You know how certain things in life are described as being “like riding a bicycle” in the sense that once you learn you never really forget it? Returning to BlackBerry, at least now, isn’t one of those things. Now, I know that the BlackBerry 10 platform is different from previous versions of BlackBerry, but there’s still enough similarities between the two that make you realize it’s still BlackBerry. With BlackBerry having been my main squeeze for a couple of years, I think I just assumed that this would be a trip down memory lane. Either my memories fail me, or this is a completely different experience.
It’s not necessarily a different experience in a good or a bad way. If I had to sum up my experience with the BlackBerry Q10 in the past week in just a few words, I would have to say that the experience has been neutral at best; it’s neither overwhelmingly good or bad. It just kind of is.
I mentioned that I was having trouble updating the firmware from 10.1 to 10.2, which was a pretty significant update. My OTA update wasn’t pushing through and the phone would not under any circumstances completely connect to my computer. It would charge, but it wouldn’t connect as a storage device. I checked drivers, updated drivers, changed cords, changed ports, nothing helped. BlackBerry Link didn’t help, either. Fortunately, the OTA finally did show up about two days later after continuous checking. Let me tell you, the update made quite a bit of difference in my experience now that I was able to easily (well, sort of easily) sideload the Android applications that I wanted to use on the BlackBerry, especially because now I could connect the BlackBerry with my computer. I don’t really know what happened, but I’m not going to spend my time trying to figure it out. All I know is that the software update solved my computer connection problems, because now I could get Snap.
With the Snap application, my BlackBerry experience went from ehh to not that bad. That being said, Snap still wasn’t a walk in the park to find. If you know what you’re looking for, it is, but “sideloading” applications is not exactly common knowledge. Snap is a sideloaded application that gives you access to Google’s Play Store (well, some of it) right from your phone. You can’t get anything you have to pay for and applications that use Google Services are technically available, but don’t seem to actually work. At least I have Netflix and Spotify, and both of those have been working out okay. On the application front, I’m just happy to have more options than BlackBerry World’s drab offerings. I think the 10.3 update will make things a lot less confusing for potential BlackBerry users given that the Amazon App Store, which is a modified version of the Google Play Store, will be readily available on BlackBerry 10 devices. Until then, this will have to do - and it’s easy to do, but it does take a bit of effort that most smartphones don't require.
Performance-wise the phone fares pretty well. It gets me through a day comfortably, but I think it’s also because I’m finding that I don’t use this phone as much as I normally do. I only use the phone for texts, e-mails, the occasional phone call, a little web browsing, and Facebook. It’s decent for all of those things, but going back to the BlackBerry form factor is a little more difficult that I remember. I think this might be the one case where I don’t prefer the smaller touchscreen, as it’s hard to edit things you may have mistyped. Perhaps the new BlackBerry Classic will make editing easier with the reintroduction of the trackpad, which the Q10 does not have.
Also, as much as I thought I would miss physical keyboards, it turns out they’re probably better left in the past for me. I type a lot slower than I remember with this keyboard. It’s not uncomfortable, just not... as efficient. I do like the satisfying click of the keys, though. Still, even without the fancy third party keyboards offered on iOS and Android, I was able to pump out entire novels on my iPhone 4S with ease; on the BlackBerry, I find that I’m trying to type with shorthand as much as possible. The satisfying click that I enjoy so much really works out the thumbs. If I type out novels on the physical keyboard like I do with virtual keyboards, I’ll have the most swollen hands in the world.
I will say that the gesture-based nature of BlackBerry 10 has really grown on me. Most of the time I can use my phone with just one hand with ease unless I’m typing something super long out. Otherwise, the swipe-y nature of BlackBerry 10 has become pretty natural. I was rocky when I first tried it out, but once you know what swipe does what it comes pretty naturally once a notification comes in. BlackBerry Hub is pretty handy, too. I’m taking to it a lot better than I thought I would as well, because I was initially afraid it would be like HTC’s BlinkFeed - which I never used.
Overall, it’s refreshing to experience something new and it’s good that the OS is slowly growing rather than wearing on me. There’s still a lot that BlackBerry 10 needs, and I’m not sure it will ever get there, but it’s not the worst operating system I’ve ever used and the Q10 is not a bad phone for the price you can buy it for now (mid $200 range for a new Q10 at some retailers).