BlackBerry Z10 Review

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Whoa! What’s this? A totally brand spanking new BlackBerry in town, something that has the BlackBerry name on it, but doesn’t seem to running the usual BlackBerry OS we’re so familiar with. After hibernating for the better part of the last year, the company formerly known as Research In Motion, known as simply BlackBerry now, has finally unleashed its long awaited smartphone running its new QNX-based BlackBerry 10 platform. For a company attempting to establish its prominence once again in the business, a lot is hinging on this gamble of sorts – especially taking into factor the exorbitant amount of time they’ve spent on it.

Naturally, it’s going to be an uphill battle for BlackBerry, as they attempt to contend in an already crowded space filled with top notch Android smartphones, stylish Windows Phone 8 devices, and of course, the tried and true iPhone. Despite the odds that might seem to be against them, BlackBerry still commands a loyal following under its belt – and hopefully, they’re willing to give this new platform a chance. As we all know too well, it’s a matter of bringing something extremely compelling to the table that will intrigue the hearts and minds of consumers all around.

So what device has the prestigious honor of launching BlackBerry’s new mobile platform? Well, it’s none other than the all-touch smartphone in the BlackBerry Z10 – a device that’s not armed with some gimmicky feature, much like what we’ve seen with the Storm series. Looking through its specs sheet, it’s not something that’s going to instill fear into some of the top-tiered smartphones on the market now, but instead, the spotlight is all on the mobile operating system that’s running the show. This is it people, it’s do or die time for BlackBerry, right? Quite frankly, this needs to be something grand in order to steer people away from other platforms.

The package contains:

  • microUSB cable
  • Wall charger
  • Sleeve case
  • Stereo headphones
  • micro fabric cloth
  • Start Guide
  • Safety & Product Information Guide

Design:

You’d think there would be a huge emphasis on design with the BlackBerry Z10, since it’s the device meant to showcase the new platform for the first time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with it, as its understated design language kind of falls flat when compared to some of the eye-catching designs we’ve seen with other handsets. In fact, the more we think about it, the Z10 is nothing more than an enhanced version of the BlackBerry Dev Alpha units that were given out to developers – though, it also resembles the iPhone 5, and to the extent, the LG Revolution from a while back.


Donning an all-plastic minimalistic construction, it obviously lacks any premium elements to make it a prized looker amongst other things. Fairly solid with its construction, the rear of the handset has a clean finish to it – thanks primarily to its dotted rubbery rear casing, which also provides for a grippy feel in the hand. Needless to say, it’s form fitting in the hand with its streamlined body (0.35” thin) and balanced weight (4.9 oz), but in contrast to something similar like the iPhone 5, it’s moderately larger in footprint. In this day and age, physical appearance has a lot to do with being unique and different amongst the heap of masses out there. Sad to say, the BlackBerry Z10 doesn’t embody the qualities we’d expect to find on a smartphone that’s the quintessential ingredient required for revolution.


You can compare the BlackBerry Z10 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Ditching the familiar styling of past BlackBerries, the Z10 doesn’t boast any of the physical buttons shared by its elder sibling – instead, they’re all incorporated into the UI. Therefore, the only thing that’s found below the display is the discrete microphone that’s hidden along the bottom edge of the display. On the opposite side, however, we’re greeted to the familiar things – like the earpiece, light & proximity sensors, LED notification light, and a front-facing 2-megapixel camera that can shoot videos in 720p.


Along the left edge, we find a microUSB port for charging/data connectivity and an always-useful microHDMI port for quick and easy video-out functionality. Conversely, the black plastic trim of the right side is broken up by the aluminum volume control, which is a little flat to the touch, but offers a pleasing springy response when pressed. In between the volume up and down buttons, there’s a middle multi-function one that accesses the handset’s voice control service when it’s long pressed. Additionally, it acts as a media playback button as well to pause/play music tracks.


Even though we like that the physical power button is positioned squarely in the middle along the top edge, we’re not fans of its very flush appearance. Next to it, we have the 3.5mm headset jack and noise-cancelling microphone. Finally, the only item that’s found on the bottom side is a notch that allows us to remove the back cover, and acts as the speaker grill as well.


In the rear of the Z10, it’s outfitted with an ample 8-megapixel auto-focus camera with LED flash, which has the ability to shoot videos in 1080p. Yanking off the flexible rear casing, we notice that the NFC chip is incorporated into it, but more importantly, we gain access to its 1,800 mAh battery, microSD, and microSIM slots. With the latter, though, the battery needs to be removed first before gaining access to it.



