TORONTO - It's not an iPhone killer and doesn't absolutely demolish the best Android or Microsoft smartphones on the market. But the new BlackBerry Z10 is a huge step forward for the beleaguered company formerly known as Research in Motion, which is now simply calling itself BlackBerry.
Here are five things that will impress BlackBerry aficionados and may sway smartphone consumers without entrenched allegiances to Apple or Android.
1. Look and feel
While not overwhelmingly distinct looking, the BlackBerry Z10 looks the part of a modern, svelte smartphone and once turned on, it responds well to touches and swipes. The screen is razor sharp and every movement feels fluid and fast, from cycling between the home screens to loading apps to browsing the web. The unique BlackBerry 10 gestures take some getting used to but once mastered, are quick and handy ways to multi-task between several apps and jump from doing one thing to another.
2. BlackBerry Hub
For users who have a work email account, one or two personal accounts and a slew of social media profiles — including Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn — BlackBerry Hub is a handy way to keep track of them all. All messages and notifications from the various accounts get merged into one universal inbox with no need to separately log in to a bunch of different sites. You can quickly sneak a peek at the Hub's contents by swiping from the left edge of the screen to the right. A small swipe begins to reveal just a bit of the Hub while a full swipe opens the inbox.
3. Finally a decent selection of apps
While still lagging far behind what's available on iPhones and Android devices, BlackBerry World promises to have a robust selection of more than 70,000 apps to download at launch, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Kindle, WhatsApp, Angry Birds, Songza, Slacker, Rdio, NHL.com, CBC, Tim Hortons, Air Canada, RBC and ING Direct. For users who aren't constantly checking the app store for new games and programs to download and just need the basics, it's likely BlackBerry World will have them covered. But there are some glaring omissions, including Netflix and Google Maps.
4. Typing made easier
Those who love BlackBerrys with QWERTY keyboards will want to wait for the Q10, expected out in April, but a lot of work went into making life bearable for users who will need to do a lot of typing on the Z10. It has a smart predictive text engine that senses what you're trying to type and will autocorrect mistakes, as smartphone users are used to. But it also has a unique feature to speed up the typing process. As you input letters, it predicts what word you're working toward and if it's correct, you can quickly swipe at that word to have it filled in. For example, say you've inputted the word "I'm." As you prepare to hit the next letter you may notice the word "going" appears above the G key, "just" is above J and "not" is above N. By swiping up from any of those letters the word is added to your message, saving you the keystrokes. Now a new set of predicted words is overlayed on the keyboard, potentially allowing you to construct a sentence or an entire message with just a series of swipes as opposed to typing out letter by letter.
5. A cool camera app
It likely won't be solely responsible for many sales, but the BlackBerry 10 camera app is a good example of an innovative twist on what could have been a ho-hum app. Smartphone cameras are great but still don't produce the best shots every time, especially for those with have a less than steady grip when firing off photos. The BlackBerry 10 app takes a burst of photos and lets you easily scan through them to find the best of the bunch. The app can detect multiple faces in a frame and allows the user to individually pick the best frame for each person so everyone appears smiling and in focus.