When CNet editor and reviewer Brian Bennett lost his "lovely HTC One test unit" while traveling, he was forced to use the other test phone he brought with him, a BlackBerry Z10.
He expected to be miserable missing out on Google Drive, Google Talk, Google Now and other Android apps.
But he was shocked at how much he liked the phone, once he was set up with Google Apps for Business. ("It requires you to configure your Gmail as an exchange account.")
He particularly liked BlackBerry Hub ("made missing important communiques very difficult") and the long battery life.
Wait a second.
He was forced to use the other test phone he brought with him?
May I ask a question: When did he intend to actually test what he was provided for the purpose of testing?
See, this is the problem you have relying on so-called "trusted" sources -- they're often intentionally dishonest.
How do you review something without immersing yourself in it for a short while and seeing what you think of it? You can't.
This is why when the Z-10 came out I bought one, at retail (so as not to be "bribed" by anybody) and then stuck my SGS-II, running ICS, in the drawer, turned off.
My intention was to use it for at least one week without referring to my Android phone and see what I actually thought of the new device. I was willing to take a $500 flyer and eat whatever the loss was if I thought, in the end, the device sucked.
It's been about two months and the Samsung hasn't been powered up since.
It's the Samsung that sucks, when one looks at the two in honest comparison.
Battery life, ease of communication (why I have a mobile computing device in the first place), security (including easy VPN and encryption of the device) and unlike Brian I find the gesture system to be ridiculously intuitive and easy. I did some painting the other day with the phone in my pocket streaming music to my bluetooth earpiece for four or five hours straight and I swear the battery in the earpiece would have gone flat before the phone did. I never did that sort of thing with my Android phones because I was unwilling to flatten the battery and then wait an hour or two for it to recharge. With the Z-10 not only is the battery not flat but if I do manage to run it down it charges at an amazing rate; restoring from 30 to 95% in 15-20 minutes is typical (provided you have a 2A charger!)
In short the phone just plain works for what I need to do when I need to do it.
Of course part of this experience, for me, is that I "sideloaded" a handful of Android apps that I really do need, including two trading apps. Both converted and loaded effortlessly. That required a bit of effort originally when the phone was first released, but now there are tools that make it a literal drag-and-drop affair, rendering the argument that it's "hard" moot.
I'm not a Netflix subscriber or Instagram user, so I don't care that Netflix and Instragram are not native. But both can be sideloaded and both work, if you care about them. Skype is now available native although again, I don't really care as I don't use it -- but for those who do, it matters to them.
But that's not really the point.
The point is that the device never got a fair hearing with CNET until their "reviewer" lost his other device.
Remember that this guy is an alleged "reviewer" and, one assumes, he was provided the device with the expectation that he would give it a fair shake and review it on that basis.
It appears he would not have done so had he not lost his HTC phone.
Bias? Sure. But we all have biases.
The important point is not that we have bias or don't, but that when it comes to the media and these sorts of issues it is rare that you ever see them disclosed; what usually happens is that they're concealed from you through either omission or commission.
Here's another anecdotal point for you -- the last couple of days I've spent quite a bit of time in the company of a friend who has an iPhone. Twice she's had her phone die -- out of power -- while we were in the same place, doing the same things, while the Zed had plenty of juice left.
The photos it takes and the general flow of the interface have gotten good reviews (again, from a dedicated iPhone user) as well.
How many people will not and do not look because they were "told" by people who "claim" to have "reviewed" new devices that they're just not competitive -- but in fact the so-called "reviewer" never took the device out of their pocket and powered it up?
Now you have something else to think about.
Disclosure: The author is long BBRY.
Research outfit Raymond James says that the debut of BlackBerry’s new BlackBerry 10 operating system and the two handsets on which it runs have gone a long way toward repairing the home turf market share erosion the company has suffered over the past few years. In the fourth quarter of 2012, BlackBerry’s share of the Canadian market topped out at a dismal 6%. But by the first quarter of 2013 it had more than doubled, rising to 13.5%.
13.5%, a clean double in one quarter?
Did I read that right?
And by the way, the Z-10 was only on the market in Canada for less than half of that quarter.
Now to be fair, I own a Z-10. I came from Android as a guy who has ported Android (twice) because I didn't like the versions that shipped with the hardware I owned and have hacked on it and loaded various versions from other people for years.
