It’s no big secret that I am an Android user and abuser. However, before venturing into the wild Android Unknown I was a true believer in the Way of the BlackBerry.
The BlackBerry Storm was my first foray into the smartphone world from simpler times of the flip-phone. It was also BlackBerry’s first leap into the touchscreen world, so in some ways we were both learning as we went along. As any BB Storm user would confess it was a rough road in comparison to the well-traveled paths of the Curve and Bold, but it was a journey we all enjoyed in the end.
The newly released Z10 is the next true touchscreen phone from BlackBerry, and it aims to improve on everything the Storm (and BlackBerry as a whole) was, all while bringing a fresh look and feel to the iconic experience. With those in mind, I set out to see just how far BlackBerry has come and how it stacks up against the current mobile leader.
External aesthetics and quality
In true BlackBerry style, the Z10’s build quality is top notch. This is easily the strongest part of the device, and quite frankly it feels better in the hand than any other mobile phone I have used to date. The device is weighted for sure – it’s heavier in the hand than most Android phones and feels similar to the iPhone (in weight at least). The curves are much better though, and there is no shortage of coolness while it sits in your palm.
The back of the device has a nice grid texture carved into the plastic cover. It’s just enough to give the holder a sense of grip and class, but not enough to really trap dust or dirt to cause problems. The metal BB logo sits nicely in the center, and is a bit recessed into the rest of the back which should protect it’s glossy finish from getting scratched up when the phone is laid down on a table or desk. On the bottom is the carrier logo, in our case the iconic Verizon branding (along with their blazing fast 4G logo) which blends in nicely to the other colors of the phone. At the top you can see the camera lens cover and flash bulb. They are situated in a corner, which I found useful when I would place my left hand on the side for stabilizing photos.
The left side of the Z10 has the mini-HDMI and micro-USB ports centered. While it looks nice to have both on the same side, I did find myself trying to plug in my charger to the HDMI port. It will take some getting used to at night when trying to plug it in with the lights off, but not terribly complex.
On the right we’ve got the buttons. Standard volume up and volume down, as well as a multi-button that is basically a context sensitive side key. It will change function according to what app is currently utilizing it. For example, at first boot it will activate the voice commands functionality of the device allowing voice calling or the like, but if you decide to listen to some music during your commute it will change to a pause/play button. I realize that you may be thinking that it causes unnecessary confusion, but I never ran into an issue where it did something unexpected.
The top of the phone has your standard lock and 3.5mm headset connection. These should be pretty familiar to anyone who has used a smart device in the last few years, but just in case you haven’t here’s the rundown: the power/lock button will turn on or off the device when long pressed and will turn off the screen (locking the phone) when tapped, and the headset connector will output and/or input sound when a headset or pair of headphones is inserted.
The BlackBerry Z10 has an impressive list of features:
- 4.2-inch screen at 768×1280
- 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor
- 2 GB RAM
- 16 GB internal storage, with up to 64 GB microSD
- 1800 mAh Lithium-ion battery
- 4G LTE
- dual cameras (rear-facing 8 MP, front-facing 2 MP)
- a solid pack of sensors (accelerometer, light, digital compass, proximity, gyro, barometer, GPS) and connections (Bluetooth, Dual Band WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n))
The appeal of BlackBerry 10 is one of the biggest reasons to check out the Z10. The OS is fast, sharp, crisp, featured, and fun.
The biggest variation in BB10 is that it has no navigational buttons on the hardware or baked into the software. There’s no home button, no static back button, and no menu button. The entire OS is driven by gestures both onscreen and off. The gesture you’ll be using most is the go-to-home swipe, and it’s really the easiest one. Slide your finger from the BlackBerry logo on the front and onto the screen. This will perform one of two actions depending on if you keep your finger on the screen, or lift it off in more of a flicking motion. A simple flick will take you back to the home screen and out of whatever app you’re currently in. If you hold your finger on the screen instead, you will be presented with your notifications and status bar, giving signal and battery information.
The app browser is similar to any other touchscreen device, offering a grid of application shortcuts each identified by an icon and text. Each of the icons is easy to distinguish at a glance even if your friend changes the system language to Klingon** because they think they’re funny. The apps are fast to open and easily moved from screen to screen.
BB10 went a little off the beaten path with the main ‘home screen’ and it’s really something you’ll either love and embrace or learn to live with over time. While competing devices will have a separate function to open recent or running applications, BB10 has this as the central point of the OS, which if considered objectively makes a lot of sense. The main thing we do with our devices is open applications or view information. Having the former up front and in your face cuts down on unnecessary button presses or swipes. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.
