BlackBerry 10 has come a long way. For months, we’ve seen a sprinkle of information every so often regarding some of BlackBerry 10’s improvements over previous iterations of the operating systems. And last week was when BlackBerry finally not only unveiled BlackBerry 10 to the world, but two new devices that would become the first generation of smartphones to run the company’s newest operating system.
During BlackBerry’s media event last week, they focused a great deal on its BlackBerry Z10, although we’re sure physical keyboard aficionados would have preferred to hear more about the BlackBerry Q10, which is planned to be released in March and we’re sure to check out before then. There’s good reason why BlackBerry focused so much on the Z10 as the device successfully encompasses everything BlackBerry 10 can offer to its users. But is the combination of the BlackBerry 10 OS and the Z10 enough to win back the admiration of the smartphone market and raise BlackBerry back into the spotlight?
Display 720p 768 x 1280
Display size 4.2”
Display PPI 356
Processor Dual-core 1.5GHz
Battery capacity 1,800 mAH
Rear Camera 8MP – 1080p video
Front Camera 2MP – 720p video
Network Unlocked GSM/UMTS/HSPA+
GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
3G (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz)
HSPA+ 42 Mbps
Height 0.47” (9 mm)
Width 2.68” (65.6 mm)
Length 4.84” (130 mm)
Weight 4.867 oz (138 g)
I use my phone throughout the day to check emails, chat with my friends and family through multiple chat clients and browse social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I also browse news aggregator websites like Reddit and Slashdot and a number of other websites to keep tabs on the latest news. The phone I currently use is the iPhone 5, but my first smartphone devices were BlackBerry.
The majority of the front of the BlackBerry Z10 is covered in glass which gives it the illusion that its screen is bigger than it actually is, especially since there are absolutely no face buttons whatsoever. When the device is turned on, that’s when you realize just how much of the Z10’s glass front is used for its screen. Having that amount of glass also makes the device’s gesture controls seem more natural as the user will swipe above, below and to the sides a lot during use.
By default, waking up the Z10 is done by swiping from the BlackBerry logo towards the top of the device, which BlackBerry touts as being a major difference between its Z10 and other similar devices as they require pushing a button and then unlocking the phone. At first use, this method seems pretty cool, but when you consider it saves you one step, it isn’t as big of a deal as BlackBerry would lead you to believe.
The back of the Z10 is textured and feels slightly rubbery, which gives it a nice grip when it’s held in one hand. The texture offers a nice middle ground of offering the right amount of grip, while at the same time allowing your fingers to run across it comfortably so your fingers don’t feel stuck. In the middle of the back is where the famous BlackBerry logo sits and offers a reflective look to it. The top left of the rear of the device is where its rear-facing camera and LED flash are housed.
On the left side of the Z10 is where the micro-USB and mini-HDMI port are located and seem to be in a weird position as they just come out of nowhere. The top of the Z10 has its 3.5mm headphone jack and its sleep / wake button, for those of you who prefer not to use gestures to wake your Z10 up. Between using the sleep / wake button and swiping on the Z10’s screen to wake it up through gesture control, the gesture control will get you directly into the device’s home screen, while the sleep / wake button delivers the Z10’s lock screen. The right side is where the volume controls are located with an additional button to prompt the Z10’s voice controls to activate, although I barely used the voice controls outside of when I needed to for this review. All of the buttons mentioned are brushed aluminum and offer a nice contrast from the all-black Z10.
BlackBerry devices haven’t been known for having the greatest screens among competing smartphones as users have accepted their ho-hum screens for years. The BlackBerry Z10 looks to finally offer a screen that not only greatly improves on the screens of previous BlackBerry devices, but also possibly offer as good as an experience competing smartphones have.
The BlackBerry Z10 comes with a HD screen with a resolution of 768 x 1280 and a PPI of 356. When compared to competing smartphones, like the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3, it looks just as good, which is a huge improvement over previous BlackBerry devices.
When viewing the same high-resolution image on an iPhone 5 and the BlackBerry Z10, the Z10’s image doesn’t look the greatest as its brightness, by default, makes the image look slightly darker. Of course, the brightness can be changed in the Z10’s settings, but the slight darkness means the Z10 has a longer battery life, then we can certainly overlook that minor detail as long as we don’t have to recharge the device on a nightly basis.
Along with a brand new BlackBerry smartphone, BlackBerry has released an entirely new operating system called BlackBerry 10. The BlackBerry Z10 seems to be the ideal platform to showcase exactly what BlackBerry 10 is capable of.
I’ve got your gesture controls right here
As I mentioned earlier, the BlackBerry Z10 is completely free of any buttons on the front of the device, which many iOS, Android and even previous BlackBerry owners will be concerned about when they first start using the device.
