Tech Blog

BlackBerry Z10 Review

by Blogger on ‎02-03-2013 08:51 PM - last edited on ‎09-04-2013 03:48 PM by JorgeM Recognized Expert

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The first thing you need to know about the BlackBerry Z10 and the new operating system it runs on is that it’s a clean break from the BlackBerry you’ve always known. It bears no resemblance at all to the previous OS and is designed to be just as good as the current smartphone standard set by Apple, Google and Microsoft. The new look and feel, plus the brand reinvention, adds a level of anticipation and excitement to trying out the Z10. Were the repeated delays worth it? Are there major flaws or serious improvements? The answers vary, but the final result is a platform that shows some signs of making a lasting impact.

 

Much of the focus of BlackBerry’s decline centred on the software and the backwardness of the operating system, but hardware was a major problem, too. The Storm and Torch were both touchscreen-focused devices that failed to resonate or even change the game against the flashy and fluid competition at Apple and Google. Even Microsoft, after losing almost all relevance in the mobile space, realized the error of its ways and created something that bore no resemblance to the Windows we’ve all known.

 

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In that respect, hardware shouldn’t be an issue with the Z10, at least in the short term. With a 4.2-inch 720p HD display and an impressive pixel density of 356ppi, 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB internal storage (expandable up to an additional 64GB with a microSD card), it’s in line with just about any other top smartphone on the market — or at least those that came to market in 2012. This year will surely see phones bumped up even more.

 

It’s LTE-enabled, has NFC (Near Field Communication) built-in, an 8MP camera (that captures video in 1080p) in the rear and a 2MP in the front, Bluetooth 4.0 and is a bit heavier than the iPhone 5. The back cover comes off, meaning that the battery is removable, but also the only way to access the SIM and microSD slots. MicroUSB and microHDMI ports are on one side. Volume buttons are on the other, with the dedicated Voice Control button in the middle (more on that later). You’ve got the headphone jack at the top, and that about covers it.

 

While BlackBerry (note that the old company name, RIM, no longer exists) could have arguably tried something bigger on the hardware side, it’s the operating system that’s supposed to shine here. PlayBook tablet users might recognize certain things, but as I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, BlackBerry 10 centres around four pillars — Flow, Hub, Peek and Balance.

 

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Flow is the overlying term to describe how the OS actually looks and feels through the use of swiping gestures in different directions. Hub is the multitasking and integrated email setup. Peek is a way to look at something without fully committing to one app, though this has its limitations, which I’ll point out a little later. Balance is a business-focused feature that allows for two distinct profiles — work and personal — to exist exclusively from each other on the phone.

 

Once you see the rows of apps, you will immediately think of the iPhone. While that might seem like it’s ripping off a competitor, the fact is Android is not all that different, either. Only Windows Phone deviates completely from that UI design. Swiping on the Z10 takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it does become fairly seamless. It’s just not quite as polished as it could be. I found myself swiping up to push an app to the Hub more than once before it finally worked.

 

Whenever I had an app open and heard the ping and red light turn on to signal that new email, text messages or Facebook messages came in, I liked that I could swipe up to see which account had new messages, and then to the right to peek at the inbox to see who sent them. It was a smooth process that was impressively fluid, and I found myself surprised that it took a while before I realized that messages were coming in without interrupting what I was doing in another app. In other words, BB10 doesn’t stamp notifications overtop of whatever you’re doing. You do have to go find them. It’s not a tedious action, but it is different than what you might be used to.

 

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Hub is also the multitasking console, so to speak. Here, you can have up to eight apps running at once. Start up a ninth, and the first one you opened is closed, which is important to remember if you’re working on something. Apps don’t necessarily let you save, so any unfinished work or project you were dealing with would be lost if the app is closed. You can’t rearrange them, either, so if you’re an active user, you will have to manage these to a certain degree. 

 

Mind you, the apps do run in real-time. A YouTube video will keep on going, even if you jump out of that app and into another. This is why the messaging part of Hub is cool. I could respond to a message or email without having to jump back out of one app and forward into another. I had a YouTube video playing while responding to an email, and then went right back to watching it, and all it took was a few simple swipes.

 

The messaging story here also has a lot to do with two things: BBM and the new touch keyboard. BBM takes a lot of the original features, plus the most recent ones (voice and video calls), and adds a screen sharing option. Both users would need phones running on BlackBerry 10 to make use of the feature, and I had scant opportunity to try it out, so I can’t say how good it truly is. But BBM, as a whole, has a nifty interface and maintains the PIN system that made it so famous.

