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Rediscovering Apps with the BlackBerry Z10

A review by Lyndon Hood for Scoop Techlab

I'd written a mildly amusing parody of Royals for Werewolf and I decided, the night before we were due to publish, that actually I kind of did want to record it. I was trying to work out when logistics of getting a computer and a microphone together in the room that isn't to echoey when I remembered I had a portable four track recorder. It was in my pocket. I can also use it to make phone calls.

I remember discovering "apps" on my n900. It was as if, while perhaps right now the phone did not have a bottle opener, or a tool for getting the stones out of horses shoes, or, say, sentience, it was basically just a matter of time. Many of the most useful apps were free in the community repository rather than the official store.

So it was a bit of a culture shock to discover that on planet BlackBerry you pay for the good apps (or at least that seems to be the idea). Even things that are free on desktop computers, like a full-featured web browser (the default browser is great except it doesn't re-wrap text to fit the screen). Or - this still bewilders me - a Python console.


I've still only really dipped my toes into this 'paying for apps' business but I've learned one thing: I owe a number of n900 developers a donation.

The range of BlackBerry 10 apps is limited - not least because the system is new - and you can guess the amount of support they get by comparing reviews. Something like a Facebook app  has more than nine million reviews on Google Play. On BlackBerry World it just ticks over 15,000.

I remember thinking I'd acquired just the hardware to start playing around with Vine, only to discover there was not BlackBerry Vine app. People, at least in New Zealand, don't seem to bother with promotional apps for BlackBerry.


Harmony: a procedural drawing program which won't make you draw better, but at least gives things a nice texture.

And I'm not sure how much attention major developers pay to the apps they have. With Twitter that has the unexpected bonus that the dreaded blue lines (and the extra notifications that are plaguing other versions) have yet to appear. But on the other hand, a glitch where the app would intermittently not open only seems to have come right with the recent system update. (You could still operate Twitter through the Hub; as with my Facebook and Skype it has a sort of mini-app. In Twitter's case it will post, get replies and search, but won't show your timeline.)

One slighly fiddly bit of tinkering BlackBerry does allow - that also should do a lot to mitigate the app availablity issue - is installing Android apps. I admit I had absolutely no success trying this previously, but the recent system update includes support for Jellybean, so I'm optimistic. 

I seem to have set myself up with most of my essentials at little cost. It comes with pretty much what you'd hope to come with a phone with an extra hit of office work (for instance, Docs to Go).

The music apps deals with double albums properly - I mention this because I've had trouble before - yet splits some other albums up into inexplicable sections. Neutron, a comparatively expensive music app that rates highly and offers gapless playback (something else I'm a fan of)  but I'm so alarmed by its AUDIOPHILES ONLY sale pitch I haven't dared try it.

The camera isn't what I'd call fully-featured - there's no manual focus of exposure (though colour cast and similar can be easily dealt with in the editing options). It seems odd that most of the camera apps with additional features offer, as their main selling point, the ability to turn off the shutter noise for "stealth" purposes. I swear I just have this other camera app for the time lapse.


Taken with the Z10's default Camera app

There seem to be enough games to keep me busy. At least, I played through all the available levels of Star Wars Angry Birds and am now working on Robotek.

I found a torch, a couple of apps for doodling purposes, a few novelty musical apps and an instrument tuner. There is a book reader with satisfactory typography controls called Playepub...


First: Unsatisfactory (Kindle). 


Second: Satisfactory (Playepub)

 ... but its developer assures me that the other thing I really liked for cellphone book reader on my n900 - FBReader's ability to turn pages with the volume button - won't work on the BlackBerry. (I did manage - my one 'sideloading' success - to install the Android version of FBReader. The text was fuzzy and many controls, including the volume-rocker one, didn't work. The FBReader site says "public beta will be available early January 2013".)

It was while trying options for a dictophone app that I grabbed Noodle4, the four-track I mentioned earlier. It is free, it records four tracks of audio and it is (once I looked up how to use it - hint: long press on the tracks) easy to use. I'd love an audio looper to play with too. Can't find one.

Obviously it would have been easier if I could sing and strum at the same time; in this case, sitting in the spare bedroom, I did the vocal track first (which is backwards but meant I could sing along with the original over the headphones) and added the rest. In a hurry, running playback through the headphones and making noise into the Z10's internal microphone. There were also clicks - they didn't make the cut.

It was the work of moments to correct the slight delay and merge the track on a desktop computer and - voila! a piece of audio whose faults are definitely not due to the software or the phone.


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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