BlackBerry Z10 Problems

February 1, 2013

Okay, so now I’m not quite as happy.

First, Wi-Fi access to the Z10 suddenly stopped working. Where before I had not been asked for the password, now attempting to open a folder on the Z10 instantly displays a pop-up asking for the password. Worse, the password is simply never accepted. I tried rebooting everything, changing the password, connecting the Z10 via a different access point, switching from 2.4GHz to 5GHz. You name it. Same problem: password not accepted.

So I broke down and installed the BlackBerry Link app. Ugh.

It’s not quite as ugly as iTunes. But it’s up there. I’m giving BlackBerry the benefit of the doubt and assuming a lot of the junk has to do with enterprise access. But whatever it is, I don’t need any of it. Plain old USB file access would do me fine. Whereas the Link software went ahead and installed at least two services, plus several other even less-obvious things that want to autorun with Windows. PeerManager.exe runs all the time, consuming 0.01% of my CPU capacity and about 5MB of memory. Is this really necessary, just to support a device that may be connected once every day or two? (Or even more rarely, depending on the user.)

snap0680 a      snap0681 a

What’s more, I immediately got a firewall warning, informing me that mDNSresponder was trying to receive a connection from the Internet. I had to Google that one. Turns out this is a standard component of Apple’s thrice-cursed Bonjour service. So I’m almost back to iTunes levels of intrusiveness. Apparently, mDNSresponder is also included with all sorts of other shovelware, including the drivers you get with a lot of cheap peripherals. In any case, it is not something I asked for in so many words.

You can get rid of it, apparently. I found the executable file in

Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Research in Motion\TunnelManager

Fortunately, if you run mDNSresponder -remove from a command prompt, it seems to go away. USB access to the Z10 still seems to work. But I still have multiple services running all the time, even when I have no intention of connecting to the Z10. This is just sloppy, rude and ugly. A huge win for Android.

To be sure, this is something that most users of the BlackBerry Z10 will never know about, or care about. Well, call me crazy, but I resent having my PC treated as a doormat. Software should either be a single executable with a single function, or it should come with discrete options for every piece of resident junk it wants to install. Period. No exceptions. Not even for a nice device like the Z10.

Some of the complexity is probably aimed at providing secure access for enterprise users. That’s understandable. But there’s an obvious trade-off between capability and complexity. It would be nice if there were tiered installation installation options, with simple USB access as a default for private use. Enterprise users taking advantage of the BlackBerry Balance work/home capability may need something more secure. And even then, I have to wonder if it couldn’t be implemented in a simpler and more direct way than it is now.

Advertisements

BlackBerry OS10: Strange Negativity

February 1, 2013

I was at the BlackBerry event, and was very impressed. But I seem to be in the minority, among tech journalists.

RiM (now BlackBerry Inc.) has done just about everything right. They hired Alicia Keyes, instead of, say, Lady Gaga. They based their new OS10 heavily on the PlayBook OS, arguably the nicest mobile OS out there. More importantly, I got a powerful sense of vitality and creativity from all their people. This is a company that’s got a lot of good ideas, that’s listening to its customers. BlackBerry isn’t “innovating” purely for the sake of being different. It’s looking at what’s out there, and trying to do better. That used to be the recipe for success.

And yet, most reviews have been enormously skeptical. With the needlessly alien Windows Phone, it was all “looks very promising,” or “has some great features.” Nothing about a steep learning curve… With the comfortable, discoverable BB10, the learning curve is “steep” merely because there’s no Home button. There are “many flaws,” and “no apps.” I don’t recall a single WinPhone story harping on about the lack of apps, certainly not to this extent. Were people expecting a new OS to ship with 2 million apps? Is that where the bar is set? Are we really that averse to change, to competition?

A couple of random examples. (Google will happily barf up many more.)

“Some icons, in fact, seem downright amateur…”

“But, tragically, there’s really nothing to love.”

“Nothing to love”…? Really? This describes some other gadget than the one I’ve been playing with.

I suspect it’s down to three things: 1) journalists decided long before the BB10 launch that it was time to write off BlackBerry, and they’re now reluctant to change their minds; 2) journalists have a lot of pent-up negativity they’ve failed to use on Apple and Microsoft, and now sense it’s okay to do a mass vent on BlackBerry; 3) journalists have been programmed to respond to ‘innovation,’ even when it’s counterproductive change-for-the-sake-of-change.

