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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