BlackBerry Z30 review: A polished business phablet, lacking a lighter side

BlackBerry Z30 review: A polished business phablet, lacking a lighter side

Summary: BlackBerry's new flagship smartphone is a sturdy 5-inch phablet with good battery life and some elegant tweaks, but it's a little bit too sensible for its own good.

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The Z30 arrives at a very difficult time for BlackBerry, but it's a polished handset, combining good build quality with some elegant software tweaks aimed at the busy executive.

Hardware

The Z30 is the fourth BlackBerry 10 device, following the Z10, Q10 and Q5. Considering that the last handset the company released was the anonymous, plastic-clad Q5, the Z30 is an immediate return to quality — as befits BlackBerry's new flagship.

bb-z30-fb
BlackBerry's Z30 measures 72mm wide by 140.7mm deep by 9.4mm thick, weighs 170g and has a 720-by-1,280-pixel AMOLED screen. It's powered by a dual-core Qualcomm CPU running at 1.7GHz. (Image: BlackBerry)

Whereas the plastic back of the keyboard-equipped, 3.1-inch Q5 made it quite unpleasant to hold, the Z30 is a sturdy but not-too-heavy (170g) phablet that fits nicely in the hand and feels good thanks to the woven carbon-fibre back. That said, I found it a little too large for my pocket (although others may disagree).

The Z30 packs a nicely responsive 5-inch Super AMOLED display, which at 1,280-by-720 resolution and 295ppi is crisp enough, if not top of the range (Samsung's Galaxy S4 delivers 441ppi, for example). The screen could do with being a little brighter, too. Still, the 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm MSM8960T Pro CPU with 2GB of RAM keeps everything zipping along nicely. There's 16GB of internal storage, expandable via a MicroSD card slot located under the back cover.

Connectivity is good, with support for quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, HSPA and LTE, along with dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and NFC.

The Z30 features a large 2,880mAh battery, which BlackBerry says will last for 25 hours of mixed use (or 18 hours of 3G talk and 16 days on standby), which seems a reasonable assessment in our experience. However, the positioning of the charging port on the side is one of the handset's least elegant features, and that large battery takes a lot of charging — or at least it did on the sample we tested. As well as the Micro-USB 2.0 charging/data-sync port, there's a Micro-HDMI port for video output on an external monitor or projector.

The 8-megapixel rear camera is adequate and businesslike but nothing particularly exciting (and refused to open a couple of times on the unit I road-tested). Still, this is not a handset aimed at the snap-happy crowd, even if the TimeShift feature, which allows you to remove unwanted elements from a picture, and the image-editing software are useful additions. The rear camera will record full-HD (1080p) video, while the 2-megapixel front-facing camera will do HD (720p) video.

bb-z30-2
The Z30's pixel density, at 295ppi, doesn't compare with best-in-class 5-inch-screen devices like Samsung's Galaxy S4 and Sony's Xperia Z (441ppi). (image: BlackBerry)

Software

The Z30 is the first BlackBerry handset to run the 10.2 version of the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which improves on what was already a good user experience. BlackBerry says the Z30 is aimed at a prosumer and business audience with an emphasis on productivity; it certainly feels as though it's been built with busy professionals in mind.

One key updates is the BlackBerry Priority Hub, which collects the most important messages across email, social networking and other accounts to give users quicker access to high-priority conversations. You have to do some work to teach it which are the priority messages, but it's a handy addition. Although I found the Hub occasionally slow to update with messages as well, it's still a useful tool, as is the Attachments view that makes it easy to find files.

There are several tweaks aimed at making it simpler to see and respond to messages: the lockscreen displays a summary of emails and tweets, which is a handy and mildly addictive way to keep up to date; you can also respond to a BBM message without leaving the app that's open at the time. Similarly, the BlackBerry 10 'peek', which allows you to check your messages without closing an application, is a useful addition once you've mastered the up-and-across swipe.

Elsewhere you'll find some sweet keyboard shortcuts to speed up typing as well (Docs to Go is handy enterprise-oriented addition here), while the 'reader' option in the browser strips out all the extraneous formatting and images from web pages, making them much easier to read.

Perhaps the worst thing you can say about the BlackBerry Z30 is that's it's a little lacking in fun — I felt slightly guilty watching a YouTube video on it, for example. And the BlackBerry World app store isn't going to help turn your somewhat po-faced Z30 into a party machine either, as it still lacks depth compared to the Android or iOS alternatives. Having said that, you can side-load Android apps, which should help you fill in the gaps.

