Research in Motion kind of dropped off the radar these past couple of years. The iPhone blew up back in 2007 and Android’s widespread success came soon after that. A company whose shares were once trading at over $100 saw the price dip to under $10. RIM lost a sizable amount of its user base as well as its market capital. Many analysts had already spelled doom for the Canadian company. RIM bounces back with BlackBerry 10. They have literally re-designed, re-engineered and re-invented everything, starting with the name of the company which is no longer RIM. As CEO Thorsten Heins said at the BlackBerry 10 launch event, now it’s just one brand and one promise: BlackBerry.
The company has released a number of full touchscreen devices before but they did not gain much traction. The new BlackBerry Z10 is a welcome addition to the BlackBerry family. On first look one can understand how deeply the company has taken the re-designed, re-engineered and re-invented mantra to their hearts. Its unlike anything they have ever done before and it’s beautiful. So lets kick off this BlackBerry Z10 review and jump right in.
BlackBerry Z10 Specifications
- Display: 4.2″ 16M color WXGA TFT capacitive touchscreen, 768 x 1280 pixels
- Processor: Dualcore 1.5 GHz Krait, Adreno 225 GPU
- Camera: 8 megapixel continuous auto-focus camera with LED flash, Time Shift and face detection; 2 megapixel front facing camera. Geo-tagging and image stabilization.
- Video: Full 1080p HD @ 30fps and video stabilization; 720p with front-facing camera
- Memory: 2GB RAM, 16GB internal memory, microSD slot, native Dropbox and Box.net integration
- Connectivity: Quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE, tri/quadband UMTS/HSPA, 100 Mbps LTE optional, microUSB, microHDMI, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, LE, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n
- Misc: BlackBerry Hub, BBM with screen sharing and video chat, 3.5mm headset jack, GPS with A-GPS support and more
- Battery: Li-Ion 1800 mAh battery, up to 10 hours talktime and 312 hours standby
- OS: All new BlackBerry 10 OS
Design and Dimensions:
The BlackBerry Z10 is 130mm in height, 65.6 in width and 9mm in depth. That’s pretty neat, considering this is the first time that the company has really truly ventured out of its iconic front full keyboard design. Don’t get me wrong, diehard BlackBerry lovers are still suckers for the full keyboard, that is why most of them are waiting for the Q10. When it comes to fighting for relevance in the market while still oozing that BB charm, the Z10 stands tall and proud. The design package is complete with a gorgeous 4.2 inch display up front. Volume controls can be found on the right hand side, the micro-HDMI and the micro-USB ports on the left and the standby button on the top. There are no other buttons on the device and that is perhaps one of the greatest things about it.
The build quality is really good. The device feels strong in the hand and the textured back cover provides a good grip. The display is not Gorilla Glass, though it appears to be very tough and durable, which it is. On the back there’s the iconic BB logo and the 8 megapixel camera with LED flash in the top left corner. The back cover is removable and it gives access to the battery, the micro-SIM slot and the microSD card slot.
Here’s where BlackBerry has really outdone itself. The display on Z10 is amazing to say the least. Its a 4.2 inch display, 16M colors with a resolution of 768 x 1280 pixels and 335 pixels per inch. To put things in perspective the iPhone 5’s 4-inch display has resolution of 640 x 1136 pixels at 326 pixels per inch. Apple calls it a Retina Display. BlackBerry essentially made one of its own for the Z10.
The display has brilliant clarity, the colors are nice and sharp. It performs wonderfully even under direct sunlight. With the brightness turned all the way up one can really experience just how amazing the Z10 display is. There are no problems with viewing angles. The 4.2 inch display really does come across as the perfect size for a smartphone of this form factor. The display glass has a new technology called Touch On Lens. Basically the back of the cover glass is where the touch technology is applied to and this eliminates the need for a separate touch panel, thus allowing for a thinner and much more sleeker design. In a nutshell, the BlackBerry Z10 has an amazing display.
