Forced to live with BB10, and kind of liking it

After losing my HTC One, which runs Android, I had to rely solely on BlackBerry 10.

BlackBerry Z10
Josh Miller/CNET

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Irony may be funny to the gods of Olympus, but it's a cruel lesson for us mortals. I found this out the hard way at BlackBerry Live 2013. Within minutes of arriving at my hotel I managed to misplace my lovely HTC One test unit. As a result, my backup BlackBerry Z10 was suddenly promoted to first-string smartphone duty.

Comprehending the unthinkable
I have to say that within the first hour of realizing my predicament I went through all the classic stages of withdrawal. Initially I denied it -- I mean how could this happen to me? Then I became livid, and soon after dejected and listless. Sure, I brought along the Z10 to test any new apps or software I spotted at BlackBerry's yearly shindig. To lean on the device as my sole form of mobile communication, well, that was a fearsome prospect. I'd have no Google Drive documents, Google Talk, Google Now, or the rest of Android's laundry list of Google services.

Access to many third-party applications that I use regularly would also be an issue. Netflix for watching movies and Flipboard to catch up on the latest news in style? "Sorry, pal, you're out of luck," said a smug little voice inside my head. Of course on a business trip I wouldn't have time for either activity anyway. Still, I like to have my mobile options open, not brutally ripped from me.

Read Kindle e-books on your BB10 device. Brian Bennett/CNET

Taking a deep breath, I assessed the situation. Running BlackBerry 10 , the Z10 is actually a well-appointed communicator, I consoled myself. The phone has apps for Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare preloaded and supports Gmail natively. If you're like me and your company uses Google Apps for Business, please be advised. Setting up full access to contacts, calendar, and so on requires you to configure your Gmail as an exchange account. Thankfully this didn't prove to be a huge hurdle.

Now that I had most of my preferred forms of mobile messaging up and running on the Z10, I certainly felt less anxious. As a matter of fact, the BlackBerry Hub -- think of it as a unified inbox on steroids -- made missing important communiques very difficult. For example, e-mails, tweets, and Facebook messages that tend to get buried on Android devices stuck out like sore thumbs.

All work, not enough play
Enough about being productive. Sometimes you just want your smartphone to help you kick back and unwind. I typically rely on a handful of apps to relax: Amazon Kindle for reading e-books during my daily subway commute, Google Listen (no longer officially supported) for podcasts, and Netflix to gobble up movies and TV shows. I also often fire up the TuneIn Internet radio app when my tablet isn't handy.

Taptu is a decent, but not excellent news reader. Brian Bennett/CNET

Fortunately Amazon has created a version of its Kindle app for BB10, though truthfully it feels very clunky. The software connected to my library without a hitch, but flipping through pages was sluggish, even choppy. Hopefully an update soon will address the issue. As for Google Listen, well, it isn't an option on BB10, or even Android now that Google has phased it out. That said, the Nobex application for BB10 is a great alternative.

Not only does Nobex let you subscribe and download episodes of your favorite podcasts, it features a streaming radio section similar to TuneIn. You can download the TuneIn app as well since it is also available in the BlackBerry World app store. One thing I wish Nobex could do is create a running playlist of podcast episodes, something Google Listen and other Android apps do. This is handy for queuing up a long list of audio before you walk out of the door so you don't have to fiddle with your phone on crowded trains.

Sadly other popular apps such as Netflix and Instagram haven't yet made it to BlackBerry. It's an unfortunate situation, but as I learned at BlackBerry Live this week, many skilled developers and brave users have managed to port these and other apps directly from Android over to BB10. I'm not sure how the ports handle, but it remains a really compelling option until (or if) BlackBerry beefs up its software selection.

Nobex is a handy podcast and Internet radio app. Brian Bennett/CNET

The road from here
Luckily, a hotel employee found my missing HTC One device and stowed it in the lost-and-found department for safe keeping. Believe me, that would never happen in New York. Even so, it took me almost a full three days to recover the phone. After which, and much to my surprise, I'd actually learned to live trapped in BlackBerry's world. I'm sure it didn't hurt that I was also surrounded by thousands of the BB10 faithful.

My key takeaways from this experience: the Z10 is a smoothly operating and highly functional smartphone that is particularly adept at mastering your messages, and as I expected from a BlackBerry device, the Z10's virtual keyboard is fast, accurate, and a joy to type with.

That said, the BlackBerry 10 user interface takes some getting used to. Since there are no physical buttons, you interact with the phone's apps and menus by using gestures to swipe the edges of the display. The options shift depending on what application or screen in which you happen to be. It's a little confusing at first and a few times I got stuck inside an area with no obvious way to escape or navigate back to where I had been.

I'm happy to say that the Z10 seems to have longer staying power (i.e. battery life) than the quad-core HTC One hot rod. In all honesty, though, the BlackBerry Z10 can't match the HTC One's alluring Android functionality, lovely all-metal chassis, or robust and addictive camera features. Also, the One's full HD (1,920x1,080 pixels) 4.7-inch screen puts the Z10's smaller 4.2-inch (1,280x768 pixels) display to shame. It really makes a difference when browsing through Web sites and photos.

I confess, I am tempted to keep this BlackBerry train moving since I will have to leave the HTC One behind while I travel to CTIA next week. Now if I could just port those select few Android apps to my Z10 properly, well, the world might just have a new BlackBerry convert on its hands...maybe.

 

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