RIM returns: BlackBerry’s Z10 reviewed

Next up is the operating system, which feels like it has evolved from BlackBerry’s tablet, the PlayBook. Similar to that device, everything in the Z10 works by gesture, with swipes from the left, right, top and bottom edges of the device taking you through the operating system.

There are no physical buttons here for you to use, hardly a surprise given where touchscreen phones are going, and BlackBerry is instead asking you to work through its new operating system with simple swipes from any of the four main directions.

It’s relatively simple to get your head around, and you’ll find a tutorial when the device is first set up in case you need help.

No matter what you do, you’ll generally find settings for each app when you swipe from the top down. Dragging your finger from the bottom edge up will always push any app you’re in way into the background, minimising it for display on what BlackBerry has as your home screen, which will show any apps you’re running.

Outside of this, there is no real home screen. You can see apps as currently-running tiles, which take up a quarter of your screen. These can be scrolled depending on how many you’re running, and closed whenever the little “x” is pressed.

Swipe from left to right from that home screen and you’ll be greeted by the BlackBerry Hub, which will connect all your messages, emails, texts, and social networking mentions together, making it easy to see anyone trying to connect with you. The Hub makes it possible for you to show specifically which account you’re looking at, but you can see everything globally, which is useful, too.

Or there’s swiping from right to left on that main home screen, which will bring up your app menu, which can be moved around and reordered when you want.

Overall, it’s a surprisingly easy system to move around, though navigating your way through settings menus can take time. All in all, we found that minimising apps worked quite well; it allowed us to run quite a few apps at once, and made multitasking easy.

The operating system is also reasonably fast, and while we didn’t see many crashes, the few that did occur  during our review period seemed to come from specific apps, not the operating system itself.

Much of the focus for BlackBerry OS 10 is in the keyboard, and since that feature has been a primary reason for people to choose BlackBerry devices, it’s a necessary area to look at.

In this handset, there is no physical keyboard, though there will be one of those coming in April, in the form of the Q10.

Rather, like most Android and all iOS devices, the keyboard here is all onscreen, with predicted words appearing above each letter you type. For instance, if you type “awesome,” presumably, the predictive text will offer you the word “awesome” to flick up and use by the time you’ve reached the “e” in the word. If you miss it and press the “e” instead, it will offer the word over the next letter, the “s” in this case.

Flick up on the letter to make the word above the letter appear. We flicked up on "c" from the example before and "flick" was entered in.

The idea is an interesting one, but because the word location changes each time, it’s actually a little harder to type quickly when relying solely on this method. Over time, we noticed the predictive word system would offer us words we wanted to use before we typed anything, with the words appearing over their starting letter (such as “and” appearing above the “a” and “for” appearing above the “f”).

As neat an idea as this is, it’s no Swype, and we actually found it easier to type on the BlackBerry keyboard without flicking up on various characters.

Smartphones also need to have decent cameras these days, and the eight megapixel model on the Z10 is good. The autofocus is not, however.

Focus can be a little troublesome on the Z10, with the camera taking a couple of seconds to acquire it, and you touching the screen to fire when the image is soft.

You’re likely to be waiting a second or two for autofocus to kick in after you load up the camera. We often found that the first shot we fired was out of focus, rather than when we waited that precious second for the camera to know what it was looking for.

When focus does kick in, the camera is actually capable of some decent depth and clarity, at least when there’s ample light.

The Z10's camera handles depth quite well.

In short, we don’t think this camera will beat some of the current top-ranking camera phones, including the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3. It needs faster focus as well as more shooting options, because there aren’t many modes to jump to here.

A few little things show BlackBerry has been putting some serious effort into this handset. Things like adding payment systems directly into the phone so you can change how you pay for apps and publications, how you share files over DLNA, and the amount of data you’ve sent and received when a hotspot is activated.

Software is required to link this BlackBerry up with your computer, but don’t worry, it comes with the phone. Simply plug it in and run the installer to allow the handset to link up, making it possible to transfer music from either iTunes or Windows Media Player, as well as photos and videos back and forth.