Performance and Speed:
Powering this beautiful device is a Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon dualcore 1.5 GHz Krait processor aided by 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 225 GPU. The hardware is right up there with major market leading smartphones and its every bit as capable, if not more. All this power plus the BlackBerry 10 OS make up for a powerful package. No comparison can be made between the Z10 and older BlackBerry devices when it comes to pure power. No lag is experienced even while using a memory intensive app with several others open in the background. The Z10 offers true multitasking and to keep all of that running without effecting the performance of what’s open at that point in time, really does speak a lot about the capability of the package.
It is probably in this BlackBerry Z10 review that you’ll find out that the Z10 is actually the company’s first 4G LTE capable device. Since LTE is only available in a limited number of markets, there are two different chipset models of the Z10 with LTE being different then that of HSPA+. Z10 users in LTE markets will have access to astonishing data speeds on their smartphone and one can expect that mobile networks would be too generous with their data packages for the Z10. Other connectivity options include NFC, whose two looping antennas are built in to the back cover. There’s support for micro-USB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP and LE, DLNA, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, micro-HDMI for mirroring the display on a larger screen and HSDPA 21 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps; LTE, EV-DO Rev. A with speeds up to 3.1 Mbps. There’s a 3.5mm standard headset jack on the top for earphones and headphones. The Z10 has 16GB of internal storage and if that is not enough, it supports expansion of up to 64GB via microSD card.
Camera and Video:
BlackBerry has really worked on improving the camera quality as well, since the previous BlackBerry devices were not at par with their competitors. The Z10 has an impressive 8 megapixel back camera with a resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels. There’s a LED flash and autofocus to assist picture taking. It is capable of recording full 1080p HD video with video stabilization at 30 frames per second. Up front there’s a 2 megapixel camera which can record 720p video at 30 frames per second. Both cameras have excellent result, besides that the new camera app is super fast and it clicks a picture as soon as the screen is tapped. Tip: You can also use the volume keys to click a picture.
Perhaps the best thing about the Z10 camera is the new TimeShift feature. It has its own separate shooting mode which can be accessed in the camera app. TimeShift allows users to fix facial expressions after the picture has been taken. We all know that one person who always closes their eyes when a picture is being taken. TimeShift fixes that problem. Flash can not be used in this mode so TimeShift is of no use where lighting is less desirable. Other than that it is an excellent feature.
(Pictures taken with Z10, not original resolution.)
Houston, we have a problem. Well not so much of a problem as it is a slight caveat. The Z10 has a Li-Ion 1800 mAh battery to provide power to the mighty internals and all the impressive features. Trust me when I say that it’s not enough. If you’re in an area with good cell reception and connection to Wi-Fi, then extensive usage which includes calls, media consumption, browsing and camera usage will drain out the entire battery in one day, morning to night. If you’re in a place with bad cell reception or roaming then the battery life is going to be significantly less. The BlackBerry Q10 will feature a 2100 mAh battery and given how its display will be smaller than the Z10, it will prove to be the go to BlackBerry 10 device for those who consider long lasting battery life essential.
Previous BlackBerry devices had even smaller batteries, take the Bold 9900 for example. It had a 1230 mAh battery which is much smaller than the Z10. The fact remains that those BlackBerry devices were not seen as the ultimate machines for content consumption or even gaming or extensive app usage. They had the “businessman’s phone” stigma attached to them. BlackBerry has tried to break out of that with the Z10 by promoting it as a device that’s party in the front and business in the back. Users can actually watch or listen to their content on this device the way they would on their Androids or iPhones. There’s added availability of music and movies through BlackBerry World. With the growing number of apps and games available the company hopes to attract a much younger and a much larger crowd. To keep them hooked, the device needs plenty of juice. The current battery isn’t underwhelming and neither does it not come up to the mark. The point is that it could have been better.
