BlackBerry Z10 review

BlackBerry Z10 review

Summary: The Z10 is a nicely designed handset with a superb touchscreen and good specifications that include LTE and NFC support. The new BlackBerry 10 OS offers a decent user experience once you get used to it, although we'd like to see a physical home button.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.5
  • User rating:
    6.9
  • RRP:
    £450.00

Pros

  • High-resolution 4.2in. screen
  • Runs the latest BlackBerry 10 OS
  • LTE (4G) support
  • Includes NFC and a Micro-HDMI port
  • Good on-screen keyboard
  • BlackBerry Balance will appeal to corporate customers

Cons

  • App store is missing some key software
  • No support for Google calendar or contacts
  • Expensive

Research In Motion (RIM) is no more, long live BlackBerry. The company that played a key part in the rise of the smartphone is looking to a new operating system and new branding to rescue it from the doldrums in which it has lately been languishing.

BlackBerry has bet the farm on the new QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS and launched two handsets to spearhead its renaissance. The keyboard-equipped Q10 has yet to hit the market, but the touchscreen-only Z10 is available to buy in the UK now — from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3UK and Carphone Warehouse, among others.

The UK saw the first retail availability of the Z10 on 31 January, with BlackBerry's home territory Canada following on 5 February and the US having to wait until March.

Z10
The touchscreen Z10 is the first handset to showcase the new QNX-based BlackBerry 10 operating system.

Design
The BlackBerry Z10 is a minimalist handset. Its 4.2-inch, high-resolution (1,280-by-760-pixel/355ppi) screen extends to the full width of the chassis, and has very small top and bottom frames. There are no front buttons, and only a couple elsewhere: the on/off switch sits in the middle of the top edge, and there's a volume rocker with a central mute button on the right-hand side (pressing and holding the mute key also initiates voice control). As far as connectors are concerned, the headset slot is on the top, while the left-hand side carries a Micro-USB port and a Micro-HDMI port.

Z10 ports
The Z10, which comes in black or white, carries Micro-USB 2.0 and Micro-HDMI ports on the left side and a volume rocker (with central mute button) on the right side.

The Z10 measures 65.6mm wide by 130mm deep by 9mm thick and weighs 137.5g (that's 2.58in. x 5.11in. x 0.35in. and 4.85 ounces if you prefer). That makes it noticeably bigger and heavier than the 4in. iPhone 5, whose vital statistics are 58.6mm wide by 123.8mm deep by 7.6mm thick and 112g (2.31in. x 4.87in. x 0.3in. and 3.95 ounces). Like the iPhone, the Z10 is available in both black and white — the latter being the more stylish livery, in our opinion.

The thin and flimsy textured backplate lifts to reveal MicroSD and Micro-SIM slots, and the removable 1,800mAh battery (which is rated for up to 10 hours talk time and 13 days on standby).

The plastic build is generally a little disappointing — more metal would have helped the aesthetics and made for a tougher handset. Still, it feels relatively comfortable in the hand, and slips neatly into a pocket.

Camera
The Z10's main camera is a flash-equipped 8-megapixel unit that can shoot full-HD (1280p) video.

Features
The BlackBerry Z10 is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz processor supported by 2GB of RAM. That's a generous memory complement, and a feature that no doubt contributes to the phone's very smooth performance. There is 16GB of internal storage, with extra capacity available via the MicroSD card slot.

The Z10 is the first BlackBerry handset to support LTE connectivity (bands 3, 7, 8 and 20 in our review unit; other SKUs have different configurations). Tri-band HSPA+ and quad-band GPRS/EDGE are also supported. We ran our Z10 on EE's 4G (LTE) network in the UK, which uses the 1800MHz band 3.

Bluetooth (4.0 LE), Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n) and GPS are all present, along with NFC. The usual array of sensors are also included: accelerometer, compass, proximity, gyroscope and ambient light sensor.

There are two cameras: a front-facing 2-megapixel fixed-focus unit with image and video stabilisation, capable of 720p HD video; and an 8-megapixel autofocus camera capable of 1080p full-HD video. The main camera also has a flash unit, image stabilisation, a backside illuminated sensor (for enhanced low light performance), a dedicated ISP and 64MB frame buffer, and supports a clever multi-shot feature called Time Shift (of which more later).

A notable absentee from the spec sheet is an FM radio. These are by no means ubiquitous, but many handsets do offer them and we'd prefer to see one in this flagship smartphone.

BlackBerry 10 OS
The most significant thing about the BlackBerry Z10 is that it runs the new BlackBerry 10 OS, an entirely new operating system that BlackBerry hopes will revive its fortunes. The BlackBerry 10 user experience is built around three concepts — Hub, Peek and Flow — and is designed for one-handed use.

