Review: RIM tries to get back in the game with sleek and fast Z10 BlackBerry

Touch-screen smartphone retains most of the strengths that made the platform a corporate favorite

The first time I saw a BlackBerry, I knew it was going to change the game. It was at a Soundview financial conference in 1998, and Research in Motion (RIM) was showing off its latest two-way pagers. I thought they were solid offerings, but I remarked that I really didn't want to have to start using yet another email address; when would someone give us the ability to access corporate email on the go?

I guess that was the right question, because I was quietly ushered away and given my first demo of the BlackBerry device and service. It was love at first click. While RIM didn't invent the smartphone category, pretty much every device we use today owes something to that first truly wireless email gadget.

In the U.S., the phones will be available through wireless carriers Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. Availability differs by market.

Fast forward 15 years and the story has changed. In a world of iPhones and Android devices, RIM and BlackBerry no longer hold the same luster that they did for years after the BlackBerry was launched. There has been a growing sense for a while now that the BlackBerry would have to evolve if it was going to remain competitive with more modern platforms. In a world where consumerization rules, the BlackBerry needed to lose some of its pinstriped corporate propriety and gain the sorts of features that would appeal to consumers as well as business users.

This week, RIM came forward with its answers to that challenge. It took the wraps off both a new operating system, called BlackBerry 10, and two new devices, the Z10 and the Q10. The Q10, a QWERTY keyboard device that makes no big breaks from BlackBerries of old, won't make an appearance until later this spring.

The Z10 is a different story, though. It is a pure touch-screen device, and a beautiful piece of hardware. It has a lovely high-resolution screen (with so-called retina pixel density), a soft-touch back and a removable battery and micro-SD card. What it doesn't have are any buttons other than power and volume controls. All other actions are handled through gestures. Swipe up to unlock the device or to return home. (The same gesture turns on a powered-down Z10.) The home will show you the eight apps that you have most recently launched. You can dive into those apps directly from home. You can also close unwanted apps.

If you want to access other apps, just swipe left and you'll see a grid of app icons. These can be rearranged to suit you, including moving them into folders.

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