BlackBerry Z30 hands-on: Rock solid smartphone, but others still offer more

BlackBerry Z30 hands-on: Rock solid smartphone, but others still offer more

Summary: There are some good deals on BlackBerry 10 hardware and I couldn't resist giving the Z30 a test. It may be a short-term test though as I still find Android and Windows Phone to be better.

BlackBerry Z30 hands-on: Rock solid smartphone, but others still offer more
(Image: BlackBerry)

It has been several months since I last wrote about and used a BlackBerry 10 device, but with some recent sales and latest software update my curiousity was piqued enough to pick up a black BlackBerry Z30 for $375.

I really like the hardware and the BlackBerry Hub is tough to beat, but I am not sure I can justify holding onto the Z30 until the 10.3 software update is released. Android meets all my needs and since my small firm doesn't have a BES I am not seeing any real advantage to using a BB10 device.

First impressions

I have always been pleased with BlackBerry hardware and from everything I read the Z30 was a nice piece of kit. When my package arrived and I opened up the box, my first thought was that this was a high quality device with a good fit in my hand for a five inch phone.

ZDNet's Steve Ranger posted a review of the Z30 back in October and liked the carbon fiber back as well. The Z30 has a 5-inch display that doesn't seem too large although it does have some heft to it and is thicker than my Samsung Galaxy S5. There is something about the way the glass extends all the way to the edge and curves around the corners that makes it tough for me to set down.

The Super AMOLED screen has a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels and a ppi of 295. The high-end devices today have 1080p displays, but this display still looks good. The app and folder shortcut fonts are quite small and show where the 720p resolution is challenged for great viewing.

The BlackBerry Z30 was announced in September 2013 and hit Verizon stores in November. The model I purchased (STA100-5) is the GSM SIM-unlocked model available directly from BlackBerry that works on T-Mobile, AT&T, and other GSM carriers in the US.

Why even consider a BlackBerry Z30?

For those who use their smartphone primarily for communications, it is tough to beat what BlackBerry offers in the BlackBerry Hub. They improved it in OS version 10.2 with the Priority Hub and I find my communications are quite efficiently managed thanks to the BlackBerry Hub.

BlackBerry also implemented a new antenna technology that tunes your reception to give you better connectivity in low signal areas. Their Paratek Antenna has kept me connected everywhere I have gone over the last several days and I am seeing 4G LTE more on the Z30 than almost every other device I have been testing recently.

Can it replace my Android device?

My Android devices are the only ones I have that can connect to my wearable devices. While BB10 can run Android apps, connecting to these devices is not supported. iOS devices do as well, but I don't currently have an iPhone in my collection.

It is quite easy to run Android apps on BlackBerry 10 today, but there are still a few apps that don't run and you can't get Google services apps to easily run yet. The apps don't always run as fast and smoothly as they do on Android devices, so while Android apps run the experience seems a bit compromised.

I do like the media experience on Android and don't find the Z30 to have media as a strength. This is especially true when you look at the music store that is soon going away and the limited media ecosystem for BlackBerry 10.

Can it replace my Windows Phone device?

Windows Phone is similar to BlackBerry 10 in that it also offers a powerful communications experience. I like the Metro UI, love the Lumia cameras, and there are only a couple of apps I can't find that I use daily on Android. Windows Phone has the same wearable device connection challenges, but the 8.1 update provides BLE support so that may change soon.

Windows Phone is a fluid experience and even with lower end specifications everything seems to fly on this mobile platform. As much as I enjoy Windows Phone, if I had to choose just a single device it would likely not be Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10.

Closing first thoughts

I have been quite happy with my Nokia Lumia 1520 and Samsung Galaxy S5 and really do not need the BlackBerry Z30. However, the Z30 reminds me a bit of a Windows computer where you can run the core OS while also enjoying the benefits of a second operating system. BlackBerry 10.3 will support the latest Android platform and offer many more improvements.

I honestly didn't think I would ever consider another BlackBerry 10 devices and was sure this would be the last year of BlackBerry as we know it today. Recent financial results show they may be turning things around a bit and with devices like the Z30 I think they may continue to fight for a while.

The BlackBerry Passport looks odd, but I will have to test it out before passing judgement on it as a viable device. I may be putting this Z30 up on Swappa soon as I save up funds for a likely Apple iPhone 6.

Do you have any compelling reasons I should keep the Z30 and continue to test it out? Is there more to the Z30 that I haven't yet discovered?

