The BlackBerry name returns to the smartphone world with a big move away from anything previously seen from RIM. The BlackBerry Z10 is a large, full touchscreen handset that is markedly different to the trademark BlackBerry handset design style encompassing physical keypads and small displays.
As the first device to launch featuring the BlackBerry 10 platform, the BlackBerry Z10 is the first glimpse we’ve had of RIM’s new operating system after months of talk from those within the tech industry and the firm itself. But how will it perform, and does it have what it takes to win consumers over from iOS and Android while still appealing to the legions of BlackBerry faithful?
- Dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor
- 4.2-inch multi-touch LCD display
- 16GB internal storage
- 8 megapixel camera
- 1080p HD video recording
- 9mm thick
- 136g weight
- BlackBerry 10 OS
- 1800mAh battery
Design and Build
The BlackBerry Z10 would be a very good device regardless of the operating system it runs. Looking not entirely unlike the iPhone 5, the handset’s front fascia is mostly taken up with the display and the lack of plastic gives it a very sophisticated look.
This is a huge move away from the BlackBerry devices of the past and the trademark form factor that included a physical QWERTY keypad and small display. Devices of this physical nature have fallen out of favour in the last few years and RIM is now looks to be moving in a new direction.
A large amount of plastic appears on the back of the handset but it is crafted into a textured finish which makes the phone very easy to grip. Sliding a fingernail under the edge of the backplate will remove it from the handset and reveal the battery, SIM and microSD card slots.
There’s a real feeling of quality to the way in which the Z10 is put together, another radical departure from some earlier BlackBerry devices which felt fragile and badly built. At 136g, the new smartphone isn’t particularly heavy for a high-end handset and the way in which the device sits in the hand makes it easy to use, whether with one hand or two.
In terms of overall size and shape the Z10 finds the middle-ground between the smaller iPhone range and large flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S III and Sony Xperia Z. RIM’s device is smaller than the S III but easy to hold and big enough to offer plenty of room for the impressive display.
Under that large glass panel is a 4.2-inch RGB Stripe LCD display, offering a great visual platform that is both crisp and bright but very easy on the eye. Images appear clearly and have real depth and definition and we found that the overall effect is not tiring to look at all. RIM has created one of the most impressive displays we’ve seen of late.
Under the Hood
Inside is a dual-core, 1.5GHz processor and 2GB of RAM, with RIM steering clear of equipping its new device with the kind of quad-core processors that have become common on flagship smartphones. This could be a wise move since there has been doubt cast on whether multi-core phones make efficient use of the processing power that they have, with many suggesting they simply waste battery life.
Whichever it may be, the Z10 has no problems running its software and performing online functions. In fact, the handset is one of the smoothest we’ve seen in terms of how it operates - there’s a level of fluidity akin to that seen on high-end Windows Phone devices.
Also included is 16GB of internal storage, comparable to the smallest version of handsets such as the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III but still more than enough for a sizeable number of apps and plenty of music and media music to be stored on the device.
While many of the Z10’s specs are in line with other high-end handsets, the device’s battery life is way out in front. Although RIM’s 2013 flagship device can’t match the Motorola RAZR Maxx in terms of longevity, it runs for longer than many other leading smartphones.
From a full charge we tried the handset for several hours of heavy use; downloading apps, browsing online and making video calls over Wi-Fi. The battery lasted more than a day under such use and is amongst the most impressive battery performances we’ve ever seen.
Operating System and User Interface
From the moment of unlocking the Z10 it’s clear that something new is going on. There’s no need to even press the unlock button mounted on top of the handset and an upwards swipe on the display sees the lockscreen fading away gently.
The new OS works on a gesture based interface which sees apps and functions being selected by swiping left and right across the display.
Initially you’re taken to an app menu reminiscent of iOS, with icons laid out in a simple grid format. RIM has said that it is moving away from the idea of having a homescreen with its new OS, the focus being on multitasking and a constant flow that doesn’t revolve around skipping back to a starting point each time you want to do something new.
However, as apps are opened they appear in a grid on a separate multitasking screen and it is this that we found ourselves constantly returning to when using the device. When in any app an upwards swipe from the lower edge of the display acts in the same way that a home button on an iOS or Android handset does, but takes you back to this multitasking screen. When thinking about how to move around the user interface from one app or feature to another, we noticed that the first thing we did was swipe upwards and skip back to the multitasking screen.
