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BlackBerry Z10 in-depth review: Good phone, truly great OS

February 6, 2013 06:00 AM ET

From within the Hub, you can drag down within the message window to reveal events and meetings for the rest of the day or the following day. (It's a process called BlackBerry Flow.) Tapping on an event in the message window will open the calendar instantly, and from there you can tap to view contacts associated with the event and past email or other communications you've had with them. It worked like a charm for me.

Active Frames

BlackBerry 10 takes advantage of the multitasking abilities in QNX especially well with a new feature called Active Frames.

It works this way: If you have launched an app in BB10, it will run in the full screen, but if you want to switch to another app, you swipe up from the bottom bezel to minimize the active app. That app remains active and functions in about one-quarter of its size, with four Active Frames fitting on a home screen. The most recently accessed app is shuffled to the top left of the four-frame grid.

When I say the frame remains active, I mean it continues to display current information as determined by the app's developer. For example, a weather app can continue to display the current temperature, or a news site could update its headlines. You can have eight apps running concurrently at one time over two panels. You can also shut down an app by tapping an X at the bottom right of its frame.

The Active Frames concept reminded me of the live tiles concept used in the Windows Phone 8 OS. BB10 doesn't let you resize the Active Frames or arrange them in different locations on a screen as Windows Phone 8 does.

Matt Hamblen explains how BlackBerry 10's Active Frames feature lets you swipe from one app to another.

Touchscreen keyboard

If you are a confirmed qwerty keyboard user, BlackBerry 10 may get you to switch to a virtual keyboard. The onscreen keys actually feel wider than other virtual keys on the market. There's a pronounced fret that divides each row from the next to add more room.

On top of the improved virtual keyboard, there is predictive text software that learns what and how a person types. For example, when I was typing "dec" in a sentence, the software displayed "decision" on the fret above a row of letters for finishing a sentence that read, "I was making a decision." I was able to flick the word "decision" into the email message text area with a gesture of my finger.

There are many predictive text programs in smartphones on the market, but BB10 seems to at least be keeping up, if not moving ahead of them.

Voice and voice commands

You can also dictate what you want to compose by using Voice Control, which is quickly turned on by touching and holding a microphone icon on the period key on the virtual keyboard, or by pressing and holding the physical Play/Pause button on the side of the smartphone.

Every time that I dictated a phrase into the Z10, it was recorded perfectly into text. I have never been able to say that about any other smartphone, including the iPhone 5, which is advertised for its capabilities with the Siri voice assistant but almost never works perfectly for me.

While I'm on the subject of audio, I should mention that the speakers are acceptable, although the sound quality often came out as tinny. BlackBerry isn't apparently trying to sell the Z10 as a great music playback device; the company seems to making a bigger issue of the video-related capabilities of the new smartphone.

Browsing

Compared to earlier browsers on BlackBerry devices like the Torch, the new HTML 5-based BlackBerry Browser is a joy to use. It loads pages quickly and is responsive when you scroll around pages or use a pinch gesture to zoom out or in.

I repeatedly loaded websites from various news organizations on the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III and the BlackBerry Z10, using the same carriers and Wi-Fi. Each time, the Z10's browser consistently tied with the other two in terms of loading speed.

The touchscreen is impressive, especially when working with the native browser. I never had a problem navigating through various Web pages with the Z10 by using different types of touches, and almost every previous smartphone I've ever tried balked on at least some.

Interestingly, BlackBerry is still supporting Adobe Flash in addition to HTML 5, although Flash support is not enabled by default. If you visit a website with Flash, the BB10 browser offers the option to enable it without needing to open settings or reload the Web page. I know quite a few websites that still rely on Flash and this function could come in handy.

The browser also lets you easily save a page as a bookmark or a home screen icon by clicking a dot below the Web page to open a window and then clicking either "Add to home screen" or "Add Bookmark." It just works. Bing, Google or Yahoo can be set as default search engine.

At the launch event, BlackBerry officials barely mentioned the improved browser, but I think it's something the company should be emphasizing.

For this review, I did all my browsing page load trials over Wi-Fi, but also found the browser worked remarkably well over 3G wireless from AT&T. I wasn't able to test LTE capability in the Z10 because AT&T hasn't launched LTE in the Virginia market where I live.



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