Saturday, February 2, 2013

Blackberry Z10, BB10. First impressions

So its been almost 24 hours since my Z10 showed up, so I thought I would put down some thoughts onto screen and the WWW.
So where shall we start, how about at the beginning.
A call to Orange / EE on Thursday (release day) and some haggling later, I was happy I had got the best deal I could for a new phone to market etc, and it was on its way. However waiting 18 hours was going to be a nightmare, but somehow I coped lol.

Yesterday morning the courier showed up and handed me a bag with a little box in it, as pictured. Restraining myself from excitement I went back inside and started unpacking.

Retail pack  / unboxing

This is where the review really starts for me, and I'm going to be as honest as a Crackberry fan possibly can be, in order to help others form their own decisions. Opening the retail box it was all neatly packed up, presented first by a very clean looking BB Z10. So what goodies would lay beneath? Well to be brutally honest, not a whole lot. The usual instructions, USB lead and separate wall plug, Headphones, there they were, the latest variant. I shall come back to those in a moment. So what else was in there. its a touchscreen, and the Playbook came with a micro fibre cloth..... Nope, no cloth in the box. Thankfully all Blackberry's have come with cases, so surely there was one..... Errm nope, no case of any sort either.

Now I know it sounds like I'm being picky already, but as a long term consumer, and someone who has unpacked MANY Blackberry handsets in my time, and the Playbook, I was disappointed to say the least to see that the retail pack doesn't include any form of case, let alone even a wipe. I know this is a new beginning for Blackberry (formerly known as RIM), but to me its a punch on the nose. I have always liked the fact that the phone gets unpacked, device swapped and can safely snuggle up in its new OEM case. Oh well, im sure I will get over it, and go buy one (or three) instead.

Continuing to be fussy about things, lets look at what else was in the box. USB lead and wall plug for charging, no issues there, the micro end of the USB is a little tight but works fine. So onto the headphones. A few generations of handset back, even going back to my original 8320, Blackberry packaged some really nice headphones. Fit for purpose, good feel to them, practical, the whole package worked for me. The ones with the chrome accents on them, and the chrome button on the inline mic. Then alas they moved over to the plain black cheaper plastic feeling ones which have been around a while now. So when I knew there was a fresh start coming, I assumed the headphones would be replaced.... And they have been. Some how with EVEN cheaper feeling headphones, which look like something you would get with a £5.99 MP3 player from a tech fair. Audio quality bearable, build quality horrible, their future is at the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

So far we have a handset and retail box which is approx £450, with no case, or cloth and terrible headphones. Just to add to things missing, there is also no form of SD memory card in there either. Now I know the carrier / network is also responsible in what goes into these packages, so to Orange and to Blackberry... Seriously? Is there anything else you could have scrimped on? One of the 3 would have been nice.

So lets get to the handset, anyone that found this blog through a websearch will be waiting for this part I'm sure.

The handset / Getting started

OK so lets get this baby up and running. Immediately out of the box the Z10 feels great in the hand. Having heard that it was far from the thinnest handset on the market (9mm I believe), and being the owner of a Samsung Galaxy S2, I wasn't sure what to expect. But it lived up to the hype, and the feel in the hand is just right, decent weight, yet noticeably present, balanced, and the shape and grip on the device for my hands certainly is great. There is hope yet after a bad start. Time to get the micro SIM in, no SD card at this time as there isnt one, and the battery in. The SD card can go in at any time as its hot swappable, so no battery removal needed. Popping the back cover off is simple enough, and experience with the S2 gave me the confidence to keep pulling even though the cover flexes slightly as you pry it off. Replacing is the same, a simple place and pop, and the job is done.

SIM in, battery in, 9900 backed up to Blackberry Protect, im ready to go. Watching the Z10 start up was somewhat reminiscent of watching a Playbook start, very clean and pretty but still takes a while. Having recently purchased a Nokia 100 handset for emergencies, I remember how far we have come from pressing the power button, waiting for the annoying Nokia tune, then its ready to go. Anyway, its a smartphone, these things take time these days, right? Once started I registered the SIM, watched the life drain from my 9900 as the G turned into a g, and the Z10 sprung into life.
Now at this point I would usually log into my carriers BB service, check the swap had taken place for my BIS and that it had the new PIN in there, validate my emails, et voila.... But NO !

Houston, we have a problem. All the right things were showing on the screen for the BIS, everything live and valid, but no sign of any email accounts on my Z10. A reboot should do the trick....nope! Ah I know what I haven't done, Blackberry ID, I have not signed into the Z10 with my ID yet, so lets do that now. All signed in, and nothing. Still no contacts, email accounts. Obviously I would just need to go to good old Blackberry Protect and choose my last restore point from my 9900. Errm, nope! For some reason Protect on the Z10 has no real function to it at all, no backup or restore, just the location on or off setting.
Great, so how am I going to do this? I guess I will have to plug it into the laptop and do it the old fashioned way. Now this is where it gets interesting. Blackberry replaced Desktop Manager with  Blackberry Link. A new start was needed because as they rightfully point out, there is not one single line of script from the OS7 that makes it over to BB10, so start fresh. So I ran a backup on the 9900 on DM, which for some reason would not complete because of a file it could not read. Apparently it cant skip it, so it just hangs. So I ran a custom backup and took only the bare essentials like contacts and calender. Plugging the Z10 in and finding the restore or swap function was fun, took a while as Link seems to like to focus on the media side of things.

