• OS 10.3 Review: This Is The One We've Been Waiting For

    The military has a term known as BLUF, Bottom Line Up Front. The acronym is used in briefings to give a commander the most critical information about an event or an operation right off the bat before the staff gets into the weeds about what’s going on.

    When it comes to the upcoming release of the BlackBerry OS 10.3, the BLUF is, this is the upgrade we’ve been waiting for.

    I went into our forums here and downloaded the most recent leaked version of 10.3 that newshutr posted back in August. (Remember this is a leak and not official so if you want only official, then do not install this leak. If you want to see what 10.3 looks like and feels like on your device, by all means grab the auto loader and enjoy.) Beyond the updated icons there is a lot to reinforce what I said almost a year ago when I stated “OS 10 and the new handsets are a building blocks for a new BlackBerry, not just another product release from RIM.”

    Security, call quality and stability of the OS have remained what we’ve come to expect in previous versions of OS 10. The only improvement (and for an uncoordinated clod like me) is the ability to put one call on hold and answer another, then return to the original call. It’s suddenly become a no-brainer for me in 10.3 where it was a very sketchy prospect for me to return to someone I’d put on hold in the past. First thing you notice is the very minor visual changes to the boot up screen. The thick line that used to encircle the BlackBerry logo to show start up progress has been replaced with a very thin one. Everything else with the start up remains what you’re familiar with.

    There are some changes to the icons
    , so no more ugly boxes around the icons and you’ll notice that some of the icons themselves have received an updated look. You have to look closer to notice other more subtle changes, like the check mark inside a green circle on standard text messages that tells you your message has been successfully delivered. The change has been added to the icons for “delivered” and “read” on BBM as well. Changes also come to the Music and Pictures applications.

    In the music app, when you’re in Playlist mode the last playlist you were listening to is displayed across the top of he screen. In pictures, when you view your photos by date it displays what you’ve shot this month, then you can scroll down through your pictures on a week-by-week basis. It’s nothing ground breaking, but it is new and something I find is a convenient way to view your photos.

    The first time you open the BlackBerry Hub, you’ll notice a large blue circle at the bottom of the screen right there where you can’t miss it in the middle. When you’re doing any Hub related function it says, “Compose”. When you’re using the phone that same blue button turns green and “compose” changes to “Call Back” when you display the missed calls you might have had. Changed too is the “End Call” button when you are in a call. It’s now a big red rectangle in the bottom center of the screen. The other noticeable addition to the Hub is in the top right corner, where you’ll notice a button that has three lines and a check mark in it. Pushing that button brings a trashcan icon and the reply arrow to every message you’re seeing in your hub at the time. When you return to the hub from a message you’ve been viewing, the same two options appear briefly beside that message only.

    The Camera now has the added option of a Panorama mode in addition to the HDR and other shooting choices. In what seems to be a central theme with the updated OS, a large circle, again blue in color, is at the bottom of the screen, this time with a camera icon in it to let you know that’s where you push to take the photo or start the video. The web browser has received a subtle change as well. The ability to swipe down from the top of the screen to access things like bookmarks, home screen additions etc. are gone. Those functions have been moved to the additional functions (three dots) button on the right side.

    Also new to the settings tab are options to track data management so in places like here in Germany, where "unlimited high speed data" translates to "1gb of high speed data per month, you can keep track of your usage and set an alert to let you know when you're getting close to the upper reaches of your monthly limit. There's also an addition called "Advanced Interaction" that lets you set options for things like "Lift to Wake", "Flip to Mute" which comes in handy when you're in a meeting and you've forgotten to mute your phone, and "Flip to save power" which extends battery life by placing your device in standby mode when you phone face down on a flat surface.

    The BlackBerry assistant is handy too. I'm still going through this one to learn about its usefulness, but so far the ability to send BBM's via voice and ask the Assistant to give me the latest news on my beloved Dallas Cowboys works as advertised. It's been able to recognize my voice and requests in various outdoor and indoor environments.

    I’ve saved what I feel is the best part of OS 10.3 for last, and that’s the integration of the Amazon Android App Store into the OS. From a user standpoint is probably the single most important update in 10.3 for one reason; speed.

    When BlackBerry first allowed us to side load Android apps, I noted how “Android apps on a BlackBerry while functional aren’t exactly the best running thing you could install on your phone. Depending on which BB 10 device you have, the experience of running side-loaded apps runs the gamut from “can’t tell it’s an Android app” to “get this thing off of my phone”.” That lack of functionality and sluggish speed of Android apps that I talked about in my previous article are gone thanks to the integration of the Amazon App store. Several apps and games I couldn’t use before now function as well as “Made for BlackBerry” apps on my Z10. And let me take the time here to say that while I still believe that the app makes should put what we’re able to get from the Amazon App Store into BlackBerry World, my view on leaning on Android App stores has certainly evolved after using 10.3

    No need to use clunky side loading options like the app manager plug in on Google Chrome, just open up the Amazon App (or even the latest version of Snap) and download and install the latest version of your favorite Android apps. You don’t realize how old the versions of Android apps were that you were using prior to 10.3 until you get the upgrade. I can now run my beloved AFN Europe app, as well as play games like Pet Rescue Saga and WWE Super Cards. Things I couldn’t do with 10.2 installed no matter how hard I tried. The only knock I have on how Android apps function in 10.3 is that they are still battery hogs, very hungry battery hogs. But it’s something I’m very happy to live with to get the new and very improved functionality that comes with the use of the Android apps.

    While the Apple Fan Boys are brazenly declaring BlackBerry effectively “squashed” in the Smartphone wars(more on this in an upcoming article), BlackBerry is showing that the rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated and that for those that turned to Android or iOS because of the “app gap” it’s time to come back to the one that started it all, if you haven’t already it’s time to come home to BlackBerry.

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