Technology Explained

Living with a BlackBerry: Lame Duck or Genuine Android Alternative?

Christian Cawley 06-03-2014

Following years of poor sales the BlackBerry has – according to the packaging – been “Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented.” The new BlackBerry Z10 is certainly impressive – but how does using it compare with using a new Android or Windows Phone handset? I decided to find out.


How I Decided To Assess The BlackBerry Z10

In order to get a good idea of how the BlackBerry Z10 could be used on a day-to-day basis in my capacity as a freelance writer and regular contributor to MakeUseOf, I decided to focus on being able to perform a small number of tasks:

In addition, access to Trello Trello - A Unique, Simple & Powerful Project Management System From A Good Home Does the name Joel Spolsky mean anything to you? If so, you’re going to want to read this post, because it showcases Spolsky’s latest and greatest project. And if not, you should know this is... Read More would prove useful.


As I currently have access to the majority of these tools and features on Android and Windows Phone, it didn’t seem to be too much to expect to be able to use the Z10 in the same way.

The BlackBerry Z10 User Interface

I have a long history with BlackBerry. Ten years ago. I was working in an IT department providing support to management and executive-level colleagues – unlocking devices following password faults, resetting BlackBerry handsets that weren’t working correctly, etc.


A few years ago (around 2009-10) I also owned a BlackBerry Pearl 8100 series handset, which proved useful for some but not all tasks. Even then, it seemed to me that Android was already ahead of the game.

You can imagine that I might have approached using the Z10 with some trepidation – but within two minutes, I was absolutely hooked. The BlackBerry 10 operating system is an absolute delight and far exceeds expectations, putting the ghost of previous forays into touch UIs firmly to rest. I suspect there are a few other ghosts that RIM would like exorcising, but this is a good place to start.

There are so many elements to the user interface’s overhaul that I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Suffice to say that the unlock mechanism is original, the multitasking works well and the visual layout is pleasing. The BlackBerry Z10’s software keyboard is responsive and the lack of a trackpad a relief. Most notable is the lack of any hardware buttons for reaching the home screen, performing searches or going back, etc. These mechanisms are all replaced with gestures; the lack of hardware buttons is barely noticeable.

Best of all, a series of hints briefs you on using the phone. These are kept short and sweet, however, and within seconds you’re away.


Comparing BlackBerry 10 with Android 4.4 and Windows Phone 8

Comparing the operating system with Android and Windows Phone 8 is a little unfair. I use the HTC One as my day-to-day phone, so have the pleasure of the Sense 5.5 UI. As for Windows Phone 8, I’ve always found the OS to be fast and efficient. So what chance does BlackBerry 10 have?

I was certainly surprised.

The lack of hardware buttons makes unlocking the phone faster than is possible with Windows Phone or the HTC One (where the power switch is oddly positioned making single hand use tricky). The BlackBerry 10 lock screen is as informative as that of the HTC One (mine currently runs Android 4.3), so again, this works in its favour.



Finally, it just feels so quick. Android can tend to hang (not my experience on the HTC One, but I have used a factory-fresh Moto X – running Android 4.4 KitKat – for a week which had distinct issues in this area), while Windows Phone has always been fast. BlackBerry 10 can be considered a halfway house between the two operating system user interfaces in many ways, none more so when considering speed and ease of use.

To give you an idea of how fast things can be done on the BlackBerry Z10, I can swipe up from the bottom of the phone to view the home screen, swipe left to access the messaging hub (where emails, text messages, BBM and notifications can be found) and swipe left to browse through the installed apps.

Multitasking is easily managed from the second home screen (in order they are messaging, multitasking, apps, with the latter spread across as many screens as needed) while making a call, launching a search and opening the camera are all easily achieved by tapping the corresponding software buttons that appear on all home screens.

Installing Apps: Tentative Steps

One area I was less confident about with the BlackBerry Z10 was installing apps. As I understood it, the platform was largely dependent on Android apps, so getting my head around the mechanism used to install these was a potential stumbling block.


It seemed that attempting to install apps from BlackBerry World would produce a better feel for using apps on the BlackBerry Z10, so I tried this. Unfortunately, the Trello app was read only and the lack of an official WordPress app was a deal-breaker. On the whole, BlackBerry World doesn’t cut it; despite a pleasing interface, native apps just aren’t there.

