Archives for February 2013

Blackberry Z10 Smartphone Review

Blackberry Z10I have been following the development of the Blackberry 10 mobile platform for quite a while. In the months leading up to the launch there was a lot of buzz, speculation and even leaked pictures of the upcoming devices.

I was even more excited when I received an invitation from RIM (now Blackberry) to attend the launch event in New York City. I was lucky enough to be part of a select group to attend, learn about all of the advanced features of the devices and even get to try them out first hand. Please check out my other post on this experience.

To top off the amazing launch event, everyone in attendance got to take home their very own Blackberry Z10!  I have been using mine close to three weeks, and I am ready to share my thoughts on Blackberry’s newest smartphone and BB10 platform.

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed about the Z10 was its sleek and thin design. The Z10 was clearly a different breed of Blackberry.

It felt solid in my hand, and fairly light weight. The 4.2″ screen is beautiful. The colour just pops, and the screen resolution (1280×768) is the same as my 42″ plasma HDTV! The HD screen makes your games, pictures and videos look really sharp and crisp, making for a fun multimedia experience.

Apps loaded quickly, including the camera. The Z10 is fast, and the specs back that up. The Z10 comes equipped with a dual-core 1.5Ghz processor, comparable to other high-end devices. It comes with 2GB RAM, 16GB of Flash memory and the memory is expandable with the built-in Micro SD slot.  This is good news, especially if you plan to use the device to take a lot of video, or download a lot of movies and large files.

Other hardware features of the Z10 include an 8MP camera on the back and a 2MP front camera for self-photos or video chatting. Your wireless options include Bluetooth 4.0 to connect with accessories and other devices, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n for plenty of connection options as well as NFC (near field communication) — a feature becoming more prevalent for sharing information with other devices, mobile commerce and even replacing your security swipe card at work.

The device came loaded with typical apps like BBM, and Blackberry World, Maps, Docs-to-Go, Calendar, Contacts and others you might expect. It also came with some of the top social media apps pre-loaded — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and even Foursquare.

The browser is fast, although I had issues loading some websites — mostly when I was not connected to Wi-Fi. I also don’t like how some emails open bigger than your screen and you are forced to “pinch” them down to see all of it.

Blackberry Hub

After entering my email and social media account information, all of the accounts were now displayed in Blackberry Hub — the heart of communication in the BB10 platform.  The Hub acts as a repository for all communication with your email, messaging and social media. Imagine, all of your messages and updates located in one location — available at the swipe of your finger. Blackberry has alleviated the need to check all of your accounts individually.

I really like this feature. When you receive a message of any sort, you are notified via a customizable sound effect as well as the iconic red flashing light.  Simply swipe the device to get to the Hub from any app, or “peak” at the message without even lifting your thumb from the screen. You can reply to any messages within the Hub as well — no need to launch the Facebook or messenger app to respond.

This convenience is one of the highlights of BB10, something you won’t find incorporated natively anywhere else. (Note: I have seen similar functionality on a Samsung Galaxy Note, but it was achieved via a separate app, and was not nearly as elegant).

Apps

At the BB10- launch, Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins announced that more than 70,000 apps would be available soon after launch — the most of any other mobile platforms at launch. They will include the top 1,000 apps  — apps like Facebook, Skype, Amazon Kindle and Angry Birds. This was great news for Blackberry fans as a lack of apps was a major concern for the new BB10.

Blackberry 10 AppsI was personally excited to hear that Amazon was supporting BB10 with a Kindle app, considering they had not done so with the Playbook running QNX. I am a heavy eBook reader, and have a lot of Kindle books already on my iPad. This was a big plus for me.

While the initial selection of apps on Blackberry World seemed a little thin, I was able to download a free copy of Angry Birds Star Wars, the WordPress app for managing my websites, weather apps, stock market apps, CBC news , TimmyMe and some others. I have also noticed more of the announced apps have been trickling in each day, including some really fun free games like Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP — a jetski game.  The Z10 can definitely hold its own as a mobile gaming machine, and with EA, Gameloft and Disney on board we should see some good quality games available soon.

