|Introduction And Specifications|
The smartphone market has changed quite a bit over the past few years. Once a major competitor in the smartphone market, BlackBerry has lost much of its market share as many former BlackBerry users have switched to iOS and Android. Despite its troubled history, the company remains and is fighting to regain its stronghold in the smartphone market. Whether you’ve stayed loyal to BlackBerry through the years or are simply considering all smartphones on the market today, BlackBerry’s new Z10 may catch your eye.
The new Z10 is BlackBerry’s first device to run on the latest version of BlackBerry’s operating system, BlackBerry 10 (BB10). Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on the Z10, and things are looking somewhat hopeful. BlackBerry reportedly has already received an order for 1 million BlackBerry Z10 devices from an established partner. Not long ago, the company also announced its BB10 store reached a milestone of 100,000 apps.Let's first give you a quick walk-around of the Z10 in action, with the BB10 operating system and then we'll dive in deeper to design, user experience and performance characteristics.
Before we dive into the full hands-on review to see what the Z10 and BB10 OS has to offer, let’s take a quick look at the specifications of the device:
The Z10 features a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor, 16GB of internal storage, 2GB of RAM, an 8MP rear-facing camera, 2MP front-facing camera, and a 1,800 mAh battery. Although some users may miss BlackBerry’s famous hardware QWERTY keyboard, BlackBerry decided to mimic its competition by giving the Z10 a traditional candy-bar form factor with a 4.2-inch touchscreen (1280 x 768) and an on-screen predictive keyboard.
The BlackBerry Z10 is available from AT&T (left) Verizon Wireless (right).
|Design and Build Quality|
When you first glance at the BlackBerry Z10, one of its main competitors--the iPhone--is sure to come to mind. Although the Z10 has a similar exterior look to Apple’s iPhone 5, there are some key differences. For starters, the front of the Z10 has no hardware buttons. Instead, the BB10 OS uses gestures for navigation. We’ll take a closer look at how some of these gestures work in the coming pages.
In terms of size, the Z10 is also larger than the iPhone 5. Here’s how they compare:
Above the display, you’ll notice the front-facing 2 megapixel camera that’s just to the right of the center of the phone. The microphone is located below the display in the center. Above and below the display, you’ll notice the phone’s matte casing which extends to the sides of the device.
On the left edge of the BlackBerry Z10, you’ll find a micro HDMI port and a microUSB port. A speaker is located on the bottom edge of the Z10. The right edge of the Z10 houses the volume rocker with a mute button in the center. When using the camera, the up and down volume keys function as shutter keys. You’ll find the headset jack and Power button on the top edge of the phone.
When you flip the Z10 over you’ll notice the soft, textured cover along with the BlackBerry logo. The rear-facing 8 megapixel camera and LED flash are located in the upper left corner of the phone. The rear cover is easy to remove and provides access to the user-replaceable battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot.
|BlackBerry 10 User Experience|
The Z10 runs on BlackBerry’s latest OS, BlackBerry 10 which uses gestures for navigation (in fact, there aren’t any navigation buttons on the phone). Since most users won’t be overly familiar with the gesture controls in BB10, let’s take a brief look at some of the more useful gestures.
When the phone is in sleep mode, you can wake it by pressing the Power button or by swiping your finger from the bottom of the screen upwards. If you are concerned about the latter motion accidentally turning on the phone, you can disable this setting in the Settings menu. Unlocking the Z10 is pretty intuitive – simply slide your finger up from the bottom of the screen.
After unlocking the phone, you'll see the first main home screen. By default, you’ll find three main screens that display the apps that come with the Z10. To access any panel quickly, tap the appropriate dot located below the app grid. You can also slide your finger along the dots to switch from one panel to the next very quickly. When an application is open, an additional panel will appear. This panel is denoted by four dots and is called the Active Frames page. This panel shows all open apps and lets you open and close apps. You can have up to eight apps open at a time.
To access the BlackBerry Hub from anywhere on the phone, swipe your finger from the bottom of the screen upward and then to the right, making an inverted L shape.
BlackBerry recognizes many of its customers are likely to be business professionals that require a secure device. To meet the needs of these users, BlackBerry has implemented password protection, a screen lock, and a feature known as BlackBerry Balance which lets you have separate profiles for work and personal data. With BlackBerry Balance, you can store business apps and information on your work profile while music and other personal files are stored in a personal profile. When configured, you can switch between work and personal spaces by dragging your finger down from the middle of the home screen and selecting Personal or Work.
BlackBerry Balance provides the security companies demand in the form of a work profile and a separate profile for a user's personal files.
To display the keyboard at any time, swipe two fingers up from the bottom of the screen. Of course, the keyboard will also appear automatically when entering text is necessary (such as entering a web address or composing an email.)
Although previous BlackBerry users may miss the company’s beloved hardware keyboard when using the Z10, BlackBerry did its best to offer a keyboard that users will embrace. To facilitate quick typing, BlackBerry included text prediction with the Z10's on-screen keyboard. To insert a word highlighted on the keyboard, flick upwards on the key beneath the word. If you’d rather have the words appear in a column above the keyboard or not at all, you can change this in the Settings menu. During our testing of the phone, we found the predictive text feature to be quite handy. It definitely saves time when tapping out long phrases. The software is designed to be adaptive and offer better predictions the more you use it.
