Monday, May 13, 2013

My gripes about BB10 and the handsets

So before I get started on this entry I just want to make one thing clear as day, I am NOT taking a dig at Blackberry here. I just thought with all the fanboi style posts I have made recently, it was about time I balanced the books a little and made an entry about the 'not so good' aspects of BB10 as a whole, and its devices, the Z10 and Q10.

I have spent a lot of time on Crackberry recently, trawling through the forums, and getting into discussions here and there about things I feel are genuine issues, from my experience with the handsets and OS at least.
Now that I have used the Q for a couple of weeks now (getting there anyway) I thought now would be a good time for this. So lets get going.

First up, the debate over screen size and quality. With 17,000 views and over 350 replies, for a balanced discussion about these matters, this thread is the place to be.q10-vs-z10-screen-size-debate
The intention of this thread was to simply hear some opinions about why some chose the Q with the physical keyboard over the Z and touchscreen. And to see what made people sacrifice some screen real estate for the experience of real buttons. As you can see, it became quite popular, and for the main part actually quite interesting to get an insight into how people use their handset, and what they demand from them.

For me, this is how I see it.
The Z and Q both have superb screens, both to view, and to operate inside the BB10 OS. Ultimately one of the two devices is going to be my favourite, or daily driver. And it wasn't long after opening the box to the Q10 that I knew which it would be. Having spent a couple of months with the Z, and got to know its keyboard pretty well, there is no doubt that the Z10 touchscreen keyboard (TSK) was quite simply the best TSK I have ever used. Trying to switch between that and the Galaxy S2 screen is a nightmare, with the S2 seeming slow and unresponsive, let alone unforgiving. 
The Z really does put most others to shame, in fact I will go out on a limb and say its the best TSK on the market today. With its predictive word suggestions learning how you speak, and its forgiving nature and smart auto correction, you can make a real mess of a whole sentence, and the Z will get what you mean, and sort it out. A bit like the relationship between doctors and pharmacists.

BUT, this is a gripe post remember, so lets get into the nitty gritty here.
As intelligent as the software for the TSK is, it can get a little carried away at times, and its intelligence and smart learning becomes its achillies heel. Make a typo too many times for a word it doesn't know to auto correct, and it will learn the typo, and use it to replace other attempts at the right word.
Example, I have a bad habit of typing 'ypu' instead of 'you'. By pressing the spacebar after making the typo after a while will actually confirm the word is indeed RIGHT. So it will now replace you with ypu on a regular basis. This is partially my fault for not seeing the word appearing and correcting it, and over time I can correct it in one of two ways...
1/ clear all the learned words and start over. Removing a single word from the catalogue is not an option at this point. 
2/ watching the space bar, and concentrating each time I type the word, and each time ypu appears, correcting it until the phone learns not to use it anymore.
Sadly both solutions require me to be less productive to solve a simple issue, admittedly of my own making.

The next issue with the touchscreens now moves onto the Q10. Like the 9900 was at launch, the screen of the Q10 is a little desensitised, and the last few mm's of the edges seem to have no real abilities. The line between bezel and beginning of the display is the issue here. The most common issue users are reporting is the lack of response to the End Call key. Frustratingly hammering away on the red part of the screen, long press, short burst of presses, but no end to the call. 
I have to be honest here and say that since the OS went from .238 up to .273 it seems less of an issue for me at least. There are other times when the screen seems a bit awkward to use, with the selection of small areas at the edge of the screen being problematic. On the odd occasion by pressing the very edge of the screen, you will actually select something that is just OFF screen. Almost as if the phone thinks it is displaying a slightly longer or wider image than it actually is. (if that makes sense)

Staying on the theme of screens, the other complaint that seems to be getting touted about is screen legibility in daylight. With the Q10 packing a sharp and crisp AMOLED display, the legibility of the screen for me on a bright sunny day has never been an issue for me. That said, if you don't keep your screen clean, that's when I notice the legibility becoming an issue, as the smears more than anything else cause the reflective issues. Others however state that regardless of how bright the settings are put at, reading the screen, along with the dark theme are simply impossible. Now we all have different eyes, and live in different countries, so I'm not going to doubt anyone here. But at the same time others, some well respected commentators on Blackberry and mobile devices, state they have NO issue whatsoever with reading the screen, day on day, in rather sunny parts of the world.

