BlackBerry OS 10.3.1 was released yesterday and I downloaded it to my Z3. It feels very weird but I am strangely excited by this release. Maybe it’s the changes, maybe it’s just me – I am excited by a lot of things nowadays (Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Lumia phone, Azure … to name a few).
BlackBerry OS 10.3 was so far only available to the BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Classic. But with 10.3.1 other devices too can get it. For a list of new features check out this official page. Below are my notes on some of the features, along with some screenshots.
The first thing to notice is the new look. The icons look flatter and prettier. No more of this “ugly” shadows and dull colors. Everything feels brighter and flatter (and squarer?).
The next thing that stands out is the Amazon App Store. Yup, you now have the Amazon App Store installed by default on the BlackBerry so it’s easy to download Android apps from there for your device. Much easier than side-loading by getting the APK files from third-party sites, which was the only way to previously get Android apps on your BlackBerry OS 10 devices.
Another new thing that stands out is that you now have a home screen. Previously your home screen had all the app icons and/ or a list of open apps. If you closed all the open apps you were taken to the page with app icons (as above). Now if you close all your open apps, the page where that is usually displayed stays on – blank – so your selected wallpaper shows through. I don’t care much about that so turned it off from Settings.
I don’t remember if BlackBerry OS 10.2 had this option or not, but the same Display Settings menu also lets us select the display color (warm, cool) and also the keyboard appearance (dark, light, automatic).
Speaking of the home screen-cum-app switcher, that too seems different. For once, the preview seems different (though I can’t place a finger on how it’s different from OS 10.2); for another, the layout has changed a bit. Previously the app you closed last took the top-left position, pushing whatever app was previously there to the right. So the app you you had closed last was on the top-left position, the app you closed first was on the bottom-right position. But now apps are arranged in the order you closed them. So the top-left app is the first app you closed, next is the second app you closed, … all the way to the bottom-right which is the latest app you closed.
Another very nifty feature is Advanced Interaction, which you can find under the Settings menu. You get some cool features like wake the device by lifting it, keep it away while holding it, etc. Nice stuff!
Yet another nifty new feature is the Action Bar. Check out the screenshots below. Depending on the context you get a bar of sorts at the bottom giving some of the actions that are commonly used in that context. You can customize it via the Settings menu too.
It’s little stuff, but very useful. Probably a side effect of this, but now the camera app has a button you can press to take photos! (Previously you had to tap anywhere on the screen, which was a bit confusing to me as I am used to clicking anywhere on the screen to usually focus a picture). The volume buttons too can be used to click a photo (I don’t recollect if that was the case with OS 10.2).
There are some new modes too (panorama and such). Notice the three dots above in the bottom right corner? You can click that to get more options.
A very very useful feature is the revised circle when typing text. Previously the circle had “handles” on either end which you could use to move it around and navigate through the text you are typing to make changes. Now there are left and right arrows that let you move in either direction character by character, giving you finer control. And the handle-bar at the bottom can still be used to move the circle around. It’s a small change but I found it infinitely more useful when typing.
Moreover, the keyboard layout too has small changes in my opinion. I think the spacing has changed. Whereas previously I used to hate typing on the virtual keyboard, since I upgrade to OS 10.3.1 it has been a pleasure. I make way less mistakes now.
The Settings menu has some more new settings.
Quick Settings lets you customize the quick settings menu you get when swiping up from the top on the main screen (home page & screen where the app icons are shown). You can select what you want to see, as well as rearrange the order.
Data Management lets you view the data usage of the device as well as configure per account data settings (including what happens when you are on roaming). Again, useful stuff, especially for roaming users.
Lastly, Battery Saving Mode has settings to save battery when it is falling low. I don’t know whether battery performance has improved since OS 10.3.1, but under OS 10.2 it was dismal on the Z3. Hopefully I can squeeze more out of the battery thanks to this.
Almost forgot, the email client has some useful new features. One of these is that whenever you view an email and come out, there are two new icons briefly displayed next to the message. These let you delete the email or file it away.
I forgot to take a screenshot of it, but the email list view has a new icon on the top right corner that lets you get similar icons for all emails that are displayed. This way you can delete/ file away multiple emails easily (note this is not same as selecting multiple emails and doing a common action; instead, you can do individual actions but on multiple emails one by one).
The telephone app too has a pretty redesign and is pleasant to the eyes.
The BlackBerry Assistant (which was present in OS 10.2 if I remember correctly) has significantly improved. Previously it could only be used to dial contacts, but not it has Siri-like features in that you can ask it to do things for you.
Another new feature is BlackBerry Blend – which I didn’t try out. Apparently you install a client software on your PC and that lets you easily “blend” your BlackBerry and PC. You can transfer data easily (wirelessly I believe) and messages and notifications are synced over. Must try that sometime … (I am not a fan of installing too many software on my PC, especially from BlackBerry regarding which I have a mind block, that’s why I haven’t tried this yet).
Lastly, there’s a new feature called Meeting Mode which is sort of hidden away in that you can’t get to it via the usual Settings menu. Instead, it is hidden under the settings menu of the Calendar app. What it does is that once enabled it automatically figures when you are in a meeting and adjusts notifications and alerts such that you are not disturbed (again, you can choose what happens). Very useful!
To access this, launch the Calendar, swipe down from the top of the screen, and then you can see Meeting Mode.
And that’s more or less it.
Overall this seems like a great release and I am quite excited by it. Previously I didn’t used to bother with my BlackBerry much, but ever since I updated today I have been exploring the new features and more importantly enjoying using the device. It feels lighter (coz of the design I guess), brighter (the colors), easier to type and move around (the keyboard layout, improved circle, the new Action Bar), and smart (all the new little features).
Apparently keyboard shortcuts are back too! So now you can be in the email view and press “t” to go to the top of the list, “b” to go to the bottom, etc. Like you could in the good ol’ days of Blackberries. This feature was removed in the newer OS but is now back. I don’t have a physical keyboard on the Z3 so it isn’t of use to me, but I am pleased keyboard shortcuts are back!
That’s all for now. Good stuff, BlackBerry! Keep it up.