There are exceptions, of course. CrackBerry.com, the dedicated BlackBerry site, is quite fair in praising the good and putting the rough edges in perspective. And the Toronto Globe & Mail is reasonably balanced, though tending at times to damn the new BlackBerry with faint praise. (“Apple’s phone seems more crisp and bright…”)

Funny thing is, I don’t think it will matter. At the launch event, I sat in a vast hall full of people cheering like Apple fans at a Jobs revival. I think long-time BB users will jump on this new generation of product, and will not be disappointed. That will be enough to kick-start a slow but steady recovery.

I also think BB10 is an option the market really needs. It fills a gap that the other competitors have been amazingly slow to address: the more ‘serious’ business and enterprise user. The iPhone is almost perfectly conceived to thumb its nose at that market. Android seems to merely ignore it. Microsoft, to its credit, is definitely going after the enterprise segment. But with a product that’s ‘innovative’ in the worst way. Conservative businesses users who find the BB10 learning curve too steep are surely going to faint dead away when presented with a screen full of Live Tiles.

I don’t expect BlackBerry to take over the world from iOS and Android. But I do expect the company to still be in the fray a year from now, and to be shipping better and better products. I also expect that this will be a positive influence on the other competitors, much as the introduction of the iPhone goosed the underachieving cell-phone world into action a few years back.


BlackBerry Z10: Music Player

February 1, 2013

The BlackBerry OS10 Music app plays FLAC files! I think I may be in love…

Well, I guess that’s going a bit far. But this is the first device I’ve come across that didn’t need a third-party app to handle the only audio format anyone should be using at this late date. It means that I can use the BlackBerry Z10 as a music player without constantly transcoding my bit-perfect CD rips to lossy, dull-sounding MP3.

Apart from that, I like the way the BB10 player handles my JPG cover art. Many players insist that you add the cover as metadata to every single file, a really stupid approach. (What happens if you come across a better image?) On the downside, the BB10 player is a bit finicky about recognizing JPG covers. This may have something to do with how files are tagged, but if you simply name all cover images folder.jpg there’s no problem.

BlackBerry Z10 Music Player     BlackBerry Z10 Music app

Of course, the Music app isn’t the last word. It’s got a playlist editor of sorts, but there seems to be nothing like an equalizer. (The default sound is good, fortunately. But cheaper headphones can usually benefit from a bit of tweaking.) Also, only internal files are supported. Much as I like the default player, I’ll be looking out for something like BSplayer, which I use on Android to access my entire music library via Windows (Samba) shares on my server.

Again, bravo to BlackBerry (the company). The default BB10 Music app sets the bar just about where it needs to be. Third-party apps have lots of room to add features, but the core functionality is available out of the box.


BlackBerry OS 10, BlackBerry Z10: First Impressions

January 31, 2013

Yesterday, I attended the worldwide launch of BlackBerry 10 (the Toronto instance). I was impressed by the way the event was handled, by the PR moves that were announced, and most of all by the new OS itself. I think BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) has done everything right. I sincerely hope the often-fickle marketplace rewards them for it.

Since yesterday, I’ve had a chance to spend an hour or so with the new BlackBerry Z10. Here are a few early impressions.

BlackBerry Z10 default apps    BlackBerry Z10 minimized apps

Physical

In a word, sexy. The Z10 is on the large side for a phone, but I like that. I wouldn’t want a much smaller screen, and generally prefer larger ones, myself. The shape is simple and elegant, and the back (which is actually a cover for the battery compartment) is made of a very friendly soft plastic with a dimpled grid surface. (When you open the back to insert the battery and SIM card, you find that this piece is actually quite flexible.)

The Display

The obvious comparison will be to Apple’s Retina display. Bottom line, no matter how closely I look, I can’t see the individual pixels. Looking at a smooth, bright color gradient, you get the feeling the dots are there, lurking just below the threshold of sight. Sharper eyes than mine might just be able to pick them out, from a couple of inches away. But in normal use, they’re invisible. The display looks great.

