BlackBerry is Back!

eHow Tech Blog

While all the other guys – Apple, Microsoft, Samsung – have revved their handsets and operating systems in recent months, we’ve been waiting, patiently, for some sign of life from RIM. Finally, this week, we’re gotten a sense of whether the company is down for the count or still has a fighting chance.

RIM has just announced the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10, both running the fresh, new BlackBerry 10 OS, and I’ve gotten some hands-on time with them. But before I dig deeper, I should note that RIM has officially changed its name to BlackBerry. Changing the corporate name to the name of their most famous product is a sign that RIM is trying to simplify its branding and capitalize on the phone’s cachet.

So what can you expect from RIM – I mean BlackBerry’s — new devices? Let’s start with the Z10. It’s going to launch in the United States on Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. It packs a 4.2-inch touchscreen display with a 1280 x 768-pixel resolution, 2GB of RAM, a dual-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz, an 8-megapixel camera capable of recording 1080p video, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat over BBM Video and more.

The Q10, meanwhile, will launch on (at least) Verizon and AT&T, although we don’t yet know when. (The Z10 is expected in March, and the Q10 should land in April). It offers the full QWERTY keyboard you’ve grown to know and love from RIM, as well as a smaller 3.1-inch display with a 720 x 720-pixel resolution. It’s equipped with a faster 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (expandable to 64GB), microHDMI-out, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, an 8-megapixel camera and a 2-megapixel camera for front-facing video chat.

Both phones support 4G LTE networks and HSPA+, which means they’ll run on the fastest networks offered by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.

So is BlackBerry (sorry, RIM) back? Well, it’s too soon to tell.

Personally, I’m worried that the devices might be coming too late. Keep in mind that despite the launch, you can’t go to a store and buy one. Plenty of analysts had expected the device to launch immediately, but even after months of delays, we’re still waiting. In addition, the prices might be too high (I’m expecting in the $199 range). BlackBerry needs to price the devices below iOS and Android’s flagship phones in order to garner consumer attention. Microsoft took this approach, and it seems to be working for them, at least to a limited degree.

On the other hand, you can certainly expect plenty of exciting new features. NFC (near field communication) will allow you to tap your phone to another BlackBerry to add a new BBM contact. BlackBerry Hub is a new central interface for notifications. There are 70,000 applications (including plenty of big name apps) already available, and BB10 ties in with all of your social networks. There’s a lot of good here, but BlackBerry needs to make sure consumers see it.

My opinions are mixed right now. The notifications get in the way a bit (it’s called a “crack berry” for a reason, I suppose), but the operating system is fast and fluid. There’s a bit of a learning curve with the gestures, which, incidentally, was one problem that Palm’s (now HP’s) old webOS fell victim to.

I’ll be publishing additional thoughts on BlackBerry 10 soon. The platform has potential, no doubt, but is it enough to take on Windows Phone, iOS, and Android? That will be revealed in the coming months as the new devices become available to consumers.

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