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

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.

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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, Reviews, BlackBerry, Smartphones

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62 comments
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  • re: It doesn't matter if a phone is faster

    I guess that's one way to justify using and iPhone or Android
    ....BB10 is looking better by the day when critics need to create lame excuses like that and its not 'quenching' enough...a desperate defense of 6 year old technology.
    pfezziwig
    • Poisoned chalice reviewing BB10

      Never thought fan berries would be as vicious and vocal as they are. Makes the fandroids and ibois seem placid in comparison........

      The single best thing BB did in the past was push email and exchange integration. Made it a must have/go to.
      Everyone else has that now, their winning hand from the past is gone.

      You can say what you want about security and multitasking, but unless it's massively better than the competition, frankly consumers won't care, and they need the consumer market if they want to flourish.
      I can multitask perfectly well on my current phone, and let's be honest, it's a phone with a 4 odd inch screen. How many apps do you actually want open at one time?
      Boothy_p
      • Actually it's the other way around.

        Reviewers are afraid to praise BlackBerry for fear of being savaged by Apple fanboys and labeled as BB lovers. And also, reviewers don't want to be piss Apple off... they remember Steve Jobs was vengeful and when he went to war against someone, he usually won.

        If you liked BlackBerry and read all the lousy, unfair, inaccurate, slanted and biased reviews about the Z10 out there maybe you'd also like to set the record straight.

        I've never owned a BB device before and bought a Z10 after I read a fair review in the The New York Times by David Pogue. He wasn't a BB fan before and he liked it very much. After using it for I while I found that most of the reviews of this device were quite unfair. One of the worst reviews was done by Jonathan S Geller at BGR. Compare his reviews of the iPhone 5 and Z10... it's quite comical how he gushes about the iPhones screen on how beautiful it is and all that, and then barely mentions the Z10's screen (which has better resolution and higher ppi). He basically says it's two years too late and is a mere copy of iPhones and Androids that can't do anything new or better than the latter.
        Stefano G
      • Tedious "review"

        It really gets tedious reading reviews and comments from people who know nothing about the phone. What is this site? Who writes this crap?

        And the comments from non-owners would be funny, if not so pathetic. Commenting on a product they never used?

        "I think that this car sucks and nothing separates it from the others. By the way, I've never owned the car...and...I haven't even taken it for a drive."

        The phone, quite simply, is like no other...and it's all because of the OS.

        The gesture UI makes EVERY OTHER PHONE clumsy and archaic. "Phantom swiping" is all you will ever do on other devices, wondering why you have to stop and look for home buttons, or back arrows. Ridiculously smooth and intuitive.

        The virtual keyboard is, bar none, the best on any device. It's not ever close. iPhone keyboard is horrid and I've tried ALL the Android keyboards (Swiftkey is the best, and this has Swiftkey engine)

        The browser. It's the best on any device. Google it.

        Balance. Nothing like it, not even close. Work/personal separate to the OS level.

        Finally, the Hub. If you say 'notification center' or 'unified inbox' you truly have no clue what you are talking about. It makes this phone, far and away, the best phone for communications....Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, texts, emails, etc.

        Want easy and perfect out of the box? iPhone. Want customization/specs/choices? Android. Want the most brutally efficient communication device in history? Blackberry 10.

        Finally, iPhone and Android HAVE to steal the Hub and Balance (among other things from this OS.) Only it will be hack code on top of OS's built to play apps. BB10 was built from the ground up with those things at its core. Mind you, if iOS and Android have to copy things from BB10...who's in the lead?
        Daniel Kinem
        • well, ignoring the anger

          Well, shouting about how people are stupid and shouldn't comment unless they've used it, is all very friendly, but no one is addressing why the consumer should move from their current high end smart phone.

          People have 5 minutes to play with it in a shop, know they can get every app they need with their current offering' don't use it for work' and are comfortable with their current "ecosystem".

