BlackBerry Z10 Review: Built for a Comeback
If you're like me, you thought RIM was left for dead. After dominating the business device market for a decade, it missed the boat on consumer smartphones. Who needs apps? Real businessmen want secure e-mail, or so it thought. Each model felt like a series of flawed patches, instead of game-changing innovations -- always one step behind Android and the iPhone. Touch screen? Here's a trackpad, instead. Camera? Laughable. Web browsing? Not on a 3-inch display, you're not. And don't even start on BlackBerry OS.
Well, that was the old RIM -- excuse me, BlackBerry. After hemorrhaging its market share away, it went all in and bought QNX, then spent the next year developing and releasing the ill-fated PlayBook tablet, before adapting it and calling it BlackBerry 10, or BB10, for short. Now, a year later, and hundreds of millions of dollars lighter, it's ready to roll out the Z10 and Q10 -- the first in its line of devices. They're the beginnings of its turnaround, or so it hopes. And boy was it worth the wait.
I can't say for certain a comeback is coming, developers and consumers need to rally around the platform to sustain a thriving apps ecosystem. But from a hardware and software standpoint, the Z10 is a great phone, bolstered by durable, premium hardware and an inventive, smooth operating system. If you'd left BlackBerry for greener Android pastures, it's time to come home -- BB10 changes that game.
At first glance, you won't recognize the Z10. The angled, rectangular body, larger touch screen and missing keyboard are a departure from the iconic, yet outdated, BlackBerry look. But that's the point: it's different. And despite the plastic material, it looks and feels like a premium product -- unlike some cheap Android devices, ahem, Samsung. Its textured back gives a nice grip, and pops off to show the replaceable battery, but beware: the exterior attracts smudges.
Where's the trackpad, you say? BB10 is all about the touch screen. The 4.2-inch display is very impressive. The 1,280-by-768 resolution isn't the sharpest on the block, but it's actually a smidge better than the iPhone's highly-touted Retina display -- 356-ppi pixel density instead of 326-ppi. The top-tier LCD is so wonderfully vibrant, in fact, that I forgot I was watching movies on a smartphone -- it's made for work and play.
The 8-megpixel camera has a few tricks up its sleeve. Yes, it takes colorful and sharp photos -- not as great as those from the iPhone or Galaxy S3, but still pretty good. Outdoors, you'll get superb pictures, but in low-light, noise and grain tends to creep in. The photo-editing tools are outstanding. One, called "Time Shift," takes rapid-fire shots of people. Then you can tap on faces and "swap" expressions back and forth through two seconds of footage. So, say you take a group shot, for example. Instead of retaking the photo until everyone looks just right, you can just pick the best one for each person. The software then stitches it all together to make one perfect photo. Amazing.
BlackBerry actually got its start with smart pagers in the '90s. And since then, every device focused on messaging. The Z10 is the first to stray from that path, or so it seems. It lacks that tried-and-true BlackBerry keyboard, but once you try the on-screen typing, you'll come to love it even more. I'm serious. It caught me by surprise, too. Hands down, it's the best QWERTY I've ever used -- virtual or physical. I understand you're skeptical, but let me explain: that crush has to do with the prediction engine.
What's so great? Well, as you type, it proposes several choices to complete the word you want -- a simple flick of the corresponding button completes it. No big deal, right? Well, sometimes it predicts a word before you even begin to type it. For example, when I type the "I," it'll show "I'm," "I've" or "I'll." If I choose "I'm," it'll suggest the next word: "going." On average, I save about 60 percent of the typing. Out of a 50 letter sentence, I counted just 17 keystrokes. Phenomenal. And it learns your typing habits, getting smarter over time. Once you start, you won't be able to go back to anything else.
Now, if for some reason, you prefer manual mode, that works fine, too. I made a few mistakes on the generously-sized keyboard, but auto-correct does a miraculous job. The iPhone and Android simply can't compare.
Of course, the Z10 is built around BB10 software. Swipe to the right to bring up apps. Flick to the left to see a snapshot of open programs. Brush down to view the calendar. BlackBerry Hub, the central nervous system, is always there. Think of it as a "super app" that pulls everything -- including e-mails and texts, Facebook and Twitter updates, even phone calls and BBM messages -- together. Subtle blinks of the iconic LED let you know when you have new items in your master inbox. One swipe shows it all. I have to say, it's these small touches that make BB10 a delight to use to stay on top of a daily routine.