Adding new apps would have to be a job for the phone’s Android support, something best achieved by installing a third party app store from Amazon or 1Mobile.


Installing apps proved simple, involving a three-step manual search, download and install system – much simpler than sideloading You Got Your Android In My Blackberry - How To Run Android Apps On Blackberry OS 10 Before you side load your Blackberry device with your favorite Android app, there are a few things you need to know. Read More . However, it seems that even the flagship Z10 suffers when running multiple Android apps. Multitasking may be easily managed on BlackBerry OS 10, but stability is an issue.

For Android, installing new apps is a case of search and select. With recent releases, tapping the app you want to install on the Google Play search results page streamlines the process considerably (although this should only be done if you’re familiar with the app in question). Meanwhile, Windows Phone users can install apps just as quickly. The key difference is that these two platforms offer two-step installation, where the download and install stages are automatic.

So, what about day to day use?

Using The BlackBerry Z10 Daily

With the apps installed, the BlackBerry Z10 could then be compared on a more equal footing with my Nokia Lumia 920 Nokia Lumia 920 Review & Giveaway A couple of weeks ago, Nokia introduced two new devices to the world: the Nokia Lumia 925 and the Nokia Lumia 928. The top notch of Windows Phone 8 devices, these two smartphones will only... Read More Windows Phone 8 handset and my HTC One, running Android 4.3 Jellybean.

This is where things tend to level out. Using Android apps results in an identical user experience to that found on Android – as you would expect. Reliance on WordPress and Trello in particular resulted in a lot of task closing rather than task switching, simply because of the Z10’s seeming inability to multitask.


Unfortunately, this slowed me down. Not by any huge degree but the result was noticeable enough to make me think twice. If we consider that the Z10 is aimed at enterprise and so-called prosumer (“professional consumers”) users, this isn’t good enough.

For social networking, the BlackBerry Z10 is buoyed by native Twitter and Facebook apps. It also has various capable note-taking apps.

Measuring things up, the ease with which the BlackBerry Z10 can be unlocked, calls answered and messages and emails sent is rather satisfying. Setting up email was remarkably streamlined, especially compared to memories of my previous BlackBerry, and on a par with the competition.

Unfortunately, the Z10’s inability to multitask Android apps and the lack of native apps in key areas (some well-known, others less so) is a concern. Speaking as a Windows Phone user since 2010, there is a point at which a lack of apps starts to become a concern. Fortunately, the release of Windows Phone 8 overcame this, and I had hoped that BlackBerry OS 10 would have a similarly galvanising effect for that platform.

It hasn’t happened yet…

Superb Phone, Great Platform, Needs Apps – Don’t Rely On Android

The BlackBerry Z10 is a great phone, and BlackBerry OS 10 is something everyone needs to try. Like Windows Phone’s first appearance, you’ll be shocked and surprised at how slick and different it is. Where it is similar to Android is perhaps more akin to how Android was first received in comparison to iOS back in 2008.

There are many native apps for BlackBerry devices, the vast majority of which have been upgraded to run with OS 10. The problem is that there simply are not enough to make this device a must-have. It is somewhat ironic that at the same time as they release a phone that is a genuine competitor that RIM should decide to withdraw from the consumer market to focus on enterprise and prosumers.

One thing the smartphone market needs is competition. The BlackBerry absolutely needs to be in the mix and the Z10 can stand up against Android and Windows Phone in most areas other than the poor app support. Using Android apps is an option, but if you want performance from your phone and a better selection of apps, choosing Android itself is the better option.

BlackBerry OS 10 on the Z10 is no lame duck, but it needs the right sort of backing to be a success. Let’s hope that’s what it gets.

Image Credits: Enrique Dans Via Flickr

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  1. Steve
    March 13, 2014 at 6:37 am

    I switched from iOS (previous I owned an android to) to Blackberry and I never regretted.
    This OS is superb, fluid without crashes and is very intuitive, the HUB for all the messages it's just fantastic.
    Z10 is great, the price you have to pay dropped a lot, and because i am not an app addict, the native Blackberry applications are just more than enough for me.
    I don't think i could ever use an iPhone or Android again.

  2. sharon nembhard
    March 8, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Thank you for the confidence boost in keeping focused on my purchase. Could you now please comment on the BB Z30. My fear is really making the investment when it appears BB is going to disappear off the radar very soon. Your opinion please.

