For BlackBerry no phone has been as important as the Z10, released in the UK January 31.
For BlackBerry no phone has been as important as the Z10, released in the UK January 31. As BlackBerry’s new flagship smart phone the Z10 not only marks BlackBerry’s push for a larger mobile market share but also the release of the company’s new mobile operating system, BlackBerry 10. But does the Z10 really measure up to the current market leaders, namely the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3? Perhaps not, but its impressive features and fresh new take on the mobile experience could tempt a few.
The handset’s design is undoubtedly inspired by the iPhone, though slightly bigger and heavier, and comes unsurprisingly in only black and white. It’s an understated but professional looking design constructed in a sturdy metal casing with rounded corners, not dissimilar to the iPhone. The back of the phone finished in an agreeable dimple-textured rubber feels comfortable in the hand and can be removed to reveal SIM, MicroSD card and battery.
The device’s front is reserved for a large 4.2” LCD screen, with the sleep/power button located at the top of device alongside a headphone jack. The volume rockers and mute switch are found on the right side of the device, and Micro HDMI as well as Micro USB slots along the left side.
The handset’s design though attractive won’t win any awards for originality. In fact the Z10 will be more often mistaken as an iPhone 5, than regarded as a unique looking mobile with an innovative design. Better looking than the Galaxy S3? I’m not sure. The Z10 is definitely a lot more sophisticated, elegant and professional looking, but exciting? No, sadly not.
The Z10 not only looks like a smartphone, it’s also powered like one. The BlackBerry handset, running on a dual-core CPU, is far from sluggish and boasts a hefty 2GB RAM as well as 16GB of internal storage, which can be increased up to 48GB when using an additional microSD card. All the goodies one expects of a modern mobile are also included (WIFI, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC), and all the technical sensors; accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, and ambient light sensor.
BlackBerry certainly hasn’t made a cheap and unequipped device, but a serious bit of kit that may surprise a few. The 4.2” LCD screen is superb with 356 PPI and a total resolution of 1280×768. Its clarity is excellent, though not up to the ‘retina’ quality of Apple, and I was pleased to find hands-on that it had vibrant colours, was sharp, and responsive to touch.
The phone comes equipped with two cameras; a rear mounted 8-megapixel camera capable of 1080p video and a front facing 2-megapixel camera that can record video in 720p. Both cameras seemed of good quality, though a little slow at focusing, and overall performed relatively well under testing. The camera comes with a variety of different shooting and editing tools including ‘TimeShift’ Blackberry’s new camera mode. This mode takes a quick burst of frames, and then presents them to the user, so they can decide on which photo to save, and which to dispose of. It’s a nice idea that obviously attempts to replicate the shooting mode seen on such cameras as the Nikon 1 and its ‘Best Moment Capture’ mode; a feature that can take up to twenty full-resolution photos, before using an algorithm to recommend up to five of the best shots, as to avoid missing that ‘perfect moment’. The Z10’s camera functionality obviously isn’t of the same calibre as real photography equipment, but as a mobile phone the Z10 manages to capture great photos, and offers some editing, as well as shooting modes, which, though not professional or first-rate, are practical as well as playful.
The Z10’s mobile platform, BlackBerry 10, is a huge step up from the previous OS, BlackBerry 7, seen on previous BlackBerry phones. Built on the foundations of QNX, alike to BlackBerry’s Playbook, BB10 is a gesture based OS, that resembles the Android and iOS platforms in several ways, but largely departs from the norm of smartphone OSes.
BB10 is best thought of as having four main areas, the ‘home screen’, the apps list/grid, the hub, and the state of being within an app itself. As there are no navigation buttons on the phone, gestures are used to move from one area to another; a vertical swipe from the bottom of the screen to unlock, or return to the phone’s ‘home screen’, a swipe to the left from here to browse and open apps, or an upwards gesture from the bottom of the screen, held, and then to the right to reveal, or peek at, the hub, where all messages [MMS, SMS, BBM, Facebook, Twitter, etc] are stored. It’s an interesting new way to navigate a mobile, but I wouldn’t say it’s intuitive or at all logical.
The BB10 ‘home screen’, which presents the phone’s eight most recent running applications, is limiting and confusing, if you open a ninth app one of your other running apps will abruptly vanish. The hub, though great for unifying all messages into one place, in practice doesn’t work so well, and I found myself lost, several menus deep, and not knowing how to return to the page I was just at, sometimes without the help of a simple back button.
Visually the UI is excellent, and I would argue better looking than Android, though some icons could have been designed better, and certain fonts don’t sit quite right. Native apps on the whole are solid, with the exception of the maps app that unfortunately uses Bing data instead of Google, but I was more than pleased to find functional, efficient and well-designed browser, calendar, clock, messages, and camera apps. BlackBerry 10 reportedly launched with 70,000 downloadable third-party apps, but don’t be fooled at least 60% of these are mediocre, plain bad, or even unfinished. This said, apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and games like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Modern Combat 4:Zero Hour, though not always to the same standard as comparative iOS or Android apps, have being confirmed as upcoming releases or are available now. Instagram, the popular photo sharing and social networking service, is also reportedly in the works and if introduced would undoubtedly further bolster Blackberry’s emerging platform.
The BlackBerry Z10 is a solid smartphone with a professional looking construction, and promising new OS. It’s frankly not as good as the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S3 at doing what is expected of a modern smartphone though it does do several things reasonably well. The Z10 definitely demonstrates a step in the right direction for BlackBerry, but it ultimately isn’t an exciting enough phone to transform the market. If you’ve been saving up for a new mobile and had your eye on the Z10 then go ahead, it’s a fine device, but I couldn’t honestly see myself recommending it to a friend if asked.
Is the Z10 a phone destined to revive BlackBerry’s fortunes in the smartphone market? I think it unlikely, but only time will tell.
The BlackBerry Z10 is available now in the UK from operators EE, Vodafone and Three, as well as at resellers Carphone Warehouse and Phone4U.