're allowed to delete) and now also view the Resources and statistics for that app (CPU, Memory, App Storage, Usage).
- CPU - this allows you to see what % of the device's CPU is currently in use powering apps. A summary is provided at the top, as well as the individual app break down.
- Usage - Remember the I Love BlackBerry app or SmrtMonitor apps? Now a basic version of these device usage trackers are built right into the BlackBerry OS, allowing you to see your BlackBerry Usage for Today, Yesterday and This Week, including an app by app breakdown.
- Memory - This screen shows where that 512MB of flash memory is being used up, both by the BlackBerry 6 System Software and add-on applications. [Side note: looking at this right now as I type shows BlackBerry 6.0 System Software is using 293MB of memory, which helps explain why the BlackBerry you may own already won't be getting an update to BlackBerry 6 ].
- Application Storage - This screen shows you how much room is available on the device to install applications, and how much is used / available.
A lot of hardcore BlackBerry users have been hoping RIM would add this type of granular detail to the BlackBerry operating system, so it's good to see. Of course, others (like me) would simply prefer the device have so much CPU horsepower and device memory that you never need to think about or care about system resources (though I'd still want to see to see the device usage stats!).
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3rd Party BlackBerry Apps
left: App World 2.0; right: CrackBerry App Superstore!
So far we've been talking about the bigger changes and new features in BlackBerry 6, never mind the countless other built-in apps and capabilities of the device that BlackBerry users utilize regularly like BlackBerry Messenger, the Alarm Clock, Calculator, Brick Breaker (which also got a little BB6 update by the way!) and many more. But beyond what comes on the device, the buzz word these days is apps, Apps, APPS!
The BlackBerry App World catalog currently shows over 5,000 apps across categories like Business, Utilities, Games, Entertainment, Productivity, and Music and Audio. Tossing Themes into the mix adds another 2,000 titles and adding Reference & eBooks adds another 1,200. It's not Apple App Store numbers, but for the most part if you're looking for a decent app to address a fairly broad need, you should be able to find one. The launch of App World 2.0 will bring BlackBerry apps to more BlackBerry users, with it being preloaded on the device by default. Support for credit card and carrier billing are finally available in App World 2.0 as well (note - your carrier may/may not support carrier billing). Of course the crackiest of CrackBerry users will want to check out the CrackBerry App Store and CrackBerry App Store client for BlackBerry apps.
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Desktop Manager 6
BlackBerry Desktop Manager version 6
With the release of BlackBerry 6 Software for devices, it only made sense that RIM would release version 6 of the BlackBerry Desktop Software. In addition to revamping the graphics and user interface (which looks much better and is more clear), Media Sync is built-in for Music, Pictures and Video. As of the date of this review being published it's only available PC, but were told version 6 for Mac should be available shortly.
I'm still hoping and waiting for the day that RIM makes more of the BlackBerry experience cloud based so the average user never needs to worry about software like Desktop Manager.
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What BlackBerry Smartphones are getting BlackBerry 6?
Since RIM first showed off the teaser video of BlackBerry 6 in April at WES 2010, the most frequently asked BlackBerry 6 question has been will I be able to upgrade my BlackBerry device to BlackBerry 6?
Along with the announcement of the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and BlackBerry 6, RIM finally acknowledged what in-market devices will get BlackBerry 6. The quick answer is that it's the newer, higher-end 2010 devices that will get an update to BlackBerry 6 - the Bold 9700, the Bold 9650 and Pearl 3G (and yes, the Bold 9700 technically hit the market in 2009, but it was fairly late in 2009 when it hit so it's more of a 2010 phone). If you own a BlackBerry that isn't getting the update, you're probably ticked, so let's analyze this a bit.
The newer, higher-end 2010 devices will get an update to BlackBerry 6 - the Bold 9700, the Bold 9650 and Pearl 3G.
You need to remember, RIM's primary concern is pushing the performance and experience of new devices ahead so they keep selling more phones. Their second concern, is to bring these performance enhancements to in-market devices whenever possible, which means they won't put BlackBerry 6 on devices that can't adequately run the OS. So could adquately run BlackBerry 6? Our rule of thumb speculation is CDMA devices with 512MB of flash memory and GSM devices with 256MB of memory that have high-resolution screens and the "newer" chipset.