 

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The keyboard is probably one of the best features BB10 has to offer, bar none. The algorithms inside try to understand how you type and instead of auto correct (which can be so incorrect sometimes), it throws up full words on frets that separate the key rows. Flick the word up and it goes straight to the message bar. It even gives you a space for the next word automatically. This does come with a learning curve, so don’t expect to grasp it right away, but once you do, it becomes a satisfying way to compose messages and emails. It’s also pretty smart at figuring out what words to throw up for you. Plus, it reads placement of your fingers. For example, if you tend to accidentally hit Y when you’re trying to hit T, it will move an invisible keyboard underlay underneath just enough to help you correct that each time you go for that letter.

 

The cool thing about all this is that it works with three languages off the bat. I started typing a French word and it knew right away. Same with Spanish. If this grows to over a dozen languages eventually, it will undoubtedly be a huge hit for multilingual users. All that said, when compared to the touch keyboards on competing platforms, this one is the most innovative and intuitive.

 

That brings us to apps, since they’re going to be crucial to BB10’s ultimate success. BlackBerry smartly includes Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube right out of the box. Foursquare, Adode Reader and Docs To Go (for Microsoft Office docs) are also pre-loaded. Another neat feature I noticed was that the phone recognizes your SIM card and quietly downloads the account app for your carrier to your device.

 

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BlackBerry made a big deal of the support it received from developers, including from big names. Indeed, Skype, TuneIn Radio, Songza, The Score, The Weather Network, WhatsApp, NHL GameCentre, Tim Hortons and Angry Birds are all onboard. They’re just not all available right now, or at least during my review. At the time of this review, Skype, WhatsApp and NHL GameCentre still weren’t showing up on BlackBerry World. Angry Birds Star Wars was also the only game of that franchise available. There is no word yet on whether Netflix, Vevo, Shazam and some other popular ones will eventually make their way to BB10.

 

The BlackBerry World app itself still needs work. It’s nice to see apps, games, music and movies all lined up for consumption, but it’s hard to get a better sense of what you should be looking for. You have 70,000 apps to browse through but nothing is easy to find, if that makes sense. You can try going through different categories, which helps, but there is no real recommendation engine at work. Other than a “Top 10” of sorts for apps, games, music and movies, along with a featured bar above all that, there isn’t much to help you figure out what could be good. The reason this is important is because non-PlayBook users wouldn’t really recognize a lot of what’s available. Many apps are not on competing platforms, or even the previous BlackBerry, so there’s a lack of familiarity here. Some also seem overpriced, while others are hard to gauge because they have no ratings yet.

 

I don’t know for sure, but this might be one reason why BlackBerry tried to innovate with a few core apps that come as part of BlackBerry 10. Picture Editor isn’t Instagram, but it does give you a series of filters you can use for your images. Slide them up from the bottom menu and you can sample what they would look like. There are also basic photo editing tools, too. TimeShift is probably the most intriguing feature though. It lets you take multiple photos of a person or people, so you can choose the one they look the best in. Bear in mind that this is a particular shooting mode, so it’s not always active when you access the camera app unless you choose it immediately from the menu icon on the top right. That came off as a drawback to me, but I realized that it’s a feature that would mostly be used for static, posed shots where you have the time to make that move. Even so, it’s a demonstrably cool feature, and one that friends you’ve photographed would make for active participants.

 

Story Maker is another creative app that you’ll get to play with eventually, or at least after you’ve populated your Z10 with some photos, video and music. Here, you can grab any of that content you have, choose a soundtrack song, make a title and credits, and then have the app create a short montage video for you automatically from scratch. It’s an undeniably cool feature and one that at least changes how you consume and share the photos and videos you shoot. Sharing it on BBM or Facebook is easy, too.

 

Remember isn’t as sexy a feature, but it can be useful in a different way. Say you’re planning a vacation and you’re researching locations, hotels, flights and all other relevant things. Clip all the web pages, photos, documents, messages, emails or whatever and place them in a dedicated folder, so you can then access them whenever you need them. This has bigger implications for business users and students, but average consumers could also make use of this at some point or another.

 

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BlackBerry Maps is a new-look mapping app that is meant to give Z10 users direction and navigation, but it really isn’t Google Maps. You get turn-by-turn directions, spoken street names and traffic information, but not much else. You can search for an address or place by name, but the results appear to be out of date. Using it myself, I ended up finding stores that had closed over a year ago. I also couldn’t get public transportation or pedestrian routes to places I wanted to go. On the other hand, it was definitely more accurate than Apple Maps, and never led me astray.

