NEW YORK -- Are you ashamed to have a BlackBerry? It's not exactly a status symbol any more, at least not in the U.S., after it got left in the dust by the iPhone. Now, there's a new BlackBerry that wants to get back into the cool club: the Z10.
It's the first phone to run the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, and it is, at first blush, a very good stab at regaining at least some of the cachet of the BlackBerry.
The problem is that no one has ever succeeded in turning around a failing smartphone maker. Remember the Palm, anyone? It's simply a brutal industry. So even if the Z10 does everything it set out to do, it might not be enough to save Research In Motion Ltd., the home of the BlackBerry. The company is changing its name to BlackBerry, but that could just be the prelude to riding the brand into the sunset once and for all.
It doesn't exactly help that the Z10 looks like every other smartphone on the shelf. It's a flat black slab with a touch screen, nearly indistinguishable at 15 feet from the iPhone 5 or a bevy of Android smartphones. The screen measures 4.2 inches diagonally, a bit bigger than the iPhone but smaller than most Android phones. It will go on sale in the U.S. in March, probably for about $200 with a two-year service contract, in line with the iPhone and other rivals.
Turn it on, and the differences become more evident. Older BlackBerrys are great communications devices, but are poor at multimedia and at running third-party apps, something the iPhone excels at. The new BlackBerry 10 software is a serious attempt at marrying these two feature sets, and after a few hours of use, it looks like it succeeds.
BlackBerry 10 was delayed for about a year, and it seems as if the extra time was put to good use. The software is, for a first release, uncommonly slick and well thought out, completely unlike the PlayBook disaster of two years ago, when RIM released a tablet computer that couldn't do email.
The Z10 is easier to use than an Android phone. It is more difficult to use than the iPhone, but it is also more powerful, giving you faster access to your email, tweets, Facebook status updates and text messages.
These communications end up in the "Hub," a window that slides in from the left side of the screen. Whatever you're doing on the phone, you can get to the hub with a single swipe on the screen, and then go back. It's a great feature for the always-connected.
The software is good for on-the-go types as well, because it's designed for one-handed use. While texting, you'll have one hand free for holding your bag or pushing open doors.