Look and feel
The BlackBerry Z10 is a pure business phone in design, from its no-nonsense all-black finish to the textured rubber rear. It’s a chunky beast with a wide bezel surrounding the 4.2-inch screen and the back plate comes off a little too easily.
Ease of Use
BB10 uses a ‘flowing’ system of swipes to navigate around, which takes a little while to get used to but works well once you’re there. The predictive keyboard will benefit slow typists.
The 8MP camera and front-facing lens work well, while the BlackBerry Z10’s screen packs a sharp resolution. For now, BlackBerry World is a little sparse on apps and media, so app fans are best off waiting.
The dual-core processor copes admirably with BB10 and handles media streaming and (the limited selection of) games without much problem. We only saw a little slowdown when browsing the web.
Below average. The BlackBerry Z10 struggles to last 24 hours under normal use, and will die in just four-and-a-half hours when streaming video.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,1/31/2013 10:06:36 AM
Ease of use
Sharp 4.2-inch screen;
8MP camera strong in daylight;
Comprehensive and customisable Hub;
Comfortable virtual keyboard
Sparse online apps/media store;
No killer features;
Below-average battery life
After a year of absence and secrecy, BlackBerry has come out all guns blazing in 2013, ditching the RIM moniker and launching its new BB10 OS. As the first official BlackBerry 10 phone, there’s a lot of responsibility resting on the BlackBerry Z10’s rectangular shoulders to fire this once-great brand back into people’s hearts, but is this the triumphant return we were all hoping for?
BlackBerry has gone for a typical no-nonsense business design with the Z10, so don’t expect any splashes of colour or drool-worthy curves. It’s an all-black finish, with a plastic frame that extends around the rim and a rubbery-feeling back plate. It doesn’t scream sexy, but it does look like a serious business phone. The 4.2-inch screen sits dead centre with some sizeable borders all around it, so although the display isn’t huge, the Z10 is much longer and chunkier than the Apple iPhone 5, more comparable in size to something like the LG Nexus 4. It’s not even far off the Samsung Galaxy S III for width and height, and the Z10 is noticeably thicker at 9mm.
In the hand, the BlackBerry Z10 feels a good weight. It’s hefty enough at 130g to stay rooted to your palm, helped by the mottled soft-touch rear which provides good grip. The dead-centre power button on the top of the BlackBerry Z10 seemed oddly positioned at first, but at least it’s accessible for both left and right-handed users, and you can simply flick up the screen to wake the phone too. You have volume controls on the right edge, with a button in between for loading up BlackBerry’s Voice Control (a take-off of Siri and Galaxy Voice). Mini HDMI and Micro USB ports can be found on the opposite edge.
The back plate of the BlackBerry Z10 can be quickly and easily prised off to access the long removable battery, SIM card slot and microSD memory card slot. Sadly, the back doesn’t feel very secure when it’s attached, and along the bottom edge we could never get the plate to sit firmly against the phone – there was always a tiny gap, and the two can be separated with very little effort. The backing even popped off in our pocket and we can see it spinning off down the street if the phone is dropped.
Setting up the brand new BB10 is reasonably simple: either create or sign in with your BlackBerry ID and then crack on with setting up any other accounts you have (Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on). For some reason our Google calendar took two attempts to register, but we’ll put it down to first-day jitters as it worked fine the second time.
As regular users of both Android and iOS, we struggled at first with BB10’s layout and swipe gestures. We’re all too used to returning to our home screen with a prod of a button, but here you have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen. We soon got used to this feature, although you have to swipe quite a long way to get out of the lock screen and occasionally it took us two or three efforts to manage it.
The ‘home screen’ is actually a scrollable grid of the last eight apps you’ve opened, which is handy if you find yourself constantly using two or three in particular. Swipe left and you get all of your app icons, which can be rearranged in whichever order you like – not far off Apple’s iOS, complete with incessant jiggling as you move them around. However, swipe right from the home screen and you get the BlackBerry Hub, BB10’s beating heart and a rather nifty way to see all of your notifications at once. This is where your emails, Facebook notifications, calendar entries etc. are all gathered in one glorious mound.
You can search for specific items or quickly bash out a tweet, email or text, but if you want to actually access your individual account profiles and see what your contacts are Tweeting, Facebooking or whatever else, you’ll need to load up the individual apps. Still, the BlackBerry Hub is neatly presented and it’s easy to turn individual accounts on or off to suit your preferences. You can also easily check your incoming alerts by swiping up and along from any app, just as you can drag down the Android or iOS notification bars when you’re in the middle of something. The only time we noticed this didn’t work well was while watching YouTube videos, as the picture turned black each time we returned.
There are tons of other funky BB10 features, including old favourites such as BBM and new entries like BlackBerry StoryMaker – check out our full BB10 extra features break-down for more info. However, we have to admit that we’re a little disappointed by the new offerings. We were hoping for one or two game-changing highlights that we’d miss when using non-BlackBerry phones. Instead, we mostly got variations on existing Android/iOS tools.
