Blackberry’s Z10 is the company’s come-back phone. It’s a solid, capable device. There’s much to like, but it may not be enough to revive the company’s fortunes.
Let’s break the laws of reviewing and start with a history lesson to explain the opening paragraph.
Until Steve Jobs decloaked the first iPhone, Blackberry was the smartphone superpower. The company’s range of qwerty-keyboard equipped handsets and its back-end messaging services meant Research in Motion, Blackberry’s former name, dominated the business mobile phone sector.
Momentum, a strong brand and those rock-solid back-end services saw the company ride out the first iPhone waves, by the time Apple was on it third generation things started to look bleak. Apple showed you could type messages without a physical keyboard and safely send mail without heavy-duty systems.
Blackberry responds to iPhone
So the Z10 is Blackberry’s response to six years of the iPhone and the rise of the Androids. The company has learned much from its rivals, maybe not enough to steal the lead it so desperately needs, but enough to turn in a credible performance.
What needs to be kept in mind is the Blackberry isn’t priced as a premium smartphone. At around $800 in New Zealand it belongs to the second tier. It doesn’t come out badly when compared with other phones in the same price range.
Physically the Blackberry Z10 is an iPhone-like touch-screen phone. The company also has the keyboard-equipped Q10 for die-hard Blackberry fanatics.
The display is as good as any other phone I’ve seen. The phone feels good in my hands. It has a rubbery back cover which makes it comfortable and easy to grip most of the time. Unlike the more sleek models, it won’t slide out of your hand.
The Z10 is roughly the same size as an iPhone 5. You can do most phone tasks using one hand and your thumb. It weighs a fraction more than the iPhone 5 – but you don’t notice the difference in practice.
On paper the Z10′s 8 megapixel camera looks good, in practice it can’t take pictures as good as you’ll get from top of the line rivals. Pictures are often grainy. The Blackberry Z10 struggles with poor light conditions – the real test of a phone camera.
Taking pictures is easy enough and for most of the time the picture quality is acceptable, even if they lack crispness and clarity. If picture taking is important to, go and buy a Nokia 920 or an iPhone.
Blackberry’s software innovation is the Hub, this is a central point pulling together all your mail, Twitter, notifications, calendar reminders and other incoming services. Think of it as a unified inbox. It’s a good idea: perhaps the place where you can expect to spend most of your time.
A little red LED lights up when something arrives in the Hub. If you’re like me there’s a constant stream of incoming stuff. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. A tip for new players, don’t enable the Twitter feed, it will ping all day long and you’ll never do any work.
Swipe-based user interface
You control the Hub, and most other phone features with a simple set of swipe gestures. They tend to be unfamiliar at first, once you’ve tuned in, they work fine.
One thing the swipe gestures replace is the traditional hardware home button for that matter there isn’t an obvious home screen.
When you swipe the screen to open the display the phone takes you to a grid of open apps. You can easily move between them, close them and see what’s going on, but I don’t find this as good as the live tiles on the Windows Phone 8 home screen or even the messy Android home display on phones like the Galaxy S4.
Some of the gestures are good. I like being able to slide up the screen to see if there are incoming messages waiting for me. I prefer this to the Android notification bar. A simple swipe up and right will take you to the Hub from any other application.
Blackberry fans expect nothing less than the best software keyboard on a screen-only smartphone. The Z10 delivers this in spades, although it takes getting used to. At the launch the company said the keyboard learns your behaviour – that’s good but I haven’t seen it yet.
Content Note: This post has been enabled by Telecom NZ , but the thoughts are the blogger’s own. Find out more about Telecom Moblile Phone Picks here. Scoop TechLab is a project of Scoop Independent Media www.scoop.co.nz. It is edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.