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BlackBerry Z10 Reviewed: Three years in the making, was it worth the wait?

Allan Swann
February 6, 2013

A nice enough piece of hardware marred by some odd interface decisions…

There can be no understating how important this product is to BlackBerry’s future. This is its ‘all in’ moment; every resource the company has available has been thrown at this project ‘ now launching nearly two years late.

The launch itself seemed to go ok ‘ but will anyone buy a smartphone on a brand new unproven operating system, with a limited app selection and empty marketplace?

Firstly, BlackBerry have hailed the Z10 and the new operating system launched with it, BlackBerry 10, as a game changer ‘ a differentiation it is pushing to draw users back from the rival Google Android and Apple eco-systems. Sadly, it isn’t really.

TASTY HARDWARE

Hardware wise, it is a pretty decent ‘ the screen is higher resolution than an iPhone 5 (and it is a lovely screen for viewing photos and movies on ‘ even BB10’s menus look classy).The Z10 is a full touch screen model, the Q10 keyboard model will launch in a few months.

Its other specs are all market competitive ‘ more than enough to run any high powered apps and games. Its 8MP camera is as good as most other A-grade smartphones, if unexceptional.

tech spec compared

The body of the phone is very nice to hold, not too heavy and with a nice and grippy matte texture on the back. Its button placement is sensible enough, excluding the aforementioned absence of a home button. Its design feels very much like the iPhone 5, minus the brush metal finish. As an added bonus, the Z10 has a detachable back and removable battery, as well as a SD card slot for expanding your storage.

BAD BATTERY

You will need to get in there, because the Z10 only comes in a 16GB option, and its battery life is poorer than an iPhone 5. The Z10 will require daily charging, and discharges quite heavily even when idle ‘ presumably due to the constant BlackBerry Hub updates. Serious corporate users will probably want to buy a few spare batteries ‘ its life is certainly pathetic compared to the older BlackBerry BB7 smartphones.

NO PHYSICAL KEYS?

keyboard

BlackBerry’s bread and butter has always been its full QWERTY keyboards, which remain superior to any touch screen for work and email. BlackBerry will be releasing the Q10, a physical keyboard version of the Z10. The casualty is screen size which goes down to 3-inches (square) and in resolution to 720×720. It does raise questions ‘ will app developers want to produce two versions of every game/app?

 

BlackBerry has made a big deal about its new onscreen keyboard ‘ and while it is certainly a pleasure to type on, it hardly reinvents the wheel. Users will be comfortable typing as they do on their iPhones, the main addition being BlackBerry’s excellent predictive text ‘ as you’re typing a word simply swipe up to complete it (and swipe back to delete it). I actually found that once I got the hang of it, my typing speed went up. It’s just a pity the spacing of the keys is still a bit too tight for my thumbs.


COUNTER-INTUITIVE USER INTERFACE  

As a pick up and play smartphone, BlackBerry 10’s OS is a bit of a failure. It has been boasting that it has got rid of the ‘home’ button ‘ as if that’s some kind of advantage. It’s not ‘ BB10’s swiping up from the bottom of the screen (starting with your finger off-screen on the bezel) is not intuitive and natural ‘ in fact it requires a tutorial.

We gave the Z10 the most basic test of all ‘ simply hand the device (on standby) to anyone and get them to use it. No one tested could get it off the lock screen (three What Mobile staffers, and two friends tried) ‘ because of the lack of home button. As mentioned, home button functionality is performed on BB10 by swiping up from off the bottom of the screen (from the bezel) in a very deliberate fashion (rather than flicking like on Android or iOS). This meant that strangers, without a tutorial, couldn’t use the phone. Yes sure, if you leave it for long enough, an arrow pops up to instruct you ‘ but if you were to be hit by a car, and a member of the public needed to use your phone to call emergency services? Too bad. There is no way of calling from the lock screen (as on rival operating systems). You can make an emergency call once you get past the lock screen (like say, to your secure PIN entry), but it is hardly natural ‘ this is not a phone for non-tech savvy readers.

Once you get past the initial frustrations to the UI, most Android and Apple users won’t have too many problems getting around the OS. Swiping between the widgets page, BlackBerry Hub and the apps grid is pretty seamless (and the Peek feature looks pretty nifty). Browsing the internet was nice and quick (the Z10 was tested on EE 4G), and the (limited) game offerings all ran without a hitch.

But after a quick bout of showing off peek I didn’t really use it all that often ‘ same with most of BlackBerry 10 additions (see box ‘ BlackBerry 10 key features). So while BlackBerry 10 is a pretty looking operating system, many of the new features (which BlackBerry unveiled as much as 12-18 months ago) have all been ripped off by the competition ‘ BlackBerry’s endless delays to the Z10’s production have effectively dated its OS from day one.

Transferring your old BlackBerry account details, contacts and other content from a BlackBerry 7 phone (such as the BlackBerry Bold) to BB10 is an absolute nightmare. It involves downloading lots of software to your PC, carefully backing it up and using BlackBerry Link software ‘ and it really does not like some of those old apps. Two What Mobile staffers spent the best part of three hours attempting to do it ‘ so the best bet would be to do a clean install from scratch, as painful as it sounds.

bb10 key features 600px

SO WORTH A PURCHASE?

Hardware wise, the Z10 is a nice enough piece of kit, but unexceptional ‘ it doesn’t differentiate itself from the opposition terribly much. The lack of a home button is also a poor design decision. Software and app wise, there is little incentive for users to change from Apple or Android ‘ everything you can do on BB10 you can do elsewhere.

BlackBerry Z10 Verdict

TECH SPECS

Networks: 2G, 3G and 4G
۬Dimensions 130 x 65.6 x 9 mm
Weight 138g
€¨OS  BlackBerry 10 OS
Screen Capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours
Resolution: 768x1280px ‘ 355 pixels per inch screen density.
Processor  Qualcomm Snapdragon, dual core 1.5GHz Krait.
Memory  2GB of RAM
GPU  Adreno 225
€¨Storage  16GB, MicroSD expandable to 64GB.
Camera Back 8MP, front 2MP, video 1080P.
Wireless  Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n.€¨Ports: 3.5mm audio out jack, MicroUSB (USB2.0), Bluetooth 4.0, mini-HDMI out, MicroSD.
Battery life up to 10 hours talk time (312h standby) claimed. Realistically it will barely last a day without a charge (even when idle).

 

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