I undertook all of that because of problems with the software provided "stock"; it was either bloated, unstable or (frequently) both.
The Z-10 continues to impress me, incidentally, although I will not try to snow you and tell you it's perfect. It's not. What I can tell you confidently however is that I vastly prefer the Zed to the Samsung Android devices.
It's just easier, simpler, and more-productive to use.
Canadian and EU carriers have now rolled out version 10.1 of the phone's firmware, which includes several material improvements that I've talked about before. There are various "hacked" versions floating around and it also turns out that loading new firmware on the Z-10 is a trivial matter, where with Android phones it frequently was and is not. While the Triumph (for example) was really nice in this regard certain Samsung phones can be a pain and many have a risk of "hard-bricking" the device inadvertently -- that is, unrecoverably screwing it up to the point where it has to be exchanged. It appears to be nearly impossible to actually hard-brick the Z-10, although I'm sure someone will come up with a better idiot at some point....
Recently I have discovered a way to change software versions on the phone non-destructively. While carrier OTAs (over-the-air upgrades) have typically been able to do this on most devices it has been difficult or impossible to do so as a third party in most cases, and attempting it has usually been fraught with risk (including a device that refuses to cleanly boot and run.)
US carriers still have 10.1 in test and have not yet rolled it out for wide release. However, I've been running it for a while, and a couple of days ago "harmonized" my phone with the Canadian and EU releases, all of which are of the same version as far as I can tell.
If you're still on a 10.0 release you'll like the update, and if the US market share figures wind up anything like the Canadian ones there's going to be quite a shock coming to a number of people. Remember that the US didn't get the phone until April and the Q-10 (with the keyboard) has not yet shipped in the US at all.
Additionally in recent days the LA County Sheriffs Department (largest in the nation) has recently confirmed it is deploying the new BB10 phones and the underlying corporate BES infrastructure. I expect these announcements to continue now that both BES and the phones are out. In addition I suspect there will be material acceleration in this trend once the Q10 ships in the US market -- an event that is now just a couple of weeks away.
Those who have written off the company in the enterprise space have, in my opinion, made a big mistake.
The bottom line is that the penetration results for Canada thus far are well beyond my expectations, especially considering that the Q-10 is not in those figures. I was looking at the smartphone universe in the US/Canada market as a marketplace where BlackBerry could command a mid-to-high single digit presence and have a nice, stable business. If they actually deliver double that or better then the stock is not just undervalued it is grossly undervalued, particularly given that the margins on the new phones are wildly better than their previous generation devices.
In addition I look at the introduction of the Q5, a somewhat-decontented Q10 for emerging markets, as an excellent step forward. Someone will eventually bring that device into the North American market; being a keyboard device it could easily have a great deal of appeal to people who are very heavy text message users at the right price-point, displacing some of the lower-end Android appeal. Again, the issue is one of margins -- if you can replace the commodity-style margins on the older devices with one that returns double that you win big, and it appears that's exactly what BlackBerry intends.
When you add to this the ridiculous amount of short interest in the stock this looks to be quite a warning to those who believe the company is going to fail -- you could well be proved wrong in dramatic fashion.
Disclosure: The author is long BBRY.
In a major shift for its business and its customers, Adobe Systems on Monday announced it no longer will sell its Creative Suite software as it moves instead to the $50-per-month Creative Cloud and other subscription plans.
"We have no current plans to release another perpetual release of the CS tools and suites. Creative Cloud is going to be our sole focus moving forward," said Scott Morris, senior director of product marketing for Creative Cloud.
Note that "Creative Cloud" isn't actually a "cloud" service -- that is, the software downloads to your machine. Only the licensing is cloud-based.
The problem with this is that while it looks like a good deal if you need the whole suite ($50/month .vs. $2,500 for the "Master Collection") in point of fact most users don't run the full suite of apps.
Updates from one version to the next, typically issued on 2 year time-frames, were typically around $400 for something like Web Premium. This means that the cost of ownership is more than double on the cloud service. In fact it's worse than that, because Adobe permitted "version changes" during upgrades.
For example, you could buy the upgrade to Web Premium 5.5 and then when CS6 came out buy Production. You still had the 5.5 Web Premium apps but now had the CS6 apps too, so you wound up with nearly everything but in staggered versions, with some overlap.
The cost of ownership for Adobe users who went this route (that includes me, incidentally) has just gone up a lot.