Also benefiting from the use of swipes is the Z10 keyboard. The keyboard itself is very slick, and matches the color scheme of the OS very well. It’s satisfying to use, and the autocorrect is spot on. I’ve rarely had to delete words to correct my fat-fingering. The keyboard goes far beyond the typical autocorrect and offers a truly unique method of word suggestion. If you begin to type out a word, the keyboard will attempt to detect the best word based on previous words and what you’ve entered already. The words will appear above the next character (as shown) in the predicted word. This makes it easy to see and use the suggested word which can be selected by swiping up from the character it’s above. For example, in the photo “Def” is typed, and “Definitely” is suggested above the “i” key because “i” comes next in the word. To use “Definitely” as the next word simply press on “i” and swipe up. It’s unique, accurate, and quite a lot of fun to use.
** Klingon not actually supported
The Alarm & Clock app is what you would want from a clock application. It offers both analog and digital formats, 12- and 24-hour settings, and can be viewable in portrait or landscape. Added features include a stopwatch, timer, and world clock tab to view different locations, for those who travel a lot or have relatives across the world. The alarm can be configured for a one-time occurrence, or scheduled to go off on any of a number of scheduled dates. The nicest feature is “Bedside Mode” which turns the screen into a low-power easily visible night setting and offers the ability to silence all notifications except phone calls.
Contacts is just as full-featured and customizable as you would expect from a BlackBerry device. It’s possible to organize contacts by first name, last name, or even company name for those who have contacts mandating this feature. Contacts are imported from, and synchronized across, various mediums including any email accounts connected, Twitter, BBM, Facebook, SIM cards, or corporate address books. At the flick of a finger these can be viewed in one long list or limited to one platform.
The browser is a no-nonsense, simple web browser that has all the necessary features it should. I successfully used it with upwards of 30 tabs open (though I imagine more is possible, I just got bored of creating new ones), and the sidebar options to bookmark a site or add a shortcut to the desktop were welcome additions. One of the features I’d like to see adopted by more platforms is the “Reader” mode which transforms any webpage into a mobile-friendly text page for easy reading (complete with text size adjustment buttons). This was quite useful when I was looking up a few articles and didn’t want to pinch and zoom around the page. It isn’t as fully-functional as a desktop browser, but users will not have any issues using it on mobile.
The calendar offers another simple yet effective way to manage data on the Z10. It offers all the visual modes one would ask for including day, month, week, and agenda. All of the modes but the agenda offer a nice visual representation of events scheduled and are colored by sync service. There is an additional feature that I didn’t know I needed dubbed the “People” setting. Enabling this (in the top dropdown) displays all the meetings between you and a specific person. It was very useful to see when I had work meetings with a single colleague, so I could prepare any extra things I needed to discuss with them before the meeting.
Camera & Gallery
The camera app brings the combination of a solid 8mp rear shooter with flash and a better-than-average 2mp front facing camera. The rear camera takes clear and good looking photos even in lower light settings, and the front camera offers up a crisp 720p for recording video of yourself or Skyping friends across the world.
The app itself has all of the features I wanted when opening it up, and no clutter making it difficult to use like some other camera apps. Tapping anywhere on the screen or pressing the volume button will snap a photo. The four corners have a pre-defined set of tools for quick access. Lower right is a shortcut to the camera gallery, while lower left will bring up the settings panel. Top left has the flash controls, while top right has the camera settings, where you’re able to toggle between camera, video, and “time shift.”
Time Shift is the coolest new feature of the Z10 camera, and probably the most useful feature of the whole device (aside from being able to call people). In it’s simplest description, it allows you to roll back time when taking a photo to ensure all parties have their eyes open and not goofy looking. You don’t need to roll back the entire frame, but can simply choose one person to correct or correct multiple people independently. It makes portraits and travel photos much easier and worry-free knowing you don’t need to take 17 pictures to find one that’s good.
The settings panel has a few more options to play with. When the pane slides out you’re greeted with five settings. On top is the option to switch between the two cameras on the device. Naturally the flash mode isn’t available on the front camera, but the other three buttons stay the same. Up next is the Shooting Mode, offering Normal, Stabilization, or Burst, all of which function exactly how they sound. The middle option is the Scene setting. This gives a choice of Auto, Action, Whiteboard, Night, Beach, or Snow. The scenes function as they should and change up the sensor to take appropriate photos for different settings. Flash settings come next which are identical to the quick-settings option in the main view. Finally, Aspect Ratio brings up the bottom of the list with options for 16×9 or 4×3 images.
The gallery app, called “Pictures”, is nicely laid out and easily organized into albums and sets. There is even post-processing that can be added to your images to give them an artistic or cinematic feel before sharing them via email or Twitter. Options include manual photo enhancements like brightness, white balance, contrast, and saturation, all the way to pre-defined styles of Sixties, Grain, Aged, Cartoon, and Big Eyes.