Display:

Similar to the underwhelming design of the Z10, we can say something identical about its display too. Previous to this, the BlackBerry Torch 9850 had the honor of sporting the largest display on a BlackBerry smartphone, but the Z10 makes a marginal increase – albeit, we’re thankful that the resolution has been amped up. Specifically, it’s a 4.2-inch 768 x 1280 LCD screen on the Z10, which produces a very sharp looking pixel density of 356 ppi. As our eyes tell us, it’s filled with plenty of detail and clarity to give nearly everything the sharpness that our eyes crave. And on top of that, since it’s relying on good old LCD technology, colors remain on the neutral side, as opposed to the unrealistic and saturated tones of AMOLED. Combining its strong brightness output with its decent viewing angles, we didn’t have any problems viewing the display in outdoor conditions – with the sun present.


Interestingly enough, the Z10’s display doesn’t feature Corning’s Gorilla Glass, but instead, it’s some other type of material that has a plasticy feel to it. Opting for this, we’re not thrilled to find that the display is notoriously difficult to clean as well, even with the included cleaning cloth. In addition, it’s simply too much of a magnet for smudges and fingerprints, which quickly gets caked on there. Overall, the display isn’t anything spectacular, which is a shame in a way, knowing that visual appeal, much like the design, is something that get people interested and attracted to a handset from afar. Maybe it could’ve been larger, or maybe it could’ve been something neato like edge-to-edge? Indeed, there are a lot of maybes…





BlackBerry Z10 360-degrees View:





Interface:

So what’s the hoopla surrounding this smartphone? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that it’s all about the new experience with BlackBerry OS 10. Just imagining the time it took RIM, errr BlackBerry, to develop this new platform from the ground up really gave us high hopes in the fact that they finally have a modern touch-friendly interface at hand! Obviously, they took a gamble on this one, which is evident by the lack of BlackBerries released in the past year. In a world where it’s trying to achieve stardom over Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, the folks over at BlackBerry decided to put in some serious time developing and tweaking its new platform.

Visually, they’ve paid a great deal of attention in almost every aspect of the platform. So much so, that it boasts some neat looking transitions effects that sprinkle some love to the new UI – such as the cool fading effect when unlocking the device. At the same time, there’s just this consistent fluid performance seen throughout the interface that easily rivals its adversaries. Unfortunately, its personalization is pretty much on the same level as iOS, since we’re only given the ability to changes the wallpaper and the layout of the app panel. Compared to Android and Windows Phone, it lacks those personalizing elements to make the look and feel of the UI different between handsets.


Above all, there’s a steep learning curve seen with the new operating system, which might detract some people – even those who are currently using the last-gen BlackBerry experience. Specifically, the learning curve is mainly due to the new gestures in play, and the way they lay out the homescreen. So let’s take a quick look at some of these new gestures.

Gestures:

Looking at the phone, there isn’t a home button or icon that many are familiar with pressing that returns them to the homescreen. Rather, the homescreen is comprised of three distinct panels – the apps panel, active frames panel, and the Blackberry Hub. Swiping left/right at the homescreen will get you into any of them, but when you’re in an actual app, executing a swipe up gesture from the bottom bezel and then releasing your finger “minimizes” the app and places it as an Active Frame in the homescreen. Indeed, it’s BlackBerry’s take on the whole multi-tasking thing, which might not seem as intuitive as what’s seen on other platforms, but it nonetheless gets the job done.

Following on the same premise, you can get into “Peek View” at any time by simply doing the same gesture (swipe up from the bottom bezel), but this time making sure to hold your finger on the screen and not letting go. In this view, we’re given a quick look at the amount of notifications we have – though technically, you’ll need to traverse over to the BlackBerry Hub to actually see what they are. Honestly, the way BlackBerry 10 handles notifications isn’t as quick or practical, but instead, it seems like there’s more work involved.


Well, that leads us to the hardest gesture to master – the one that gets you into the BlackBerry Hub, which aggregates all notifications, emails, text messages, and missed calls. Essentially, it’s a swipe up from the bottom bezel, then while your finger is still touching the screen, you swipe right to uncover the BlackBerry Hub. As we’ve mentioned already, it seems like a lot of work is involved in just getting access to those notifications, but hey, that’s the way they decided to go. And finally, the last gesture involves swiping down from the top bezel, which will bring up different settings depending on what app you’re running. From the looks of it, the gesture basically replaces the familiar “menu” button function seen with last-gen BlackBerry.

