BlackBerry 10: A late look at the aging OS

I remember writing about BlackBerry 10 way back in 2013, where although I was impressed by the polish of the operating system, I was also at the time very much into Windows Phone, and felt that BB10 was merely just playing catch up with Microsoft. Had I not been so much in love with the Lumia 920, or 1520 that I had at the time, who knows, maybe I would've given BlackBerry a whirl at the time, because they were mighty purdy. Fast forward a year from 2013, and BlackBerry wasn't doing much better at adding users to its platform. Finally, in 2015, BlackBerry announced the Priv, the company's first Android device, thus sending a signal that BlackBerry 10 is no longer the BlackBerry's priority. So how does BlackBerry 10 run in 2017, in a world where Windows Phone can no longer maintain a market share above a full percentage point?

Let's first talk about the device itself. The phone of choice is the Q10. Why? Because what is a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard? Now if I had unlimited funds, the BlackBerry Passport would absolutely be the chosen device, but the $200+ price tag makes it too expensive for the week my attention span will be using it. Plus, this Q10 was lying around, and you can easily get them online for $50 on eBay. The Q10 itself is tiny compared to other phones. This came from 2013, a time where we didn't have an iPhone Plus, but we did have the Galaxy Note in its third version, so big phones were just starting to take off. The device feels spectacular in the hand. If there's anything BlackBerry can do very well, even in times of financial trouble, it's design a well built phone. The Q10 feels solid in the hand; it's not heavy, but it definitely feels substantial. The back is made of a matte material so it doesn't slide around in your hand while you're typing. The front screen is made of glass for the touchscreen, and with this being my first QWERTY physical keyboard, it didn't take too long getting used to the keys. I feel like a business man typing on these keys, it's an interesting feeling that you just don't get with an on-screen keyboard. Plus, it's nice having dedicated keys for software shortcuts. The battery life is pretty good, not the greatest, but this phone is also some three years old by now. The cameras are not very good, but again, it's a phone from 2013, and at that time, only the iPhone and Lumia phones were making good cameras. The best part is the speaker on the bottom; my gosh, this is one of the loudest, and most full speakers I have ever heard on a phone. And it's on a BlackBerry of all things, the phone of the business man has the best speaker!

Enticing hardware is only part of the problem BlackBerry has. The biggest problem for most people is BlackBerry 10 OS. Even today, the world is still reliant on apps, and BlackBerry's Blackberry World store is just lacking. Even in 2013, it was similar to Windows Phone's app store, where crazy third-party developers spent a lot of time making apps for free just so the app store had something. That's pretty much the only bad side to BlackBerry 10, because everything else inside is buttery smooth and still fresh to use. BlackBerry 10 is an operating system based around gestures. Swipe up from the bottom to go back to the home screen, and slide down to access extra features inside apps. It's difficult to get used to that going from an iPhone or Android phone, because everything you have to do belongs in the home screen. There is no notification tray to swing down, and recent apps and the apps on the phone are all in the home screen. All your notifications belong inside BlackBerry Hub, the first page on the home screen. The Hub holds everything, email, text messages, BBMs, Tweets, it's all designed to be contained in this one page. It works well, but it takes getting used to not sliding down on the screen to check what the notification I just received contained. When you're on the home screen, just start typing to initiate a search, either through the phone itself or through an online search engine. It's a joy using the software because everything is so smooth and responsive. The gestures and screen transitions rarely if ever drop frames, and it just feels fresh using something so polished. The same goes for BlackBerry 10 apps, when you can find one. They all run very well, and the operating system as a whole just feels like it was made to work for itself, which is seldom the case. However, this does not extend to BB10's Android support. Now, it's neat-o that BlackBerry 10 can support emulating BlackBerry apps, but it only sounds good on paper. In practice, at least on the older Q10, the experience is agonizingly slow compared to everything else on the device. BlackBerry 10.3 comes with Amazon's App Store, but trying to install apps through it takes patience, which I have never had. You just expect to let an app install in the Amazon store, and then multitask to some other app, but if you do that, chances are the Android app will be frozen in time, until you re-open it, then it resumes, so you have to babysit the Amazon App Store, and make sure to say nice things to it, it knows when you say swear words at it. I suppose it's great that BlackBerry understands their app store is lacking, so they give the customer another one, but it's just hard to sell that to someone that was even thinking of a BlackBerry. On the bright side, BlackBerry 10 does have a Siri-like assistant to aide with all the Siri-like stuff, like checking the weather, and asking for jokes. The amazing thing is it's a great assistant too, and this feature came somewhat late in BB10's life, which I find quite nice.

BlackBerry 10 is a mystery, because it just works so well. I tend to group Windows Phone, or what is now Windows 10 Mobile, and BlackBerry 10 in the same group, because they're both the underdogs of the mobile world, and I gotta say that although Windows 10 Mobile has a very unique and well thought out design, you get the feeling using it that some things are just not finished as well as they could be. BlackBerry 10 feels like they had a gigantic team of dedicated, loyal developers working as hard as they possibly can to create a work of art. Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar company and yet they can't produce a product that feels like more than two people had a hand in finishing it up. BlackBerry barely makes money and somehow they found a way to make something that you just don't want to stop using. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter because BlackBerry has essentially abandoned the BlackBerry 10 ship with their line of Android phones. Do we need a world with more than two major phone ecosystem choices? It's certainly not necessary, but Android and iOS are very much the same. We're stuck with two vanilla choices in a world that decided against fresh and new ones, like BlackBerry 10, Windows 10 Mobile, WebOS, and I'd even be willing to group in Fire OS from the Fire phone, because at least they tried something new. Apple hasn't changed iOS much since 2007, and Android is the Pepsi of the mobile world that basically just started as an iOS clone. All I'm trying to say is BlackBerry 10 is a wonderful experience, and now I have to go back to my regular old Android phone so I can actually do things.

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