Like everything, all opinions are relative, so there is no right or wrong anywhere in this blog, just my own observations, and quotes from others with similar findings.

Lets get away from the screen now and dig a little deeper. How about the depths of the OS?
Now one of the big selling points of BB10 is the 'active panes'. For those not familiar, let me explain quickly. All mobile OS's these days claim to have true multitasking, leaving one application running properly while another is opened and used. The Blackberry way of doing this is to use active panes, this is where an application is minimised on the screen along with other apps that are running. Each of these applications is then capable of displaying a condensed version of its content while minimised. So for example a weather app will show a summary, a news feed will show individual headlines. 
I have to say the active panes are a great little thing, especially for watching for replies to tweets, or keeping an eye on the weather without constantly opening the apps. 
But again, this is about gripes so here goes again.
3rd party app devs seem to have really grasped the concept well, and made the active panes really used full, Blaq, CB, BeBuzz, all having great active panes.
BeBuzz, what is generally a notifications app have had the sense to use their active pane as a battery monitor, a great and helpful little tool especially with its 'time left' section.
However, Blackberry, the creators of these great little panes seem to have done very little with them at all. 
My example would be a simple one, the native clock.
Now the clock has 4 views. Normal clock, World Clock, Stopwatch and Timer. The most common one for me to keep open is the timer, being able just to flick the screen on to see how much time is remaining. Frustratingly, the native app minimised to the clock app only. So regardless of what display would be of use to you, you are left with just the simple clock view. I'm sure there has to be a way that the timer and stopwatch could minimise into usable active panes. If 3rd party devs can do it, come on Blackberry, sort it out.
Digging in a little deeper we start to find a few more little frustrating niggles that really get a bit irritating.
Type and Go function as a whole is a great idea, and can really speed up certain processes, such as sending a simple tweet, or FB update from within the OS. Simply typing 'tw' then starting to compose the tweet will see Type and Go offer the 'send tweet' option when you are done typing. Press it, and its done tweet sent. No opening apps, pressing compose etc, its all done simply and effectively from the home screens of the OS.
BUT (gripe time)
If you want to send an email you have a couple of options, and this is where it gets a little sticky. Typing 'em' will prompt the device to offer 'compose email' at this point. So you can press the option there, then immediately start typing the contacts name, which will present the list of options matching the letters entered, or after 'em' a space then start typing the contact name. Now both these are super efficient ways of getting an email started, there is no doubting that for a second, the problem however lays with the search function itself. Now I should add here that until the issue was raised, I had not noticed it. But once it was mentioned it is something you just become aware of.
Throughout the search settings of the device you can tell the OS where it should look for the information. Different apps, areas of the phone, and indeed 3rd party databases too. Sadly for some reason, the search parameters do not apply to email, so as you start to type the contact name, it will offer every contact matching the characters, including from apps like Facebook and Twitter. 
For those only using their devices for personal use, this is nothing more than a minor irritation. For those using it as business and personal, it becomes a little more of a headache. Contacts who have linked profiles within your device, it will drag down and offer every email address for them. Some might find this helpful, others a hindrance. Either way, it would be nice to have a little control over it.

The next issue for me, again deep within the heart of the beast is notifications.
Back in the days of OS7 the notification settings were so very simple. A little bland to look at, a little too simple maybe with drop down menus and separate sections of in and out of holster etc. The drop downs would offer a whole list of sounds which on selecting it, you could then hit 'try' and you would hear what you had chosen. 
For some reason with OS10 Blackberry have decided that simple was not the way, and nor was having options. Instead the new settings allow a few choice sounds and very little more. To get anything other than what they offer, you need to start browsing the device, and in doing so you dive into a complex sub menu after sub menu of places to find sounds. You are not able to preview the sound, instead you select it and return to the notifications screen. Upon which, if the sounds is not to your liking, you start over again.
I would love to have the simplicity of the notifications back. Heck they even took away all the sounds most of us were so familiar with.
Even the volume of the notifications is dumbed down to one simple slider that is the master control for all sounds within that notifications status, be it normal, loud, work etc. I loved the control of making one email far louder than the rest, hard to miss, and in my face, but at this point OS10 isn't going to allow that at all!

