The long-awaited new BlackBerry is almost here, with the touch-screen Z10 going on sale through most Canadian carriers on Feb. 5.
Fans of physical keyboards will have to wait a little longer. The company formerly known as Research In Motion — officially renamed BlackBerry on Wednesday — is saying the Q10 QWERTY-model will follow in a few weeks.
After spending a day with the Z10, it's clear the new BlackBerry is a complete and fully baked product.
It's slick, fast and good looking, with only a few noticeable holes. Here's a rundown of some of its best features — and some things that need work.
Speed and interface: BlackBerry touts its web browser as faster than competitors, and it sure looks like it. The loading speed extends beyond just websites though — many apps and even email messages also open faster than on other phones.
The speed blends well with BlackBerry's "Flow" interface, which eschews buttons for swiping. There's no home button on the Z10, with left-to-right and up-and-down swipes controlling all of the navigation.
It takes some getting used to because it's different from other smartphones, but once you get into the swing of it, the horsepower and interface combine to create a smooth experience that's kind of fun.
Feel: It's not quite as light as the iPhone 5, but at 137 grams the Z10 isn't too hefty either.
It also has a textured back so it feels nice in your hand and is a little less likely to slip than many other smooth-backed phones. The 4.2-inch screen also boasts 356 pixels per inch, which is sharper than many competing devices on the market.
Hub: Other phone makers have taken stabs at a unified inbox, but the Z10 gets it right. All of your accounts, from email and Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn, not to mention text messages, notifications and BBM pings, are found in one location, which can be accessed by swiping in from the left of the phone.
The Hub also lets you filter down to each individual account by tapping on its heading, which is good for when all that incoming gets overwhelming.
Ready to work: The new BlackBerry comes office ready, with several pre-installed productivity apps, such as Evernote. Docs To Go lets you create documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, while Dropbox and Box cloud storage both come integrated.
That means less set up and they work more smoothly with the phone as a whole.
I had no problems opening all sorts of documents, photos or audio files. Print To Go and File Manager also let you easily keep track of files on the phone and transfer them to or from a computer. These aren't just tacked-on apps — they're designed to work well with the phone's overall software.
Ports and things: In terms of plugging things in and taking things out, the Z10 is everything the iPhone is not. There's a removable battery, in case it goes belly up, as well as an SD card slot to add to the 16 gigabytes of included storage.
It also has a micro HDMI slot for connecting to a TV or monitor, so no extra adapters are required to pipe video from the phone.
Apps: BlackBerry surprised virtually everyone by announcing it now has 70,000 applications available — many observers were expecting considerably fewer.
While the company has done well in ensuring some key apps are available, such as Facebook and Twitter, plenty are absent. There's no Instagram or Netflix, for example, despite movies and TV shows being available through the BlackBerry World store.
And although the company says the likes of Skype and Kindle are "committed," they're not there yet.
BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins said he wants the company's phones to be the centre of the "internet of things," or the emerging web of interconnected every-day devices, but Apple and Android are far ahead in this regard.
Maps: Apple got a ton of grief for replacing Google Maps with its own creation, but even its flawed app is better than the Z10's.
While BlackBerry's maps app is functional, it's limited in its bells and whistles. It has turn-by-turn navigation, but fewer points of interest and no walking or transit directions. The maps themselves also aren't that interesting to look at.
Predictive typing: BlackBerry engineers have come up with an impressive tool that predicts the next word you're likely to type. The word appears over the keyboard's letters and, if it's indeed the one you want, you swipe it and it appears in whatever you're writing.
When it works, it works well and can speed up typing, but I often found myself actually slowing down to read the words, which are quite small.
This may be another learning curve that can be overcome over time, but it's harder to get used to than the simpler Flow interface. The Q10, with its physical keyboard, may therefore be the phone that hard-core BlackBerry fans will prefer.
At the time of writing, battery life, near-field communications capability and BlackBerry Balance had not yet been tested extensively enough to include in this review. These functions will be added over the next few days.