So why would the Bold 9700 and Pearl 3G get the update but not other devices with 256MB of flash memory like the Tour, Storm2 and Curve 8900? One theory we've discussed on the CrackBerry Podcast is that apparently it's not strictly the amount of memory in the device that is the key deciding factor, but rather the type of memory. With the BlackBerry Bold 9700 we hear RIM introduced some change-ups on the board which speeds up the way device memory interacts directly with the processor. The more intensive graphics and WebKit rendering engine deployed in BlackBerry 6 require this in order to maintain performance. Putting BlackBerry 6 on other devices would just slow them down. Even with the Bold 9700 and Pearl 3G, I'll be curious to see just how well they run BlackBerry 6. Though it is an evolutionary upgrade, you can tell parts of the operating system are much more intensive on memory resources, such as the new camera finder (I'm pretty sure just opening the camera app immediately sucks up ~25MB of memory). As for devices like the new Curve 9300 series (next generation of the Curve 85xx series), I have a feeling BlackBerry 6 may never make an appearance on them. With a screen resolution of only 320 x 240 pixels, BlackBerry 6 would be extremely cramped, and with a lower-end camera specific apps like the new camera viewfinder probably wouldn't work right - it would be more hassle for RIM to put BB6 on that device that it's worth. And from a marketing perspective, if RIM's position with the Curve family is to make it an entry-level just right smartphone, leaving it on the 5.0 platform makes a lot of sense. For those who just want to use their BlackBerry for the basics (phone calls, email, and BBM), the added value of BlackBerry 6 won't be of much benefit. Staying with 5.0 here just makes sense. RIM has always been about giving consumers choice, and having more than one version of operating systems available to consumers represents even more choice. Again, this is all theory, but it makes logical sense. I just really wish all in-market devices with 256MB of ram could at least get the updated web browser. That would make a lot of people happy.
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BlackBerry 6 Bottom Line
It's clear that RIM put a LOT of work into BlackBerry 6, both from a research perspective of deciding what changes to make to the user experience and from an development and execution standpoint of getting the most end-user performance out of the device. It shows. As a longtime BlackBerry user, trying to go back to OS 5 on my Bold 9700 after using BlackBerry 6 on the Torch for a week just isn't possible. BlackBerry 6 is THAT much better (not to mention in that with the Torch, having a big screen and full keyboard is a killer combo I love). You can't really take issue with anything RIM did in BlackBerry 6. It's all good things and it's honestly made me fall in love with my BlackBerry all over again.
The only issue I really have is with what I didn't see happen in BlackBerry 6. I still can't run apps from a MicroSD card. Upgrading the OS via Desktop Manager still results in losing all your application settings. When installing an application you really have to just let it finish installing before you go back to using the device (I'd like to be able to start installing five apps at once and keep using the device fully while they install). None of these issues are that big of a deal, but they show that there are some cracks in the foundation you just can't fix with filler and reinforcements - otherwise they would have been repaired already - be it in BlackBerry 6 or sooner. RIM has fixed what they could and added a lot to the user experience beyond what I expected was even possible. But what this tells me is that no matter how many renovations RIM does to the existing BlackBerry operating system, we'll continue to see some of these platform annoyances continue until RIM finally decides to build a new house. My hunch is that decision has been made and the blueprints have already been drawn up.
BlackBerry 6 is far and away the best BlackBerry OS to date
In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy living with BlackBerry 6. The new homescreen experience, the "Just Start Typing" philosophy of Universal Search, the many refinements to the UI (especially in the media-centric apps), and the Social Feeds app have me hooked. BlackBerry 6 is an evolutionary improvement rather than revolutionary, but they've evolved the OS in so many different ways that the sum of the experience is more than its parts. In many ways the OS feels like an overachiever, doing more that you'd expect on hardware that is less powerful than what we see in the iPhone and Android camps.
BlackBerry 6 is far and away the best BlackBerry OS to date. Period.
Related BlackBerry 6 Review Links
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