Rivals and alternatives

Apple's iPhone 5s is the Z30's obvious rival in terms of flagship status, or Samsung's Galaxy S4 if you're looking for a big-screen Android handset.

Pros

  • High-quality build
  • Impressive battery life
  • Good productivity tweaks
  • Storage expansion via MicroSD card

Cons

  • Screen could be brighter
  • Fewer native apps than other platforms
  • Slow to boot
  • Bulky

Verdict

The Z30 is a polished business handset aimed at the multitasking executive, and contains lots of neat tweaks aimed at making such people as productive as possible. It's the short-back-and-sides of the phablet world — a briefcase when everyone wants a cool courier bag,  or a pair of brogues when everyone is wearing trainers. For a rectangle, it's surprisingly square. In short, it's a little too serious, and BlackBerry 10 lacks the broad app ecosystem that would give the Z30 wider appeal for use in the office and at home — which is what most buyers actually want in a smartphone. To be a real success, smartphones have to appeal to consumers as well as business users, and the Z30 doesn't really bridge that gap.

It's also impossible to review such a device without noting BlackBerry's current situation, with analysts Gartner even suggesting that enterprise customers should start looking at alternatives fast. The Z30 isn't the handset to turn the company's fortunes around, but it will certainly appeal to the (increasingly niche) business-first audience.

Price  £499.95 at Selfridges, or free for £32/month on O2

Editors' rating 8/10

Specifications

Dimensions (WxHxD)  72mm x 140.7mm x 9.4mm
Weight  170g
Dedicated buttons  volume up/mown, mute, lock (for Power On/Off)
Display  5-inch diagonal Super AMOLED, 16:9 aspect ratio, 1280 x 720 resolution, at 295ppi
Processor  dual-core 1.7 GHz Qualcomm MSM8960T Pro
Memory  2GB RAM, 16GB internal storage, MicroSD slot under back cover
Ports  Micro-USB 2.0, Micro-HDMI
Battery  2,880mAh (non-removable)
Cameras  8-megapixel (rear), 2-megapixel (front)
Network bands  quad-band LTE 3, 7, 20, 8 (1800/2600/900/800 MHz), quad-band HPSA/UMTS 1, 2, 5/6, 8 (800/850/900/1900/2100 MHz), quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
Wi-Fi  802.11 a/b/g/n, 2.4 GHz/5 GHz, 4G hotspot
Other features  dual integrated stereo speakers, microphones, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC
Sensors  accelerometer, magnetometer, proximity sensor, gyroscope, ambient light sensor

Topics: Smartphones, Reviews, BlackBerry

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Talkback

26 comments
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  • Future of BB.

    The hardware is compatible with what is seen on Nokia's handsets and i saw some hands-on videos of Z10 with very nice features, the only worry was about the very slow boot. As the hardware is basicaly the same in Z30, i imagined that this issue would be seen again.

    If BB get some cash, i think it could go quad-core and full hd. And it should do it before Nokia/Microsoft if it still wants to be around. A better hardware could even minimize the boot problem (but it must be optimized in the OS anyway).

    The main enemy of the BB enviroment are the BYOD people. People already has Android or iOS and it will push the corporation to adopt systems and solutions that uses one of this two platforms... i think a way BB could adopt to adapt and survive is going dual boot with Android.

    The Z serie is a very beautiful... with a Snapdragon 800, full hd screen, a little bit better camera and Android, i think it could compete at the same level with the big names in the consumer market AND would preserve its corporative and secure edge with BB10 inside. The user could happily change from one to another (solve the boot problem, lol), having the best of the two worlds in the same handset.

    I don't think BB10 can (or should) compete in the consumer market, there's not even time to catch up with Google Play or Apple Store... nor even Microsoft Store. I think it should focus in the corporative solutions but, to do it and still be wanted and usable outside corporations, it should come with Andoid too and be synonymous of "work / home profile".
    ernanimachadoalvarenga
  • Looks like they hit their target market dead on

    Sadly the target market may be dead. We will see If there's any corporate users left that will still buy it.

    Seriously the iPhone 5s is not a competitor to this with an inch difference in screen size, it's just not in the game at all. The 5, 5s, 5c iPhones are competitors to the Z10. Time for the bloglodytes to start calling a spade a spade and stop including devices when they are not in the class.
    greywolf7
  • Best BB by far

    This is the best phone that BB has ever put out. I would really love to play around with one but unfortunately they are not putting them in stores so the only way to use one is to buy it.

