BlackBerry 10 has been around for quite some time now, having debuted on the Z10 and Q10 early last year. With the last major 10.3 update, the company further polished its design bringing more colorful menus and minimalist icons and added a digital personal assistant, dubbed BlackBerry Assistant.
Now the minor 10.3.1 release lets you create customized notification profiles and brings a battery saving mode. It brings the option to hide pictures and videos from the gallery, improves on the BlackBerry Assistant, notification LED management and overall performance.
The swipe-driven navigation makes the BB10 OS unique, featuring some niceties from WebOS and Meego, and quite different from the established platforms.
That being said, BlackBerry 10.3.1 does have support for Android applications (API 18, Jelly Bean 4.3 compatibility), which is a plus. Unfortunately, there is no Google Play Store pre-installed, but you do get the Amazon AppStore and the option to manual side-load APK files. We even managed to side-load the Play Store itself, but it should be pointed out that some apps refused to install.
The Leap greets you with a standard swipe-to-unlock lockscreen. New messages and notifications will show up here, and you can expand them to see what they say directly on the homescreen. You can use the Power/Lock button to unlock the device. A swipe up from the bottom of the screen will unlock the phone even if the screen is off.
There is a shortcut to the camera in the bottom right, and you can pull down a bedside clock from the top. This latter feature will also disable notification alerts, and is useful for when you don't want to be disturbed.
The lockscreen • notification previews • bedside clock
On to the BlackBerry 10.3.1 homescreens, which haven't changed from previous iterations of the OS. There are multiple panes, two of which have a special purpose.
The app drawer takes up most of the homescreen panes - it's a paged grid of icons for all installed apps. A long press on an icon starts edit mode, which lets you rearrange icons and uninstall apps with a single tap.
To the left of your app drawer panes, there's a special "active frames" homescreen that shows thumbnails of all your open apps. To minimize an app, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
Not all active frames are a downsized screenshot of the app, some switch to something more informative. For example, the Phone app switches to a list of recent calls, which is big enough to read comfortably.
The active frames show the currently running apps
Frames are arranged chronologically and have a small X button to exit when you don't need them any longer.
One more homescreen to the left and you're taken to BlackBerry Hub. Hub is where you see all of your notifications and messages. Whether it be BBM, text message, or email, you'll find it here. Here you'll also see notifications from applications, calendar alerts, and anything else the Leap has to tell you.
You can also access the Hub from anywhere by simply swiping up from the bottom (like you would to minimize an app), and to the right.
You can quickly go back and forth between homescreens by swiping across the small indicator icons below the homescreens.
BlackBerry has added an Android-like swipe-from-the-top gesture that'll let you access a variety of quick toggles. You can tap to toggle settings like WiFi, Bluetooth and Airplane mode. Holding down on a toggle will take you to the relevant settings option. Unlike Android, however, there are no notifications to be found in this menu - they're all on the Hub.
Quick toggles on the homescreen • app-specific options
If you're inside an app, however, a swipe-from-the-top gesture will bring out app options instead. To access the toggles menu, use a two finger swipe instead. This change of functionality of the swipes is rather confusing and definitely takes some getting used to, though.
It's not the only place where the BlackBerry OS offers gestures that aren't particularly intuitive. The good news is that the OS does a good job of popping up small tutorial dialogues that give you hints when you need them.
The hype around virtual assistants has certainly dropped over the past year, but they are still improving. You can ask BlackBerry's Assistant to call someone, send them an email, text or BBM, schedule an appointment or make a note. Other options include searching the phone or the Internet, posting updates to your social networking accounts - Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are all supported.
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