Functionality:

We’re not going to go into great detail about the core organizer apps with BlackBerry 10 because their functions and layouts aren’t different from anything else. When setting up accounts, like Gmail, we’re given the option of also syncing our calendar and contacts, which is of course an appreciated feature to find. As for the core organizer apps, they include the following apps – Calendar, Clock, Compass, Docs To Go, File Manager, Print To Go, Weather, and BBM. With the latter, BBM now features video chatting, where users can also send content to one another with a presentation quality to it. Of course, it’ll please business and enterprise users more than anyone else, but at least it’s nice to know that video chatting is now enabled with BBM.


BlackBerry smartphones are typically known for their messaging prowess, especially when many of them employ some killer physical keyboards. Obviously, the Z10 is an all-touch device and relies on a new keyboard layout. No folks, there aren’t any gimmicky novelties this time around, but we’re pleasantly impressed that the on-screen keyboard works well. Not only is the layout ample, but it’s super responsive as well in keeping up with our rate.

Furthermore, we also appreciate the useful gestures in play with the keyboard – like doing a swipe down gesture on the keyboard to get access to its different layouts. Still, we would’ve liked to see some numbers and punctuations integrated into the main layout. In addition to its great auto-correct feature, BlackBerry has an interesting way of going about predictive text. Based on context clues in what you’re typing, different words will begin to appear over certain letters on the keyboard – so all you need to do is a swipe up on the specific letter to automatically throw the word into what you’re typing. As much as we appreciate this, we find out pace to be a little bit on the slow side, and quite frankly, we’re faster just typing the old fashion way. Alternatively, there’s also the voice control feature that allows us to speak our words. In our testing, it seems pretty accurate and somewhat faster than relying on the predictive text feature.


Emailing hasn’t changed much with the BlackBerry 10 experience, though, accessing them is still a process on its own. Instead of seeing an email icon or something in the app panel, you’ll need to once again get into the BlackBerry Hub to access them. When it comes to the layout and functionality of the email experience with BlackBerry 10, we don’t find it as comprehensive as Android’s Gmail experience – but hey, it still gets the job done.



Processor and Memory:

From what we’ve seen in the past, BlackBerry’s set of smartphones were never sporting hardware that were deemed as cutting edge, but at least this time around, they’re able to bring to the table something respectable. Running behind the scenes, there’s a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor coupled with 2GB of RAM that’s calling the shots – so it’s the same chipset used by many of today’s flagship devices. Far from being as intimidating as a quad-core processor, it’s effective enough in giving the handset one consistent performance in everything. From basic tasks to more complex things like gaming, we rarely find the BlackBerry Z10 exhibiting any signs of sluggishness.

Sure, it’s tagged as offering 16GB of internal storage, but that translates to 9.9GB of free storage space out of the box. Luckily, its microSD card slot is ready to accepts cards up to 32GB in size to supplement its internal tally.

Internet and Connectivity:

Many might forget that the BlackBerry Z10 is the first BlackBerry smartphone to feature 4G LTE connectivity, so it’s something worth noting. With our unit running off of AT&T’s LTE network, it’s able to load complex pages in a jiffy. Even better, the BlackBerry 10 web browser delivers a phenomenal experience, since it’s able to handle even the most multimedia intensive sites with little effort. Not only does it offer instant page rendering on the fly, but that same lovable and consistent fluid performance is also witnessed with its navigational controls – both pinch zooming and page scrolling. Heck, even sites with heavy Flash content are handled fairly well. Displaying a great amount of finesse, the only thing lacking are secondary features. For example, there’s a button to switch between opened tabs, but it would’ve been nice to see some other gestures that would accomplish tab-switching as well.


In the US, carriers that will be offering the BlackBerry Z10 will have their own specific variant – with 4G LTE connectivity in tow as well. Similar to its contemporaries, the Z10 is armed with all of the connectivity arsenal we’d expect to find nowadays – such as aGPS, Bluetooth 4.0, 5GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, mobile hotspot functionality, and NFC.



Camera:

When it comes to snapping photos, BlackBerry makes it very easy to get access to the camera app. First, you can launch it from the lock screen by pressing and holding down your finger on the camera icon in the bottom right corner. Secondly, there’s another icon in the homescreen that’s also placed in the bottom right corner. And finally, you can simply launch it by clicking on the “camera” icon in the app panel.