Hub
The Hub is a combined inbox for your communication and calendar apps. Different sweep and swipe gestures let you Peek at the Hub from any app, and Flow around the UI — which lacks a conventional home screen or button.

The Hub is an all-in-one inbox containing email, SMS, BBM, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, calendar notifications and more. Peek is the system for getting a quick look at the Hub: from any app, you can sweep the screen to take a Peek at the Hub, and then select any specific communications stream or simply examine a whole timeline. Tap and hold on a particular communication and a sidebar pops in from the right of the screen, with message options like reply, forward, flag or file.

The third concept is Flow. This is the name for the system used to navigate the whole operating system. Essentially you can get around using one thumb, with sweeps and swipes — including some that need to start or end above the top and bottom of the screen's glass.

Horizontal sweeps take you from the Hub to an open apps screen that you can scroll vertically, and then to the app tray with multiple screens of app icons on offer. Inevitably the gestures take some getting used to, but the system is surprisingly efficient and relatively intuitive. Our only real complaint is the lack of a physical 'home' button to take you to the open apps screen or the Hub. All that sweeping does become a little tedious.

Although this system is presented as — and indeed is — an entirely new way of working, it has BlackBerry heritage. The old scroll wheel allowed you to work through emails one-handed, and that's exactly the idea here — albeit extended to access multiple communication types as well as apps, and moved from a physical control on the side of the device to the touchscreen. It's precisely in keeping with the BlackBerry ethos — and incidentally, as it's thumb-based, we anticipate the resurrection of BlackBerry Thumb.

Keyboard
The Z10's on-screen keyboard learns from your typing style, and offers word suggestions above the next key it thinks you're going to hit.

The Z10's on-screen keyboard recalls the design of BlackBerry's familiar physical keyboards (which will live on in the forthcoming Q10 handset): wide silver strips separate rows of keys and the individual key tabs themselves mimic the old physical keys.

That's not what impresses us most though. There are two very clever things going on here. The first is invisible: BlackBerry has built a second keyboard beneath the one you can see. This learns where you hit the keys, and helps to improve accuracy over time. On my current Android handset I tend to tap the space bar a little to the right, and often hit the adjacent full stop by mistake. Presumably the BlackBerry Z10 will learn to compensate for this after a while.

The second clever thing is very visible: as you type, the Z10 guesses the word you're after, and offers suggestions above the next key you would hit. Sweeping up from that key over the suggested word selects it. I found this difficult to get used to at first, but after four days of using the Z10 it has become second nature. I don't use it when typing words of less than six letters, but it's a real time saver for longer words.

There are other neat touches. The camera's Time Shift feature shoots a number of photos in quick succession, and then lets you edit different sections (peoples' faces, for example) to get the best composite picture. This is complemented by a video-creation app called Story Maker. Elsewhere, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has been enhanced to include video calling and screen sharing, and there's a useful new app called BlackBerry Remember — a multi-featured note taker that can sync with Evernote.

BlackBerry 10 is not backwards compatible, so the company has had to start again with its app store, BlackBerry World. It has put a lot of effort into this, with much touted 'port-a-thons' to help developers support the new OS. The result is around 70,000 apps at launch, with plenty of big names mentioned at the global launch event.

However, a mention at launch is not the same as actually being in the app store. Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are all supported by BB 10 apps, but Skype — billed as 'committed' to BlackBerry — was not represented in BlackBerry World when we checked. Nor was the Kindle app, among others. If you're thinking of switching to BlackBerry, it would be a good idea to check BlackBerry World for your favourite apps first.

BlackBerry Balance
BlackBerry Balance, which is supported on the new OS, made a slow start but is seen by BlackBerry as a key feature for both business users and consumers. Businesses can configure a locked-down 'Work' area of the handset — via BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 — that users can't fiddle with, and which can be remotely wiped. Meanwhile, a completely separate 'Personal' area of the handset lets you do all the things you'd expect on an unfettered consumer device.

This is a very neat feature that should allow people to carry just one handset where previously they'd have required separate phones for work and personal use.

There are some significant drawbacks with the Z10/BB10 combo though. For example, although the Z10 can handle multiple email accounts, you can only set up one Twitter account and one Facebook account in the native app. If (like me) you need to monitor more than one of either account, then you'll need to use a third-party app — which won't give you the Hub integration. At the time of writing there was no Twitter app available that allows you to log into more than one account at a time. Moreover, the Hub only displays Twitter interactions and not the full Twitter timeline. As a way of keeping an eye on Twitter, then, the Z10 is not an ideal platform.

More importantly, perhaps, for BlackBerry's goal of retaining its consumer fanbase, while Gmail is supported, there's no facility to import Google contacts or calendar data.

