BlackBerry Z10: Refreshing, but not thirst quenching (review)

Summary:The newest BlackBerry has good hardware and a refreshing new OS. The problem is that it's not enough.

I've been testing the BlackBerry Z10 on the Verizon network, and the new BlackBerry 10 OS is a refreshing change from the screens of icons common to most mobile platforms. The gesture-based operation is fluid, and while not immediately obvious, becomes second nature after a short while.

Lock screen
Elegant unlock — swipe up. Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

As refreshing as BB10 is compared to the competition, after using it for a few days, I've come to realize that there is nothing compelling about it to make me want to switch. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it simply fails to bring anything to the table to entice me over to BlackBerry.

Long-time BlackBerry users/fans will no doubt love BB10 and the Z10, but prospective customers will be expecting something they can't get elsewhere.

This review is not going to delve into the hardware specifications, nor performance benchmarks, there are plenty of reviews that cover that. It will instead concentrate on the one area I feel that is most important, that of the user experience provided. It doesn't matter if a phone is faster than everything out there if it's not pleasant to use.

Hardware

Back
Plastic, but feels good in the hand. Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The Z10 shows the quality of construction and simple design that has long been the hallmark of the BlackBerry line. The plastic handset construction is not the sturdiest out there, but it is well done and appealing.

The front of the phone is an elegant black rectangle that makes the display and bezel run together seamlessly. It is an understated, but attractive look for a phone, and I like it.

The front of the Z10 is buttonless, and that seems perfect for the design. It fits the operation of BB10, especially the swipe up gesture to unlock the phone. It's not by accident that the term "refreshing" constantly comes to mind when thinking about the user interface (UI).

The phone is thin and light, yet feels substantial in the hand. That's not to say it feels heavy, rather it feels like a quality phone. That's a common reaction from those I hand it to.

Software

The most dramatic change in the Z10 over the BlackBerry of old is the new OS, BlackBerry 10. The UI is designed to be completely operated by touch, usually by simple gestures. All aspects of the phone operation are accessible by swiping left or right, up or down, with the different screens existing on a virtual cylinder.

BlackBerry Hub
BlackBerry Hub. Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The left-most screen on BB10 is the BlackBerry Hub is essentially a unified inbox on steroids. In addition to putting multiple email accounts together in the hub, it also brings in social media messaging. This puts all Twitter and Facebook messages in line with email and text messages for easy access.

BlackBerry fans will like BBM in BB10, although those unfamiliar with it will not care much, as that function is served by other methods. It is incorporated into the BlackBerry Hub, which keeps all messaging together in one place.

Swiping right from the Hub takes you into the main app launcher. This is the familiar screen(s) of app icons for launching. There aren't a lot of apps that are designed specifically for BB10 yet, but the library is growing.

Once an app is run it takes over the entire display as it should. Swiping up from the bottom sends it to the background, depicted by a screen of thumbnails of all apps running in the background. Apps can be closed by tapping the little "x" in the corner of the thumbnail, or brought to the foreground by simply tapping it.

User experience

Task Manager
Task manager. Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The user experience (UX) of BB10 on the Z10 is fluid and simple, and intuitive after using it a while. It's easy to swipe in from the edge of the display to make something happen, and to move around the OS.

As nice as the hardware is on the Z10, and how refreshing BB10 is, the longer I use it the more I feel it's not compelling me to switch. It does what it does well enough but it doesn't add anything I don't already have with my current phone.

It's not bad by any means, it's just another smartphone when all is said and done. Long-time BlackBerry users/fans will no doubt love BB10 and the Z10, but prospective customers will be expecting something they can't get elsewhere. Having used BB10 for a few days, I don't see what that might be.

I would compare the new BlackBerry to a soft drink. The new drink may be very refreshing, but it doesn't quench the thirst any better than existing drinks. It tastes OK, but there's nothing to get prospective customers to give up their favorite soft drink for the new one.

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Topics: Mobility, BlackBerry, Reviews, Smartphones

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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