During BlackBerry 10’s launch event in New York City, I admittedly had difficulty navigating the BlackBerry Z10 when I first started using it. I navigated through BlackBerry 10 into the photo application and couldn’t figure out how exactly I could get myself out of the application. That’s when I was informed of the gesture controls, which when you first set up your BlackBerry 10 device, the setup process will offer instructions on how exactly to navigate the new operating system.
Once I became familiar with the gesture controls, I found navigating through multiple applications, as well as using the BlackBerry Peak feature, to be quick and easy. I rarely pushed the BlackBerry Z10’s wake/sleep button as swiping up to unlock the device was a much faster alternative.
Even though the gesture controls were introduced as a way to make navigating through multiple applications a breeze, I found it to add an unnecessary step in accessing applications on the Z10 since swiping up would place you at the device’s home screen, which would be filled with recently opened applications. If you want to open a new application, you’d need to swipe to the left to then be presented with your first page of apps.
Predictive text that actually predicts text!
I spend much of my time on my smartphone and tablet devices writing emails, IMs and texts, which means as accurate as I try to be when I’m typing, I probably make more mistakes than I would like to admit. The keyboard on the BlackBerry Z10 is one of the major highlights of the device as the more I typed with the keyboard, the better it was at predicting text that I was in the process of writing.
While typing, BlackBerry 10 will offer a few choice words in certain spots of the keyboard. If the word I was looking to type was predicted, you would place your finger on the key that is located below the word, and then swipe in an upward direction to select that word. Using this feature was a slow start for me, but I instantly became comfortable with it after a day or two of regular use.
Multitasking in BB10 doesn’t pause any applications
Through my time with the Z10, I opened quite a few applications at the same time, often jumping from one app to another while they all load their valuable nuggets of information. In iOS and Android, if you switch from one application to another, the original application is paused, sometimes even going as far as requiring the app to completely open again from its start.
BlackBerry 10 on the Z10 offers a true multitasking experience as each, that is, when the apps support to be active when minimized. BlackBerry supported applications obviously offered this feature, but a number of third-party were able to run in the background, but didn’t offer updated information when minimized and viewed from the Z10’s home screen. This is something that can certainly be improved on through patch updates, which I’m sure will happen once BlackBerry 10 starts to take off.
BlackBerry Hub Brings Everything Into One Location
I’m the kind of person to keep my personal life and professional life separate, but if you don’t mind mixing everything into one big soup of information goodness, then you’re going to get a kick out of BlackBerry Hub.
BlackBerry Hub acts as a unified mailbox of your email addresses, texts, BBMs, Facebook, Twitter and a number of third-party applications like Google Talk messages into one central location. The Hub can be called up while using any application simply by dragging your finger from the BlackBerry logo on the Z10 to an upward and right direction to initiate BlackBerry Peak, which allows you to quickly view your Hub to check on incoming alerts.
What makes the BlackBerry Hub experience even better is the fact that you interact with the messages straight from the Hub without needing to launch their corresponding applications. This feature is best used for services that would normally require an app to interact with any alerts you receive, such as Facebook and Twitter. You simply access the alert and can respond from within the Hub and continue with your activities without even touching the corresponding application.
BlackBerry World doesn’t deliver a world full of apps
At the launch of BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry has promised 70,000 applications, although the company’s vice president of global alliances & business development Martyn Mallick admitted 40% of these applications are ports of Android applications, which means they’re not completely optimized for the BlackBerry 10 platform. Before we dive into the apps, let’s take a look at BlackBerry World as a whole application platform.
BlackBerry World offers an experience similar to Google Play and Apple’s App Store, although currently many of the top rated applications are clones of popular titles or are complete ports of their Android counterpart, offering nothing unique to the BlackBerry 10 experience. A number of underwhelming apps have also made their way to BlackBerry World and are currently featured as top downloaded applications, which leads me to believe whoever currently has a BlackBerry 10 device is starved for some kind of worthwhile application.
Yes – Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a number of other official applications are currently available in BlackBerry World. These applications offer an experience you expect them to on other platforms with the addition of BlackBerry Hub support. These few official apps offer a glimpse into the future of what developers are capable of if they decide it’s worthwhile to create a BlackBerry 10 dedicated application.
Email: What would a BlackBerry device be without its email app? BlackBerry successfully brought its email client to the Z10 and it offers the experience BlackBerry owners will instantly recognize. The only difference is the email has been fused into the BlackBerry Hub, but the well-known BlackBerry email experience is there.
Story Maker: Creating a highlight real is now possible directly from the BlackBerry Z10 as an application called Story Maker allows you to inject photos, videos, on-screen text and soundtracks to create a collage. Using the app is simple, and yet offers a lot of customization for you to create the short film you always wanted to.
TimeShift: We know getting the absolute perfect picture can be tough as human beings tend to blink and lick their lips way too often to sit absolutely still for a photo. TimeShift has you take a number of photos to choose a version of the people in your photo you deem the best. The only trick about the feature is it’s a mode within the photo app and there’s no way of performing TimeShift on regular photos, which I learned the hard way.