I've been an Adobe licensee for a long time. My kid has a student subscription to CC which is a good deal for her, because it's $20/month. At $30/month I'd call it a reasonable deal compared against upgrade costs but at $50, or $600/year? Eh, that's a tougher sell if I am currently a web or production premium customer, and what's worse is that if I happen to be somewhere offsite with my laptop when it wants to do a license check and it can't get to the Internet.... now what?
For those who were Master Collection licensees this change in model will decrease their costs materially. But for those of us who were buying something less this is a fairly significant increase in the total cost of ownership.
I'm sure Adobe likes this model as they get to recognize monthly revenue. I'm not so sure it works for the customer, especially the customer who doesn't need or want the latest version of everything, every minute.
And that can be a virtue in many cases -- especially when there are bugs in the code that a company releases. Being able to roll back locally is a big deal and can be an utterly-necessary capability in a production environment.
Today I have both Premiere and Sony Vegas for video production, for example. Sony still issues software releases and updates. Therefore, I can load a new version at my leisure and if it sucks for some reason (and that has happened where some version release has crashed on me) I can re-load the old copy in a couple of minutes.
"Cloud-based" subscription models make this impossible, leaving you with the very real potential of an update being taken that completely screws you in the middle of a project with utterly no means of recovery. Even a system restore may not save you if the cloud "management" software "decides" to push-upgrade you, never mind that system restores for this sort of reason are extraordinarily destructive to your workflow.
It gets worse.
What I create using Photoshop and Premiere is mine. Not Adobe's. Mine. Now Adobe decides that if I wish to continue using their products and update them in the future I am consenting to paying them perpetually to access and modify my work for all time into the future!
In other words I no longer own my work, only the source and final output. Everything else I must pay Adobe to access forever.
**** that. My work product is mine.
I have no objection to the choice to buy cloud-subscription service, but to be forced and further to make me accept the risk of a bad update bricking my application suite in a production environment makes me seriously reconsider my desire to own and use Adobe products.
Apple Inc. (AAPL) is missing out on a chance to court as many as 2.8 billion new smartphone customers, many of them in Asia, as wireless-service providers balk at conditions imposed by the iPhone maker and drag their heels in signing on as partners.
I have to at such claims as "missing out on a chance to court" said customers.
Apple has always styled itself as an "aspirational" brand, much like Rolls Royce. The company has simply not cared that they're more expensive than the other offerings in the market nor that their cost of ownership, both in tangible and intangible terms, is higher than their competitors. This is not new -- it dates to at least the 1990s when I ran my Internet company. Nor is the "fanboi" nonsense new either; Apple customers have a multi-decade history of being loud and demanding well beyond their numbers. That would be ok if they paid beyond everyone else in the service businesses, but they don't..... that's reserved for the mavens at their holy alter in Cupertino. Yes, I have a chip on my shoulder about this "brand", built over a 20+ year commercial experience with the people who over the years adhered to the products the company produces. That's not going away any time soon folks.
Witness choices such as non-user-replaceable batteries. Lithium Ion batteries all have a service life and after a couple hundred cycles they are down 15-20% in capacity. You'll notice it about there. At 500 cycles they'll be down 40% or so in capacity, which is beyond the point that you will find it tolerable.
There's nothing you can do to change this. It's a chemistry thing, not something you can design around. This means that if you care about such things roughly every nine months or so you need to replace the battery, assuming daily use and cycling, which is true for virtually everyone who has a smartphone.
So what did Apple do? They sealed the battery inside the phone, making it impossible for you to pop off the back cover and change it! This guarantees a higher cost of ownership for you than a phone that has the battery user-replacable.
They don't care.
I could defend this in a $200 handset. I can't defend it in a $600 one.
Likewise, the interchange of music on their devices is all done through their proprietary software which you must use to load and manage it. What if you don't want to? Tough crap. You live with their world or you don't get any of it at all -- like it or not. This is an indirect and intangible cost but it is also inescapable.
Now some people like iTunes. I personally hate it -- it's bloated, it wants too much of my computer for itself, and it takes over too many things I refuse to cede to it. I have music dating back to the first CDs on my computer network and I like having it under my control, not some monolithic application's view of the world.