I would suspect that we will see more of the top apps appearing before the U.S. launch of the Z10 in March.  But if you are like me and need your apps now, you can always side-load your favorite Android apps to get you through.

You can’t simply download and install Android apps on your Z10 though. There are a few steps necessary. Websites like www.goodereader.com explain exactly how to do it and also have the software necessary. It involves putting your Z10 in developer mode and loading the apps from your PC or Mac. It is quite simple actually, if you follow their instructions closely. They also have almost 1,000 apps that you can download which will work on your Z10.

I downloaded my CIBC banking app, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble NOOK app, Ebay, Overdrive (borrow ebooks) and the PhotoShop Express app. All of them worked fine on my Z10 and I can now wait a little longer for the native apps to be released for Z10. If you’d like to see what Android apps are available and learn more about side-loading, click here.

Cool Features

The Blackberry Z10 comes with a few standout features and apps. As I mentioned, with 8MP, the camera is pretty decent and after taking it with me sight-seeing in NYC, I can attest to the quality of the images. But the Z10 also has a really neat feature called “Timeshift’.

Have you ever tried taking a picture of your group of friends? Invariably someone is always blinking, looking the other way or not smiling yet. Timeshift helps you fix that without reshooting the photo. In fact, when activated, Timeshift actually takes 10 shots at once, and then using face recognition, gives you the ability to isolate each person’s face and choose the best shot. It works amazingly well.

The Story Maker app included with the Z10 makes it so easy to create your own high-quality movies in minutes. To test this function, I selected a number of photos of NYC, and a video clip I had taken of the Brooklyn Bridge. Next I chose the background music, added the title and credits and chose a theme from the six available. Within minutes I had made a fun video of my trip and uploaded it to YouTube. You can check it out here.

Unless you explicitly close an app on the Z10, it will remain running in the background utilizing true multitasking. Simply swipe your thumb up from the bottom of the device and the app will minimize into an active frame on the screen. You can have up to 8 apps running simultaneously, and you’ll notice that even in minimized form, the information or images in the app are changing or updating. To get back to an app, simply tap it with your finger. This feature makes it easy to jump from app to app without closing and restarting the apps.

The virtual keyboard on the Z10 is one of the best I’ve used. With next word predictive type, Z10 will begin to show words above the letters on the keyboard as it tries to anticipate what you will type next. You simply swipe up from the key to use the word it is suggesting.

It actually works really well and according to Blackberry it will learn from you so that it will get more accurate over time. I have typed some messages using all swipes after entering just two letters, and this really speeds up your typing, as you can imagine. This feature will impress even diehard physical keyboard lovers — but if you can wait until April 2013, the Blackberry Q10 with keyboard will be available.

Blackberry Balance is a great feature, allowing you to separate your work from your personal accounts, apps and data. The IT department can still choose what apps are available to you on the corporate side, and still have some control over your work side, but they can’t see the personal side. Although I haven’t yet been able to try this feature because I don’t yet have a work account on my phone, I think the separation is important and will please a lot of Blackberry users.

Blackberry has really focused on giving the user the ability to share information, pictures and videos easily on social media and other mediums and devices. If I snap a picture for example, I simply press the “Share” icon at the bottom of the screen and I can share the picture on BBM, text message, email, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, via Bluetooth, or even via NFC to another person’s Blackberry. Talk about options!

But that’s not all. One of the coolest features of the Z10 is the ability to play your music, videos and even pictures on your Smart TV or other DLNA devices (Blu-ray players, media players) without wires! Unlike the iPhone or iPad which require you to buy an adapter and HDMI cable, or an Apple TV device ($99) to play your media directly on your TV, the Z10 allowed me to stream my video clips right to my TV over Wi-Fi.

Overall Impression

After using the Z10 for a couple of weeks, I really like it. I think BB10 and the Z10 have delivered on the promise of a re-designed, re-engineered and re-invented Blackberry experience.

