From the first moment I was introduced to BlackBerry OS 10 at BlackBerry World 2012 in Orlando, I knew that there was something to it. The way BB10 just shed all preconceived notions about the previous “dated” BB7 OS was astounding. Fast forward to BlackBerry Jam Americas in San Jose – Still no news on the devices that will be showing the OS to the rest of the world. All we got were boxy Dev Alpha and Dev B units and teasers to how it may or may not look like. It was only on my flight back at the San Jose airport that I saw the news that Crackberry released about the leaked Z10 (Then the L series) and I knew that this would be BlackBerry’s glimmer in a sky of ominous looking stormclouds.
Some people may say that the Z10’s fight for relevance is BlackBerry desperately trying to toss everything off the lifeboat, whilst simultaneously blowing on their whistles and shooting every flare they have in hopes of keeping afloat and getting rescued. While I think that there is a little bit of truth to that, I don’t believe we have seen all of what BlackBerry has to offer. Question is, with the Z10, should they have gone all in, or is it a simple case of “too little, too late?”.
Review continues after the jump
First Impressions And Exterior
When it comes to a BlackBerry handset (especially the top of the range ones), a cheap feel has never been that much of a problem. Even the curves felt like they were purposefully made and won’t fall apart. The new generation is no different. The Z10 may not be the thinnest smartphone around, nor is it the most premium feeling, but as with the Playbook, it is quite an object to behold. BlackBerry has never been known for it’s full touchscreen handsets but the Z10 is definitely going to change that. The Z10 takes the boxy styling of the Playbook, reduces it down to a very perfect 4.2inch size (perfect for my hands) and rounds out those edges, giving a remarkably sexy looking end design.
The rear of the Z10 has a textured finish and while it’s made of a thin-ish piece of plastic, the matte and textured finish makes it feel less cheap than some of the phones from a Korean manufacturer. The rear peels off pretty easily, but not overly so that you’re worried about the Z10 spilling its guts at every little knock. Pop open the back and the Z10 reveals the curiously thin 1,800mAh battery, SIM and MicroSD slot.
Around the Z10, the power button is dead centre on the top of the device offering just enough resistance to act against most accidental presses. Beside it, the headphone jack as per most phones these days. On the right of the phone is the volume rocker with a centre button which controls the Voice function. Perhaps the most curious design decision that I feel BlackBerry has made is the addition of the micro HDMI and micro USB on the left side. Personally, I feel that the ports stick out like a sore thumb and were better off being on the bottom of the device.
Overall, the Z10 has a very safe design. At a glance, you may actually mistake the Z10 for a different handset if you notice it at all. Don’t get me wrong, this may not be a bad thing. I believe that the BlackBerry Z10 is one of those understated handsets that doesn’t need to stand out in terms of design to actually deliver on its purpose, actually being a usable smartphone. I’m not going to lie, the Z10 is a heavier device than I’m used to in my pocket and hand, but over the course of use I didn’t feel it was a huge hindrance in any way, shape or form.
BlackBerry 10: Taking BlackBerry right up to the playing field
Let’s be honest here, no one is getting the Z10 for the amazing design of the device but rather for what it has to offer in terms of the huge step up that is BB10. When I say BlackBerry has done an incredible job with BB10, be assured that it’s no exaggeration. Right from the start, it will be a little bit of a learning curve to get fully used to the idea of the BB10 environment. Similar in concept to some elements of the Nokia N9 mixed in with the tablet that had so much going for it, the Playbook, the BB10 environment is a whole new ballgame. Thankfully, to get you started when you first boot up the phone there is an un-skippable tutorial on the basic swiping features of the phone that teaches you everything you need to know to get you started.
To borrow from the guys over at soyacincau.com during the unveiling event, “The Z10 has completely done away with the need for a home button, or any button for that matter. You want innovation, that’s innovation”. If you’ve never really used a BB10 device, there are only 4 places you can be in the OS; You can be in the Hub with all your messages, in an application, in the app drawer or with all of your open programs in the homescreen of sorts. The homescreen shows a 2×2 grid of what is open at the moment which actually changes based on what is going on in the specific apps. If you have a conversation open in BBM, it will actually show the person who you are talking with or the latest notification. You can easily bring up and close whatever is open and I think this is multitasking done right. Windows Phone did it very elegantly but I think BB10 has excelled in displaying open apps. Perhaps the option to change the dimensions of the tiles would be good too.
The other important aspect is the BlackBerry Hub. Being a unified inbox of sorts, whenever anything comes in, you can make a right swiping motion to “peek” at what notifications have come in. Open up to the hub and it’s a smorgasbord of information from all your email accounts, social media accounts as well as your message notifications. Think about it as a one stop shop to what is going on with your handset. While good in theory, I believe that the hub is really lacking as compared to “notification centres” from both android and iOS. For the life of me, I couldn’t find a way to “clear all” in the hub and had a terrible time going through every single one of the notifications until I had a clean slate. Eventually this got too much and I just left it.
Now one of the features touted by BlackBerry was the new keyboard which featured a multiple language support, swipe up to autocomplete system. I have to say it was not my favourite keyboard to type on, but then again I am a one finger typer. Once I adjusted to typing with 2 thumbs, it got a whole lot better. The intuitive swipe up at the point in which you press was very quick to get used to and as time went on, it learned my typing style quite accurately.
Overall BB10 is still a young ecosystem with a HUGE amount of potential. Is it there yet? No, most definitely not but that being said, it is on its way. Most of the apps I use are available on BlackBerry (either side loaded or native), but with the developer community as keen as the BB one, It’s only a matter of time before it gets the quality apps everyone is waiting for. Let’s not forget that Android apps can also be converted to BB10 apps in a very quick and easy way.
Usability wise the unit that we had on hand was the Z10 LTE version from Singapore and to be honest, the battery life was far from perfect. Even after the update that was meant to fix the issue, we still couldn’t get a proper full days (or even 3/4 the day) on one charge. Even at rest, the phone would drain crazy amounts of battery. I heard that this was a problem with mainly the LTE versions of the device and that the GSM one had their problem fixed. At least the small battery can be swapped out with a spare.
Snapping photos with the Z10 was nothing outstanding. The camera performed reasonably well and the time shift feature is now less of a WOW because a lot of the competitors have implemented in their own ways, some even more elegant than the BlackBerry. No complaints with the camera as it was definitely a step up from even the highest end Series 7 device.
BlackBerry have definitely delivered one heck of an operating system with BB10. Personally I feel it is still a little rough around the edges but BB10 represents a fighting chance for BlackBerry to jump up to parity with the other manufacturers and hold its own in a fist fight. There are a lot of interesting elements of BB10 that I wish were present in my iPhone or even an Android phone so I say watch this space, BB10 can only get better. How good? Only BlackBerry can tell you.
As for the Z10, I think its the perfect phone for someone coming from a smartphone who wants to try out the BB10 OS as their first BlackBerry. The Z10 lacks the physical Keyboard that most BB Fanatics will be clamouring for. As a phone, it is a good device, but then again if I had to give a recommendation, I’d say get the Q10. No matter how good the Z10 is, the Keyboard is pretty instrumental in the whole experience. I would say the battery life on the LTE Z10 leaves a lot to be desired. In summary, get it if you are not fussed about the keyboard and want to try an exciting operating system with loads of potential to grow.
The BlackBerry Z10 Is Available from your major telcos at various price plans. Check out Lowyat.NET periodically for updates!