    I'm afraid this will hurt sales. I kind of want one but trying it first is a huge plus.
    It's between this, the Nexus 5 and the Xperia Z1 for me.
    ciph3ro
  • "bulky"

    Not sure how this is a con - I think people realize a phablet is a large phone.

    Z30 is an amazing device. I got to see one that was being tested by our I/T department. Beautiful phone. Apparently some departments will be deplying them in the next 2 months. Sadly, not mine.
    kooool1
  • Slow time to boot

    One of the many benefits I appreciate using BB10, I don't have to reboot. The OS is very stable. The benefits of QNX are showing.
    bruce@...
  • not fun...

    Is something a lot of enterprise managers want for employees. You know, those managers that think they are paying people to get work done and not play games or watching movies / videos.
    NoAxToGrind
    • which would be cool if it was JUST for the Enterprise.

      If my company is purchasing AND paying my monthly bill.. then it can be strictly for business. If I'm purchasing and paying for my own phone... then NO.. it can't be only about business.
      Tablazines
  • Z30 specs big upgrade from Z10, on par with competition

    BlackBerry has a good phone with the Z30, I have been on BlackBerry 10 for about half a year and love it. The build quality is a huge step up from previous Windows Phone Nokia, which was low build quality. These phones are messaging and email powerhouses, useful for small business, real estate and really, any grown up job. THE Z30 specs are on par with most Android. Faster than Z10 of 6 months ago. Camera on par with mainstream high end phones.

    BlackBerry 10 is an excellent product, likely made that much better with the Z30's large screen and faster processor. I would definitely claim BlackBerry again makes the best phones for any level of business user, and is more intuitive and easier to use than Android, with a more versatile, and secure, product range than Apple!
    HenselM
  • Where's the QWERTY keyboard?

    I am a business user and have been using Blackberry cellphones for a very long time. I want a blackberry 10 slider phone like the Torch!
    I like the larger screen of the Z30, but I still want the keyboard! I don't particularly like the Q10 because the screen size is so small. The beauty of slider phones is that you get BOTH the large screen and a real keyboard. Lots of fellow crackberry's agree with me. I just wish that RIM would listen.
    jshonka
    • the issue here is ...

      That at least 90% of all prospective smartphone buyers don't care about a keyboard.
      A keyboard either takes up valuable space which therefore is detracted from the screen size or makes it bulky like a tiny laptop.

      Both options are no options at all by todays standards. If keyboards would still be such an alluring concept BB wouldn't be in the mire.

      I'd say you better move on or stockpile a host of your fav BBs.
      EnticingHavoc
    • Someone will make an aftermarket keyboard case for it

      Maybe even a thin one that flips up over the bottom of the screen in portrait mode and folds out in landscape mode. Yes, two, two keyboards in one + it's a cover also. Wait we will also throw in a stylus and security whistle. Call now.
      greywolf7
    • Other keyboard options

      I was in the same camp as you for a long time. All my phones HAVE to have a keyboard with physical buttons! I'm used to a QWERTY keyboard, it's how I type, I know where all the buttons are. Tapping precisely on little digital buttons did not sound fun to me.

      However, enter Android with it's downloadable keyboards. Now, a keyboard is just a software input device. If you don't like the stock keyboard software, change it! I had to go thru a few different ones until I found one that was great. Some try to predict what word you'll use next, others minimize the available buttons, but I landed on Swype for it's intuitive usability. You don't have to tap individual buttons, in fact you don't even have to come close. Most of the time I'm not swiping anywhere near the right letters, that or I swipe the wrong letters for a word I don't know, and it still picks the right word. Now since I don't have to worry about individual letters and can just lazily swipe out words without much accuracy, I'd say my WPM on Swype is starting to rival actually having a physical keyboard in front of me.
      gmoney1911a3
  • Fun?

    The current line of BlackBerry 10 phones are certainly very capable business phones. As communication devices they are second to none. If you want to see the advantages they have you just need to look at the features such as the virtual keyboards on the Z10 and Z30 with its predictive text and auto correction. Its great integrated hub for all messaging, from emails to texts and social networks. On the voice side it has conference abilities that any business user will appreciate.

    But to say it's not fun?

    The app store is full of the latest movies and TV show for rent and to purchase. The game section is full of the latest mobile games that are out for all platforms. The Z30 has both Miracast and HDMI that makes it a fantastic media device. And built in stereo speakers that are probably the best sounding speakers of any smartphone out there.