The problem for Apple is that you run out of spoiled rich kids and strutting 20 year olds much faster than you run out of people who might be interested in a smartphone. Samsung "kind of" understands this and so do the other Android makers such as LG; the Optimus, for example, can be had around $100 on unsubsidized carriers (e.g. Virgin Mobile) which is a damn nice price -- albeit with a smaller and older Android OS than the current releases.
Apple's answer to this since the iPhone showed up is to "sheer the iSheeple" every year or two with another upgrade. They have tried to make it an annual thing with the iPhone, which (conveniently) stays ahead of the planned obsolescence, and yet provides a soft but incessant lever to those who try to resist. Unfortunately the "innovation engine" at Apple appears to have run out of gas, and this means that now the business model of naked force through planned engineered-in "iBreak-on-time" games is becoming apparent to more and more people. Thus, the "growth rate" of sales has slowed at the same time margins are compressing.
This is bad news for Apple.
Samsung has similarly run out of new ideas. The GS-3 was really nothing that the GS-2 was not, other than a bit bigger in screen real estate and incremental improvements in other areas. The big boost was going to more RAM and thus being able to leave more things open at a given time, but the general clunky nature of Android inherent in its UI design hasn't changed a bit. What Samsung has done however is build devices to multiple price-points and they have avoided trying to force carriers into their business model, instead being a hardware supplier that says "here you go, this is the price, do what you will with the product."
Samsung's problem is inherently Android's problem in that the "innovations" they bring to the table (along with HTC and other makers) are pretty-much all in the area of UI gimmicks. Some are good over AOSP (the base Android system) such as the TouchWiz dialer -- I like that part of it. But you have to take the bad with the good as you can't choose, and that's a problem. Adding to that is the propensity of carriers to load up Android phones with all sorts of carrier "enhancements" -- that is, enhancements to their attempt to push-sell services at you at your expense, like it or not. This has put Android users in the unenviable situation of having to either tolerate significant performance issues or "root" and de-bloat their phones on an individual basis. I personally find this rather offensive but then again it's not different than anywhere else -- I pay $9 to go to the movies and then get to sit through 20 minutes of commercials trying to sell me $8 sodas and $7 popcorn before what I paid for already begins.
This is what happens when you're treated as product rather than as a valued customer. The pretty "walled garden" turns out to have busted bottles and razor wire on top of the wall, and you find out only after you've passed the one-way gate in that leaving is not so easy. Welcome to Scamerica, iDiot iSheeple; we deserve this because we continue to come back and spend our money time and time again with companies that treat us this way.
Innovation is a funny thing -- it tends to come in fits and starts rather than being a continuum. That is, it's very easy to get "comfortable" as a corporation when you are posting up double-digit revenue growth and love your unit sales trajectories. In that world the first few quarters where margin compression and growth slowdown happens excuses are made and the market usually overlooks the problem, at least to some degree, as deNILE is not just a river.
But that's where opportunity comes from for competitors.
When I ran MCSNet the "business connection model" was roughly $1,200 T1s. I figured out how to deliver them with a 40% gross margin at half the price. That was a big deal and we sold the hell out of them too,*****ing off everyone in the marketplace who hadn't figured it out. The VServ product was likewise ground-breaking before virtualization was "cool" and "easy." But that's how innovation typically happens -- firms get comfortable with their product and service mix and then someone comes along and tattoos their forehead and laughs all the way to the bank while eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Nokia took a run at this paradigm with Windows 8/Mobile, but I don't think they win this game. Yes, the tiled interface is nice, but it's not really all that innovative, and putting a better camera into the phone is yet another incremental improvement. I'll never carry a phone instead of a dSLR; the inherent reality of a small sensor and lens that is forced by the size of the device means that I can't get depth of field control even if all the other issues were to be resolved, which they can't be (again, due to size constraints.) Changes like this won't change how I use a device -- they make it a bit more convenient, but that's all. Never mind the fact that trading one walled garden for another doesn't entice me at all; Microsoft also wants to treat me like product, or an iSheep to be shorn. No thanks; I know where that leads as eventually you give up mutton, not wool.
It remains to be seen whether BlackBerry has figured out the "secret sauce" with the BB10 devices, but those who are counting these guys out already are, in my opinion, making a serious mistake. There are several things that I will note about the new BlackBerry phones, all of which are different, and all of which are important.