Conclusion
The BlackBerry Z10 is a nicely designed, minimalist handset with a superb touchscreen and good technical specifications that include LTE and NFC support. The new BlackBerry 10 operating system delivers a satisfying user experience once you get used to it, although in our opinion it would benefit from a physical home button.

There are some important niggles. I need to monitor four different Twitter accounts, but could only set up one on the device. Also, Google calendar and contacts can't be imported — something that needs to be fixed quickly if the Z10 is to capture consumer mindshare.

Early reports suggest that the BlackBerry Z10 is selling well, although no official figures are available yet. In the long run, however, the company's chances of maintaining market share are likely to depend on how businesses respond to the new BlackBerry 10 OS ecosystem.

Specifications

General
Manufacturer's specification http://uk.blackberry.com/smartphones/blackberry-z10.html
Dimensions (W x H x D) 65.6x130x9 mm
Weight 137.5 g
OS & software
Operating system BlackBerry OS 10
Software included BlackBerry Hub, Contacts, BlackBerry Browser, BlackBerry Calendar, BBM, Text Messages, BlackBerry World, BlackBerry Remember, Docs To Go, Pictures, Music, Videos, Story Maker, Facebook1, Twitter1, LinkedIn1, Foursquare, BlackBerry Maps, Games, YouTube, Voice Control, Weather, Clock, Calculator, Compass, File Manager, Box, BlackBerry Connect for Dropbox, Print To Go, Smart Tags, Settings, Adobe Reader, Phone, Camera/Video Camera/Time Shift, Setup, Help, SIM Toolkit, Search
Synchronisation software BlackBerry Link
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.5 GHz
Processor model Qualcomm Snapdragon (dual-core)
RAM 2048 MB
Storage
Internal 16000 MB
Display
Display technology TFT touch-screen (active matrix)
Display size 4.2 in
Native resolution 1280x768 pixels
Connections
Ports Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI
Slots MicroSD
Networks
2.xG GPRS, EDGE
2G GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
3.xG HSPA+
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Short range Bluetooth 4.0
GPS technology
Accuracy enhancement system A-GPS
GPS receiver yes
Input devices
Other voice commands
Touchscreen Yes
Camera
2nd camera front
Flash Yes
Main camera rear
2nd camera resolution 2 megapixels
Main camera resolution 8 megapixels
Messaging & data
Email protocols POP3, SMTP, IMAP4
Messaging services SMS, MMS
Power
Battery type Li-ion
Removable battery Yes
Battery capacity 1800 mAh
Number of batteries 1
Standby time 312 h
Talk time 10 h
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter, stereo headset
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 450

Topics: Smartphones, Mobility, Reviews, BlackBerry

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Talkback

27 comments
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  • The OS was specifically designed to be gesture based

    8.0

    The OS was specifically designed to be gesture based and NOT use the old paradigm ("physical home button"). How can following the design Ui philosophy be a "con" in this review?
    The whole point of the redesign was to do away with the home button. The PlayBook tablet was sort of the beta test for that shift and it really was the only bright spot on the PlayBook.
    That's just not a good job of reviewing a product whose whole point is to eliminate the physical home button.
    The rest of the review was fair and well thought out.

    My 2 cents
    JOjoPe
    • The home button on the iPad is annoying

      6.0

      I agree, I get irritated by the physical home button as it's just not where it should be when using an app, and i often confuse the camera and home button in low lighting situations. It's a design fail.
      Superenigmatix
    • going home...

      7.0

      there are two ways to "go home"... there are small numbers near the bottom and a square-ish looking icon.. this is the hub.. go home.. or, if you can't get to that.. swipe up and immediately right... back to the hub.. The concept is "home" is obsolete... It is quite analogous to going to the car shop, then driving back home, then going grocery shopping, then driving back home... why not just flow from place to place as you need.... move away from home, we're all adults now.
      Charlie Bishop
  • lost on the home button reviewers are.

    Why bother trying to explain to these reviewers as they are like my grandmother lost in the past with no desire to embrace advancement. I'm moving from android as I'm curious about the gesture base operation. These clueless reviewers only know how apple and android work its the blind leading the blind. As for the ONLY 3 cons the apps will follow and I'm sure google will wake up and what did the galaxy s3 and iphone5 cost on release.
    mike070
    • I'm not as sure as you are.

      6.0

      Mike070

      You say the apps will follow, but I have been disappointed, for a long time, waiting for apps. It is not that BB World does not have a plethora of apps, but that they don't have the ones I use most. I don't play games, or listen to music. I do things like make bank deposits, check and answer emails, etc. To do some of those simple things, I have to get cracked Android apps (when they are even available.)