Sporting a clean layout that’s predominately covered by the viewfinder, there are few icons or buttons littering its interface. Towards the right edge, there’s an icon in the upper right corner that enables us to switch between photos, videos, and its new Time Shift feature. Meanwhile, there’s another icon in the bottom right corner to get into some additional settings and shooting modes – such as burst and stabilization modes. It’s lacking some of the manual modes and comprehensive set of shooting options that other camera UIs offer.

Furthermore, there’s also some confusion at first when it comes to snapping photos. Since it lacks a physical or on-screen shutter key, you just need to tap anywhere in the viewfinder area to take a snap shot, which is instantaneous. However, there’s a small square box that acts as the UI’s exposure and focus level adjustment. Basically, you have to press and hold down on it to move the box around to a specific area – so yeah, the execution is a bit strange from what we’re typically exposed to. Finally, with the Time Shift feature, it buffers images prior you to snapping a shot, so that you can “travel back in time” to select the best faces from each individual in the shot – ultimately stitching together the perfect one.


Tacking along a very modern sized 8-megapixel auto-focus camera, its quality isn’t more spectacular than some of its esteemed colleagues in this category, but rather, it boils down as being average. Well, shots taken outdoors with plenty of lighting are decent enough to accept with their average details and subtle saturation with its color reproduction, which sprinkles a bit of vibrancy to its shots. However, depending on where you position its focus box, images can appear over/under exposed. Under low lighting, though, it’s noticeably more speckled looking with its fine details – while an overall graininess is more prevalent throughout the shot. Luckily, its LED flash seems to be potent enough to light up the scenery up to 7 feet away, though, colors appear more washed out in tone.

Likewise, we can say the same thing about its 1080p video recording quality – with nothing that really jumps at us. Needless to say, we like the average details it’s putting out, gradual exposure, and steady frame rate that it delivers. Despite those charming items, there are two specific distracting elements that pop up. First of all, artifacting elements appear and soften it details whenever the camera is transitioning from light to dark areas and vice versa. And secondly, the microphone doesn’t seem to handle the wind too well, as it picks up that and other noisy tones in the background.

BlackBerry Z10 Sample Video:

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Multimedia:

Taking a quick peek at the Picture gallery, we’re adept to notice the conventional layout it’s sporting, as images are presented in an all too predictable grid like view. Thankfully though, we’re given some expected functionality with it – such as being able to share them via BBM, email, text message, and even NFC. Moreover, we also appreciate the editing functions that are at our disposal. From cropping to selecting specific artistic filters, it seems considerably extensive than your ordinary picture editor.


Moving onward to the music player, we’re disappointed to see that its presentation doesn’t get the kind of love it needs to appear modern and spiffy looking. Instead, it’s boasting a boring looking style that doesn’t rival some of the cooler looking UIs seen with other Android smartphones – and even the iPhone’s cover flow mode. As usual, we’re presented with the album cover, track information, and on-screen playback controls. Even worse, when it’s minimized and placed in the Active Frames area, we’re not even given playback controls. For that, the mini player is only accessible in the lock screen after the volume buttons are pressed. Setting its volume to the loudest setting, its output is average at best – albeit, there’s a hint of strain coming out of it.


Hardly a shocker to us, the BlackBerry Z10 is equipped to play high definition videos with no problems. Aside from the swift and steady playback, it’s worth mentioning that it supports a wide array of video codecs out of the box – these include H.264, MPEG-4, DivX and Xvid. Sure, the sharp looking display aids the experience, but it doesn’t have the same wow factor as some other handsets. Also, it’s somewhat disappointing to know that there is no mini player feature that many other devices provide – like being able to play a video in the background while doing something else.


Noticing that there’s a microHDMI out port on this guy, we gain quick and easy video out functionality with it – so when it’s connected to a high-def television, we’re given a mirrored experience. Totally a bummer, the homescreen isn’t optimized for landscape, so when it’s connected to a TV, you can only navigate in portrait. Then again, many of the apps offer landscape support, like the web browser.


Software:

Survival hinges on app support, right? Well, if you’re wondering about that, it’s worth mentioning that BlackBerry 10 currently has about 70,000 apps in BlackBerry World. Out of the box, the handset is preloaded with popular ones such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Foursquare, so it seems poised to have a healthy selection. However, when we compare those apps with the same ones on other platforms, they’re not at complete in terms of feature set. For example, we can’t delete a Facebook post that we accidentally published, which is something you can do with the iOS and Android versions.

