Hands on with the BlackBerry Z10
The BlackBerry Z10 has been available in the UK for a little over a month and I've been lucky enough to get to trial it for the last week or so. This is the first device launched since RIM rebranded themselves as BlackBerry and is one of two new devices they're pushing to market.
Most people will be aware of BlackBerry's struggle against competing manufacturers and operating systems in recent years. Their more recent attempt at turning everything around with the PlayBook was met with mixed opinions and limited success, despite being a well made and fairly decent device.
With the new BB10 devices, BlackBerry have further developed and matured the QNX operating system first introduced with the PlayBook into a whole new experience for their mobile phones. Let's get on with the review!
Out of the box
Out of the box you're greeted by a slim, rectangular device with rounded corners Apple lovers have already branded an "iPhone clone" - An accusation that's unfortunately made toward any rectangular device with rounded corners. Thankfully however this device is not, nor is it trying to be, an iPhone. It's provided with a micro USB cable, headphones that double as hands-free and a wall plug along with the typical documentation most devices come with.
The device feels solid and well built. On the front you have a 4.2", 1280x768 scratch resistant screen and a 2MP camera. The volume and power buttons are on the right hand side and top respectively. They feel nice to use, providing a satisfying "click" where other device buttons can feel spongy and loose - further cementing a feeling of quality. On the left hand side you'll find micro USB and mini HDMI out ports.
On the rear of the device is a 8MP camera (with flash) surrounded by a textured, removable rear cover branded with the BlackBerry logo. Underneath the cover is the 1800mAh battery, micro SIM and micro SD slots. As more manufacturers are leaning towards non-removable batteries and no options for external storage, it's extremely pleasing to see BlackBerry haven't taken this route.
Dimensionally, it's a little smaller than the Galaxy S3. In terms of screen size however there's little comparison, as shown here:
The Z10 is running a 1.5GHz dualcore processor with 2GB RAM. Interestingly one of the reasons older BlackBerrys will not be updated to BB10 is due to the requirement for these higher specs in order to adequately run the QNX OS.
Some may wonder why when the industry is focusing on Quad and even Octo-core processors, BlackBerry have gone with a dual core processor. The answer to that is similar to Windows phone - it doesn't need it.
Battery life allows for a typical day's usage before requiring charging, so an expectation of charging every night should be set. Coming from a time where a BlackBerry could go days between charges, this may disappoint some. But by today's smartphone standards it holds up well against the competition.
The camera provides decent pictures, though as with many smartphones the quality in low light can suffer, even with the inbuilt flash.
In true BlackBerry fashion, it takes an age to boot the phone. However once you're past the boot animation and into the OS itself everything changes. It feels light, responsive and unlike stock Android, avoids permanent on-screen softkeys taking up valuable screen real-estate, instead opting for gesture based navigation.
I'll be honest, the first boot and initial setup of the device takes far too long. It's one thing to ask you to go through the standard network and accounts setup, it's quite another to force you to sit through a tutorial on how to use the phone. An option to skip that would have been great, though I appreciate it's useful.
On boot you're greeted with a lockscreen. Passing this is done via a simple swipe up from the very bottom of the screen. As shown in the image above the transition is smooth and pleasing to the eye. You can even see there that my thumb was slightly more towards the right side of the screen!
The lockscreen will show notifications, upcoming calendar entries and has a camera icon on the bottom right for quick access when you urgently need to snap those notes you made on the office whiteboard before they're wiped off.
Further to the above, a swipe from the top down will put the lockscreen into night mode. This will show an analogue clock and provide quick access to your alarms. All in all, it's a pretty feature-packed lockscreen, did I mention, it even tells the time?
Other gestures, as shown below, consist of sliding up from the bottom to return to the home screen. This puts the currently opened app, plus any other previously opened apps into a new pane on the home screen allowing you to quickly switch between them. From the home screen, sliding left to right will take you into the BlackBerry Hub, and sliding right to left will take you into your apps list.
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The BlackBerry Hub? Yes, that's what they're calling a central location dedicated to all of your messages from the accounts you add to the device. It means less dipping in and out of different applications, instead using one area accessible from anywhere on the phone (if in an app, swiping up and then right will take you there) to manage and reply to your messages. It's a novel idea, though in practise I've preferred keeping messages separate. You do however have control over what's shown there, which is good.
Replying to messages of course brings up the keyboard. As stock keyboards go, the BlackBerry keyboard is very good. The keys are easy to tap even with my large thumbs and it quickly learns how a user types. Typically within two to three letters into a word it'll offer you the word you're likely trying to type, allowing a simple swipe up on the next key (as opposed to tapping it) to complete the word. It works very well.
Finishing off the gestures, sliding from the top down will expose a small settings panel, allowing you to quickly toggle WIFI, bluetooth, etc.
On the subject of settings, despite BB10's graphical overhall, there are still some areas that remind me of BlackBerry's past. For those on OS7 or below, doesn't the System Settings list look familiar?
Looks aside, the settings area is adequately granular and provides the settings for almost every area of the device in one place.
One of the main things you'll notice with this device against all previous BlackBerry devices is a lack of BIS. You can use any standard tariff with the Z10 just as you would with any other smartphone. I can't speak for anyone else, but one of my biggest reasons for avoiding BlackBerry over the years is due to having to pay for the extra BlackBerry services "bolt on". The fact that BB10 does not support this makes it immensely more appealing as an every day device both for the user and BlackBerry who will not have to support the device on their infrastructure, limiting the damage done by an outage.
Keeping with services for a moment, one of the features highly promoted which I've not been able to test is BlackBerry Balance. This allows you to separate your work and personal life between two different profiles on the device and is only available when enrolled into BES10/Fusion. It's a shame this is not enabled by default without enrolling the device.
Other core applications such as Calendar, Camera, Maps, Contacts all look and work nicely and are very simple to use and manage. There are a few screenshots at the end of the article of these.
Of course, this is a telephone. You'll no doubt be pleased to know calling is clear and crisp and it sends SMS messages too!
I'll admit I haven't tested every single feature of the phone, nor have I downloaded copious applications. Straight out of the box it has the things I would expect a corporate device to have and these are what I've been trialling.
Over all the BlackBerry Z10 is a decent phone. Despite being a completely new OS for BlackBerry phones it retains a distinctly BlackBerry look and feel while moving a little more in line with the offerings of other manufacturers. All of the core functionality works as expected and nothing feels difficult or awkward. It's a decent competitor for iOS and Windows Phone, especially within the enterprise and it looks professional enough to pull out in a board meeting without drawing attention to yourself.
With that said, it lacks the app availability of it's competitors and even though it looks and feels nice, I can't see it being a first choice over the numerous alternative devices on the market for most people, especially given it's priced at around the same as some of the higher end Android devices currently on the market and given BlackBerry's sometimes doubted future. For a corporate device it would certainly do the job, and for those with the correct BlackBerry infrastructure already in place it'd probably be a no-brainer.
Here are a few more images:
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