Are you ashamed to have a BlackBerry? It’s not exactly a status symbol any more, at least not in the U.S., after it got left in the dust by the iPhone. Now, there’s a new BlackBerry that wants to get back into the cool club the Z10. It’s the first phone to run the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, and it is, at first blush, a very good stab at regaining at least some of the cachet of the BlackBerry.
It’s also completely touch-oriented, which isn’t what you’d expect from a BlackBerry. You don’t use a hardware buttons to navigate the phone at all: They’re just to turn the phone on or off, or adjust the volume. To get around, you swipe across the screen. Up, down, right and left swipes all do different things, but they’re fairly easy to remember. Sadly, it’s reminiscent of webOS, the last hurrah of smartphone pioneer Palm Inc. It was a great, swipe-based interface that never found an audience and was ultimately put to rest.
Very rarely does BlackBerry 10 display a “Back” button on the screen, which is a blessing. I find Android’s always-present “Back” button a huge annoyance, since it’s rarely clear where it will take me. Will it take me back one screen or kick me out of the application I’m in? Only one way to find out: pushing it.
BlackBerry diehards will lament the lack of a physical keyboard – they’ll have to wait for the Q10, a model in the more traditional BlackBerry form. That’s due this spring. But before writing off the Z10, these loyalists should try its on-screen keyboard. It’s really very good. It provides more vertical space between the keys, imitating the steel bands that separated the hardware keys on the BlackBerry Bold. It’s very accurate and easy to use.
The Z10 will also have a replaceable battery, something lacking on the iPhone. Screen quality will be good, too, at 356 pixels per inch, compared with 326 for the iPhone 5 and 306 for Samsung’s Galaxy S III. Unlike the iPhone, the Z10 will allow you to expand storage with a microSD card, and it sports a chip letting the phone act as a credit card at some payment terminals and share data wirelessly when tapped against some other phones. The Z10 is heavier than the iPhone, though – at 4.78 ounces to the iPhone 5’s 3.95 ounces.
So why does the Z10 and BlackBerry 10 face such an uphill battle?
Well, the library of third-party applications is the biggest reason. The iPhone and Android have a huge head start when it comes to getting developers to make applications that run on their phones. RIM says BlackBerry 10 will launch in the U.S. with about 100,000 apps. That sounds like a big number, and it includes important apps such as Skype and Facebook.
But it’s inevitable that the iPhone will have apps you want but can’t get on BlackBerry 10. There’s no Instagram, no Netflix. It’s also obvious that the number includes some apps that were written for the PlayBook tablet and don’t work well on the smaller phone screen.
But the biggest obstacle to a RIM comeback is simply that the iPhone and Android have become the default for phone buyers, and few will see a reason to try something else. Microsoft, which has vastly more resources than RIM, has tried for two years to get people to buy Windows Phones, with very little to show for it.
BlackBerry 10 is nice, but I can’t point to anything about it that would make me say: “Forget those other phones: you have to buy this one.”