BlackBerry got left in the dust by the iPhone. But 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 no one has ever succeeded in turning around a failing smartphone maker. So even if the Z10 does everything it set out to do, it might not be enough.
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.
Older BlackBerrys are great communications devices, but are poor at multimedia and at running third-party apps. 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.
The software is, for a first release, uncommonly slick and well thought out. 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.
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.
It's also completely touch-oriented. You don't use a hardware buttons to navigate the phone at all: They're just to turn the phone on or off, or adjust the volume. To get around, you swipe across the screen. Up, down, right and left swipes all do different things, but they're fairly easy to remember.
Very rarely does BlackBerry 10 display a "Back" button on the screen, which is a blessing. I find Android's always-present "Back" button a huge annoyance.
BlackBerry diehards will lament the lack of a physical keyboard - they'll have to wait for the Q10, a model in the more traditional BlackBerry form. That's due this spring. But before writing off the Z10, these loyalists should try its on-screen keyboard. It's really very good. It provides more vertical space between the keys, imitating the steel bands that separated the hardware keys on the BlackBerry Bold. It's very accurate and easy to use.
The Z10 also will have a replaceable battery. Screen quality will be good, too, at 356 pixels per inch, compared with 326 for the iPhone 5 and 306 for Samsung's Galaxy S III. Unlike the iPhone, the Z10 will allow you to expand storage with a microSD card.
The iPhone and Android have a huge head start when it comes to getting developers to make applications that run on their phones. RIM says BlackBerry 10 will launch in the U.S. with about 100,000 apps. That sounds like a big number, and it includes important apps such as Skype and Facebook.
BlackBerry 10 is nice, but I can't point to anything about it that would make me say: "Forget those other phones: you have to buy this one."