First, you're not the product. There is effectively no carrier "bloatware" on these devices. Nor is there any attempt to force you to use BlackBerry's software. Yes, there is a piece of software that BlackBerry provides (BlackBerry Link) that has a nice feature set but if you want to manage your phone's music on your own that's fine -- just copy it over. The phone has a microSD card slot so you can expand storage in a device-independent format and it has a user-replaceable battery so after that nine months or so when the capacity starts to decline a bit you can buy another one for $25 and swap it in 30 seconds. You can also carry a spare charged battery in your suit pocket for those times when you simply cannot have a dead phone as its power has run out. In other words you'll replace this device when you want to, not because BlackBerry designed it to self-destruct. (Incidentally even HTC has gone this way with the "One", which is a gross disappointment. I suspect they're done in the not-so-distant future if they keep that crap up.) Finally, if you don't want to load their software at all you can turn the phone into an SMB fileserver (like most file storage appliances) and access it from any Windows or Mac machine, and without too much trouble from Linux and similar.
Second, the user-interface really does make the phone more-efficient for you to use. You realize something is different right away and it's highly intuitive. I didn't realize exactly how I had "adapted" to the clunky nature of Android until I pulled my SGS-II out of the drawer a couple of days ago to grab all of its APKs onto an SD card in an effort to see whether the new OS I loaded on the Z-10 had made some of the former android apps compatible where they weren't before. This isn't a small difference -- it's a large one.
Power management is another item that matters a lot to people; the various vendors all seem to look for the corner here, as in "what can we get away with in terms of crap battery life and still sell this piece of junk." I've had this problem with every Android handset I've owned to one degree or another. When I ported Cyanogen to the Motorola Triumph to get away from the old (and buggy) Froyo version of Android that shipped with it a huge amount of my time was spent in the kernel trying to find ways to get the battery life to what I considered an acceptable level. The popularity of apps like "Juice Defender" tells you everything you need to know about this in the Android world -- if phones had acceptable battery life such an app would not be necessary nor would its trade-offs, which include suspending data communications when the phone is idle, be considered acceptable.
I give you this as an example of the difference:
That was last night. I unplugged my Zed at 7:00 when I woke up yesterday morning. The little "key" in the top right says it's running with the VPN enabled, which is a juice-sucker, as encryption requires CPU cycles to perform. I have VPN locked on 100% of the time now, whether on WiFi or cell -- the phone is set to automatically attach to the VPN whenever it is on. I had spent the day with the phone in my pocket working around the house and outdoors, taking and a making a few calls on my bluetooth headset (note that Bluetooth is enabled as well), sending and receiving a few texts, and then last evening I went to one of my favorite eateries and bars and spent about an hour and a half hanging out, having dinner and surfing the net the entire time. That's what was left at 7:51 PM. I would have never gotten away with that with any of my previous Android devices.
Now let's add one more thing to the mix. Let's say you come into the office and have 50% remaining on the battery, and know you need to be out for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening. You have 20 minutes before you have to leave -- or you have a 20 minute drive in the car.
How much of a re-charge can you stuff in the phone in that 20 minutes?
With most devices the answer is about 15% of capacity because it takes about two hours to charge from empty to full. The same 20 minutes with a 2A USB charger on the Z-10 will bring it up to over 90%, which is about where it starts to taper the charge to hold battery stress to a reasonable level. Does this matter? It sure does!
That's power management and BlackBerry does it better than anyone else right now.
But that's today. What's to come? I suspect what we will see from BlackBerry this year now that the Q-10 is coming to America within the next couple of weeks are a couple of lower-priced de-contented handsets aimed more at the emerging market than the US, although they likely will be sold here as well. I'm not sure what BlackBerry can take out of these devices to lower the price-point, but I'm sure there are features that can be omitted (such as the HDMI interface) that do add some cost. Addressing the lower end of the market is something that BlackBerry already does to a large extent with their older handsets, but providing a migration path for those customers who wish to have the newer stuff means they can effectively retain those customers and prevent Apple from trying to steal them.
I also expect, although I have no inside baseball on this, that there will be a "larger screen" version of the Z-10 in a "phablet" sort of mode somewhere around the end of the year, probably out by Christmas. I personally don't like the 5-5-1/2" form-factor but a lot of people do, and I expect them to fill that.