Still, BB10’s keyboard is undeniably an interesting and feature-packed affair. The board itself is well laid-out and comes stacked with the usual massive selection of weird smileys, but start typing on it and you’ll notice that words appear above some of the keys – this is BB10’s predictive text. For instance, type ‘hap’ and you’ll notice the word ‘happy’ appears above the ‘p’ key. Your eyes will naturally be drawn to the p key as that’s the one you’re set to hit next. If you want to complete the word, simply flick up from that key and it appears whole in your message. Of course this predictive text is more likely to help out slower typists, and we found we rarely used it.
If you get bored of using your fingers, try your voice instead. BlackBerry’s Voice command service is similar to Siri, allowing you to open apps and access the main features just by holding down the Voice button (positioned between the volume controls) and shouting at your phone. We found it did a reasonable job of picking up our commands despite our slight Northern twang, although you have to be very precise with your commands – “open the camera” doesn’t work, whereas “open camera” does.
It’s a BlackBerry World
BlackBerry World has been overhauled for BB10, with 70,000 apps available right now and 1,000 more added every week. As with any online store that isn’t iTunes or Google Play, right now it looks a little sparse. A quick glance at the games section, for instance, throws up a host of ageing or unknown titles, most of which will set you back £2-£5. You can download many of the big social media apps, but most of the other categories – including sports and books – are woefully underrepresented.
You can also download music and movies, but for now the selection is once again limited. A quick glance at the hip hop or rock sections, for instance, prompted lots of ‘who’s that?’ responses in our office (although One Direction and Mumford & Sons fans will rejoice at their inclusion). The movie catalogue seems rather bizarre, both brilliant and baffling, right now – for instance, a search for ‘Avengers’ brings up the old Uma Thurman turkey, but there’s no sign of Avengers Assemble. We’re pleased to see a good selection of older titles however, including classics like the original black and white ‘The Fly’.
Given time, we’re hopeful that BlackBerry World will be a strong contender amongst the mobile online markets. As it stands right now, it isn’t a patch on Apple and Google’s offerings, so app fans are best off avoiding.
On the BlackBerry Z10, BB10 runs like oil off Jason Bradbury’s baldy skull. Zipping in and out of menus is a smooth experience and browsing the web is particularly nippy, with pages loading up almost instantly with our 4G connection or a decent Wi-Fi signal. Only a very occasional bit of slowdown when scrolling through websites marred the experience.
Battery life isn’t as strong as we hoped, however, considering this phone is aimed at people who want to stay productive on the move. If you occasionally switch on Wi-Fi and keep the brightness cranked up, the BlackBerry Z10 will die well within 24 hours even with only occasional use. Try streaming video over Wi-Fi and you’ll get four and a half hours of entertainment before the battery gives up. We expect over five hours from the average smartphone, so this falls a little under par.
For a businessy phone, the BlackBerry Z10 sure packs an impressive media screen. The crisp 1280 x 768 resolution produces an eyebrow-raising 356 pixels-per-inch (ppi), which officially makes the Blackberry Z10’s screen sharper than the iPhone 5’s Retina display (326ppi). Stream an HD movie and you’ll instantly notice how crisp everything looks, with no blurry pixels or other distortion.
It’s a reasonably bright pane l, not quite matching the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III but still strong enough to counter most glare. Viewing angles are also very impressive, with almost no loss in picture quality as you tilt the screen away from your face.
The BlackBerry Z10’s eight-megapixel camera is a reasonably good snapper in daylight. You can push either volume button to take a pic or simply tap the screen, and the auto-focus does a great job of locking onto a target to keep them sharp. Photos take quickly, so you’re less likely to miss that impromptu action shot waiting for the camera to catch up. Evening performance is less good, so you’ll need to make full use of the flash to capture dimly lit scenes, else you’ll end up with an album full of brown grainy photos.
We liked the Time Shift feature, which takes two seconds of footage and allows you to choose a still shot to keep – similar to multi-shot, found on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X+. Time Shift’s gimmick is that it lets you rewind a person’s face separate to the rest of the shot, to capture them when they’re not blinking or gurning. You have to make sure you hold the camera steady and your subject stays as still as possible, however, as the joins can be a little ropey if there’s any disturbance.
You get a good range of editing tools, to sort out brightness/contrast issues, crop, add filters and even rotate at a funky angle. With that done, you can share in dozens of ways, including text, BBM, email, social media and even NFC. If you find yourself uploading lots of photos for your friends and family, you’ll love the BlackBerry Z10’s flexible nature. You also get a front-facing lens for video chats, and can shoot full HD video.
Although the BlackBerry Z10 has plenty of great components, including a crisp 4.2-inch screen and capable 8MP camera, we can’t help but feel that it’s an unremarkable return for BlackBerry. BB10 itself is reasonably slick and given time we’re sure the features list and online store will grow into attractive propositions. Sadly the Z10’s uninspired design, combined with a lack of apps and killer features, make it a hard sell.