BlackBerry Z10 Will it save BlackBerry?
The BlackBerry Z10 marks a new beginning for BlackBerry, formerly known as Research in Motion or RIM. This is the first of two new BB10 phones upon which the future of the Waterloo, ON based company rides.
I find it telling that BlackBerry chose to launch the full touch Z10 first..a sign that it is going after that segment of the consumer market that switched from BlackBerry to Android or Apple mainly for the touch screen and apps. I guess the newly rebranded company figures that die hard BlackBerry users who haven’t already switched will wait a a few months for a Qwerty model. The Q10 is expected sometime early in the second quarter.
The Z10 is a nice looking if generic black slab of a phone. The front is edge to edge Gorilla glass but the screen is surrounded by a larger than usual bezel not to mention the plastic caps top and bottom. It makes for a less efficient use of the screen space than most. The back of the phone is a piece of removable rubberized. It is pretty thin and easily comes off to reveal a 1800mAh battery, micro SIM card slot as well as a Micro SD slot for added memory.
At the top there is the power button and earphone jack with a volume control rocker on the right side and on the left you will find a micro USB port for sync and charging as well as a micro HDMI port to connect to a HDTV or projector. The Z10 measures a comfortable 130 x 65.6 x 9mm (5.1 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches) with a medium weight of 137.5g (4.85oz) and despite the flimsy plastic back feels solid and well built in the hand.
The screen is a 4.2-inch 1280 x 768 display which at 356 PPI is quite a bit sharper than a retina display. Under the hood there is a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, plus 32Gb of external storage. It needs that kind of power because BlackBerry is sending its flagship device out to play with the big guns from Samsung, Nokia and Apple.
The big deal is BlackBerry’s new QNX based operating system BB10,it is very different from the old BlackBerry OS as well as Android and iOS so, it takes a bit of getting used to. BlackBerry decided to move away from the physical buttons found on iOS and many Android devices, instead opting for a gesture-based system as the main form of navigation. To get going press the power/lock key at the top of the device and the display lights up greeting you with the BB 10 lock screen which shows the date and time along with notifications of any new emails, messages, BBMs and missed calls. There’s a shortcut to the camera app in the bottom right corner.
The unlock function requires you to slide up from the bottom of the screen, which uncovers the home screen below as your finger moves up. This kind of gesture the way you navigate this OS. Complete the unlock sweep to access your home screen – which is a bit of a cross between Android widgets and Windows Phone Live tiles. The first page you see displays large thumbnails of your most recently opened applications. Only four can fit on the screen at once and you can have a total of eight applications in this list – you’ll need to slide down to view the rest. This screen is also a task manager allowing toy to shut down active apps if you wish.
Sweep your finger from left to right and you will see a pretty familiar display of icons representing apps on your device and at the bottom there are soft buttons for phone, search and camera. Sweep your finger down from the top and you will expose a screen that gives you access to a quick list of settings such as WiFi and Bluetooth.
Sweep your finger from left to right and you experience what the company calls BlackBerry Flow. From the home page you expose the BlackBerry Hub which shows all your messages email, SMS, Twitter and so on, flick once more and you get to a menu of all the things in the hub. If you are in an app and you get a notification simply move your finger up and to the right and you can get a peek at the hub to see if you want to actually open the message now or wait until later. This part of the OS takes a bit of getting used to but once you have it down pat it is a very powerful function.
Now you would expect even a touch screen BlackBerry to have a great keyboard and the Z10 does not disappoint. It is a good size with a nice separation between rows that works well for finger or thumb typing. Prediction works really well and gets better the more you use it. Suggested words appear above potential next letters and it is simply a matter of flicking it up to the screen. Once you get used to the gesture it can really speed up your typing because you have to actually press fewer than half the letters.
So while BB10 is the strong point of this phone it is also its weak spot. Because it is a new OS there isn’t the depth of apps you find in Android or iOS. True there are about 70,000 apps and more being added every day but some key ones are missing for example Instagram, Netflix, and Pandora as well as the app I use a lot, Montreal Parking that allows me to feed Montreal parking meters from my phone. No Google Maps either which is a shame because the included maps app is pretty flimsy.
BlackBerry has equipped its flagship phone with two surprisingly good cameras. The front facing unit is 2 megapixels capable of 720p video and also feature 3x digital zoom as well as Image and video stabilization. It is really good for video chats and self portraits.
The rear facing camera features an 8 megapixel back-side illuminated sensor that when combined with the f2.2 lens makes for great low light performance. The pictures are sharp and colours are accurate with lots of detail. The excellent camera is hampered a bit by its rather basic app. For example To take a picture you simply tap anywhere on screen. Now, that sounds convenient but often it means you fire off a shot before meaning to. What’s more, when you tap it doesn’t wait to focus first but just takes the shot. If you ait a bit before tapping, the autofocus will automatically kick in allowing you to simply tap whenever the moment is right. Moving the focus point is a bit awkward, you have to drag the autofocus square to the point rather than tap on the screen.
The camera app does however include one really cool feature Time Shift. The aim of this is to be able to get perfect shots from groups of people, by letting you select the best shot for each of the individual faces in the photo.It works by capturing a series of images, then it identifies each face and lets you choose the best from each of the shots. This you can repeat, until you have a complete set of smiling people. It is incredibly easy to use, it works and is really cool.
The rear facing camera takes great 1080p videos and the video stabilization means no jittering.
Overall the BlackBerry Z10 is a solid phone that will absolutely appeal to BlackBerry Users who have been patiently waiting for a new phone, many will however wait for the Q10 with its QWERTY keyboard. The Z10 performs well, apps open quickly and even with a bunch of apps running in the background the interface is very smooth. But, don’t expect the kind of battery life you saw on your old BlackBerry. This phone is fairly typical to similar smartphones and requires charging every day. Voice and data performance on the Telus LTE network is excellent. I like the BB10 OS and found it quite simple to get used to. But I would still like a home button for those times when the wheels fall off. 🙂
The BlackBerry Z10 is available in black or white from Telus, Bell, Rogers and Virgin Mobile for $139 on a three year plan, 0n Fido for $300 with a 2 year agreement and $400 on a Koodo tab.
Is this the Knight in Shining armour that will save the BlackBerry damsel in distress and carry her to a brighter future. Good question. BlackBerry is a bit late to the party, Android and iOS have a lot of momentum and I think it is going to take more than the Z10 to bring defectors back to the fold. What do you think? Use the comment section below.