Research in Motion (RIM) has almost finalised its BlackBerry 10 operating system, and V3 has got its hands on a preview of the operating system before its anticipated release early next year.
RIM tells us that the operating system "is built for people with a mind-set who want to be successful, be it a 12-year-old school girl or a mum". We're not sure whether RIM is deliberately shutting out the male buying audience, but with its quirky gestures and unfamiliar interface, we're still not overly convinced it's going to manage to lure customers of any sex, despite improving in areas where Android and iOS are still lacking.
We tested BlackBerry 10 on a BlackBerry Dev Alpha B handset, a test device that with its large touchscreen and lack of hardware keys is a likely representation of what we can expect from the first BlackBerry 10 handset.
LockscreenThe BlackBerry 10 lock screen looks to attract iOS users with its functionality, showcasing information such as messages and emails, calls, calendar alerts and a camera shortcut button, which RIM claims will help BlackBerry 10 users manage their social lives at a glance.
We're not 100 percent convinced though, as while the iOS lock screen is uniformative, the one on BlackBerry 10 doesn't tell you who has been in contact, which means users will need to unlock the device to get all of the necessary information.
Unlocking the phone is much more fun, though. You unlock your phone by sliding your finger up the screen which slowly reveals your open applications, meaning you don't have to unlock the phone fully to catch a glance at the weather or Facebook updates. However, one issue we had was getting the phone to respond to our gesture, although this is something that users will probably learn how to do seamlessly after using it for a few days.
After a wave of lookalike Android phones and Apple's unchanged iOS interface, the BlackBerry 10 homescreen is a refreshing change and far departure from the present user interface on BlackBerry smartphones.
Once your device is unlocked, BlackBerry 10 greets you with between four and eight "Active Frames", a grid of realtime apps that are a welcome change. These frames are set by the user and RIM claims third-party apps are also supported. Of course, you can swipe to reveal a more traditional app menu, but this homescreen should forgo the need for firing up your most popular apps and multitasking.
What's more exciting than BlackBerry 10's quirky homescreen is the way it responds to touch. RIM has created something called BlackBerry Flow, which means users can switch through apps and screens with just one finger, forgoing the need for physical keys.
For example, swipe right across the homescreen and you're greeted with notifications, letting you know of any Twitter or Facebook notifications, emails and BlackBerry Messaging texts. Keep swiping further and you'll reach the Mailbox, home to all of your messages in one unified, clear and concise inbox. It's easy to manage messages, as you hold down on the screen and you will be greeted with a shortcut menu, enabling you to reply, flag or forward emails.
Although we found the gestures difficult to navigate at first we soon got the hang of it, and can see this feature appealing to those with a fairly hectic social life. While on iOS and Android you have to flick between apps to see all of your messages, the swipe gestures and unified inbox make it all seem so much more effortless on BlackBerry 10.
BlackBerry smartphones are synonymous with great keyboards, and it looks like BlackBerry 10 devices won't be any different. We tried out RIM's reworked touchscreen keyboard, which promises to make a mockery of iOS and Android, with its ability to learn users' typing habits and adjust to better fit each specific user's hands and typing.
The baked-in predictive text certainly puts rivals' alternatives to shame, and it's only going to get better the more you use it, RIM promises. Start typing 'Hello', for example, and the keyboard will know what you're going to write, offering the completed word above the relevant key. So, if you've typed 'He', the word 'Hello' will be hovering above the 'L' key - which can be placed into your message with the flick of your finger.
Although BlackBerry 10's onscreen keypad will come with sensitivity located at the centre of each key, RIM tells us that this will shift by up to half a letter depending on how each user holds their phone. Of course, we didn't have long enough with the device to test this, but it certainly sounds like a promising idea.
Another neat feature of the BlackBerry 10 keyboard is the ability to support up to three languages. We tested this by typing in admittedly shoddy French, and the predictive text immediately changed to suit the language we were using.
Our only issue with the keyboard is that, on first impressions, it's quite tricky to get the hang of it. Those used to tapping out messages on an iPhone or Android handset, for example, might be put off by the advanced BlackBerry 10 keyboard, which will definitely take a good few days to get used to.
It's unclear whether RIM's upcoming Qwerty devices will also feature a reworked keyboard, but all will be revealed in a few months.
Although we didn't get to test them fully, we'll be surprised if BlackBerry 10's business features don't manage to win over corporate customers.
BlackBerry 10 allows users to split their home and personal lives, a feature that RIM claims makes it the ideal operating system for those using bring your own device (BYOD) schemes. Pull down at the top of the BlackBerry 10 homescreen and there's the option to choose Work or Personal mode, both of which can be password protected.
The Work mode moves files into "a secure, fully sandboxed perimeter", RIM told us, which means it can easily be managed by a company's IT department. We also think the two modes are a neat touch for those who want to block business emails over the weekend, as these can be set not to appear in Personal mode.
There's no denying that RIM's BlackBerry 10 looks great. It's functional, intuitive and finally offers something different. However, it's going to take a long time for new adopters to get the hang of it, and we're not sure that users will be willing to give up the familiar comfort of their iOS or Android smartphones to learn a new operating system from the ground up.
BlackBerry 10 is certainly a bold move on RIM's part, but we're not convinced yet that it's going to be one that pays off.
We'll revisit this assessment when we get more hands-on time with a later build of BlackBerry 10.