 

Voice Control is easy to understand. Hold down the button in between the volume buttons and you can issue a voice command. Keep in mind this is definitely not a Siri competitor. The list of things you can say is fairly limited, like making a call, sending a text or BBM message, making a note or appointment, search the device or Internet, update your Facebook or LinkedIn status or send a tweet. It’s not bad, and the voice sounds eerily like Siri, but it doesn’t do as much as other voice assistants do. That might explain why BlackBerry opted not to talk much about it during the BB10 launch.

 

Some other points worth noting — Installing or deleting an app doesn’t require a restart. That might seem archaic for a non-BlackBerry user, but those who have used them all these years would love this. There is an app called “Setup” with a BlackBerry transfer section for moving data from an older device to the Z10. Web browsing is right on par with where it should be on an advanced smartphone. BlackBerry users rejoice, you no longer have to deal with substandard and ancient browsers. The BlackBerry Link software works on both PCs and Macs, except it can be a bit of a resource hog. Moving content over to the device is as easy as dragging and dropping them, so there isn’t much of a learning curve there.

 

In the midst of all this, battery life is a factor to note. It’s generally impressive at 10 hours, on average. This might vary if you keep apps open and running in the Hub, but you shouldn’t run into too many problems, unless you’re constantly using the camera and playing video.

 

And that leads to the final question that I was asked every time I showed someone the new phone. “Is the Z10 good enough to switch from an iPhone?”. There’s no easy answer to that because it really depends on what you think is important in a phone. I didn’t even mention call quality earlier, but found that it was no different from other phones on the market. If you’re an app junkie, BlackBerry 10 would be a major transition because of the reasons mentioned before.

 

Generally, the phone feels like any other smartphone, but it multitasks and handles messaging a lot differently than the others do. And the fact it bears no real resemblance to the old BlackBerry is a big plus. That said, there’s room for improvement, especially since the Z10 doesn’t leapfrog over competitors; it just stacks up against what they currently have. With a new crop of Android superphones coming in the spring, it will be interesting to see if a gap widens between them and the Z10. Still, there’s a simplicity and elegance to the Z10 that the BlackBerry brand hasn’t had before. Use it in a store for a bit and just gauge how you feel when playing with it. It might not take long for you to make a decision.

 

Future Shop is carrying the Z10 and you can get your hands on yours on February 5 for $149.99 on a three-year contract with Rogers, Bell, Telus, Fido, Virgin and SaskTel. Fido is also offering it for $349.99 on a two-year term.

 

 

SKU: 10238985

If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.


 

SKU: 10237709

If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.


 

SKU: 10219916

If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.


 

SKU: 10237708

If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.


 

SKU: 10237712

If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.


 

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If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.


 

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If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.


 

SKU: 10238988

If you thought you already know everything about BlackBerry, better think again. The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone with 4.2" display transforms the BlackBerry experience, giving you a smart, intuitive experience that adapts to your needs. The BlackBerry 10 OS features BlackBerry Flow for a seamlessly complete interface, an amazing virtual keyboard, and much more.











Comments
by Trusted Expert on ‎02-04-2013 08:35 AM

One thing to note here is that a big part of why the touchscreen versions of BB phones failed (eg. Storm and Torch) is because they tried to incorporate a touch intuitive interface in an OS that was never meant to have that kind of capability.  It was more of a workaround to try and make an outdated OS seem more modern.  The closest this came to success was on the Bold 9900, but that works only because the screen is smaller and therefore is not as much of a hog on system resources as the other one, all the while having a faster processor, more RAM, etc. 

 

BB10 has been designed with the touch interface pretty much being the focal point of the whole experience.  One can argue that the other companies have been doing this for a while already, but removing the home button and making the navigation through the OS pretty much completely through gestures takes the touch interface to a whole new level.  I can't wait to get my hands on it and give it a try.

 

JB 

by Trusted Expert on ‎02-07-2013 09:05 AM

Having used the Z10 for a few days, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the overall performance and quality of the phone.  I have to say I'm REALLY enjoying the experience.  The gestures, the typing, the speed and everything else is just awesome.  BlackBerry did it right and I am glad I waited to get this phone.  

 

That said, there are a couple of things to note that I miss about the old BlackBerry.  First and foremost is the loss of the BlackBerry Internet Service - data is no longer compressed (I've already noticed a sharp increase in my data usage, thank goodness for a 6GB plan).  Those with smaller plans should take heed, but that's something if you're using an Android or an iPhone that you've had to live with already. 

