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BlackBerry Z10 - The Keyboard at Work - rather good

A review by Lyndon Hood for Scoop Techlab

We should note my Z10 experience started badly. Between the limited synching available on my old phone and the fact the Z10 would only accept contacts from the cloud or via Outlook (rather than, for example, the standard address card format), the tranfer required some patience and careful reading of some rather specific web searches. In the end I managed to get my contacts onto Google - harder than it sounds - and synch from there. 

No doubt this was bowing to the inevitable, but having to hand over all my details to a third party in order to use a phone that makes a feature of security did raise a dry smile. I guess it's something - like the way it expects to be always on and always connected, or the fact that I'm now accompanied everywhere by a phone with GPS that actually works properly - that I have to get used to.

But using the Z10? The business of navigating between apps is smooth and straightforward - flick up from the bottom to miminise, apps are on your right and the communication 'Hub' to the left (it lives up to the name, collecting and interacting with all your accounts in one place in way that seems the heart of the BlackBerry 10 system). This is all very elegant and it works consistently almost all the time. The only issue is some apps' interface make the flick-up tricky to register - I wasn't the first person to have trouble quitting Angry Birds properly. 

Rare quirks aside, after very few instructions general use is fairly intuitive. I submit as evidence of this the fact that my wife, who has a long-established dislike of touchscreen navigation, was using the Z10 without any noticable trauma.

At least, she was right up to the point where she tried to manage her email using the Hotmail mobile webpage - the checkboxes and drop-down options of this being unclickably small, and missing them even slightly resulting in something you didn't want to happen happening. It is not the Z10's fault that Microsoft's web interface is designed to taunt us - and BlackBerry's email client in the Hub works brilliantly - but it turned one member of my household against the phone, however unfairly.

 keyboard

The keyboard at work (in Docs To Go, which comes with the phone)

The on screen keyboard is also rather good. As you type suggested word completions appear above relevent letters and you can just flick them up into the text.

In fact it even gives suggestions for the next word, which give a new gloss to the surrealist idea of automatic writing:

 

My only complaint with the keyboard is that the large enter key is right beside the rather small full stop key, which has resulted in a couple of accidental early sends.

And of course, while the autocorrect - absolutely necessary for a virtual keyboard - works well and is perfectly clear (the space bar shows any impending replacement it will trigger), you do still have to pay attention while typing.

 

Shortly after I acquired this phone RIM announced plans to stop offering BlackBerry phones to the consumer market. The best elements of the system are geared towards work applications. I emphatically don't want to use my phone for work and even if I did have a use for BlackBerry's famous encrypted communication I have identified just one other BlackBerry user I might want to talk to. (Except occasional Indonesian spammers over the PIN messaging system.)

I also still have a lingering urge to tinker amateurishly with (or at least on) my digital devices - something the BlackBerry responds to with silent and implacable opposition. And the ecosystem for apps is - compared to the Google and Apple powerhouses - tiny and neglected, without much reason to think it will improve (though the ability to install Anroid apps should be some help here).

In short, I am not the BlackBerry target market.

But I am finding pros in all this. I am a naturally disorganised person who none the less has things to do. The BlackBerry, with its all-powerful communications hub (with the new update it now offers an 'priority' area that guesses - and can be taught – which messages from all channels you actually want to see) and excellent planning app, is starting to make me suspect that 'productivity software' can in fact make you more productive. So not an obvious fit with me; more the phone/user equivalent of a mismatched crime fighting duo.

There are still some odd glitches and limitations to the system. Skype repeatedly and without notice forgets my password and fails to log in until I re-enter it. At one point the phone lost all recollection I even had a Facebook account. The world clock only has five Australian cities: even if you do know enough Australian geography, this doesn't cover two mainland time zones. To fully connect the phone to a desktop computer, or to allow the phone remote access, you have to install the BlackBerry Link software, which seems a more heavy on the memory than it needs to be, doesn't shut down properly in Windows XP and - no surprises here - won't run at all on my ancient eMac (connecting via wifi or a USB connection just to the SD card are useful substitutes for most purposes).

And of course, this being BlackBerry, fixing issues like this is not for a user or, I suspect, even for a developer. After the open, hackerish, incremental world of my old n900, I'm now learning what it's like to be in the thrall of the company, hanging out for the next system update.

The BlackBerry Z10 is a great communications and productivity tool and, under this still-new system, a frustrating consumer phone - though it must be said its general responsiveness makes my old phone look impossibly slow and klunky. I will keep using it, I will get things done, and hope the full potential of that hardware that so impressed me out of the box somehow, eventually gets met.


Content Note: This post has been enabled by Telecom NZ , but the thoughts are the blogger's own. Find out more about Telecom Moblile Phone Picks here. Scoop TechLab is a project of Scoop Independent Media www.scoop.co.nz. It is edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.

 

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