When RIM trotted out BlackBerry 10 for its official unveil last month we were left with frustratingly little to evaluate. We did get to spend some time with the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha device, but it was essentially just a shrunken down PlayBook, and it didn't feature many of the new features that RIM teased us with. Thankfully, today at BlackBerry 10 Jam here in New York we've had the opportunity to use one of the most anticipated new features in BlackBerry 10 — a redesigned capacitive keyboard with predictive text recommendations.
In case you missed it back at BlackBerry World, what makes the keyboard in BlackBerry 10 unique is how it handles predictive text. Unlike the built-in keyboards in iOS and Android 4.0, the system isn't limited to just correcting common typos as you enter them — instead, the keyboard will dynamically suggest words above the letters on the keyboard that those words begin with. To insert the suggested word, all you need to do is quickly flick up on the letter, and it will automatically get entered with a space on either side. That's not the only gesture offered by the keyboard — if you want to delete an entire word you can just flick to the left from the backspace key. There's a nifty animation that plays when you use the gesture, but in practice we think we'd rather have the option to disable the animation or speed it up so that deleting words is as fast as possible.
Who's typing? The phone or me?
Trying to type using the predictive text system is a bit jarring at first. Since the suggested words are placed directly above the letters you're using, you don't ignore the suggestions as much as you do in Android or iOS. Also, since the suggested words are typically quite accurate (especially when it comes to your typical text messages), they tend to be distracting, making you think twice about what you're going to say. In our brief few minutes with the keyboard we often questioned whether or not we should use what the system was suggesting or the exact words that we had intended to type out. Still, we can't complain about quality suggestions, and over time we suspect this will become less of an issue as users become familiar with the system.
Ignoring the marquee predictive text system, the keyboard itself works quite well. We were able to punch out sentences letter by letter without much difficulty at all. Comparing it to leaders like the keyboard in iOS or Android 4.0, it's not quite up to par yet — the keys seemed a bit too cramped — though we suspect that it will improve as the OS gets closer to launch. We also experienced a few bugs, but the OS is currently in Alpha, so we can't expect too much at this point. Additionally, text selection didn't appear to be finished yet, though in its current form you press and hold to bring up the copy and paste menu, much like in BlackBerry OS 7. Lastly, the keyboard doesn't yet support widescreen use, and there wasn't an option for vibration feedback when typing — something we've become quite accustomed to from the keyboard in Android 4.0.
"It'll only get better!"
Otherwise, the keyboard is fairly standard. To turn on caps lock you press and hold the shift key and swipe up a slider that appears. Additionally, you can capitalize a single letter by pressing and holding on the character. To swap from letters to symbols there's a button on the bottom left of the keyboard, and there are two pages of symbols. Our first impressions are certainly good, though we'll wait to spend more time with a final version of BlackBerry 10 before we render a verdict. In the words of RIM: "it'll only get better!"