Using the device, you really get a feeling that everything is going on at once, more so than with any other smartphone. Switching between apps is so fluid and fast that it appears seamless, as if you are just moving within one app rather than between several.
There is a learning curve with the device in that it takes some time to master every gesture employed, but once this is done navigating around the UI feels very natural and requires little thought.
One of the best examples of this feeling of flow is the way in which notifications are accessed. Swiping to the right from the left edge of the display brings up the BlackBerry Hub, where texts, calls, BBM messages and notifications from social networks are kept, along with calendar entries and reminders.
Different sources can be switched between easily, with the Hub showing tweets one minute and Facebook posts the next. The screens that it brings up can then be slid back and hidden away behind apps, ready to be accessed quickly as required.
Another RIM innovation that comes into play in the Hub is BlackBerry Balance. This feature allows you to create different profiles on the device for work and personal things. For instance, if you have both your work and your own email accounts synced and switch Balance on, it won’t show notifications from the work account.
This gives a degree of security to the device and any information stored upon it and could also be useful if you don’t won’t to be troubled by work out of hours.
Moving on to input and whilst RIM may have moved away from its trademark physical keypads that doesn’t mean it has ignored the importance of typing. The Z10’s keypad features two excellent innovations in this respect; the way it adapts to the user’s method of typing, and the innovative take on predictive text.
Firstly, the handset can recalibrate itself to suit how you type; if you constantly tap one key slightly off-centre it will learn this and adjust the way it reads your finger taps so that you don’t make mistakes.
Secondly, a new form of predictive text brings suggested words up above letters on the keypad as you are typing. Selecting one of these words involves simply swiping upwards to see it added to the message. This method of typing takes some getting used to, but once you do it can greatly reduce the time it takes to type a message.
RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger has been expanded with the Z10 and video calling has now been introduced, along with another innovative feature called Screen Share.
When connected over video calling, the display of one device can be broadcast to another. For example, one user can open up a photo album and flick through it and the other connected user will be able to see each of the images. Audio calling continues during screen share, allowing you to talk to the other user whilst showing whatever is onscreen.
The quality of the visuals can vary depending on the connection being used, with slow networks offering poorer results, but the feature is innovative and could well have its uses.
RIM is also addressing a problem which has dogged its customers for some time – the availability of apps for its platform. In the past, BlackBerry users have faced high prices and limited choice in their app store but the manufacturer has been working alongside developers to bring a whole host of new software to the Z10.
Camera and Video
As well as doing several things to satisfy its long-standing core of business users, RIM has brought innovations to other parts of the Z10.
The 8 megapixel camera is capable of high-quality images and although they can be a little dark in places they are crisp and show colours well.
The Time Shift function is a very interesting addition too. Should you take a picture of a group of people to find that one of them blinked at the wrong moment, you can wind the image back a few milliseconds to a point when they had their eyes open, creating the perfect photo.
High quality video can also be captured at 1080p and it proves to be smooth with depth to the footage. While RIM’s main focus with the Z10 does not seem to be on image capture, it’s good to see that the firm is well aware that some BlackBerry devices have had weak cameras in the past.
Connectivity and Multimedia
The Z10 features LTE technology so that it can connect to the UK’s new 4G networks, something which will greatly increase the speed at which it can operate online and improve the quality of the Screen Share feature.
HDMI and miniUSB ports are also onboard allowing the Z10 to be connected to external devices such as computers and televisions. NFC is included, giving users access to contactless payments should their use become more widespread.
Performance and Verdict
RIM’s BlackBerry relaunch has been seen as a make or break moment for the company after it saw its market share fall over the last few years. To fight back, the firm has created a great handset with a brilliant operating system that should satisfy its core of business users whilst bringing in features such as Time Shift that may appeal to a wider audience.
As we mentioned at the start, if the Z10 was running any other platform it would be a very good handset, featuring as it does a stylish design and fluid performance. As it stands, when the device is coupled with BlackBerry 10 it makes an excellent pairing, with the smooth interface and innovative, gesture-based multitasking functionality of the platform working alongside the device’s hardware to deliver a fantastic smartphone experience.
The Z10 is an attractive and sophisticated handset with an operating system that is a pleasure to use and while it is markedly different to what may be familiar to BlackBerry users, the changes have resulted in a fantastic, high-spec and user-friendly smartphone.