(Same photo edited in Grain, Sixties, Aged, and Black & White)
At the end of the day when you’re out on the town looking to snap some pictures of your antics or capture that spontaneous photo of your child doing something funny, there’s little you will want out of the Z10’s camera and accompanying gallery that isn’t there.
Docs To Go
Docs To Go is essential for anyone needing to view or edit Microsoft Office documents on the go on any platform. It supports industry standard formats for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, allowing the creation of new files or editing existing ones. It’s included in the base installation of the Z10, and came in very handy when I was out of the office and received emails with documents in them. The editing allows for standard formatting like bold, text styles and sizes, indents, and generally any basic document formatting you would need on the go.
It is also a fully-functional presentation platform allowing you to show off a PowerPoint to friends or colleagues anywhere. The HDMI out port could even be used to give a presentation via a projector or TV.
BlackBerry World is the application marketplace for BB devices. In the past it’s been the least-used application on a BlackBerry, but with BB10 and the Z10 you’ll find yourself using it a lot more frequently. The market is broken up into the categories: Games, Apps, Music, and Video. In these sections you can purchase varying applications or games for work optimization or pleasure gaming to pass the time, as well as explore new music options and TV or movies to enjoy on a long flight.
The Music app isn’t as pretty as its competitors; however, it is just as functional. It’s complete with recent, library, playlist, and now playing screens. The library view can be broken up into song, artist, or album for easy navigation to find just the song you’re looking for. As mentioned previously, the convenience keys on the side of the device will change function if you’re listening to music, and this is very convenient.
The Maps application is much better than previous BlackBerry maps applications. Navigating around the app is very fluid and features standards such as tap to select and pinch to zoom. Navigation is very nice and easy to use, and has a kind auditory voice giving directions in addition to the text prompts. To start navigation, simply type in a location search or select it from the map and hit go. It offers a few route settings such as fast, simple, or shortest, and also allows options to avoid toll roads, carpool lanes, and ferries. The coolest feature of the app is the included “night mode” that can be set to auto if the static on/off isn’t enough. While it isn’t as fully featured as Google Maps may be, it’s far from useless and was perfect for the few times I used it.
It’s a file manager. It’s typically used to manage files, which can be viewed in a list or grid, or sorted alphabetically, chronologically, by type, or even size. Not much else here.
Call quality and data signal
Call quality and data signal are two of the key make-or-break features of any smartphone, and I’m happy to report that both are fantastic on the Z10.
Because the Z10 is a phone at its core, I made a few calls to and from the device, and every single one of them was super clear. Even the calls I made whilst in my home were clear, and my reception is horrid here. I could hear the other person on the line very clearly and the volume adjustment allowed me to turn it down to make it a bit more private, and turn it up loud enough for two people to hear ear-to-ear. The other party didn’t make any comments about not being able to hear me, and in this respect no news is good news. Z10 users will not complain about any calls they make on this phone.
The data speeds, thanks to Verizon’s 4G network, were really fast. While it isn’t a consistent 1-to-1 comparison with home Wi-Fi, it was shockingly close while using mobile data out on the town. I didn’t have any trouble downloading email attachments, browsing the web, using Twitter, or watching streaming videos. I didn’t record exact data speeds, nor are they important due to variation in network based on location or time of day, but rest assured you will not have any issues accessing what you want to when you want to.
Battery life is really subject entirely on the usage pattern of the device’s user. My usage tends to be very email- and messaging-heavy, with very minimal phone calls, and social network interactions daily. I basically live on my phone as a communication device, and dabble in the occasional game or movie. I was able to use the Z10 for an entire day, beginning between 6:00 and 7:00am and ending late at night around 11:00pm, on a single charge. Some days I’d even forget to plug it in overnight and still had it ready and willing to wake me up for another day in the grinder.
BlackBerrys have always impressed me with their resilience and powerful battery optimization, and the Z10 is no different. It excels in this respect and could easily be considered top of the class for stamina.
While it may not be the best phone I’ve ever used, it isn’t one to be brushed aside without second thought. The hardware is top notch and among the most solid-feeling in the industry, and the battery life is outstanding for a phone with its feature set. BlackBerry continues its pedigree of offering exceptional smartphones focusing on communication, and it is second to none in this respect. For anyone who is firmly inside the BlackBerry ecosystem, the Z10 is the perfect device. For those in the iOS, Android, or WinPhone camp looking for a change of scenery, this may be what you’ve been waiting for.
Given my past experience with the BlackBerry Storm, Curve, and Torch devices of late, the Z10 is easily the best BlackBerry there is.