BlackBerry left BBM largely the same, except you can make free voice and video calls. You can also share your screen, so you can show people what you're doing on your phone. Of course, with the decline of BlackBerry, and the rise of iPhone and Android, most people use WhatsApp or Snapchat, among a host of third-party messaging clients. BBM is nice, but I'm afraid that ship has sailed.
The browser has always been notoriously awful, so I wasn't expecting much. But I actually found it easy to use. It loads webpages in a split-second, and renders the content -- including Flash -- faster than ever. Take that, Apple.
If your company uses BlackBerry corporate suite, "Balance" can split the device into work and play. IT managers can remote wipe business data from the device, for example, and leave your personal photos and e-mails intact. Essentially, it makes it two phones in one. That way both your pockets won't be full.
Like any fledgling platform, BlackBerry suffers from a lack of developers creating programs for it. Just ask Windows. It has the basics -- you can still use Facebook, Skype, Angry Birds and a number of big hitters -- but smaller titles, or iOS favorites, like Instagram, are missing. BlackBerry has a long way before, or if, it'll catch up to Apple and Android.
The Z10 doesn't have any massive flaws, if you ignore the battery. I only get around seven hours from a single charge. If I wake up at 7 a.m., for example, I'll have to charge it again by 2 p.m. Part of the blame goes to the push e-mail function. On weekends, when messages are lighter, I can last around 12 hours -- not bad, but a far cry from a full day. Luckily, you can swap batteries, so I'd recommend you buy another one. If not, at the very least get another charger for the car or office. The 16-gigabytes of storage is a bit on the thin side, too. I'd suggest you pick up a microSD card, otherwise you'll run out of room quickly.
It's better late than never. If you've switched to Android after giving up on BlackBerry, it's time to come back. Major improvements in hardware and software make the Z10 a complete flagship device. BlackBerry is back, and it's one of the leaders of the pack. Of course, certain factors are out of its direct control. Can it ramp up its app ecosystem? Can it string a few hits together and build a franchise? Or is it simply too little, too late? Only time will tell. ♦
Other Reviews From Around the Web:
- New York Times
- ABC News
- USA Today
- The Verge
- Consumer Reports
- Huffington Post
- PC Mag
- Laptop Magazine
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February 07, 2013
I picked up the Z10 yesterday and have been very impressed thus far. The display and software are just awesome. The screen is sharp and vibrant and BB10 is so quick and responsive.
BB Hub is really useful. And the task manager makes opening and organizing apps very simple and convenient. The camera, browser and the music player are a pleasure to use -- surprise! And time shift is simply awesome. It can go toe-to-toe with any phone on multimedia now.
Of course, the business features -- reading and writing e-mails and Office documents, and viewing Adobe Reader and Flash -- are still top-notch. But best of all, the keyboard rocks! Seriously, this is best keyboard I've ever used. I'd never thought it'd be on a touch screen.
The battery life isn't too bad -- you'll have to charge it every day like any other smartphone -- and the 64-gigabytes of storage is plentiful.
I'd say it destroys the iPhone and Galaxy S3, and is on par with the DNA. BlackBerry did a very good job with the Z10 -- it's a polished device. If you've been waiting for the comeback, this is it. I highly recommend it.Was this review helpful to you?
41 out of 43 people found this review helpful.
February 10, 2013
I picked this phone up over the weekend and I'm already in love with it. I was skeptical of the virtual keyboard, but since BlackBerry makes great QWERTYs, but boy was I wrong -- the onscreen typing is so fast and accurate. I can type faster than ever.
The BB10 interface is just beautiful -- just incredible. You don't have to buy separate BlackBerry service to access BBM and e-mail -- so that's nice. The multitasking is fluid and there's no lag whatsoever -- the processor is blazing.
I wish there were a few more apps in the BlackBerry store though, but so far I'm thoroughly impressed with the phone.
If you were on the fence about giving BlackBerry another chance, don't hesitate. The Z10 is everything you've been waiting for. Even if you don't like touch displays -- I didn't -- you'll love the virtual keyboard. I sold my Galaxy S3 to buy the Z10. And I'm glad I did.Was this review helpful to you?
40 out of 42 people found this review helpful.
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