Although they were once a serious contender in the mobile phone market, Blackberry’s sluggish pace of innovation in recent years has left them trailing to Android phones and Apple’s iPhone.
So with their backs against the wall, they announced their new flagship smartphone, the Blackberry Z10 which runs on BB10 – the company’s fresh & updated operating system.
Given their vulnerable position in the smartphone market at the moment, this phone absolutely needed to impress and at very least give an indication that they still have some fight left in them. Paired with the launch of a fresh operating system Blackberry have given themselves fighting chance but the question is, is it enough to bring them back to the top? Read on to find out.
Design & Build Quality
Unlike other phones on the market that have removable & rather cheap feeling ‘plasticky’ back covers, the Z10’s back cover is made up of a dimpled, soft-textured removable panel that complements the design of the phone perfectly. The benefits of the removable back of course are memory expansion and battery exchangeability – all without compromising the overall design or build quality.
Surrounding the phone you’ll find the usual volume rockers (with a ‘voice command’ button in between) and a power button that sits at the top of the phone; conveniently placed out of the way. Aside from that, the peripheral inputs include a headphone jack, Micro HDMI and Micro USB ports.
What’s impressive is that even with those ports, the usual buttons and a 4.2-inch display thrown into the mix – the Blackberry Z10 still flaunts an elegant yet subtle design.
Specs, Camera & Display
The Z10 is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage (which is expandable to 48GB if you throw in a 32GB microSD card). From a connectivity point of view, you’ll get all the things you’d expect in a modern smartphone like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, an accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, and ambient light sensor.
By today’s standards, the Blackberry Z10’s 1280 x 768, 356 PPI display isn’t all that impressive – especially when powerhouse smartphones like the Samsung S4 are pulling off 1080p screens (the equivalent of most High Definition TV’s) with 441 PPI.
What’s interesting is also that the Z10’s screen is superior to the iPhone 5’s on spec sheets – in real life the brightness and colour reproduction is significantly better on the iPhone. This isn’t to say that the display was bad – it was pretty good, but I hoped that the colours would be more vibrant than they were.
What bothered me the most about the display was Blackberry’s decision to not stretch it across more of the glass panel. It feels like I’m holding a big phone with a small screen and that feels like an injustice considering the Z10’s great form factor.
The Z10 comes fitted with a 2-megapixel front facing camera and 8-megapixels at the rear, with the capability of shooting 1080p videos too. The shots you take come out clear, but I found that the colour reproduction of the screen let it down when it came to viewing them on the phone.
Taking photos on this phone is easy and convenient. Instead of pressing a physical button you simply need to tap the screen – perfect for those awkward one handed situations. If you need to focus the shot beforehand, just drag the crosshair on the screen to where you need it to focus and wait for it to go green before you take the shot.
The key talking point about the Z10’s camera though is ‘Timeshift’ – a burst mode that takes multiple shots and allows you to select the best one; just in case the photo didn’t come out as planned. Check out the example I uploaded on to Vine below.
Software & App Ecosystem
At a time when smartphones are boasting spec sheets full of the latest technology, the software experience is starting to be an even bigger deciding factor when buying a phone. Blackberry’s BB10 is clearly an attempt to level the playing field with Android and iOS platforms and they haven’t done a bad job of it either; with features like BB Hub, BBM Video and a new gesture based system.
Blackberry’s gesture based system isn’t really the most intuitive you’ll ever come across, although that’s down to the absence of a home button we’ve grown used to on other phones.
Even though you’ll definitely need to watch the tutorial when you’re setting up your phone to understand how it works, the gestures work well and feel natural once you get used to them. You’ll find that the two main gestures to remember are; swiping up to go to your home screen and swiping up followed by a slide to right to reveal BB Hub (also known as the ‘peek gesture’).
BB Hub acts as the home of all your notifications that come in from SMS, BBM, calls & voicemail, social media and emails. It’s a ‘different’ way of accessing notifications and I’m not convinced that it’s the most efficient way – especially in light of the fact that it’s one of the most frequently visited areas on a phone.
As opposed to Android & iOS where you can conveniently simply swipe down and gain access to all notifications without leaving the current app, BB10 forces you to use the ‘peek gesture’ which takes you away from your active app. This quickly becomes annoying because you have to navigate your way back wherever you were.
On the flip side, a really useful feature of BB Hub was the way you could compose a social media update, message or BBM from within the hub itself. iOS has a similar feature for Facebook & Twitter in it’s notification centre but BB10 goes that extra mile which really impressed me because of the convenience.
Having used a number of keyboards across mobile platforms, I was actually impressed by the Z10. The screen size provided a nice, spacious environment to type in and it was accurate too.
Like Swype has done for Android, BB10 has introduced another way of typing with their concept of ‘Flick Typing’. It takes some getting used to but the idea is that the keyboard learns more about how you type as you use it. As it learns, it’ll offer predictions that you simply flick up instead of writing out the whole word. Once you master it, it’s great for efficiency but if you’re a pretty fast typer as it is, you’ll probably end up questioning if it’s worth typing manually.
Aside from announcing that they’d be making their messaging app available across other platforms earlier this year, Blackberry Messenger’s only major update is video calling via the app and screen sharing. This can be used across the phone, giving the other user access to photos and documents for example.
Generally speaking the Z10 handled usual tasks well. It was responsive, gestures worked as they should and navigating inside apps was fluid. I’d be hard pressed to say that it was an exciting experience but it didn’t have anything worth nitpicking about.
In terms of battery life, the 1800 mAh removable battery definitely won’t be solving your mid-day recharging issues but it was just about enough to get you by. As with most smartphones in 2013, heavy users will be looking at a second charge during the day but for most of us – a single charge will suffice.
Blackberry Z10: The Bottom Line
On a design front Blackberry have done a great job with the Z10; the user interface looks great and the 4.2-inch build of the phone feels solid and great in the hand.
BB10 delivers a much needed evolution from earlier versions that includes a modern & refreshed user experience, but I can’t help but feel that it’s hindered by a similar obstacle as Windows Phones – a lack of high quality third party applications. Android and iOS have established app stores and unfortunately that’s where Blackberry falls short.
Given that I actually really like the Z10’s design, it’s a shame that in these few weeks I haven’t thought to myself “wow, this is so much better than Android or iOS” which comes to show that Blackberry is essentially playing catch-up to other platforms. It’s definitely a step in the right direction but it’ll take some more time to be in a position to rival phones like the Samsung S4, iPhone 5(S) or HTC One.
That isn’t to knock their efforts because I genuinely do applaud their development – both in hardware and software – but ultimately for me to change over to another OS there really needs to be something that blows me away and BB10 doesn’t. Having said that, if you’re someone who’s a fond user of Blackberry products then you’ll undoubtedly enjoy using the Z10. If you’re already on another platform though, you’re unlikely to find much on this phone to lure you in.