    All you need to do spend some time playing with it to see how fun it can be.
    laketrout
  • Small Difference

    IMO, 5" is not a "phablet". 5" is about the standard now a decent smartphone these days (I know I am going to get hell from the iOS crowd, but I think they'll be upping to 5" with the next version too). I think phablet starts at 5.3" - 6.0". Anything bigger than that is just a tablet, hehe.
    mystikmedia
  • Good Review

    This is a surprisingly good review. One comment though. BlackBerry does something called Secure Boot. This is a requirement for almost all organizations. Basically, on startup (and shutdown), amongst a bunch of stuff, every application including the OS and the boot code are authenticated and verified via certificate and encryption key exchange. This why it is slow. Samsung Knox also uses Secure Boot (it is now starting to roll out) and the h/w on the S4 and Note 3 support it. A fair comparison is to review a Samsung phone running Knox and Secure Boot. There will be a big difference over the startup speed. Also Window 8 phone (Nokia) is supposed to run a version UEFI which supports Secure Boot (but this standard is sort of an open consortium standard and has vulnerabilities - also NSA may have been involved secretly in the standard - so they could still root important stuff and install malware if this is true).
    cruckglass
  • Is this a phone for those who do not like Android?

    I'm not familiar with the Blackberry OS. What I am familiar with is Android. I've owned several devices with that OS but am no fan of it. My carrier doesn't offer any alternative. If Blackberry's OS actually works and does what it's supposed to and my carrier decides to offer it, this might be what I'm looking for... as long as it's not too droid-like in it's operations.
    camcost@...
    • Compared to Android

      Compared to a Samsung Galaxy S4, the BlackBerry 10 touch keyboard blows away the GS4. Auto-correct, text prediction, learning your hand habits, all are much better on the BB10.

      The BB10 has incredibly fast multitasking. No hitting the home button, holding and waiting. You can change apps, peek at messages, browse the Internet, all with simple gestures using one hand.

      BlackBerry Peek lets you see all communications in one place, without exiting the app you're in.

      Heavy duty hardware. I've never seen a BlackBerry broken by dropping. A coworker dropped one off his motorcycle while cruising down the highway. The corners were scratched, but everything worked.
      bb_apptix
  • App Store?

    Are people still making this bogus argument? Do you need 4 million apps? How many battery indicators and flashlights do you need? What critical, or desired app is missing?

    Fewer Native Apps? Let's see. My BB10 came out of the box with all the normal stuff plus LinkedIn, Documents to Go, Print to go, Accuweather,Adobe reader, Box, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
    bb_apptix
    • Sideloading Android apps

      Not to mention, any and virtually all Android app gaps most people may have can be sideloaded onto the device via Google Play. I was only missing a small handful that I really wanted to have on the Z10 from BB World, and within minutes they were up and running by sideloading through Chrome.

      If you must must must have all of the latest and greatest apps and updates at all times, this is probably not the phone for you. If you have a couple of missing apps that are on Android and not on BB World, the fix is easy and quick.
      kennethlawk
  • THAT raises a suspicious eyebrow...

    This one line here:
    "BlackBerry says the Z30 is aimed at a prosumer and business audience..."

    This is the same excuse that Microsoft used for why it's failed to sell "Windows on a tablet" form factor for over 10 years (and note, continues to fail even in today's tablet-friendly world).

    In my opinion, this attitude is also a sign that Blackberry continues to misunderstand the smartphone and tablet space. The reason Blackberry even started to flounder following a VERY dominant position years back is because the smartphone paradigm shifted from "professional only" devices. The iPhone was introduced. Android devices were introduced. Both could do ALL the professional things, AND be fun.
    Blackberry immediately lost it's ability to be a status symbol when the hardware started to become a liability, save for the minority who insisted on physical hardware keyboards - Blackberry misdiagnosed those as their "core" customer base, and that customer base dissolved quickly as really great non-iPhone virtual keyboards appeared like Swype.
    And as that customer base dissolved as contracts ran out, developers vanished as well (developers want to develop for ecosystems that have the majority of people, not ones with single-digit percentages of marketshare).

    Blackberry is FAR too similar to Microsoft in the general sense that both don't understand where the mobile space has evolved to - and both are being punished by consumers who therefore don't want to buy this thing that doesn't quite resemble the devices they do want.
    By effectively declaring this a 'business only' device, it shows they are trying to appeal to that same core customer base that long ago bought an iPhone or Android devies, and they turn away the everyman who otherwise might love this devices.
    Terrible branding and marketing.

    At this point, both MS and Blackberry should hire a marketing firm to research and understand the mobile space, and allow them to not only design the marketing campaigns, but devices to fit that marketing campaign. Then they'd at least have a chance.
    geolemon