Beyond that is the comment that Heins made on tablets "disappearing" within the next five years. I already wrote a Ticker on this; I think he's right. I further believe that only the start of that functionality is being exposed to you now. Take, for example, 10.1's capability to mount your PC's filesystems on the phone even when you're not physically located anywhere near your computer. Now contemplate a wireless and very low-power link to a keyboard (a real one) and pointing device (e.g. mouse), plus perhaps a dock that will talk to a monitor.
Can that provide a solution that works for 50% of the population when it comes to their desktop PC environment? Maybe. This much I do know -- the Z-10 has built-in the ability to view and edit most "Office" documents from anywhere using this capability as if you were sitting at your desk in the office. Think I'm overstating the case? Well, how about this?
What prevents me from doing that on the device with a larger screen? What prevents me from writing Tickers using this device as my primary tool for computing?
Other than the above -- talking to a keyboard, pointing device and larger display, nothing.
I believe Heins is right, and more to the point this will dramatically drive down the cost of your computing when you look at the totality of what you own now in this regard. Many people are shifting off the "laptop" model of portable computing to the "tablet" one, but that sucks in many ways because tablets are self-contained ecosystems of their own. That Excel document you're looking at above physically resides on my office fileserver and yet I pulled it up on a cellular connection that could have happened from literally anywhere on the globe as if I was sitting in my office chair. And yes, I can edit it using that application set too.
Note this well folks: It's was actually easier for me to set up to do this on my phone than it was on my laptop! In fact, I had to set up nothing on the phone other than clicking a checkbox on BB Link and telling it that the folder on the fileserver was to be accessible from the phone. For the laptop to do the same thing I need to set up a VPN tunnel back to the office network -- for me this was no big deal, but for the average Joe with a PC in a small business without a dedicated IT guy it's probably beyond their ability.
The BlackBerry Z10 already does DLNA for media (wirelessly.) An inexpensive dock (it requires only physical cables, no electronics) that plugs into both the charging and HDMI ports makes the phone an instant terminal into a larger screen, such as the 23" IPS monitors on my desk. Now give me a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Or better, make that connection wireless to a screen that fits in the front pocket of my briefcase along with that bluetooth keyboard and mouse and I now have a private "cloud computing" environment that works from literally anywhere I can get a cellular or WiFi signal that would for many uses replace my laptop. The incremental cost of those peripherals would be a couple hundred bucks (I already own the phone.)
I think Heins is onto something here. While I would still want my laptop I'm in the minority and most road-warriors don't need the sort of thing I do in a mobile platform either. How many perform serious video and still image editing while on the road, as an example? That's where heavy CPU capability counts, and few people need it.
Where's Apple and Samsung in this paradigm? Missing, that's where. Neither has demonstrated anything in their recent mobile device releases that show the "90% there" capability that is already in the Zed.
Why not? That's simple: It would trash their tablet business and protecting that is more important to them whether it serves you or not!
Seriously folks, a $50 cable-only dock does it for the "desktop" and a bluetooth keyboard and mouse take care of the pointing device. What's left? A wireless set of display offerings in 10, 14 and (I'd argue) a "16:9" 16" size with the latter designed to explicit fit in the front pocket of a standard briefcase.
If BlackBerry doesn't have their "skunkworks" folks doing all of the above I'll be shocked as the device right now is missing exactly nothing to provide all of this functionality -- it only needs the peripherals, and nobody else in the mobile device space is there in this regard.
The "fits and starts" innovation game is, IMHO, about have another "fit" and IMHO BlackBerry is strongly positioned to be a blow-out winner in this race.
Disclosure: The author is long BlackBerry stock.
I had resisted loading the various 10.1 "hybrid" loads floating around, because one never knows what sort of stability problems you're going to get into with "unofficial" firmware. This, incidentally, is a wild departure from my view of this on Android and Windows Mobile where I did it all the time -- that was driven by severe stability problems that made the calculation rather different (when you've already got serious problems the prospect of fixing them overrides the potential for stepping in a tarpit.)
But 10.1 had a couple of intriguing possibilities that I wanted to explore, so I backed up the phone and went for it. To avoid potential trouble I did not restore anything from the backup onto the new OS, but did a clean setup.
Folks, you're in for a treat and things that no other device in the market can do well, if at all.
Let's start with a couple of places I've complained -- and BlackBerry listened. First, password paste into system fields has been fixed. If you have a password "safe" reload that first and then the rest becomes easy, since you can now paste in your seutp information for Facebook, Twitter and such. Thank you BlackBerry.