Come on guys, this is a new start for everyone here, no one is moving from BB10 to another BB10, we are all going from at least OS6 I would guess. Make the transition a little easier? Why doesn't Protect handle the swap like it used to be able to, why has Protect lost its back up function. So many questions at this stage and SO frustrating. Swapping on the BIS would usually purge all email accounts to my device... But it didn't.

At this stage I have to thank Google, the owners of Android for coming to the rescue. Because I use gmail fully and all my calenders and contacts are attached to that account for my S2, when I manually added my Gmail account to the Z10 it finally pulled down all my contacts and calender events. Phew, what a relief!

Right, so finally after an hour of messing about, I kid you not, I can finally start to relax a bit and get to know the Z10 and BB10.

The Device

This is where the fun begins, and maybe things will start to get a little better for the Z10.
Once up and running, getting to know the Z10 is really quite easy, especially if you have followed the developer videos, sneek peeks and other media online that has shown and explained the gesture controls for the device. Having used a Playbook and being used to gestures with no buttons is probably a distinct advantage at this stage. I wont go into too much about how each gesture works, thats more for the video bloggers to do, but instead I will focus on the over all experience.
At this early stage with a brand new device and OS, there is no previous knowledge that is going to help you, its pretty much new from the ground up. So a long time Blackberry user has no advantage getting to grips with BB10 than any other handset user. Obviously once the Q10 comes to our shelves the bias will turn slightly towards those with experience of the Blackberry QWERTY keyboards. What I am trying to say is its a learning curve for all, but not too painful at all. There are a few key gestures to get to grips with, waking the device, peek to the hub, and returning to the apps screen. Once those are mastered they become second nature quite quickly, and you are away.

Let me skim through a few points about the Z10 and using it. First up I have start with the keyboard. Honestly, WOW! I have read so many reviews saying its the best touchscreen keyboard experience out there, so natural to use, almost comparable to the physical keyboard of the Bold etc. But honestly, it really is great to use. I regularly use the S2 keyboard, the Playbook, have a lot of experience with the iPad, and the iPod touch 5th Gen, and have to say the Z10 with BB10 does indeed have the best touchscreen I have used to date, period!
Putting to one side the flick capabilities of its predictive word suggestion, the accuracy and usability of the Z10 keyboard is really very nice. If I was to be told I would not be able to use a physical keyboard every again, for the first time I would  just be annoyed and not petrified. Then include the flick, and spell check, and you realise just where all the focus and research has gone with the BB10 project, and just how worth it it has been. The reassuring click of the physical keyboard is missing, and that is something that is strange getting used to, so I look forwards to getting my hands on a Q10 to get that feeling back. But for now, I can happily speed along through long text entries, without getting frustrated by the 3rd line, as I would with the S2 and Playbook. An iPhone, Apple argument made that point nicely for me last night. 70 replies or so into the epic Facebook discussion I realised that I was knocking out long replies on a device I had only been using for 5 hours or so, and wasn't thinking twice about it.
So the keyboard gets 2 thumbs up from me, if you can catch them not in use for a moment.

As mentioned there are a few key gestures which enable you to interact with the device fully, flicking the screen up to get back to your active panes, and back and forth from the hub to the apps is all pretty straight forward. There have been points made about what state the hub is in when you return to it from an app with peek, should it been the main hub screen or the last message you were in. In reality its no hardship. If you left a BBM open for example, and are returning to the hub for a notification, at worst its one extra swipe to the right to get back to the main hub past the BBM. Switching between multiple conversations takes a little bit of getting used to though. Yesterday morning with 10+ BBM convo's going, and a constant update from Facebook and Twitter, while getting to grips with the handset, that was a challenge to say the least. But its one that I came out of victorious.

This is said to be the make or break point for BB10, and hearing there were 70,000 to launch with was interesting. But as most critics have said, 69,000 would be junk, like the majority of apps in a Google Play, and App Store. So it was always going to be the main apps that counted. There are a few apps on the 9900 that I have grown used to having, such as multi coloured LED notifications from BeBuzz, and Whatsapp to stay in touch with non BB users. Sadly neither of these are to be found right now, but I was sure I had heard Whatsapp WOULD be available after all the initial concerns. So to anyone I speak to on Whatsapp, for now, text or email me if you need me lol.
As for the rest, there are some good apps out there for all categories, including some very good games. Not that I play games of course. But its only fair to say that there are some key players that are indeed missing, and thats something I am hoping to see change very soon. For such a long build up to such an important product, its sad that some developers have chosen to abstain.  Like any mobile platform, it is only as good as the app developers make it. If they dont produce, the platform slowly sinks. Apple being first to the market with the true smart phone beat the crowd and single handedly invented the modern day app developer. With such a huge user base, you can see why they focus on iOS and Droid apps. Lets just hope that the ease in which some Droid apps can be ported over to BB10 proves a success, and that more and more port their apps too. For now I reserve my judgement, I will still be using my S2 for a long time to come, so am not without apps. But the BB apps are getting there, slowly.