Now the part that I have been looking forward to cover in this BlackBerry Z10 review: the software. The Z10 is running on the latest and greatest BlackBerry 10 OS. The company has gone all out on this OS and it is unlike anything we have ever seen before by BlackBerry or even the market. They have literally re-designed, re-engineered and re-invented smartphone OS as we know it. In this BlackBerry Z10 review we will be looking at the various new features of BlackBerry 10 OS.
In the old BlackBerry OS all configured email accounts had a different icon. Someone who had a lot of email address had a lot of icons cluttering their screens, not a pretty sight at all. BlackBerry has fixed that problem in their latest software release. The BlackBerry Hub incorporates all configured email accounts, BBM, call logs as well as text messages and social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Notifications are also shown in the Hub. From here emails and texts can be replied to, direct Twitter messages and Facebook messages can be sent and comments on Facebook posts can also be made.
That’s not all. There’s an added advantage of the BlackBerry Hub. It also incorporates calendar appointments and meetings and can also show who will be attending said meetings. That is a big plus for enterprise users. The Hub management menu allows users to configure which accounts or services they want to be displayed in the main Hub menu. BlackBerry Hub is an important part of the new BlackBerry 10 software and the company has spent a lot of time talking about it at the release events as well as in the press. It is something unique, something new and something very efficient.
BlackBerry Peak and Flow:
If you have used a Z10 before reading this BlackBerry Z10 review I’m sure at some point you have have wondered how the heck do you go back to an app or to the home screen on this device. People who I personally showed the Z10 too all asked me this question because there’s no button to go back. Allow me to introduce BlackBerry Peak and BlackBerry Flow, the two new software features that reinvent multitasking on a smartphone as we know it.
Different operating systems have different styles of displaying notifications. Android and iOS both have similar notification centers that are invoked by swiping from top to bottom. Windows Phone 8 has live tiles which notify the user. BlackBerry Peak is a nifty little feature which can be invoked by swiping up from where BlackBerry is written at the end of the display. It allows the user to literally peak at the notifications without having to pause the app that’s running. Since there’s the iconic red LED up top that informs users of a new notification, the whole experience is unlike anything else.
BlackBerry Flow literally allows you to flow in to an app or the home screen after you have ‘peeked’. Completing the swipe up gesture for Peak will minimize the app and swiping from right to left will result in flowing in to the home screen. The best Peak and Flow combination is with the Hub. For example if you’re watching a video on YouTube and the red LED starts blinking, you can swipe up to peek at what the notification is and can even peek in to the hub. Swiping to the right will flow in to the Hub from where the notification can be taken care of, all without having to do away with the video that’s playing. Impressive, no?
This is where the Z10 zooms ahead of the competition. I have yet to use such an amazing predictive keyboard on any of the market leading smartphones. This device and this form factor in particular was quite a bold move for BlackBerry as it departed from its iconic full hardware keyboards. They have completely made up for the lack of a physical keyboard by developing an extraordinary virtual one.
The typing experience is effortless to say the least. The suggestions are always almost spot on, that and the fact that it learns the user’s writing style and bases suggestions on that, greatly speeds up accurate effortless typing. Even if a word has been mistyped, the keyboard remembers and corrects that word. There’s support for multiple languages meaning that this experience is available across the board for all supported languages.
BlackBerry Messenger With Voice, Video And Screen Share:
BBM too has been heavily worked on. It is an iconic service that loyal BlackBerry fans are addicted to even now despite other popular IM services being available. There’s an entirely new BBM experience now, there’s the ability to initiate a voice or video chat straight from BBM and also the ability to share your device’s screen.
The Screen Share feature on BBM is quite interesting. Not only does it allow the user to share photos or documents with someone else without having to send the file itself, it also allows the user to share the view from the camera. The user who wishes to share their the screen of their BlackBerry 10 device will have full control over it and the whole screen will be mirrored as it is on the recipient’s device.
Now we all know that browsers on older BlackBerry devices weren’t that good. They were too slow, too buggy and not at all good for long surfing sessions. Say hello to the new and radically improved browser on BlackBerry 10. It is super fast, sleek and a joy to use.