As for some of the other third party apps, we weren’t too convinced by them either – such as the third party Pandora client in “Apollo,” which has some significant layout issues. Strangely, there’s a YouTube icon in the app panel, but pressing it doesn’t do anything else except to launch the browser and point us to the mobile friendly version of the site. Speaking truthfully, if these are the kinds of apps that users are going to be exposed to, BlackBerry 10 is going to have a difficult time trying to lure people on other platforms.


We bet you didn’t think that BlackBerry has its own maps application, right? Well, they do! And boy is it dreadful! When it boils down to it, the app is superficial and lacks the depth of features that Google Maps offers – and to an extent, it’s lagging behind Apple’s home brewed maps app too. Sure, we appreciate that BlackBerry maps provides voice guided turn-by-turn directions, but it’s missing other much-needed features like transit directions, satellite/aerial view, and even walking directions.


Becoming an integral part of any mobile operating system, voice control services are undoubtedly being used by many more people. Sadly though, BlackBerry fails to brings a reasonable competitor with its offering. So what can you do with it? Well, you can send a text, email, or BBM message. Additionally, you can call a contact, schedule an appointment, make a note, and even search things on the internet. Regrettably, it’s not “smart” as Siri or Google Now, such as giving detailed answers to general questions like “who is Michael Jordan?”



Call Quality:

Again relying on AT&T’s network, we’re pleased by the smartphone’s call quality, as voices on both ends of the line are clear and distinctive – the earpiece produces an average volume output. Switching to the speakerphone, however, it exhibits some strain at the loudest setting. Thankfully, the noise cancellation feature of the phone works rather well, but it does take a few seconds to kick in initially.

In our time testing out the Z10, we didn’t experience any dropped calls or significant fluctuation with signal strength.

Battery:

Thinking long and hard about its removable 1,800 mAh battery, we’re frightened right from the onset to know what it’ll deliver, since it’s not quite a beefy compared to some other top-tiered smartphones. And rightfully so, our suspicions are confirmed, as a fully charged battery provides us approximately 10 hours of normal usage – and that’s using the handset strictly with HSPA+ connectivity! Knowing that it’s sporting LTE connectivity as well, we can’t imagine the terrible battery life it’ll get with that connection.

Conclusion:

Oh BlackBerry! We had some serious high hopes with this smartphone, well, more with the new platform of course. In the US, it isn’t going to arrive until March, where it’ll be sporting that golden price of $200 with a 2-year contract. First impressions are key, right? Well, we can’t say that the BlackBerry 10 is a darling of a gem with its design, which is a shame to tell you the truth, since solid industrial designs can really be the first line of defense to garner some attention. Instead, the BlackBerry Z10 has a stale appearance that’s already overshadows by many stylish smartphones. Quite frankly, if this were walking down on the same fashion runway as some other notable handsets, it would quickly be forgotten afterwards due to its bland and boring design.

Naturally, it’s the new BlackBerry 10 platform that’s the true headliner here. After taking their time developing this QNX based platform, we have to give BlackBerry credit for finally hitting the bull’s-eye with this touch friendly platform. Indeed, they tried desperately in the past with other notable BlackBerry smartphones, but for once, they have something that has the balance to greet our fingers with open arms. No doubt there’s a steep learning curve with BlackBerry 10 and its various gestures, but once mastered, it becomes second nature. However, as much as they’ve placed a huge emphasis on the touch experience, they neglected to give the same attention to detail with other aspects of the platform.

The more we look at it, BlackBerry 10 is going to have a difficult time sweeping people that are heavily invested in other mobile platforms. To tell you the truth, people that are comfortably invested in a rival platform’s ecosystem will find little reason to make the switch to BlackBerry 10 at the moment – mainly because it’s doesn’t offer the same level of functionality that we’re so accustomed to experiencing nowadays. Therefore, if you’re an existing iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone user, there are going to be huge compromises if you decide on bailing and making the switch to BlackBerry 10. However, if you’re still a BlackBerry user, the transition over to the new platform will be a bit more justified, since many of the features haven’t been established by last-gen BlackBerry devices. Ultimately though, it’s going to hinge on BlackBerry’s commitment to expedite the platform’s development to meet the standards set forth by its rivals. If not, we can see a timely demise in the near future – much like webOS.

Software of the review unit: 10.0.9.2372

BlackBerry Z10 Video Review:

Video Thumbnail




Pros

  • Consistent smooth performance
  • Lots of included accessories
  • Still a great messaging device

Cons

  • Understated design
  • Terrible battery life
  • Tough to remove smudges from the display
  • Basic map & voice control apps

PhoneArena Rating:

7.0

User Rating:

9.0
42 Reviews

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