To me the Z10 is refreshing. The interface is innovative, Blackberry Hub and other functionality is unique and works well together. The ability to stream music, video and pictures onto my HDTV with no cables or accessories is exciting and impressed every person I demonstrated it for.

There are still some challenges ahead for Blackberry as they try to convince existing Blackberry users and new users to give them another look. But I think people will be impressed with what they see.

As more and more apps enter Blackberry World, and more phones hit the market (Q10 in April and perhaps others this year) Blackberry may prove to be a solid contender and alternative to Apple and Android.

The Final Verdict

The Good

  • Solid build, nice design
  • Beautiful HD screen
  • Unique functionality
  • Built for sharing media and information
  • Blackberry Hub is excellent
  • Great camera + Timeshift feature
  • Blackberry Balance
  • Ability to side-load Android apps
  • View photos, music and videos wirelessly on HDTV
  • Battery can be easily replaced or swapped out
  • Expandable memory
  • Price

The Bad

  • Small app selection – although more and more each day
  • Boot-up time was over a minute – 30 seconds longer than iPhone
  • Decent battery life but not as good as I hoped – won’t last full day with heavy use
  • Voice control – SIRI like functionality is just OK
  • Maps function is decent, but not as good as Google Maps

Blackberry 10 Launch – My Experience

I attended the Blackberry 10 Launch event in New York City last Wednesday. As a new member of Team Blackberry Elite, I was invited by RIM (now Blackberry) to attend the event as well as several other events and activities exclusive to the Elite program.IMG_0406

My first impression of the event was the grand scale of the location, and setup. Walking into the building at pier 36, which looked deceptively unassuming from the outside, I was met by a large crowd of people registering for the event. After obtaining my name tag and checking my coat, I shuffled to another much larger area filled with hundreds of reporters, analysts and other invitees enjoying a nice spread of bagels, pastries  fruit and more.

Surrounding us were large images of the back of new Blackberry, imagery outlining the new features of BB10 and screens showing live Tweets of the event. After having a bite to eat I wandered around taking it all in.

This was a huge day for RIM.  Some would say a “make-or-break” day. BB10, now over a year behind schedule, is in many people’s eyes, RIM’s last hope for survival in an industry it created a decade earlier.

Glancing down at my watch, I realized it was getting close to 10:00AM. I checked my email and had received a message from a RIM staffer who was to seat me that morning. I located Kari and she led me through the crowd into the main venue. An even bigger room, filled with rows and rows of chairs, even more people, and a large stage at the front. As we approached the stage, Kari led me to the 2nd row centre where I took a seat. Wow. What a seat!  The reality of the whole even was starting to hit me.

IMG_0418I removed my camera from its case and began snapping pictures. As people moved into the main hall, the atmosphere began to grow with excitement.

We were moments away from the biggest announcement in the company’s history. The previous year had been one of struggles, layoffs, bad press, the appointment of a new CEO and plenty of nay-sayers calling for the death of RIM.

Some said it was too late for RIM. The Blackberry’s world market share had gone from close to 50% 4-5 years earlier to just over 5% today. Apple’s iPhone and the newer Android phones had changed everything. Each new model stealing more and more of the market away from RIM. As the bring-your-own-device movement has grown, more and more people have gone from having a work phone or carrying two devices, to using just one device of their choice.

But during this time, even with plenty of defections to the competition, RIM had still managed to grow their user base to 80 million. Nothing to sneeze at for sure. But can it hold onto them? If RIM can help it…BB10 will change everything.

Thorsten Heins takes the stage to great applause. CEO for just a year, Thorsten has had his work cut out for him. He begins by welcoming the crowd and acknowledging the difficult year leading up to now. One of the first announcements made is that Rim (Research in Motion) will now become Blackberry, one brand.IMG_0428

The next hour or so are full of announcements,  demonstrations and plenty of cheering from the crowd. As Thorsten introduces BB10, dubbed a “mobile computing platform”, he goes on to explain that BB10 represents a platform for the next ten years.