Second, Android ports that want location data (e.g. GPS) now get it reliably. This was somewhat-spotty before. In addition, Android ports get formal permission sets in the BlackBerry OS, which means you have your control back (although shutting some of those off might break the app.) Note that on Android you can typically see these permissions but editing them in the base firmware (without loading an app to do so) can be problematic, leaving you with an "all or nothing" Hobson's Choice. BlackBerry allows editing for the permissions for any any loaded app (at the potential risk of breaking it.)
Third, Skype. I personally don't care about this one but a lot of people do. It's available for 10.1; apparently it is on the Q-10 but not yet showing up in BlackBerryWorld for the Z-10. But someone grabbed the "BAR" file and it does load and run, provided you have 10.1. I haven't used it extensively since I frankly don't use Skype on my cellphone at all, but for those who have been hollering, it's there now. Oh, and its integrated into the Hub.
Fourth, IKEv2 Generic VPNs now works well with certificates for the remote authentication, and BlackBerry now appears to be requiring it. This is the "right" way to do that, incidentally; you have a password (or if you want, a machine certificate) for your end, and the server's identity is validated by an X.509 certificate, preventing "man in the middle" attacks on your VPN. If you do not want to buy a server certificate from a public certificate authority you can set up your own signing CA and then import the CA certificate to the Z-10. In addition to the auto-connect that worked nicely with 10.0 and automatically secured both cell connections and selected WiFi ones BlackBerry has added a "key" indicator near the network signal indicators and the phone chimes when it connects on the VPN -- as such you can now verify at a glance that it is indeed running in secure communication mode. The auto-connect options remain and work nicely and, more-importantly, are fast. Again, thank you BlackBerry! (Be aware that there is a cost in battery life to using a VPN as encryption requires CPU cycles. It's not enormous but is noticeable.)
Believe it or not they've improved on the already-excellent battery life.
The "smoothness" of the user interface has also improved and in addition there is also a modest but significant improvement in what was already the arguably-best feature on the phone, the keyboard's predictive and typing performance and swiping recognition on the screen. I didn't think you could get better than what the Z-10 had in this regard -- they tweaked the phone's responsiveness and accuracy a bit in this regard and made it even better.
Some people griped that email accounts would only grab the last 30 days of emails; they expanded it to 90. I didn't see the reason to raise hell on this account but I do like the expansion. They also made the folders under sync more-easily understood for IMAP email servers through some minor presentation changes in the folder screen.
Voice recognition and command has improved from "excellent" to "outstanding." This is probably a good thing as Florida just passed a texting ban for cars (presumably even when stopped at a light, which is horsecrap -- just another excuse to hand out $200 tickets. I understand what they're trying to do but reckless driving is already illegal and requires no new law.) You can key up your Bluetooth Headset with the call control button (hold it down for a second or so) and voice command will come up, then you can say "send text to blah-blah", the phone will find the contact and prompt for the text, you speak it, the phone will read it back to you as it understood it and ask for confirmation; a simple "Yes" and off it goes. For short things like "I'm running late and will be there in 15 minutes" accuracy is damn close to 100%. I almost-never actually put a cellphone to my ear, carrying a Plantronics Legend bluetooth earpiece hooked over my T-shirt in the summer and in my suit pocket when dressed "more formally." Voice command is important to me and the improvement in performance from "excellent" to "wow" is definitely welcome.
As I've noted before both DropBox and Box are integrated as "filesystems", and Box can be told to "cloud" any video or photo you take automatically, with the choice to do so when on Wifi only or Wifi and cellular. (Beware the latter if you take lots of pictures and have a restricted data plan!) This is a nice feature but is not an exclusive; Android has had this on Dropbox for a while. It could come in particularly handy if you witness one of "America's Finest" doing something he shouldn't -- confiscating and destroying your device doesn't destroy the evidence. Awwwww so solly, so sad, Youtube will nicely document the jackbooted crap. In a more-pedestrian world it's great for people like me who use their cell camera for photojournalism or just fun and like not having to move files around -- I can go shoot some pictures when I'm out for the day and when I come back to the office they're "just there" on my PC.
Speaking of which the camera gets an HDR mode. All the other modes are still there. I find the "burst" shooting mode to be something that nobody has talkd about but is very nice; it's about 5fps and appears to have no frame-buffer limits. I typically leave the camera in image-stabilization mode, however, which I've found to work exceptionally well.