If someone you know has a BB10 device, you can also use BlackBerry Messenger to have a video conversation. You can also share your screen with that person using BlackBerry Messenger.
The number of applications available in BlackBerry World for the BlackBerry 10 OS is still relatively limited in comparison to other platforms. Even so, you’ll find many of today’s popular apps on the platform including Kindle, AccuWeather, eBay, Kayak, ESPN ScoreCenter, Box, Slacker Radio, and much more.
Although there is a definite learning curve involved with using a new OS, it didn’t take us long to feel comfortable using BB10. Overall, the OS provided a pleasant user experience.
|Camera And Battery Life|
The Z10 has an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash. This camera also features continuous and touch to focus capabilities. During our testing of the camera, it did a good job at focusing on our subjects with only a slight delay. We found the continuous focusing capabilities to be quite handy. We also liked that BlackBerry lets you use the volume keys as shutter buttons.
Overall, sample images taken using the Z10’s rear-facing camera were crisp and had excellent color. The camera had no problems capturing excellent outdoor images. Indoor shots using the flash (when necessary) produced acceptable results as well. Some of the indoor shots can get a little noisy in low lit environments, but this is pretty common among camera phone images and the Z10 does as good, if not better, than other camera phones we’ve used indoors.
BlackBerry includes a feature known as Time Shift mode with the Z10’s camera. This feature takes a series of pictures and lets you select faces from those pictures to create the best image. This concept isn’t new (we’ve seen it on other cameras) but it’s a nice addition that BlackBerry has included. While testing this feature, our results were mixed. Some images created using Time Shift mode turned out ok but others showed some flaws. For example, we took a picture of two adults using Time Shift mode. The adults weren’t moving – just smiling at the camera. At first glance, our final image looked promising. Once we uploaded the image to our desktop to view the image full screen however, we could clearly see where the faces were swapped and stitched together. The man’s beard in the image was blurry while the woman’s chin was offset from the rest of her face. Even though we like the idea of Time Shift, the implementation of the feature doesn’t always produce usable results.
The Z10 utilizes an 1800mAH removable battery that is suppose to last for up to 10 hours of talk time on a 3G network and up to 13 days of standby time. Because BlackBerry doesn’t let you disable the sleep mode on the phone (the longest duration the phone will remain on before going to sleep is 5 minutes), we weren’t able to run our standard Hot Hardware web browsing test on this phone. However, BlackBerry does enable the phone to stay awake when playing a video so we loaded the Z10 up with a 1080p clip and had it play continuously until the phone shut down. While running this test, 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi radios were enabled and the screen was set to 50% brightness. The phone lasted for 5 hours and 28 minutes before shutting down.
In real-world use, the phone was able to get us through a day with moderate use while checking email, taking pictures, surfing the web, etc. That said, heavy users who demand a lot from their phone will likely want to carry their charger and/or a spare battery to ensure they can make it through the day without issue.
Call quality on the Z10 was as good as most other phones we've reviewed. The speakerphone was clear as well and we had no complaints while using this phone to make and receive calls.
Although many of our standard benchmarks aren’t available for BlackBerry 10, we were able to run a few web-based benchmark tests to get a better feel for how the Z10 compares to other smartphones available today.
The BB10 Browser supports Adobe Flash, but it’s not turned on by default. To enable it, open the Browser and navigate to Settings. Select Display and Actions and then slide to enable Adobe Flash. The Browser also supports private browsing, which can be enabled from the Settings menu as well.
Rightware’s BrowserMark 2.0 benchmark claims the Z10’s web browser is superior to 99% of all phone browsers. With a score of 2624, the Z10 earns the second spot in our comparison chart behind the LG Optimus G. Impressive, actually.
Using Google’s Octane benchmark, we see a similar story as with Kraken—the Z10 comes in behind the Android devices but outscores the iPhone and Windows Phone 8 handsets.
Microsoft Fishbowl is an HTML5 driven benchmark that measure web graphics performance. The BlackBerry Z10 really shines in Microsoft’s Fish Bowl benchmark, earning the top score by a considerable margin.
Is the BlackBerry Z10 a good smartphone? In short, yes. Should you buy one? That depends. If you’re a loyal BlackBerry user who has been waiting a long time for a new handset, the Z10 is a great step in the right direction. In addition, customers who place a high value on both personal and corporate security will likely appreciate the Z10’s security features. However, if you have already made the switch to Android, iOS, or Windows Phone, there may not be enough compelling features on the Z10 to entice you to switch platforms. In addition, although the BlackBerry World store is growing, it still lags behind the other more established platforms from Apple and Google.
Once we overcame the learning curve associated with picking up a new OS, we were very comfortable with the Z10. Performance was responsive and nimble. We also appreciate the fact that BlackBerry lets heavy users swap batteries if necessary. All in all, the Z10 is a good phone that delivers some of BlackBerry’s most-loved functionality in a modern package but unfortunately the Z10 doesn’t offer anything that really knocks our socks off in terms of features, function, or performance.
The BlackBerry Z10 has been a long time coming. The company has had many ups and downs through the years and there’s a lot riding on the Z10. Over the past year, BlackBerry, formerly Research in Motion, has made some big changes. Some of those changes have helped the company return to profitability in its most recent quarter. Still, the company has a long road ahead with the Z10 and other BB10 handsets it if wants to remain a viable competitor in the smartphone market. The Z10 feels like a good start at least.