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Topics: Mobility, BlackBerry, Smartphones

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  • Phone calls?

    Yes, Windows Phone and Android have way more bells and whistles.

    My company uses Blackberry just because they are a great "phone". Remember phones calls and conference calls? I have always found the call quality and speakerphone to be excellent with blackberry. Nokia call quality is very good too. Would be interesting to compare.
    Sean Foley
  • I have a Z10

    and I love the way the OS works. I think a gesture based OS makes sense since all phones these days are simply glass slabs. I run some android apps on the phone(amazon app store), but they tend to be slow and some what buggy. The audible apps run well though, the Yahoo sports app, not so much.
  • Consumer Option

    I have to agree without the benefit of BES 10 to take advantage of the business perks it is not as powerful option compared to fuller ecosystem of Android and Apple.

    That said as noted - BB10 remains a communication powerhouse. If you have a lot email, and social networking you can plow through it quickly and efficiently without the in and out work of the other mobile OS.

    While BlackBerry doesn't have the depth of media the other platforms have - I enjoy the wide range and ease of using media on BB10. Drag and drop via a simple USB connection. BB10 also has a nice video codec support and with the mini HDMI it's easy to play movies on any HDMI capable display.

    Blackberry does have some Apps that are exclusive to them which are quite fun to use. Blackberry Travel, Blackberry Express and Story Maker. Looking forward to 10.3 which improves things more and with the Amazon store built in should be a better consumer option.
    • Fully agree, centralized communications is excellent

      The ability to manage all my comms in one place in the BB Hub is excellent and one major reason I am considering keeping the Z30, especially at the $375 price point. That is an excellent value, IMHO.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
    • Don't forget

      As well as having great exclusive apps, and a great app world, BB 10.2 also has access to Android and Amazon app stores. That's a very full ecosystem.
  • The others also offer less

    less security. Poorer integration with email servers. And for those of us who still like our physical keyboards, BlackBerry is the only one who still takes that form factor seriously.
    • Even the virtual keyboard is amazing

      The Z30 has the best virtual keyboard I have ever used. I was a qwerty diehard until I tried a Z30.
  • Z30 work Device

    The reason I have come to rely on the Z30 for work is 1/the hub is a well designed utility 2/ HDMI/Miracast is very useful for giving Biz presentations (or throwing your work up on the big screen) 3/ The battery life is the best I have had with a smart phone 4/ not for Americans I suppose but BBM messaging video and voice calling is superior 5/ The Calender works with my Outlook and Sage systems seamlessly 6/ I can screen share confidential docs without having to email them 7/ The 4G browser is really quick 8/ The predictive flick keyboard works really well 9/ the call clarity and reception is really good 10/ I can use iTunes or Windows media to store and sync my music collection (I use WMP) 11/ I can use a standard USB drive to carry docs securely and access them as I need. 12/I can remotely connect to folders on my computer from anywhere in the world 13/ I don't need to use apps for sharing or other simple tasks...I could go on for a while but no matter what positive thing is said about BlackBerry ten people will jump up and down shouting BlackBerry is dead and old fashioned. Having tested iPhones and some really nice Android phones BlackBerry is to us the most advanced work device available
    • great comment Frank -ok

      Integrated File 3rd party buggy app to worry about. My buddy on a HTC hates to update his file manager app because of surprises eg. files getting refiled into other folders etc..... how efficient the Z30 shares and how the apps integrate in the Storymaker and BlackBerry Express, Hub Attachment etc....yes the battery on the Z30 is awesome with periodic charging like in my car and my stand by battery bundle, I never never never worry about the battery !
  • The HUB is why I use BB10

    I use my phone for communications 90% of the time. There is NOTHING better than BB10 for that. The integrated inbox means I can reply to all social media, email, texts, messages, BBMs etc in one place. It's amazing to me that no one else has this feature. Android drives me crazy just with their email apps. I have Netflix, Instagram and a few other Android apps working fine, not missing anything I can even think of.

    No it's not a perfect phone but if you communicate all day and need a battery that lasts the day the Z30 is a great choice IMO.
  • Remote access to files thru the cellular network, wifi...

    Not exclusive to the Z30 I know, but an excellent feature.
  • Review is Lacking

    Matthew Miller, how can you review a BB Z30 and not mention it's incredible battery capacity?

    Up to 25 hours in typical mixed usage scenarios.

    >23 hours talk time.
    >10 hours video playback.
    >7.5 hours web browsing.

    No other phone beats Z30 in all three types of use.