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BlackBerry 10 Beta 3: Messenger, navigation show promise (hands-on)

Four months after RIM gave the world its first peek at BlackBerry 10 OS Beta 3, CNET got a little more hands-on time with its features.

Timeshift is a cool feature in the BB 10 OS camera.
A clever camera trick is one of BlackBerry OS' brave new talents. (Click to enlarge.)
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

When it comes to BackBerry 10 OS, RIM wants you to go with its Flow. The new navigation theme is something that the BlackBerry-maker has stressed since it first unveiled its reinvented BlackBerry ecosystem last May.

So far, RIM has given us a few peeks of flow and other software elements, all of which it hopes will reinvigorate faithful followers and draw new customers. RIM has certainly refined the software in four months, and will release its third beta update to developers today. The BlackBerry 10 OS Beta 3 package will include APIs for developers to harness apps like Blackberry Messenger.

Yesterday I got some valuable one-on-one time with the OS on a developer device, and got to feel my way around features in the new start screen, the browser, and BlackBerry Messenger. I also got to revisit a favorite camera feature that lets you virtually "rewind" a photo to settle on an expression you prefer most. (Note that some of the photos below show my hands, while others show the hands of Vivek Bhardwaj, head of Software Portfolio for RIM.)

Most importantly, RIM stressed Flow, that new, yet familiar navigation and workflow philosophy that informs the new OS. It somewhat integrates the old menu and universal inbox features, but with a new twist, and it's heavily gesture-based; RIM says to let space-wasting controls fade and to give the content on your screen center stage.

For instance, to wake up the screen, there's no slider control you have to reach for or icons to drag into a sphere. You just slide up with your finger and the lock screen begins dissolving from view. If you want to simply glimpse the home screen without unlocking the phone, you can do that, too.

Similar themes of peeking at information without committing to jump to applications surfaced with apps. You can, in fact, keep diving deeper into, say, contact information and e-mails, without losing the breadcrumb of where you were before.

At any time you can call up menus, or hubs, and view more settings or incoming notifications, ostensibly without losing your place.

One thing struck me during my short time with the OS: this is no intuitive interface that one can simply pick up and grok how to use. If you were a fan of Palm's now-defunct WebOS, you'll remember that a learning curve may not be a bad thing. Still, I constantly pulled up the keyboard instead of the hub menu by not putting my finger in exactly the right place, and I wasn't entirely sure how to navigate around.

Now playing: Watch this: BlackBerry 10 in action

The video above shows the BlackBerry 10 OS as it existed at the previous BlackBerry Jam in May 2012.

I think some of my clunkiness has to do with the short demo period, and some has to do with not spending enough time naturally using the device as I would a smartphone in a real-life situation. RIM will work out some kinks on its own with new hardware releases and feedback from developers. Other gestures will take the time to learn, but perhaps RIM hopes customers will enjoy the power and exclusivity of figuring it all out.

One thing that is for certain is that RIM is following Microsoft's lead and bravely diving in with a fresh new OS. Whether the gambit pays off is still far up in the air, but I do look forward to much more hands-on time as the OS crystallizes. Until then, take a tour of the latest in this BlackBerry 10 picture gallery.