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New BlackBerry Z10 competes but lacks pizzazz

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

BlackBerry's new Z10 is the company's closest thing to an answer to Apple's iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android, but the long-awaited phone offers little to lure users of those devices.

The Z10 takes its design and interface cues from other contemporary smartphones. Like many of its rivals, it's a thin, black slab built around a large touch screen. It's got a new operating system designed for touch-screen devices, and its key features resemble those of the latest iPhone and Android devices. It's got a built-in application store, front and rear cameras, a high-resolution display, the ability to switch quickly between multiple apps, and an LTE radio to connect to wireless carriers' new, high-speed networks.

BlackBerry has made much of the Z10's new and different interface. But it feels like it's been cobbled together. It has an app grid that looks and acts like the ones you'll find in Apple's iOS or Android. It has a screen of running applications that's very similar to the one shown on Windows Phone devices. And a feature called BlackBerry Hub, which is essentially both a universal inbox and notification center, isn't all that different from the notifications areas on Apple and Android phones.

One thing that is different on the Z10 is that it has neither a physical nor virtual home button. To get back to the home screens you have to swipe up from the bottom of the display.

You can check for new messages without leaving your current application by doing a partial swipe.

But these features aren't much different from pulling down the notification shade on an iPhone or Android device. And on those devices, you can go directly from an app to a particular message or alert — something you can't do on the Z10.

The Z10's keyboard offers word suggestions, positioning those choices above various letters on the keyboard. You simply swipe up from the letter below it.

But as much as the Z10 has tried to copy and improve upon the success of the iPhone and Android devices, there are ways it just doesn't measure up.

But the bigger problem with the Z10 is the paucity of applications available for it.

Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News; twolverton@mercurynews.com.

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