    • Milt Davies
      March 9, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      I really don't believe BlackBerry is going anywhere. There are a dedicated bunch of tech media pundits that get hits to their sites by almost continually lambasting BlackBerry and predicting it's end. The thing is though, they always invariably fail to mention that BB still have a few billion in reserve, no debt, and they're becoming a much leaner company.

      The app situation is frustrating, but it really isn't BB's fault (acknowledgment of which was one thing I wished had been included in this otherwise excellent review). It's app developers that won't take the very small amount of effort to port their apps to run on BB10.. I know that means nothing to the average consumer, but it is the case. The question that doesn’t get asked enough I'd why they aren't? There’s more than enough BB10 users out there to make a profit from, so why are these developers turning their nose up at the money they could be making off of them?

  3. David Bobb
    March 8, 2014 at 2:29 am

    I'm an android power-user (GS3) and tried out my dad's Z10 and have to say that it is an excellent phone. I found the edge swiping mechanics to be superb, as they were very intuitive and easy to learn. The soft keyboard is the best i've ever used (even beating out swype, which I've purchased for my own phone). And in fact I believe that this is one of the best phone OS'es i've ever used. The thing that really kills the Z10 is (1) The app ecosystem is limited, and (2) The Z10 is still priced like a top-line phone -- hardware-wise it's equivalent or maybe even slightly superior to a GS3 (which has seen BIG price reductions, but now has half the benchmark scores as the new biggest thing -- the Note 3), so you think that blackberry would just take a loss on the Z10 by slashing its prices, quickly recoup at least some of the money that it lost on R&D and Manufacturing and then pump out a series of business minded smartphones which contain the same things that make the Z10 so great, but at prices that people can afford -- THEN come out with the new top-line Z10 analogue.

  4. anonymous
    March 7, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Wow, this is a very informative article. I've only ever used an Android smartphone, and I can see how you've been around and know your stuff!
    I feel like a phone-buying pro already, when it comes to the blackberry versus the other types of services. Thank you!

  5. John
    March 7, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I have switched from Blackberry to Android (HTC One) and regret jumping ship. My main reason for switching was app selection, Android wins here hands down. What I lost was Freedom and a Second-to-none communication device. I don’t like being shackled to Google. While I use Gmail I much prefer syncing contacts and calendars with Outlook – Android has made this near impossible; in fact has had me looking through backups to restore data it's trashed.. I also prefer Blackberry for messaging and an actual telephone. Android has an “own it” philosophy (like Microsoft) and wants you to buy-in fully, Blackberry is more collaborative and played nice with everybody.

  6. patrick saunders
    March 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    My son gifted me his z10 and i can honestly say its the best phone i ever owned. Fast, responsive and completely suited to my freelance writing career.

  7. Praveen K
    March 7, 2014 at 6:38 am

    so you prefer to use android instead of bb10???

  8. Sarvesh
    March 7, 2014 at 4:15 am

    A very excellent and open review. One of the best I've read on MUO.

  9. lonedog
    March 7, 2014 at 4:00 am

    "the lack of an official WordPress app was a deal-breaker". It appears the reviewer didn't try BlackBerry World's search because WordPress has had a Made for BlackBerry app for quite some time, I have it installed on my Z30 and also had it on my Z10. While BlackBerry World may be missing some apps, with the release of OS 10.2.1 users can now install Android apps on the phone without needing to sideload them.

    • Christian C
      March 7, 2014 at 11:54 am

      I did use the search, and the WordPress app did not appear.

      It appears that lonedog didn't even read the review as I address the ease with which Android apps can now be installed without sideloading.

  10. Paul Gee
    March 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    An excellent balanced review which highlights the Blackberry strengths and weaknesses. Probably one of the best reviews I've read.

  11. Matthew H
    March 6, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Hey Christian,

    I know you know I'm the sole Blackberry enthusiast on the team. I really adore my Q10, and I just want to say that I'm glad that you didn't lazily go for cheap jibes about BB10 being a dying platform.

    You're absolutely right. We need competition in the mobile sphere, and Blackberry 10 brings something different to the table. The BB10 OS is polished, a pleasure to use and deserves way more recognition.

    Awesome review man. Awesome, awesome review.

  12. Kuldeep Kumar
    March 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Superb Article