BlackBerry goes next gen with OS 10 and two new devices

While we didn’t get to spend time with both of the handsets BlackBerry announced today, we did put our hands all over the bigger model which looks to take on the iPhone and flagship Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and LG Optimus G when it launches here in March.

Encased in either a white or black plastic, the BlackBerry Z10 embodies a new look for the smartphone maker. While BlackBerry has tried touchscreen devices before, this looks nothing like either the Torch or Storm.

Instead, the Z10 almost looks like what would happen if an iPhone and a Nokia Lumia had a lovechild, with a design that incorporates the simple monolithic look each of the competing devices occupies, while also blending it with a lightweight polycarbonate body.

Even from a pre-production build, it’s clear that BlackBerry really has tried to evolve some of the ideas it first showed us when the PlayBook launched a couple of years ago, bringing with it a device completely dominated by gestures.

There is no home or back button in this device, with gestures across the screen from each of the four sides activating different functions.

Inside an app already? Swipe from the bottom to the top and the app will minimise, staying running but sitting behind everything.

Interested in seeing what apps you have available? Swipe from the right side and see for yourself.

It’s not an entirely new way of working, but BlackBerry seems to suggest that this makes it easy to flow through everything, moving between apps and services as if you were swimming through them, not taking large jumps.

There also isn’t a homescreen as such, at least not in the demonstrations we had, with your currently open apps all sitting in quadrants when you bring the phone back from standby. From what we saw, it’s better to think of these as work spaces that you want to use, or might have used recently, making it very easy for you to see what has happened in email, messaging, or on the BlackBerry App Store, and then deciding if you want to load it up.

From what we can tell, this is BlackBerry’s way of making a mobile work environment just that much more portable and easier.

There are some catches to this, though, with some of the features requiring access to BlackBerry’s Enterprise Server, a piece of software the company asks businesses to purchase and install in order to better make use of the devices.

For companies with a large number of BlackBerry devices, it’s probably not a hard ask, but smaller organisations may have trouble justifying it, even under a Bring Your Own Device plan.

All in all, BlackBerry’s new Z10 handset looks and feels interesting, but it is hard to judge, especially in the constantly evolving mobile climate of today.

The platform certainly brings with it some interesting features, it’s one that comes at least a year too late. This is what BlackBerry should have been showing off last year, and should have been competing with when it was making minor changes to the established Bold range of handsets.

Now it’s 2013, and while we have what appears to be a solid entry from a previous market leader, it will be a hard push to get it in with consumers and business professionals alike, especially with the multiple ecosystems already in play for apps.

Time will tell, of course, but with BlackBerry launching the products in March locally, customers will, at least, be able to see if these new devices are suitable for them shortly.