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Preview: BlackBerry 10 helps RIM get up to speed, but is that enough?

BB10Research in Motion’s new operating system, BlackBerry 10, offers vast improvements from the company’s previous mobile phone OS. While BB10 gets RIM up to speed with the competition, is it enough to make a splash?

I recently had a chance to spend almost an hour with a prototype touchscreen-only handset: Dev Alpha B. The RIM spokespeople were quite clear that this is still a non-production model I was previewing, and that there would be improvements before the Jan. 30 launch.

It’s hard to speak about the look and feel of the prototype touchscreen-only handset, which appeared as if it were inside a case. A selection of leaked photos looks more promising.

That being said, there is no home button. RIM says it’s all about swipe gestures to navigate around the phone.

After a few minutes spent learning what each gesture does, I quickly got the hang of it and was soon jumping from app to app, from contact to inbox.

With BB10, RIM is introducing a feature called BlackBerry Hub. It’s a centralized inbox for everything from email to social media updates to a quick-glance calendar.

Users can quickly peek at it by sliding the screen to the right, just to see if there are any important emails that need their attention rather than switching completely out of the app they’re in.

The calendar and messaging systems appear to be well thought-out for heavy business users – which is the demographic RIM has managed to hold onto.  It’s intuitive to do everything from sending emails to scheduling appointments with simple swipes and the help of BB10.

RIM touted how users can have up to eight apps minimized to live “frames,” which push updates to the screen – a feature quite similar to what’s already found within Windows Phone and Android ecosystems. So nothing new here - and only eight live frames is a far cry from what you can do with both competing mobile operating systems from Microsoft and Google.

RIM also showed off the camera and a feature that lets users snap a photo and then pick the best ‘face’ from each subject using a timeline-esque scroll wheel – handy to eliminate blinks.

BB10 also features two separate environments – one for work and one for personal stuff – helpful to keep photos of your ravaging weekend parties separate from presentations with the boss.

A first attempt to snap a photo didn’t work out – an error message said there wasn’t enough memory (don’t forget, this was not a final product).

The keyboard is what RIM diehards will be most anxious about – and I have good news. Not only did RIM do a great job to create an authentic BlackBerry touschcreen keypad, but it’s faster than using a normal BlackBerry keypad.

I raced against someone using a clicky BB Bold to type out a simple phrase – and I won. RIM will also come out with a phone featuring a real keyboard, for those stuck in 2010.

The virtual keypad has frets – thick silver lines – to help separate the rows of keys. Prediction and auto-correct was fairly spot-on and users can have multiple dictionaries active at the same time.

Ultimately, it seems like BB10 will be an option for those who use the phone for work. But it’s still too early to say how this phone will “work” when it’s time to play due to a small app ecosystem and hardware details that remain unclear. 

- Maurice Cacho, MSN Tech & Gadgets



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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.