A BlackBerry browser that doesn’t suck?
Browsing websites on BlackBerry devices has never been a good experience as we’re sure many BlackBerry owners used their browsers if there was absolutely no other option available. Not only have BlackBerry screens made it difficult to read anything, but past browser speeds made the experience a true test in patience.
The browser in BlackBerry 10 has received a much needed overhaul as it’s much faster than previous BlackBerry browsers. When you first open the browser app, you’ll be presented with a number of most-visited websites, which makes visiting your favorite sites a pain-free experience. Multiple tabs, a “Reader” mode that makes it easier to read text and a unified bar that combines a URL and search bar into one bar make the BlackBerry 10 browser experience one future and current owners will be proud to show off.
But wait, there’s more. Maps!
BlackBerry 10 on the Z10 has a maps application that offers an experience that doesn’t quite offer what we expect from modern smartphones. Sure – it has the ability to show your current location and give you turn-by-turn directions as it’s powered by TomTom, but don’t expect walking or public transit directions. The Maps app does offer traffic information, and that’s pretty much the only bell and whistle you could expect from the app at this time.
When compared to Map applications like Google Maps and even Apple Maps, the layout and map don’t even look that great. The turn-by-turn performs how you would expect it to, giving information such as the distance to your destination, distance to your next turn and a map of your current driving direction.
Taking pictures on the BlackBerry Z10 can be done one of two ways: tapping on the screen or clicking on the volume up / down buttons on the side of the device. There are three shooting modes available: Normal, Stabilization and Burst. Both Stabilization and Burst modes do a great job of producing the kind of images you’d want from either mode, especially Burst mode which takes a ton of photos in very little time.
Low-light photos can produce images that are acceptable as they’re not too dark, but when compared to the camera of the iPhone 5, don’t come out as bright or colorful by default. Low-light images are also prone to more blurry photos, especially when the camera has trouble focusing due to how low the lighting is.
Outdoor photos in natural light, on the other hand, look great as there’s very little noise in the images and aren’t as dark as the indoor photos can be. In the images you’ll see below, you can see there’s a nice amount of detail in each of the images, very little blur and have a nice color tone to them.
Video quality is also excellent as there’s a high amount of detail in videos taken with the Z10. The video app also comes with an additional Stabilization mode that offers a similar anti-shake technology as Google does in its YouTube videos.
According to our test with SunSpider, the overall score of the browser on the BlackBerry Z10 is 1924 ms (milliseconds). This isn’t considered a great number by today’s standards as a number of Android devices, like the Galaxy S3, the HTC EVO 4G LTE and even the Galaxy S2, are faster. The iPhone 5 (in Safari), with its “blazing fast” 914.7ms, is twice as fast as the Z10 in the SunSpider benchmark.
BlackBerry devices have been known for having an amazing battery life, often lasting for days without requiring a recharge. The majority of smartphones these days require a nightly tether to their chargers in order to assure you’ll have enough charge to last you throughout the day through regular use.
The BlackBerry Z10’s battery life is somewhere in the middle of a traditional BlackBerry device and current generation smartphones as you won’t need to run to your charger on a nightly basis if you use your Z10 on a regular basis, but instead, needing to recharge it on a semi-nightly basis. Leaving the Z10 unplugged overnight also won’t suck up too much of its battery as there was only around 4% of overnight battery drain recorded.
If you’re a heavy user, then a nightly recharge is in your future as not only will the battery drain as inefficiently as modern-day smartphones, but it’ll also run very warm during heavy use. The Z10 isn’t scalding hot, but is certainly warm enough to make note of while it’s being used heavily. During our test of playing a video on loop for 60 minutes, we recorded the battery drain on the device to be around 25%, which means if you plan on watching an hour-long video during your commute, we recommend carrying a charger with you just in case your Z10 doesn’t last long enough for use in the evening.
BlackBerry 10, even with its slight annoyances, absolutely sings on the BlackBerry Z10. The software and hardware provide a worthwhile experience for die-hard BlackBerry fans who are looking for a modern-day experience, but don’t want an iPhone or Android device. The BlackBerry Hub works great, the browser finally works and its predictive text keyboard are three areas of the device that you’ll instantly want to show off.
iPhone or Android owners aren’t missing much if they decide to get rid of their devices for the BlackBerry Z10 as its map application and low-light camera ability leaves much to be desired. When you also factor in BlackBerry World doesn’t feel as mature as Google Play or the App Store, iPhone and Android owners may get frustrated at the lack of worthwhile applications.
In short: BlackBerry owners who aren’t afraid of jumping into a device with a touch-screen keyboard will want to check out the BlackBerry Z10. The rest who own an iPhone or Android device should probably stick to what they have.