And then there's the jaw-dropping new feature....
I was astonished to find on the original release that once you load BlackBerry Link on your PC that whenever the phone came "into range" on the same WiFi network you could configure it to mount your phone's filesystems on the PC automatically. This makes moving files to and from the phone simply a matter of dragging them around just like it is in general, effectively making your phone like a "walking" USB data stick you never had to physically plug into the PC. That's nice.
But for 10.1 they did something truly remarkable -- they extended this the other direction.
What you see in that picture is what it looks like -- those are file structures on my local network that are visible on the phone. I'm connected right now over the cellular network, not WiFi, which means I could be literally anywhere in the world.
That's right -- you have your own personal cloud storage and it consists of everything your PC can access. You can authorize multiple machines as endpoints and they show up as "mounted filesystems" in the system's file browser. If I click one of those songs, it plays. If I click one of those spreadsheets, it loads, exactly as if it was on the phone. If I write a file it is changed exactly as if I was sitting at my desk.
Beware that with power comes risk. You have to turn this capability on explicitly and you can choose which directories to share across the link (restricting access to those areas you're comfortable with.) BlackBerry appears to be using the internal VPN capability of the phone to set up a secure tunnel in implementing this feature, which is excellent. A fair bit of digging around failed to find any evidence of unencrypted transport so it does appear they did this right in that regard. You can opt to allow it over WiFi or both WiFi and Cellular. It will not work if the VPN is up; the phone appears to object to a VPN within a VPN (go figure) and it also interferes with activating the Hotspot if you're using it. It appears that the phone brings up and down the internal VPN connection automatically and transparently; after a couple of minutes of remote access to files being idle the interference with the Hotspot disappears and it will come up.
I strongly recommend that if you turn this on you both encrypt your device and make sure it has a reasonably-strong password for access to the phone because you are extending your computer's disks to the phone and if someone steals the phone until you can get back to the PC and shut it off the phone can "see" whatever you authorized!
This capability is a game-changer. There have been clunky ways to do this in the past; Android had an SMB ("Windows Share") app you could load, and that in concert with a VPN could make the phone "appear" on your local network and thus be able to mount remote filesystems. But while that worked it was kludgy and required a fair bit of knowledge to set up (and even more to do so in a reasonably-secure fashion -- exposing a SMB share on the Internet ranks up fairly high in the "10 dumbest things you can do" and for this reason most cable companies block the SMB share ports entirely on their networks.) For BlackBerry to make this easy, secure and solid is an exclusive and damned useful capability. This is a grand-slam home run for the circumstance where you need access to something on your home or office machine while at a client site, for instance, especially if it's something you can display or show the client from the phone directly (and let's not forget that the phone has mobile implementations of the common Office apps too!)
I have had one glitch since loading the leaked 10.1 softtware. I put my apps into "folders" by function, and this morning when I woke up the folders had removed themselves and all the apps were back on the selector screens on their own. Nothing was gone but that was a bit of a surprise, needless to say -- although one that was easy to put back. I don't think I did something to cause that, but one never knows and like I said, the version I have loaded is a leaked OS and not an official one.
It's been about a month since I got the Zed, and my previously-trusty SGS-II remains in the drawer. It hasn't come out once, and given the capability and performance of the Z-10, along with what look to be continuing ground-breaking actual features (not gimmicks!) that both work and make my life easier it's not going to. This is what innovation should be -- not "pretty face" cosmetic changes and not gimmicky garbage that works 10% of the time, but rather real improvements in the user experience and capability that other competitors in the space either can't do at all, or if they can you need to be a computer expert to take advantage of them.
You can have my Z-10 when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers -- BlackBerry has a screaming grand slam homer with these devices and this is coming from a guy who thought he'd never leave Android devices behind. Sorry folks; in a side-by-side comparison Android and IOS are toys.
10.1 OS is on the Q-10 now being released in Canada and the UK, and should be available as an OTA firmware update for the Z-10 "officially" as soon as the carriers get done with their testing. Oh, and the DOD just certified the BB10 devices (as of yesterday) for their networks as well.
Disclosure: The author is long BBRY shares and considers the Z-10 to be a "love you long time" sort of device. It is an amazing machine that just continues to get better.
Where We Are, Where We're Heading (2013) - The annual 2013 Ticker
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