There’s speed and simplicity. The browser is easy on the eyes and high on functionality. It supports Flash which is always a plus. Site exceptions can be manually managed from the settings menu. Private browsing mode can be used to leave no tracks of your browser usage. I’ll mention once again that it is super fast with absolutely powerful page rendering. Sharing options are built-in. It’s very easy to share something interesting that you have stumbled upon through email or social networks. The best thing about BlackBerry 10 is that it remembers how you share like to share content and it tailors the options based on that, offering a very adaptive and intimate user experience.
Catering to the enterprise market has always been on the list for BlackBerry. Back in the day their devices were considered godsend by companies and corporations. The Z10 offers a unique twist on that with BlackBerry Balance. No longer will corporate users require two different devices, one for work and one for personal use. Users can access corporate email, apps and documents without jeopardizing their personal content, and vice versa. It keeps personal information and content separate from work data, so much so that both profiles have separate home screens. For example enterprise apps will only work when the work profile is being used, hence offering greater security for work on the same device. Users can switch between both profiles with just one single gesture.
BlackBerry Voice Control:
It’s no Siri but it does hold its own ground quite well. Voice Control is yet another feature we’re going to be looking at in this BlackBerry Z10 review. It is a remarkable feature with much room for improvement, and it does somethings that even Siri can’t do on its own.
Voice Control recognizes natural speech patterns hence it understands the user’s voice commands easily. Voice Control can be used anywhere where typing is needed. Users can dictate documents, search their device, dictate emails and text messages. Through the Voice Control app on the home screen, users can send BBM messages, schedule meetings, launch apps, send texts and emails, search the internet and also update Facebook, LinkedIn and send a tweet. All this is done just by speaking to your Z10.
New BlackBerry Apps:
There are a host of new applications in BlackBerry 10 that the company has developed. There’s the new Calendar app which quite frankly is an intelligent app. When a new appointment is created, the app will suggest who to invite based on existing appointments and the people you invited last time. Their social updates and recent messages will be displayed in the Calendar app itself.
BlackBerry Remember is an excellent organizer. You can group relevant photos, lists, messages links all in one place using this app. Tasks added to Remember can also be synced to the Outlook calendar. Documents To Go and Adobe Reader is built in, so documents, presentations and spreadsheets can be updated on the go.
Story Maker is perfect for creating short movies on the BB10 device. It is a powerful app that lets you edit pictures and videos, add titles and credits, add background music as well as effects to create a short movie. Apart from that, photo and video editors are built in the camera app, which makes enhancing and editing photos as well as videos a breeze.
Last but definitely not the least, we have BlackBerry World. The App World has been re-branded and it now has a lot more than just apps. BlackBerry 10 was launched with over 70,000 apps, which is the most any first generation OS has ever been launched with. The App World now hosts games, music, movies and TV shows apart from apps. It is the ultimate destination for any and all kinds of content.
Since this has been quite a lengthy BlackBerry Z10 review, I will keep the final word short. It was really interesting to see the passion and the commitment of BlackBerry executives at the BlackBerry 10 launch event. Despite the fact that the company has been having a hard time in the markets, they are committed to innovating and blowing our minds with superb products. What we need to understand here is that its not about numbers, share prices or inventory moved. Its about disruptive technology. What BlackBerry has achieved with their OS and the Z10 is disruptive. Its a welcome break from the monotony of iOS and Android. They have carved out a place for them in the heavily competitive global smartphone market. It is this disruption that will pay off for the company. There’s no doubt in my mind that the 78 million loyal BlackBerry users around the world are more than happy with what the company has achieved. Sales of the Z10 have been pretty strong up till now and it hasn’t even set foot on US soil. The Z10 is yet to be released in all markets. Things are looking up for BlackBerry and I sure hope that they continue with their disruptive innovation to bring us amazing BlackBerry goodness.