The new BlackBerry 10 operating system is widely seen as a last chance for the smartphone pioneer to keep up with hi-tech handsets from Apple and Samsung.
We spent a week with the Z10 - the first of two phones running the new operating system.
The BlackBerry Z10 offers a touchscreen, while the BlackBerry Q10 sports a more traditional physical keyboard and launches in April.
Bb10 is now competing against high-end smartphones such as the Apple iPhone 5, Android Samsung Galaxy S3, Google Nexus 4 and Windows Phone Nokia Lumia 920.
Should you upgrade to BB10? What if you're a BlackBerry die-hard - is it 'true' to the classic feel of BlackBerry? And most importantly, is it worth switching if you're not?
Close-up on the Z10
At 4.2-inches the screen is an average size - a little bigger than the 4-inch iPhone 5. The phone is very pocketable and the 1280x768 resolution ensures a good movie and browsing experience.
There is plenty of technology on board. The 16GB internal memory is expandable using a microSD card - unlike Apple's iPhones - and the phone also offers a super-fast 4G connection, and the 8-megapixel camera shoots full HD 1080p movies. Performance is ably handled by the dual-core processor, although it takes a while to start up. All-in-all the spec sheet is competitive and impresses - good work RIM.
The 'feel' of BlackBerry 10
BlackBerry 10 is a new operating system, and feels significantly different to iOS and Android. At the heart of BB10 is BlackBerry Flow, instead of navigating by opening and closing programs and using home or back buttons, you ‘flow’ between programs and notifications, using a series of swipes. It’s a totally different way of navigating and not as immediately usable as iOS or Windows Phone, butbecomes more natural in days.
BlackBerry 10 offers a great messaging experience,via BlackBerry Hub, which unifies multiple message accounts including: email, SMS, BBM, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
You can view all messages in a single feed, or filter down individually to, say, one email account, and update a status or compose a message using any account from the same place.
There are quirks that need fixing. When the message indicator blinks, you can swipe up from within any application to view the type of message ( Facebook, Twitter, email etc) and either return to the program or ‘Peek’ into the BlackBerry Hub and see the sender. The idea is that with a single motion you can discover message details without having to interrupt your workflow.
But it takes you to the last place you were in the Hub, instead than the new message, requiring counter intuitive tapping of the on-screen back key. It’s certainly not as intuitive swiping down to viewing notifications like iOS or Android.
BB10 doesn’t offer the customisation of Android either. It supports true multitasking, so open programs are displayed as tiles on the homescreen, you can quickly move between, but you can’t change the order - it feels much less 'personal' than Google's operating system.
BlackBerry smartphones had outstanding physical keyboards and the BB10 touchscreen keyboard continues this tradition. It's the best built-in keyboard on any smartphone.
Start typing and suggestions appear above corresponding letters and a simple swipe up selects a word. Over time it learns words you use the most and even where you tap the screen, adjusting to make the experience smoother and its easy to use with one hand.
Work and play
BlackBerry Balance is another highlight of BB10, enabling you to create separate profiles for Work and Personal, which you can swap between. The work profile includes work email, contacts and apps and Balance can be locked to keep work emails private.
BB10 isn’t compatible with apps designed for older smartphones like the BlackBerry Bold 9900. With its BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour, BlackBerry has worked hard to encourage app developers to create for the new OS.
The new BlackBerry App World launched with over BB10 70,000 apps, many of which are poor quality though, putting BB10 a long way behind the Android Market and Apple App Store, but with bags of potential.
Should you upgrade?
BlackBerry 10 on the BlackBerry Z10 is truly innovative and thanks to the intelligent keyboard and versatile BlackBerry Hub extremely effective for messaging, with useful features like BlackBerry Balance.
It’s not perfect - navigation isn’t as fluid as it should be and BB10 isn’t very flexible, but many of these issues might well be fixed with downloads.
If you’ve invested in iOS, Android and Windows Phone and bought apps, there’s very little here to make you move, but if you’re looking for a great messaging device for work and pleasure the BlackBerry Z10 is well worth considering.