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

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.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on
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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