BlackBerry 10.3.1 review: Access Android apps and Blend

BlackBerry has finally released version 10.3.1 of its mobile operating system, which gives access to the Amazon Android app store

BlackBerry has finally released version 10.3.1 of its mobile operating system (OS), which gives owners of the  Z30, Z10, Q10, Q5, P’9983 and P’9982 models access to the Amazon Appstore for Android.

While BlackBerry Passport users have had access to the version 10.3.1 since the device was released in October, BlackBerry 10 users were stuck with BlackBerry World until this update.

The over-the-air download is just over 1GB. It took Computer Weekly more than an hour to download, but this depends on the speed of the network connection.

Installing the update on a Q10 once the download has completed is also quite slow, and took another 45 minutes – involving an extremely slow reboot.

Once it restarts, users get a new user interface, the Amazon Appstore for Android and BlackBerry's Priority Hub.

Access to the Amazon Appstore opens up a large library of Android apps. For instance, British Gas Hive heating control app is available, as is the Endmondo sports tracking app.

But since there is no access to Google Play Services, users will not be able to run any apps that use Google services such as mapping.

Also, a quick search showed that the Amazon App Store is more orientated towards games and movies than business apps, which may not be available from Amazon.

Technically it has always been possible to sideload Android apps – but this may break corporate IT policies, and there is no guarantee the apps will work.

BlackBerry blend

Among the key features is a new user interface, the BlackBerry Priority Hub for prioritising email correspondence and BlackBerry Blend. Blend – which Computer Weekly covered in its review of the BlackBerry Passport – brings messaging and content from the BlackBerry smartphone to computers and tablet.

It allows users to receive instant message notifications, read and respond to work and personal email, BBM and text messages. The user can access documents, calendar, contacts and media in real time on any device running Blend. It is available on Mac OS, Windows, iOS and Android.

On a Windows PC, this reviewer thought Blend a more attractive email client than Outlook, and Computer Weekly found it worked faster than working directly in Outlook/Exchange. The other big benefit of Blend is the ability to connect remotely to the file system on a running device, such as logging into a work desktop from a smartphone, tablet or home computer.

Mobile collaboration

To address mobile collaboration, BlackBerry 10 also offers BBM Meetings, which enables business mobile users to schedule, host and participate in meetings anywhere they have an internet connection. The service is available on Android, iPhone, BlackBerry 10 smartphone or Windows PC or Mac. The service costs £7.67 per conference host per month (the number of delegates makes no difference) and enables video conferencing, sharing presentations, voice and messaging. The service is considerably cheaper to the equivalent GoToMeeting service – which costs about £25 per conference organiser per month for the package that supports 25 participants.

BlackBerry version 10.3.1 OS is more than an update. It completely refreshes an existing BlackBerry smartphone. There is a clean user interface taken from the BlackBerry Passport, with several new software powered functions such as a high dynamic range camera and new power-saving options to boost battery life by up to 15%.

Computer Weekly was really looking forward to the BlackBerry 10.3.1 update, as it gives users access to Android apps. But, the Amazon Appstore for Android is far less complete from a business user perspective, compared to  Google Play. This means some users will be tempted to sideload Android apps, which could put their organisation at risk.

The one big positive is BlackBerry Blend, an excellent cross-platform unified communications and file manager client.

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