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BlackBerry Announces BlackBerry 10, Z10 and Q10 Smartphones

By Wesley Fenlon

While the BlackBerry Z10 aims for the Android and iOS mainstream, the Q10 keeps doing the classic BlackBerry thing with a familiar keyboard but a much-improved screen.

BlackBerrys ahoy! RIM held a big press conference today to take the wraps off BlackBerry 10 and a pair of new BlackBerry phones. And RIM is going all-in with the BlackBerry branding--the company announced it has renamed itself BlackBerry to go along with the launch of BlackBerry 10. One of the new phones, the Z10, represents BlackBerry's stab at the iPhone and most popular Android phones on the market. Here's what you should know about it.

The Z10 is outfitted with a 4.2-inch 1280x768 screen, dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor and 2GB of RAM. It's got a couple bells and whistles like NFC and microSD support and a micro HDMI port. Everything else will sound pretty familiar to Android fans--micro USB, 2-and-8 megapixel front-and-rear cameras, 1800 mAH and, of course, 4G LTE support. And that beloved BlackBerry notification light? Still there.

The Z10 will follow standard smartphone pricing and cost $200 on-contract on Verizon when it launches in March ($150 on other US carriers). The U.K. and Canada are getting the phone later this week, however, which is the first wrinkle in BlackBerry's launch plans. BlackBerry plans to pour major money into marketing the Z10, including a Super Bowl ad on Sunday, but US carriers won't be putting the phone on sale for several weeks. BlackBerry says longer testing times on US carriers are responsible for the delay.

The Q10, BlackBerry's other new phone, stick with tradition. It's not slated for a launch this week or in March--that's coming in April. The Q10 looks a whole lot like a BlackBerry thanks to a 3.1-inch screen and, yes, a full QWERTY keyboard. But even the tried-and-true BlackBerry design has seen some modernization--the display resolution is a solid 720x720 pixels, and it supports touch, like the BlackBerry Bold 9900 before it. The back's made of a (supposedly tougher than plastic) glass, and the internals match the Z10. That means 1.5GHz of processing power and 2GB of RAM to keep the phone running smoothly.

BlackBerry has a very, very tough sell on its hand if it's trying to convince Android and iOS users (and perhaps former BlackBerry loyals who have strayed from the pack) to return to the business phone herd. But the Q10 might do a better job of grabbing new customers and retaining old ones than the Z10 thanks to its keyboard, something that virtually no smartphone makers bother with anymore. Of course, the phone itself is only half the battle. Maybe not even half. The new BlackBerry 10 operating system has to be a success.

So what's BlackBerry promising with 10? Lots of apps, for starters.

BlackBerry's new software is built around the Hub, a catch-all notification center, and a home screen that shows both widgets and running apps.

70,000 of them, including Skype, Rdio, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Kindle, MLB at Bat, Angry Birds, and Plants vs. Zombies. Of course, those aren't all brand new apps, and apps designed for the Blackberry coexist in the store with apps build for Android, which BlackBerry can run. But apparently they don't run too well--according to The Verge, the apps run sluggishly in software emulation of Android Gingerbread and feel disconnected from the rest of the operating system.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are notably integrated into the operating system, and so are Dropbox and Box for sharing and storing files in the cloud. Similarly, a native Remember app links up with Evernote for notes and reminders.

Overall, The Verge's review of the BlackBerry Z10 praised the ideas behind BlackBerry 10 operating system. BlackBerry's new software is built around the Hub, a catch-all notification center, some unique gestures, and a home screen that shows both widgets and running applications. They specifically praised the web browser and found that the OS needs work, but is hardly the mess of some of BlackBerry's previous attempts to catch up with Android and iOS.

The Verge was similarly positive on the phone itself, except for battery life, which came up short--that 1800 mAh battery in the Z10 may mean less than a full day's use for anyone who uses LTE data regularly.

Will BlackBerry 10 work as well on the Q10, with its much smaller screen and physical keyboard? There's no way to tell just yet--hopefully BlackBerry is smart enough to customize the experience some, or at least rapidly update the OS in response to early criticisms. As usual, snagging new customers will be BlackBerry's greatest challenge, but an improved OS and the draw of its existing email and messages platforms may keep old fans sticking around for another couple years.