Capable of running powerful devices, connecting devices like your car, and launching Blackberry into a new era. With growing anticipation, the new Blackberry smartphones are finally introduced to the crowd to great applause. As anticipated, they include a touchscreen model, dubbed the Z10, and a physical keyboard model — the Q10. Both models boasting larger screens than any previous Blackberries. The Z10 features a full 4.2 inch screen with higher resolution than the iPhone 5!

New features are highlighted, like Blackberry Balance — the ability to separate work and personal files and apps,  Timeshift photos, peek, and flow, Blackberry Hub and more. The integration of all social media together with email and instant messaging is RIM’s solution to information overload and the need to open various applications to check for updates on other devices.IMG_0452

Through various demonstrations we preview the new BBM video chat function and BB10’s ability to share a user’s screen with another across the country or across the globe. Next, the subject of apps!  Over 70,000 apps will be available at launch — the largest number of any “new’ platform at launch. Apps like Skype, Amazon Kindle, Angry Birds and over 1,000 of the tops apps for other platforms.

For me personally, a native Amazon Kindle app is absolutely huge and a welcome addition. As an ebook author and reader, the lack of a Kindle app for the Blackberry Playbook tablet had always left a big hole in my user experience. I look forward to trying it out on the Blackberry Z10!

At one point during the presentation, Thorsten pointed out that there were six launches happening around the world simultaneously — New York, Paris, Toronto, Dubai, London and Johannesburg — before pulling up a live screen showing the crowd at each event.  Truly a global launch!

Blackberry also used the launch as an opportunity to announce that Alicia Keys, the singer and performer, will be Blackberry’s new Global Creative Director. Alicia used an analogy about dating to describe how she had been a faithful Blackberry user years before, but began to notice newer, cooler looking devices at the gym and began “seeing other phones”. With the launch of BB10 she was now going steady with Blackberry again because it now met both her work and personal needs and looked sexy again. IMG_0451As one of her first assignments, Alicia will be travelling around the world, talking to customers and Blackberry users — and will document her experiences using her Z10.

When would the new devices be available?  The Z10 will be released first followed by the Q10 in early April.

Due to carrier testing they would not be available in the U.S. until March, but were available the next day in the UK, and on sale in Canada February 5th! Although prices may vary, Thorsten did acknowledge that the Z10 would be priced at $149.95 with a 3-year contract in Canada.

The one month delay for a U.S. release was a disappointment to many and could have a negative  impact on the momentum Blackberry is trying to build around the launch. Both the UK and Canada represent large, important markets for Blackberry and it will be interesting to see what sales look like in the next few weeks.

In his closing remarks, Thorsten told the crowd that everyone would leave with their very own Blackberry Z10 so they could try out all of the exciting new features for themselves. The crowd erupted!  It felt like an Oprah moment when she would give everyone in her audience one of her favorite things!

As things wrapped up, we all made our way to another room to demo the phone for ourselves and get some lunch. The event had left me feeling positive about Blackberry and its future. The devices looked great, and some of the new features were really cool. I was looking forward to trying one out myself!

I have now been using the Z10 for 5 days and I really like it. I am hoping to do a full review next week. Stay tuned.

To watch the live event, you can see it here.

The events didn’t end there for Team Blackberry Elite members. Following lunch we boarded a couple of buses and the Blackberry staff took us on a tour of the city/scavenger hunt type event. It was fun and we got to try out our new phones while seeing incredible NYC. Blackberry really went out of their way to not only show us a great time, but also to meet with all of us and answer our questions. I even met Thorsten Heins.

Later that evening my wife and I attended the Blackberry Fan Event at Milk Studios, where we were treated to free drinks and great music.  The place was packed and when Thorsten arrived he received a rockstar welcome! He even posed for pictures with all of the excited fans. What a fantastic trip, event and experience. Kudos to the Blackberry staff and management for a great day!

Self Publishing: Release the Author Inside of You

In November 2012 I took part in a local event (which also happens around the world) called Ignite Sault.   Participants had 5 minutes and 20 slides to talk about something they are passionate about.  I spoke about self-publishing.  I wanted to share my experiences in writing, creating and promoting ebooks on Amazon Kindle.  Below is the video:

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