Well its removable, thats a good start. A good start because like all smartphones these days, no matter what claims the manufacturers make, the battery life isnt the same as my trusty Nokia 100. Understandably so, they do so much more, and we interact with them so much these days, no tiny battery could possibly give us great usage and still hold out. We the consumer demand certain things of manufacturers, such as weight and size we are happy to hold and carry, and this dictates what we get as the end users. I am currently running my first full cycle with the battery, so will reserve judgement for a week or so until it has cycled a few times. Worst case scenario, I will pop a spare in my man-bag for when I am out all day. Never too far from a micro USB plug these days though eh.

Oh the camera. Coming from the 9700 to the 9900 I was devastated to see they had thrown a fixed focus, poor quality camera into the 9900. For 18 months I have been disappointed with most pictures coming out of the 9900, with the occasional gem being worth sharing with @blackberry themselves for #BlackBerryPhoto. And I am grateful that some even got retweeted or featured on their blog. But it was never a great camera.
So on to the Z10 camera. The early reviews have been quite harsh about it, poor low light, grainy shots, faded colours etc, so I prepared myself for disappointment when I finally got to use it.
First up, any pictures I take with the Z10 are instantly compared by thinking, is it as good as my S2 camera. The S2 has a fantastic camera on it, and this was going to be what the Z10 got put up against. Later on today I will be going out to do a side by side test with them both.
But straight off the bat, wow, its actually a really good camera in the Z10. Good colours in natural light, amazing depth of field for close up shots. Gets crazy close for macro. And who can forget TimeShift. Is it as good as it says... hell yes ! Simple to use, great results. As are all the other features on there, like burst mode, something I didn't even know it had. It can just rattle off shot after shot. And yes I know other smart phones have this, its just pleasant to see on a Blackberry.

The rest
By the rest I mean email use, BBM , notifications and all the other things Blackberry are known for. So here we go.
BBM, yet another great step forwards with this application, and given all its features and function it now has, screen sharing, video calls, voice calls, broadcasts, joint conversations etc, it has just stepped its game up yet again. BBM certainly goes from strength to strength.
Email, to be honest I haven't sent too many as its the weekend, but its function is comparable to that of OS7, smooth, easy to use and manage, and pleasant to work with. Add to it the new functions and how it integrates into other apps like calender and BBM, and it remains one of the most powerful email platforms out there.
The Hub, the unified inbox as its known to some. This takes some getting used to in the way it functions, and can get a little crazy at times when incoming notifications are going a bit wild. Lots of notifications coming in can confuse you for a bit, and not having that simple option to mass highlight in a single stroke of a trackpad takes a bit of getting used to. But once you learn to mass select and prune back whats happening in the Hub, its all ok.
Notifications, once again all the sounds have changed, as have the options of how you manage notifications. Gone are the OS6 days where you could select from a simple long list of sounds, now it has suggested tones, or you can browse for more. gets quite tedious when setting up 5 email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, BBM, you get the gist! Also with the lack of a decent LED notification app at the moment, I am stuck with a red LED, which feels like part of me has been removed. I dont want to know I just have a notification, especially if I missed the sound. I want to know WHAT it is, specifically. Give my BeBuzz or something comparable soon pleaser Blackberry, before I go mad!

There is plenty more to talk about but this will do for now, so I will leave you with my closing summary, and some pics both of the device and from it.

In closing I have to say BB10 and the Z10 have really changed the image of Blackberry. As well as changing from being RIM, they have also changed from being a satisfactory handset and OS maker, to something fully fledged and ready to take flight. Its not ready to fly with the eagles just yet, but its up and out there, and ready to start growing for sure.
Was all the hype worth it? Mixed emotions there, my reaction is tainted still by the battle to get everything set up and running. This isnt something im used to as a Blackberry user, and found myself frustrated. So I am hoping that I simply did something terribly wrong, and that I missed a trick somewhere along the line.. Swapping from a totally different device like an iPhone I would accept issues, but from Blackberry to Blackberry, there should have been more certainty in what was happening. The BIS login and Protect services that I am used to dealing with 90% of it didnt, and im not comfortable with that.
But the hype was so worth it when it comes to the OS, how it flows, and the effortless operation of the device once up and running. I have no doubt that I will be using a Z10 for a while yet, at least until I give the Q10 a damn good going over. The keyboard is a triumph for BB, and the key component that restores my confidence in using a BB touchscreen.

Worth the wait, YES, plain and simple.

More to follow as it get to know my Z10 more.

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