          People who switch from iOS to android list clear advantages they found in the other. Sell BB10 to the average Joe looking at a new phone, without getting angry and calling them a fool who just plays angry birds........
          Boothy_p
      • multitasking just a buzz word?

        I usually have my calendar always running minimized streaming my next appts, weather constantly running, i keep the browser open as well with a few sites open and ready, phone app minimized andof course a radio app on the weekends :)

        Much less to do with the apps fitting on the screen (only need a small bit of real estate for info for each, some, like the radio, need no real estate) and much more to do wit the apps running in the background, receiving updates and showing them visually without having to open them!! so streaming calendar, weather streaming visually, etc etc. so less opening and closing and when I do need to open it is a quick swipe and i'm in there

        and for me security is the biggest thing, the thought of using an android device scares the heck out of me (41% of android devices have malware?). I keep all my emails, appointment w locations, txt, personal info on my phone so need it to be secure.

        so for me - multitasking, Flow (after using for a while now buttons seem very 1990s), security, and heat map keyboard, make this an awesome device. sorry for liking something much more than appl or android.
        db12345
  • blah blah

    BB has been really going on about their keyboard...any good?
    dr_apu
    • Yes, the keyboard is outstanding...

      Yes. The keyboard's placement of the predictive text on the next keystroke is an inspired UI improvement. I think the basic engine of prediction is SwiftKey, but there's much more to it. The keyboard learns your stroke patterns with a heat map and along with the flicking gesture, you can type like a speed demon within, maybe, a week of regular use.

      Incidentally, the reviewer kind of misses the distinction between the Z10 and other platforms. Sure, it compares and competes with the other platforms, but the reviewer is correct that it really only makes evolutionary improvements in regards to what they focus on. Instead, the Z10 strives to be a much, much better *communications* device... while the other platforms are more like app players with phones attached. It's a different paradigm; more of a phone for people who get things done, multitask, and communicate constantly. That's why BB acquired both Tungle.me and Gist. The Hub is probably a $100 million investment for BlackBerry in an always-on application that interfaces gracefully with the invoke API for constant easy sharing and messaging. Communicating on other devices involves island apps and frankly, with both iOS and Android has been an afterthought. The Z10 is a perfect phone for a Lawyer, Investment Banker, or Teenage Girl addicted to social networking and messaging. Where it starts to falter a little is as a phone for tech geeks who like to try out new apps and such. The app platform is awesome, but the BB "killer apps" haven't surfaced and some of the favorites that made their names on other platforms are still not there. It hurts not to have the Wisdom app, but let's face it, if you are a professional and not a geek, the keyboard, the Hub, the absolutely unchallenged BB10 browser, etc., etc., make up for the smaller development community and the assumption that every app worth having is worth having because it's popular on iOS or Android.
      BrandonMartin
  • Just what are you drinking?

    There are those out there who would not change from their original simple phone to a smart phone. It depends on what your needs are whether you change or not and for a vast majority who may not have discovered the qualities of the new BB 10 system and as far as your description goes you did not need to handle one to write it. I get the feeling you may have spent five minutes with it and then decided it was too much like work to actually get to know what it's qualities are and dumped it in a corner of a drawer then realised you needed to write an article to earn your pay so did a quick scan of what others had written and come up with this.
    manny.b
    • how long does a prospective customer have to play with it?

      Of course the phone is likely to welcomed by existing Blackberry users but the point is that BB lost their way for the last couple of years and some of their user base will have migrated to iPhone or Android in that time. I think he gave a fair assessment of it being a nice phone and how it improves with use - but I think what he was looking for was the "wow" feature that would make him want to trade his android for it.
      Readers want reviews quickly and even he said it was a quick review so cut the guy some slack.
      I seriously wonder about no icons - even windows phone doesn't break with that (though they are now called tiles. Personally I don't like gesture controlled features as they only really work for people who use their phones regularly enough to remember them all. I guess many of their business clients fall into that category - me - I pick up my phone only a few times a day, some days not at all.
      cymru999
      • The Hub

        I'm confused about your question. Why switch at all if you barely use your phone? What 'wow' would make you pick it up? It does the same things every other phone does. Exactly. And some it does better.

