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Hands-on with the BlackBerry Dev Alpha B, is it the L-Series in disguise?

Hands-on with the BlackBerry Dev Alpha B, is it the L-Series in disguise?

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Gallery Photo: BlackBerry Dev Alpha B photos
Gallery Photo: BlackBerry Dev Alpha B photos

Alongside the announcement of another BlackBerry 10 SDK for developers, RIM also announced that it has created a second developer device it's calling "BlackBerry Dev Alpha B." RIM tells us that it simply ran out of the five to six thousand devices it originally created for developers and so needed to create new ones.

That's the official story, but there's another story hiding underneath the device's boxy exterior. Looking closely at the device, we can't help but notice that the outer casing is boxy and sits atop the glass screen of the device in an awkward way, with recessed sections for the buttons and ports. It seems obvious that what we are actually looking at is an alternate version of the L-Series "London" device that has long been rumored to be the first BlackBerry 10 launch device.

There's another story hiding underneath the device's boxy exterior

We can get what few specs we know out of the way relatively quickly: RIM isn't saying what the processor is, but did tell us that it comes with 16GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, and a 4.2-inch 1280 x 768 display. All of those specs match up nicely with the rumors we've seen for the L-Series, and it seems to differ from the last Dev Alpha primarily by dropping a microSD expansion slot.

The screen itself is not the final 1280 x 720 resolution that RIM has instructed developers to target, but the company did say its first device would be at this resolution. That confusion aside, the screen does look good to us — and at that pixel density it ought to. The device was responsive and fast (minus a few bugs that have yet to be worked out in the OS), opening apps and switching between them with nearly zero lag.

As for the rest of the phone, you can't judge it by its squared-off shell, which obviously signals that this is solely meant for developers. The body sits above and around the screen, raised up several millimeters above the surface, and it is even recessed where the buttons and ports are.

This phone doesn't look like one, single device

Unlike the previous Dev Alpha, this phone doesn't look like one, single device. It very much looks like a squared off case put on top of another phone. Moreover, the speaker grill, microphone, cameras, and buttons all line up with previously leaked images of the L-Series. We can't say what developers will find when they crack it open, but we suspect that it won't be an L-Series phone lying underneath, whole and complete. More likely is that RIM replaced the original exterior with this boxy shell.

It wouldn't be the first time we've seen a flagship smartphone whose body was replaced with a boxy shell. Samsung did the same thing with its Galaxy S III, though it obviously wasn't designed to be widely distributed to developers. Instead, as we reported in April, the alternate version was meant for internal testing.

If it's true that this developer device is the L-Series in a different body, it makes a lot of sense for RIM to take this tack for its developer devices. Taking the company at its word that it ran out of the original run, commissioning another batch of the same devices just doesn't make as much sense as using what will ultimately be production hardware.

In the end, this device will only go to developers who haven't already received the original Dev Alpha, so whether this is that close to the final L-Series may just be academic. Those developers will use the Dev Alpha B to create the apps that could make or break the platform. Those apps will have a far larger impact on RIM's chances than whether or not the company just gave us all a tiny sneak preview of its launch device.

BlackBerry Dev Alpha B photos