BlackBerry 10 review: First look
We take a look at RIM's next operating system, BlackBerry 10, ahead of our full review of a BB10 device
We've been lucky enough to get a showcase and hands-on with RIM's forthcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system.
The first thing which strikes you about BlackBerry 10 (BB10) is how far removed it is from any of RIM's earlier systems.
One of our main criticisms of BlackBerry 7 and its predecessors was how they all felt more or less the same, and dated at that, despite attempts to cram in new features inspired by those on other platforms.
With BlackBerry 10 it is quite apparent RIM has wiped the slate clean and gone back to the drawing board to start completely from scratch. We find this rather encouraging.
First of all, the Dev Alpha Unit we were witness to has no physical keys at all, it's entirely gesture-based and this aspect is built into BB10 from the ground up.
That's not to say it doesn't support key input though. RIM explained it had been designed with touch in mind and to offer a 'physical keyboard experience without the physical keyboard', but, in the future, the company is planning to offer physical Qwerty keyboard models alongside touch-only handsets. More on this later.
Our first glimpse of the system is the main homescreen. In this demonstration the screen was populated by what Vivek Bhardwaj, head of software at RIM's European division, described as ‘active apps' - four large panels which are effectively widgets and somewhat similar to Windows Phone Live Tiles, although much bigger and more interesting to look at.
Here we can see a calendar, a gallery called ‘Pictures', a weather app and a music player complete with album artwork. Bhardwaj explained the whole interface has been designed with both one-handed control and thumb control in mind.
At the top of the screen is an Android-style bar with the time, battery, signal, Wi-Fi, alarm and Bluetooth indicators, while at the bottom is another bar containing touch controls. There's a phone icon which is presumably for the dialpad, a magnifying glass for search and a camera icon. We noticed that this bar changes contextually depending on what screen you're viewing at the time.
Notifications are handled a bit differently here, RIM has designed interface control around what was described as a ‘glancing gesture' or ‘hook'. Pulling across from the main homescreen right-to-left brings a side-bar with notification icons.
This, of course, shows the number of new messages and different icons depending on where the alerts are coming from. However, continuing that initial swipe with a bit more gusto then brings the whole message inbox across.
The inbox is a fully aggregated message centre and features email, webmail clients such as Gmail, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), texts, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name but a few.
Bhardwaj stated this inbox is a ‘dedicated space on the homescreen', effectively the third homescreen on the platform. From the inbox you can tap on individual messages to view them and any attachments, such as PDFs, will be shown in a tab at the bottom of the screen where you can simply tap to open.
The idea here is that, if you have a message open, and perhaps the attachment too, with one ‘continuous pull gesture' you can sweep from the homescreen to the message and then to the attachment in a single fluid motion.
This was the only instance we saw this method demonstrated, but RIM assured us this is a control system present throughout the interface and allows you to ‘flow between applications.'
BB10 also has another homescreen if you swipe left-to-right. This is a more conventional app icon screen, pretty much an app drawer.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, RIM spent a good deal of time talking about the touch keyboard and emphasised that this area had receieved a huge amount of investment, research and development and attention to detail.
Bhardwaj said that the company's research had indicated users generally weren't satisfied with most touch keyboards on the market.
Bearing in mind that RIM is known for its physical keyboards, the aim here was to provide a touch keyboard which is as good as a conventional BlackBerry physical keyboard. Quite a challenge.
Part of this involves preserving the same layout, spacing, key size and other design elements for the touch format.