      RIM (now BlackBerry) did not even make their tablet compatible with BB Desktop Manager, which makes using Outlook a clumsy exercise. So - I will wait and see. I have used BB for about four years, and would like to continue, but if the apps don't develope, I will be looking at something else.
      JAG39
      • Huh?

        "I do things like make bank deposits, check and answer emails, etc. To do some of those simple things, I have to get cracked Android apps"

        If you need cracked apps to check and answer emails, you're doing it wrong.
        mike2k
      • Bank deposit app?

        Ah yes the Android Bank deposit apps "Deposit your esteemed $10,000 in this safe Nigerian offshore account."
        Observer123
      • ???

        Im guessing you havent used android for real then since all of the things you mentioned are straight forward on android phones. Email is a single touch away built into android itsself and to do banking such as transfer wire money, deposit check, take credit card paymnets send money by email addres are all basic app abilities right from your bank app. Chase hase the best but Bank of America and US bank also have that in their app.
        Fletchguy
  • google calendar and contacts

    Compelled to respond and say that caldav and carddav are both supported and, if the reviewer had a clue what it is, they would know that they are both supported by google and so google calendar and contacts ARE supported.
    Pds2208
  • My girlfriend is not impressed by her new Z10

    5.0

    -While she does like the overall look of the UI she finds it confusing. She is not a techie or anything close to that, she is just a girl who wants a good looking phone with an easy to understand UI.
    -The design looks flat compared to my HTC 8X (blue).
    -She really loves the notification center and she is kind of proud that at least her phone has one and mine don't.
    Some people might have a completely different opinion on this phone, but
    Simon Tupper
    • Yes, Users are different

      My wife says the Z10 is slick and perfect for a techie or business person, but as neither, she finds he Nokia Lumia 920 easy to use, quite nice, and she likes it a lot better than her Samsung Android.
      bb_apptix
  • Physical home button...

    Really? Android does not have a physical home button, but a soft key onthe screen. She mentioned the physical home button a few times here...sounds to me she's an iPhone user. Physical home buttons are a thing of the past. BB is marching to its own drum and metal casings have been known to be huge signal busters...I run a Galaxy Note 10.1 (love it) and a few friends have the iPad. When we get together, and if we happen to have our tablets, mine is usually boosting the better signal.
    As for the size...I get a kick when I hear reviewers calling it chunky when compared to the iPhone. It's 2mm differnece, people. Get over it. Plus the fact it has micro USB and a micro HDMI ports. Not to mention a microSD slot. In other words. The iPhone has hardly anything in it. No wonder it's so thin...
    Just my two cents...
    Cory Ducey
  • Strange review

    1.0

    I almost stopped reading after she said "physical home button". Expensive? Not to me.
    mkelley65
    • home button

      9.0

      Not sure why anyone needs this. Seems old fashioned to me.
      kooool1
      • home button

        6.0

        +1 on it being old fashioned to have home button. Did you see the newest jailbreak? They are copying the z10 gestures. :) lol
        bfach
  • BlackBerry Z10

    10.0

    The Z10 is the first BlackBerry handset to support LTE connectivity... i like it
    jessicawilson85
  • Home Button

    You'd like to see a home button... why? What's the difference between swiping and pressing a home key? Swiping is easier. Having to go to the home screen to see notifications is one of the criticims of the W8 phones.
    bb_apptix
  • love my Z10

    9.0

    I drove up to Canada to buy on Tuesday and I am not disappointed. Best virtual keyboard I have ever used, solid OS, super fast browser and the mail hub is great. Some key apps are not there yet, I hear Skype is coming as is Instagram.

    Over all - highly recommend for people who need to get stuff done. My fav app so far is USA Today.
    kooool1
    • Z10 is fantastic

      8.0

      I couldn't agree more re: the keyboard. Coming from an iPhone, the keyboard seems massive but it's not really that much bigger, but just "bigger" enough that I fly through typing. I can actually type quicker on the Z10 than my Laptop. As far as the "Home" button, after a few hours of using the Z10, I realized how quaint and "old" the home button is. The Z10 gestures are faster and make much more sense than a home button. Messaging integration is amazing ex: I see Linkedin photos of people during calls. Yes, not all the apps are there, however, because the Browser doesn't have limitations, I don't need as many apps because I just go to the Website. Don't be misled by a lot of negative comments. The Z10 is solid, fast, and we should see more and more apps as time goes on. Very impressive for a completely brand new OS and architecture.
      proud_canadian
  • Sales and company fundamentals

    I had a look at the company from financial statements and industry data that I scrounged from various places. here's where I wrote everything; if you're interested in the nuts and bolts of sales volume, margins, expenses, breakeven, etc. this should appeal to you:

    http://bbryanalysisblog.blogspot.ca/
    MattyMcFatty