If there's one reason BlackBerrys have struggled with the transition to a full touchscreen life it's been the interface. As the competition will attest, getting a phone to feel right when you're using only a screen to interact with it is quite tricky, but finally BlackBerry has mostly got the hang of it.
The BlackBerry 9860's interface, which is part of BlackBerry OS7, will look very familiar to regular BlackBerry users with the home screen split up into four distinct sections. Up top is the status bar with information such as the time, date, signal strength, battery life, and network. Tap this and you get a set of options for connecting to a Wi-Fi network, turning on Bluetooth, turning your mobile network connection on/off and setting an alarm, or you can jump to the full settings menus.
Back on the homescreen, below the status bar is the notifications area flanked by icons for volume control and search. The latter two can be tapped to access the phone's extensive sound profiles (silent, loud, vibrate only, etc) and the phone's system-wide search feature. This will look up apps, contacts and messages, and once you've setup a web search, it will perform a normal web search.
Yes, unlike the vast majority of smartphones, you must manually input search providers. And when we say manually, we mean it – you literally have to type in the exact URL that will perform the search. While this is finicky, it does mean you can easily add all sorts of different search engines, like our own (just add http://www.trustedreviews.com/search/reviews?q=%s as a search engine). Sadly, while you can choose which search engine to use on a search by search basis in the web browser, if you use the desktop search tool, it only uses the one you last used in the browser.
As for the notifications area, this will show that you have new messages from email, text, Facebook and Twitter as well as notify you of apps for which an update is available. Tap this section and all your notifications are shown in list form along with the date they arrived and the subject. It’s a good system for keeping up to date with all your goings on, especially as the signature BlackBerry notification LED will flash whenever a new notification arrives. However, the fact that you have to close an app and return to the homescreen to check your notifications means it’s a little more cumbersome than the drop-down notifications sported by Android and now iPhone.
The final two sections are the blank middle part – all the better for showing your choice of wallpaper – and the apps launcher. The latter of which can either be zero, one, two or three lines tall by default then expanded to fill the screen by tapping its top edge or swiping upwards. Within the app launcher you can arrange apps as you please, including putting them into folders, though you can't just drag one app on top of another to create a new folder – one iPhone feature we really like. As well as showing 'All Apps', there are also five other columns (Favourites, Media, Downloads, Frequent) that you can place apps into for keeping things organised. You can't, however, create your own columns.
Fans of widgets will be disappointed that the 9860 doesn't support these mini apps, so you can't fill your homescreens with them. With the ability to hide the app launcher, it's a shame to have no way to fill the otherwise empty space left behind with useful or distracting tools.
Menus can be quite stark and complicated.
Step into various apps and start setting the phone up and for the most part things are easy to work out and use. However, there is a slightly stark style to many apps and menus, and particularly the Settings and Setup menus can leave you scratching your head. Once you've spent some time with the handset you realise there's a lot of method to the madness and it's actually a quite powerful and easy to use system – you've just got to learn its quirks.
That said, it's still not as slick as it should be and it does trail Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Hopefully subsequent updates will tidy these issues up.