Along with notifications comes my beloved BeBuzz, the custom LED app which gives a custom colour flash to notify of emails from each account, and 3rd party app notifications too. For years now it has been my backup notifications, so if I miss the sound, I would have a visual notification which would repeat. Even with the phone on silent, I knew exactly which notifications awaited me without having to pick the handset up. Sadly with OS10 this isn't quite as smooth as it could be, mainly because the app must remain in an active pane to allow it to work. One simple closure of the wrong app results in NO LED notifications.
My gripe about this? Well its simple. With later versions of OS7 allowing this as a native app through certain carriers (so I am told), I was really hoping that the all singing and dancing OS10 would present us with the coloured LED options from within notifications settings. Alas, its not the case. So notifications are stripped out, dumbed down.... and still on boring old RED !

With all that said and done, I am still left applauding Blackberry on their amazing transition from being old and stuck in their ways, to the modern day, all singing, all dancing devices. People will always have a pop, whatever the state of the OS. When OS7 was the current system people commented on how out of date and boring BB now was, and how if they didn't move into the 21st century BB would fail for sure. Boring interfaces, physical keyboards, and tiny screens. 
Out came the Z10, lovely screen, great new OS in its infant stage, and a true new kid on the block, stepping the game up with its buttonless design and gestures for navigation. Needless to say, the opposition said it was a failure before it even got going, the legacy hardcore users said it was an insult to Blackberry, and the people in the middle bought it and formed educated opinions of it.
My opinion has always been simple. If physical keyboards stopped existing tomorrow, I now know I would have the safety of the Z10's beautifully thought out TSK to turn to. My productivity would drop, my web usage would plummet, but I would be able to use a device without wanting to smash it on the floor.

Then it was the Q's turn. The TRUE next generation of Blackberry in my opinion. Taking a proven system, a great form factor, and firing it way into the 21st century. Again, unable to please all of the people all of the time, there have been again been critics who feel it is blasphemy against all that Blackberry stands for, to launch a device like this. Complaining that keyboard shortcuts are missing which make the device SO unproductive, that other features are not present, and that its not a proper Blackberry without them.

Well, I guess to a degree I join those whiners, with my rant and gripes above. But with one key difference.
My comments, feedback, reviews, and suggestions are just that. I accept that BB10 is a new OS, and has a long way to go yet. Heck no OS has even been perfectly rolled out with no changes needed to it. And in its first few usable releases, I think OS10 has proven itself to be something that will really grow into something great. My comments are not meant to mock or put down this infant OS, but are there to create conversation, to put across my point of view, and hopefully in some small way, contribute towards the direction that the OS takes as is continues to evolve.

One final thing though...

BBM Groups, what the hell happened there?
After not having used groups for years now, I thought it would be nice to have a group for photography a few days ago, so out went the invites. After 10 or so joined, a few friends started commenting that they could no longer see the group, or had received weird notifications saying they could not join 'another' group as they were already at their devices maximum... then showing NONE! 
Being kicked out of a group is one thing, but what happened next is where it all gets worrying. Reports then started that peoples phones, from BBM to the whole OS had dramatically slowed down, some saying it was almost unusable. A couple even resorting to restoring their handsets, and one returning theirs to a store for an exchange, so bad had the issue got.
All issues that I am aware of occurred on a Blackberry Z10, most if not all were running OS 10.0. My Q10 on 10.1 seems unaffected by the issue. Either way, I hope the rollout of the fix for this is swift. Mainly as the BBM Groups function is now rather lovely, and I would love to get a group up and running again, but don't want people screwing up their devices to join.

Right, that will do me for now, I'm sure I will have other moans and songs of praise over the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading.

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