For a company most people thought was dead, BlackBerry makes a fine smartphone.
The Blackberry Z10 is distinct enough to stand out from the pack. There are no deal breakers.
Blackberry’s hardware is solid. There’s a textured rubber case which feels good in the hand. The size and weight are just right and the 4.2 inch screen is big enough to read and small enough to thumb across.
Gestures control just about everything. Swipe up to light the screen. Swipe up and right to get to the BlackBerry Hub. That’s where all incoming messages and notifications collect in a single stream. Swipe right to get at the apps.
There’s no home screen. At least not in the sense you’d find on other smartphones. Instead you get a view of the recent apps. Moving between apps quickly becomes intuitive. The core apps are beautifully integrated. It’s as if the designers thought about productivity first, leaving aside all other considerations.
The BlackBerry 10 operating system has a distinct personality. If it was human, it would be the kind of hyper-organised person you’d want on your team at work, but perhaps not your first choice when looking for pals to hit town with later at night. Given a choice it would wear pinstripes and seriously consider whether this was a tie day before heading out in the morning.
And that’s the rub, despite BlackBerry’s marketing pitch, this is a serious business tool first and everything else second. This, by the way, is a good thing. As far as the basics are concerned, you’ll get more done, faster than on other phones.
A couple of negatives
Battery life is disappointing compared with other smartphones. I can get through nine hours without running into problems – any longer and there’s the danger of closing down. That’s not enough – few of us have the luxury of eight-hour work days and there’s commuting on top of that.
I also have trouble using the keyboard. This may not be a problem for you. While I’ve nailed all the other smartphones for quickly typing short text messages, I struggle to write much on the BlackBerry Z10 touch screen.
That’s odd because the predictive text does a great job of deciding what comes next. The problem is that swiping the predicted words into the text field is tricky.
Smartphone acid test
I use a simple, personal benchmark smartphone test to work out which are the best devices. This means leaving all the models I’m testing fully charged and with plenty of credit. Then, when I leave the house I pick up a phone for the job in hand without thinking too hard about which one I need: the phone I naturally select the most is usually the best one in the collection.
The Z10 didn’t do too well on this basis. That’s because the phone’s camera is relatively weak – particularly in poor light conditions. I’m a journalist, I often need to capture images in less than idea conditions. Both the Lumia 920 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 do a far better job of this. If it wasn’t for the camera, I’d spend more time with the BlackBerry.
Overall, while the BlackBerry Z10 is not the best phone I’ve seen, it’s certain one of the better ones. It feels like a grown-up phone. The software is better than any Android in all circumstances and beats all-comers on basic business productivity tasks.
If BlackBerry got this model out the door a year earlier, it would have been a world-beater. In mid-2013 it is far better than adequate, but a step behind the cutting edge. I recommend the Z10 if you need a phone mainly for work and if you’re upgrading from something old and clunky. Otherwise you may be better served elsewhere.