Hands-on Review: BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha phone
While there may be no hardware announcements at BlackBerry World this year, RIM officially pulled back the curtain on its previously leaked Dev Alpha handset at BlackBerry World in Orlando.
RIM also made it very clear that the Dev Alpha shouldn’t be taken as representative of the first BlackBerry 10 phone. Rather, it’s a limited edition device dedicated solely for developers to see what their BB10 apps will look like throughout the development process, until the final BB10 handsets put in an official appearance later on in the year.
We were really hoping to take the next-gen OS for a tour, but once we switched on the Dev Alpha we discovered it wasn’t running the new QNX-based BB10 OS. Instead, it was running a modified version of the finger-friendly PlayBook OS 2.0, which goes hand in hand with its large bezel for comfortable gesture support.
So, the Dev Alpha is more like a miniature PlayBook – complete with the rubberised matte back panel.
We were told developers do not need the BB10 platform running on the Dev Alpha in order to create content for the new OS. So, this is not what the BB10 OS will look like and the slick hardware is more of a test phone as opposed to a veritable prototype. So while we can expect similarities performance-wise, it’s probably best not to get too excited about the slick hardware – it’s likely it’ll never make it into your hands.
Our time with the Dev Alpha was brief – which was probably a good thing, as there wasn’t a great deal to take a look at. Usability was limited to browsing the web, making calls and snapping photos. And while the PlayBook’s OS looked good on its top-notch 4.2in 1280 x 768 screen, these features will be given a design overhaul for BB10. However, this is indicative of what we can expect in the display department from RIM, as these are the screen specs developers will be building their apps for. That means nary a hint of pixelation, accurate colour reproduction and fantastic viewing angles.
There wasn’t much to glean in the spec department, but we know the Dev Alpha packs a rear camera with flash, 16GB of on-board storage, a microSD card slot, mini HDMI-port, as well as the obligatory 3.5mm headphone jack, power key, mic and volume-rocker on the side.
We also spotted a front-facing camera and a large speaker at the bottom, as well as connectors that suggest a dedicated dock is on the way.
Like RIM’s current batch of smartphones, BB10 also supports NFC. Interestingly you can opt to use NFC even when the phone is switched off – which means you can still take advantage of this future-proof tech when your phone has completely run out of juice.
Performance-wise, the Dev Alpha throws up an impressive screen res and a pretty speedy user experience. It’s obvious that touchscreen use is going to play a major part in the new BB10 OS, but this doesn’t mean you should rule out physical keyboards. Perhaps we’ll see a BB10 slider a la the BlackBerry Torch?
For now, RIM is keeping its sparkling BB10 platform under wraps and even admitted to keeping some secrets from us. But as far as we can tell, the king of QWERTY is investing a lot of time and money into what has been described by RIM CEO Thorsten Heins as “a very important millstone for us”.
With an overhauled keyboard that lets you “throw” predicted words into your messages, a clever camera feature that enables you to select from various frames to get the perfect smile of your subjects and a finger-friendly UI, it certainly sounds like an OS worth waiting for. Let’s just hope we’re not waiting too long.
It may not have the official seal of approval, but the Dev Alpha has certainly got us salivating for real deal BlackBerry 10 phones. With a dedicated developer device, one thing is clear – RIM has extremely high hopes for its next attempt at smartphone domination. We for one cannot wait to see what it has in store.