The latest Blackberry update (10.2.1) is trickling out to handsets throughout the world, and it contains hundreds of updates, refinements and enhancements, as well as the ability to directly install Android apps. Strap in. Get comfortable. It’s a biggun.
Blackberry 10 is an often underestimated competitor in the Smartphone race. We’ve previously talked about what’s awesome about the latest refresh to the Blackberry platform, and we’ve even talked about how you can run Android apps on Waterloo’s latest Blackberry phones. But now we’re going to talk about the latest refresh of their new, QNX based operating system.
I’ve been quite fond of the Blackberry aesthetic ever since the days of my old Bold 9790. Things have moved on since then. Whilst they’ve retained their famous industrial attention to detail, they’ve embraced a modern design aesthetic that is befitting of a competitor to iOS and Android. As you’d expect from any major refresh, 10.2.1 comes with a number of design enhancements and tweaks.
Blackberry 10 uses gestures to navigate through the operating system. Swiping downwards from the home screen brings you to the Quick Settings menu. This gives you easy access to WiFi, voice notifications, alarms and system settings. As you might expect with a significant system update, this has been overhauled significantly.
The first thing you might have noticed is everything is flatter and squarer. Yep. Blackberry have been drinking that flat-design kool aid. But it actually looks really good. In terms of functionality, you can now add a huge amount of items to the Quick Settings menu, including ones which control the behavior of the NFC radio.
The Messaging Hub has undergone a couple of changes that make this concept even more awesome. The first is the addition of pinch gestures.
Want to see all the unread emails in your inbox, or all your unread Whatsapp messages? Just pinch. To see the rest of your messages in their entirety, pinch out again. It’s really that simple.
Text messaging has seen a bit of a change with respect to its look and feel, with everything a bit darker. This is a bit reminiscent of Windows Phone 8, but I find that it works really well here.
Frustratingly, the latest update to Blackberry 10 has disabled the ability to take screenshots of the lockscreen. As a result, I am unable to furnish you – the reader – with a visual guide to this. As a result, you’ll have to settle for a textual explanation.
So, let’s suppose that you unlock your phone to see what messages you have. If you had 2 Whatsapp conversations ongoing, have received four tweets and two missed calls, these would be represented with a logo for each item and a number besides it indicating the number of instances of each item.
However, suppose you wanted to see if any of those Whatsapp conversations were of interest to you, you would have had to unlock your phone and navigate to Whatsapp in the communications hub. The update to the lock screen allows you to tap each item to see who has been trying to get in touch with you. You can also go direct to the message from this screen, saving you the effort of having to unlock your phone.
I’ve been a big fan of the multitasking in Blackberry 10 for a while. You swipe up, and each open program is represented with a nice little square. That said, I’ve often found myself wishing that these squares actually showed something, much like Live Tiles do on Windows Phone 8.
Well, 10.2.1 delivers, bringing this much sought after functionality to the platform. At the time of writing, a handful of apps support this, including Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook.
Direct Install of APKs
We’ve known for a while that Blackberry 10 could run Android apps. Indeed, it has been alleged that the unofficial goal of the Blackberry 10 platform to be a better Android than Android.
Blackberry 10.2 brought about the ability to run apps that are compatible with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. However, to get them to run on your handset, you still had to go through the tedious process of converting an APK to Blackberry’s proprietary BAR format.
Not anymore: now you can directly install APKs. No faffing about with conversions, or cryptographically signing your BAR files. Just download, click and install.
I tried this out with a few Android apps and found that the vast majority played nicely with my device. Sound, camera and network access worked as it would with a native Blackberry app, and there were no crashes to speak of. The only exception to this was was Uber – which is a pity. Whenever I’ve used this awesome car sharing service, I’ve had to go about tethering my Nexus 7 tablet to my Blackberry smartphone.
However, as previously stated, this was an exception to the rule. The vast majority of Android apps worked like a charm, and I can only imagine that they will work even better as the Android runtime becomes even more polished.
A number of core applications have been upgraded too. These have changed either in aesthetics, or in terms of functionality, adding even more awesomeness.
The music app has undergone an overhaul. This is a bit of a relief, as the last one was nothing short of bloody awful, with albums being organized in an incoherent, unholy mess. Things are much more sensibly structured now.
The latest Blackberry 10 update also unlocks the FM radio built into the Z30, Q5 and Q10 smartphones. Sadly, you can only listen to the radio with your headphones in, as it uses the wire in your cans as an antenna.
Offline Reader Mode
Do you take a lot of flights? Ever wish you could just use your phone to browse the web whilst in the air? Me too. Sadly, airplane WiFi hasn’t taken off in Europe, and in-flight mobile data usage is a sure-fire way to get a stern telling off by the captain.
Blackberry 10.2.1 allows you to save and store webpages for later viewing. In the browser, click on ‘settings’ and select ‘save page’. That’s it.
Answering Phone Calls
Previously, answering and refusing phone calls was a matter of swiping up or down. This aspect of the Blackberry 10 platform has been refreshed, and now looks much more like its counterparts in iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Blackberry is dying, right?
I mean, the tech press are adamant the Waterloo based handset peddler has about as much chance of survival as Lord Cardigan and his light brigade going up against the Death Star. All the cool kids have their iPhones and Androids, and even Alicia Keys (she wrote a song about Toronto, or something) doesn’t want anything more to do with Blackberry.
And yet Blackberry still has a die-hard contingent of fans. When we polled our readers about their preferred choice of mobile platform, the denizens of Crackberry swarmed out like a horde of rabid hornets to vote en masse for Blackberry 10. We got Crackberry’d.
Blackberry still have their fans, and the fact that they’re still releasing massive updates shows that there’s life yet in this platform –and that they’re still committed to ensuring that each of their users have a contemporary smartphone experience. The proof of this is the size of this update. Weighing in at over 300 megs and containing figuratively hundreds of updates, there’s so many little refinements that I’ve simply been unable to include them in this article. For a rundown, check out Crackberry’s coverage.
But what do you think? Have you installed this update? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Janitors