 

Email is also no longer pushed to your phone in the same way that it was on older BBs (now it depends entirely on the provider of the email and how you set up IMAP or POP notifications - not a huge change, but something different).  I noticed that even with IMAP fully enabled on Gmail, push notifications set up for the account and setting it to a manual refresh rate, there was a 10-15 delay from when an email was sent and when it was delivered to my phone.  I've set it up now to refresh every 15 minutes and that seems better and hasn't had a detrimental effect on my battery life.  All other notifications (Facebook, BBM, text message, etc) all come in immediately.  I don't use my email for work, so if there is a small delay it's not the end of the world for me.  I imagine those set up on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (that hasn't changed, as far as I know) through an Exchange Server won't have the delays that I was experiencing for work emails.

 

The Hub is great.  BB literally knocked this one out of the park.  Everything is there, from text messages to FB notifications to emails.  Better still, I no longer have to go into the FB app in order to respond to messages, comment on something, like something, etc.  If it shows up in your Hub, you can respond to it.   

 

Typing is a dream.  I remember owning an Android about a year and a half ago before switching to the Bold 9900 and I just didn't like the touchcreen keyboard experience - the keyboard seemed clunky, the autocorrect/word suggestions weren't tailoring themselves to me and I found their presence at the top of the screen (in the same size and font as the message I was writing, no less) to be distracting and I kept hitting the wrong keys because they were so small.  The Z10 keyboard has fixed all that for me.  Despite not being a physical keyboard, the experience feels like a BlackBerry through and through.  The word suggestions that float on the frets are big enough that they are easy to flick with my thumb, but at the same time small enough that they don't get in the way and are easily ignored if you aren't choosing to use them.  The gestures on the keyboard to delete words or select symbols are a really nice added touch that, once again, gives the entire experience a feel that is truly BB.

 

The browser is amazing.  I can't compare it to other premium LTE phones, as I haven't used them (like the iPhone 5 or Galaxy SIII), and I imagine the speeds are similar, but I can tell you this: it takes about 30 seconds for me to get from the 18th floor in my building to the lobby.  In that time I was able to remove the phone from its holster, unlock it, open the browser, type in the Environment Canada website to check the weather, select the city I needed, actually check the weather, close the browser and put the phone back in the holster in the time it took for the elevator to make it from Floor 18 to the lobby.  I've never experienced speed like this on a phone, so I was incredibly impressed with the quality. 

 

The other neat thing about the browser is that in a buit of a disconnect from every other browser I have ever used, the bar to type in the URL of the site you want is no longer at the top of the screen.  Much like writing a text message or BBM, the bar to type in the address is now at the bottom of the screen.  I've found that, like when I am sending a text message, this makes it easier to shift my eyes back and forth between the message and the keyboard while I am typing.  Small change, but I've found it distinctly improves the experience.

 

The battery seems like it is on par with a lot of other premium phones out there.  It's not reasonable to expect the battery performance of older BBs.  It's a more resource intensive device, with a large, vibrant screen that uses touch gestures to get around.  You're not going to get days out of it, so it's something to consider.  I can't use my phone at work, so I turn the mobile network off during the day while keeping it in its holster and the battery has no issues there, and then even after approx. 8 hours of somewhat heavy use last night (I was showing it off to my now jealous friends), the battery was still well over half.  It helped that for most of the night I wasn't in a LTE area so the radio wasn't working quite so hard.  It should be able to get you through the day, but if it doesn't, there is always the spare battery and charger available.  You should no longer have to perform battery pulls to fix issues with this new OS, though.

 

Overall, I am impressed with the phone.  This was a good move for the company.  The only hurdle I can see in their way is the stigma of the name.  BlackBerry has had a rough few years, and for some, simply the name will be enough to keep them from buying the phone.  The way I approach this phone is that you'll never have the "perfect" device.  There are things that I miss about teh old BBs, but the thing to remember here is that if everyone hangs onto their old BBs without upgrading and buying into the new BB, then the company will eventually go under and everything they love about their old BBs will disappear, forcing them to get either an Android or an iPhone to fill that, in which case they'll be losing all the same stuff (and more) that has disappeared with the BB10 OS.  Buying into BB10 will help ensure the survival of the company, allowing the things that did make it through to BB10 to carry on, giving a modern feel to the BlackBerry experience.  

 

I can't wait to play around with this some more and really get into the meat of the experience.  Well done, BlackBerry.

 

JB 

by Exalted Expert / Community Ambassador on ‎02-07-2013 09:38 AM
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