The User Interface

From the pre-release descriptions, BlackBerry OS 10 seems like a radical departure. In fact, it’s very familiar, if you’ve used a BlackBerry PlayBook. Clearly, BlackBerry (the company) has taken what worked and evolved it for a smaller form factor.

PlayBook users will find that the ability to ‘minimize’ running apps is core in OS 10. The difference (in the handheld version, at least) is that minimized apps display not side-by-side, but in a 4×4 grid. When you have more than 4 apps running, the grid scrolls vertically. Also, the app tiles don’t seem to be ‘live’ as on the PlayBook. They either freeze the last view, or revert to a generic representation of the app.

PlayBook users will also find two very familiar swipe commands. Swipe up from the bottom of the display, in order to minimize an app. Swipe down from the top to drag open the app’s options menu.

What’s missing, alas, is the ability to swipe sideways between running apps. That was one of my favorite features of the PlayBook. It made multitasking truly effortless, and put the PlayBook miles ahead of any other platform. With OS 10, you have to minimize the current app and pick another from the grid. Not a big deal, but less convenient than the older way.

In exchange for removing the side-swipe task switching, you now have the new Peek feature. Swipe up and over to the right, and the current app slides over, revealing the new communications Hub. This works from anywhere. For instance, you can Peek when viewing the minimized app grid, or the desktop of installed apps. However, if there’s a way to Peek at anything other than the Hub, I have yet to find it. If, like me, you value communications less than some other capability, you may find this a bit frustrating. Most users, I assume, will love it.

The Apps

The BlackBerry Z10 includes all the usual apps: calculator, calendar, contact manager, camera, photo viewer, video player, clock. But there are some nifty extras as well.

My own favorite is Documents to Go, which appeared on the PlayBook as well. It’s a meaningful value added, since it’s kind of vital, and costs up around $15 even when it’s on sale. Moreover, the BlackBerry version seems to be significantly nicer than the one I actually bought for my Android devices. For instance, the word processor has a formatting toolbar.

There are dedicated apps for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare, but these can be accessed via the Hub as well. BlackBerry (the company) tells me that the intent is to steer users to the full app for deeper dives, and make message feeds easily available in the Hub.

Story Maker is novel: a simple video editor that can combine video and photos, adding transition effects and text captions. Pretty neat, for a handheld device.

There’s a Dropbox app, which is welcome. And a Newsstand, that shows “view and purchase published content on a per issue or subscription basis.” I had to “share” my name and date of birth in order to run the app, and was rewarded with the option to download the latest issue of Surfer magazine, or Bicycle Times. Not so sure about this one…

Also interesting is the Compass app. Not only does it show the direction, it adds a 3D ’tilt’ effect when you move the Z10 around. Just a visual frill, to be sure. But fun.

Connectivity

Like the PlayBook, the Z10 can be set to share files via Wi-Fi. I had no trouble opening the device from Windows Explorer without installing any software on my desktop system. I consider that a huge bonus… iTunes is the biggest reason I’ll never be a big iOS user. I know some users prefer a comprehensive ‘sync’ capability, and it was certainly there with the PlayBook, but I haven’t discovered the OS 10 equivalent so far.

Oddly, the Z10 insisted I set up a password for Wi-Fi access, then allowed me to access the device and copy files without one. Not sure what that’s all about. Lots more to learn!

Bottom Line

The BlackBerry Z10 is as slick a piece of mobile gear as I’ve had my hands on. I’d pick it in a nanosecond over an iPhone. The greater openness and evolved ecosystem of Android remain compelling to me, but the big thing is that with OS 10, BlackBerry becomes a serious contender, a worthy inclusion in the Top Three. I don’t think Apple will be quaking in its boots, but I suspect that Windows Phone 8 may find its progress slowed still further, as businesses turn first to the mobile solution they’ve already been happy with.

I haven’t even played with the BlackBerry’s new Work/Home capability, which will let enterprises have secure apps and data on the same device alongside a user’s own stuff. That’s a compelling feature. And the overall implementation strikes me as much slicker, more familiar and more efficient than WinPhone. No doubt Microsoft’s OS will continue to have its fans, but BlackBerry will force them to work even harder to justify their views.

More thoughts on this subject as I continue to explore…