In the first of my series of spotlight features I’ll be looking at the new BlackBerry Hub and how it works in BB10 on the Z10 that Vodafone have kindly leant to me.
BB10 is a gesture based operating system, that’s explained when the phone boots for the first time by way of a step-by-step tuorial. Once I’d used it for ten minutes or so I found it quite intuitive and I’ve not had to re-run the tutorial.
The BlackBerry Hub intrigued me, and after setting up a Blackberry account this seemed to be the perfect place to start my journey into the unknown.
I had to go through the task of adding my Twitter account and three Gmail accounts, which was actually significantly more laborious than on Android, but then, Android doesn’t have this all in one solution. It’s not something I’d want to do again in a hurry, but nothing difficult.
The hub of all knowledge?
The hub seemed confusing and overcomplicated at first, but once I began to understand the theory behind it I became a lot more comfortable. That theory is that a smartphone user doesn’t want to be flitting between third party apps to administer the multiple forms of communication between their contacts, it should all be in one place. Let’s face it, that is a logical step, but does it work in practice?
Three steps to drowning in your own mail
The hub forms three layers of information. The first being little icons that appear on the left hand side of the lock screen if there are new messages. The icons are different depending on the message, e.g. an email is an envelope, a tweet is a little bird, etc. A small number appears next to the icon to show how many new items there are. If in an app, one can also ‘peak’ to see if there are any new items by using a small pull-up gesture from the bottom of the screen. This is a neat, original and attractive way of doing things.
The second layer is a timeline of all messages from all accounts that are hooked up to the hub. Unfortunately, with the amount of emails, tweets and text messages I get this was just a mess. It didn’t help that there’s no conversation threading.
Just as an example, the good folks here at Coolsmartphone were all having a good old chat over the team email group whilst I was doing something less interesting (work, I believe it’s called). When I looked at the BlackBerry hub during a coffee break I found 30 new mails, all with the same title interspersed with work emails, spam on my personal account a a few twitter mentions. Utterly useless. It’s a good job I didn’t have BBM or Facebook connected, or I may have given up!
Thank goodness for BlackBerry hub layer three, where there is a menu that allows access to individual accounts, splitting the messages up into their own manageable chunks. There’s still the lack of threading even here, so I found chatty email trails hard work compared to my comfort zone of the Android Gmail app where threading makes things effortless.
Layer two and three can be accessed by using a swiping gesture from the left of the screen inwards; one swipe to get to the timeline and a second to get to the individual accounts.
At all stages it is possible to open, compose and delete messages. It’s even possible to return missed calls directly from the hub, which is a great feature.
I’m a huge fan of Twitter, but I spend most of my time reading news and other peoples’ musings rather than tweeting my every move, so I assumed the BlackBerry hub would do away with the need for a Twitter app, but no, it’s only for mentions and direct messages and sending your own tweets. This wouldn’t be such a problem if there was a decent Twitter app for BB10. Which there isn’t!
Here’s how BlackBerry describe their hub:
So, is the BlackBerry Hub something I’ll miss when I go back to Android?
No. It’s a great idea, but it still needs work. The convenience of having all my messages in one place was cancelled out by information overload. There are filters, but I didn’t find them very convenient. It would probably be fine if I had one email account, Twitter and my text messages, but I’m sure I’m not uncommon in having multiple email accounts. I wouldn’t like to think what it would have been like had I set up BBM and Facebook as well!
I have to say that I’m glad I have one notification area but separate apps for all my different methods of communication on Android (and most other platforms); it may not sound as streamlined, but it works far better.