        The Hub is why I chose it. If your phone is used for communications > apps > games, there's nothing even close. Read, respond, move, delete every type of communication from every source. I have 6 email accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn, texts, etc all coming into the Hub. I can respond to them all from there without opening ANY OTHER APPS. It's just sitting there all unassuming, but its stunningly brilliant and simple. Saves me seconds per communication, hundreds of times per day. Made my life easier a moment at a time.
        Daniel Kinem
  • pretty fair

    Review from someone who's only used it for a few days. If he would give it a while (I doubt he will, he seems to be a big Android guy) I think it would grow on him
    gordongr
  • no mention of the keyboard

    Overall a fair review but you failed to mention one of the most compelling reason why the Z10 is superior over the competition. The keyboard is amazing, use it for a week and you will fall in love with it.
    HabsSuck
    • Keyboard is good but not my favorite

      The BB10 keyboard is very good but the Swiftkey keyboard I use on Android is better. The predictive text is outstanding and typing can be done either by tapping keys like BB10 or by swiping across the keys.

      The BB10 keyboard "flicking" predicted words is cool, but simply tapping the word in Swiftkey is better, IMHO.
      JamesKendrick
      • Swiftkey

        Did you have to purchase Swiftkey and install it on your android device? or is it the stock Android Keyboard? The Z10 KB is stock.
        Stefano G
        • depends on phone

          It's stock in JB 4.2.2, or a couple of dollars for earlier versions. Prob not a deal breaker.
          Boothy_p
      • heat map

        James, swiftkey is cool, I find the bb10 word flick feature more intuitive personally, but both of these features are nothing in comparison to what bb does wrt the heat map underneath the keyboard.

        If you type in the bottom left of the T key over and over, the bb virtual keyboard learns this and actually moves the T key (nothing changes visually for the user) to be centered underneath where your (my) fat thumb thinks it is. ingenious and leads to the best typing experience on

        I use the word flick when writing casually usually when only have one hand avail, but when I need to churn ot the emails, nothing compares to the bb heat map combined with auto correct imho. you really need to try it if you email or txt/message alot.
        db12345
  • My take

    I own a Z10 and I agree with the author that the phone is good, but the issue I am having with the phone is that Verizon released the phone one software release other carriers, there are some random reboots thrown in there, but the real issue here is Google.

    Google has done a fantastic job at building more than just a mobile phone OS. While on my Z10, I miss Google+, Google Currents, A Standalone Mail App, Google play where most of my music lives...

    In short, Blackberry has released a good phone with no eco-system to support its growth. Of course there arent alot of quality apps but the real tragedy is the lack of Blackberry software outside of whats loaded on the phone to make it an fully integrated solution.
    dubbsix
    • I disagree

      1. The apps loaded on the Z10 are great. For example, using the Z10 LinkedIn app is better than going to LinkedIn on my desktop web browser. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint Docs to Go is another plus. Same with the BlackBerry photo editor and StoryMaker.

      2. Just because there aren't 200,000 free flashlights, and 175,000 battery checkers, and 1,000,000 kid's games doesn't mean there aren't good apps.

      The first app I loaded was the Gadget Box... my Android/Linux geek son-in-law was very impressed.

      I also have Apollo (Pandora client), Fresh Strings, Shopping List, and Instrument Tuner... so far.

      What app do I need that BlackBerry doesn't have?
      bb_apptix
      • yes it is business oriented

        which is what I don't like about Blackberry - my phone is a tool for social engagement, relaxation and fun - I would only use it for work if they paid for my contract, and they don't. As for kids games then my grandson would be very disappointed if it didn't have talking dogs and the like! Whats wrong with flashlight that you diss it.
        cymru999