BlackBerry Z30 review: Likeable, unremarkable

Things aren’t going well for BlackBerry. Phones aren’t selling. Carriers and consumers have lost interest in the brand. Even the corporations who loved BlackBerry’s defences against mobile dark arts now look elsewhere for protection. All this means the BlackBerry Z30 may be the last important smartphone to roll out of the company’s factory.

Is it any good?

The BlackBerry Z30 has been my main smartphone for the past week. My goal was to see if there’s any value left in the hardware brand.

BlackBerry Z30 – the good stuff

BlackBerry launched the Z30 late last year. Physically it is an unremarkable, yet likeable slim smartphone with a big five-inch display. This format works better with the BlackBerry 10.2 operating system than the smaller display on the earlier Z10. The case feels right and the camera is decent enough for everyday use.

Build quality is far more solid than the flimsy Z10. BlackBerry has done a fine job with the call quality — not that many consider this important with the latest crop of phones.

Most smartphones struggle to deliver a long day of battery life. The BlackBerry Z30 has enough juice to get you from a breakfast meeting through to an evening reception and even past dinner time.

Software a mixed bag

Apple and Microsoft build smartphones with clever interfaces to hide complexity. Google prefers to let Android users have access to the complexity to customise their experience. BlackBerry’s 10.2 OS is minimalist almost to the point of parody — there is no home screen, your starting point is an upward swipe gesture which depending on what you do next with your finger can take you either to the BlackBerry Hub or one of your recently used screens.

Before I bury the phone, let me finish with the praise. For all its faults, the BlackBerry software does two things well. First, it does multitasking better than any other smartphone. Second, it smooths the path between running applications with something the company calls Flow.

These two features could be extremely powerful in the hands of an experienced BlackBerry user. And that’s where the problems begin: BlackBerry 10.2 is so radically different from any other phone OS, it’s hard to drive and comes with a steep, steep learning curve.

Hard to learn

How difficult is BlackBerry 10.2? The first time someone rang my phone I didn’t have a clue how to respond. I missed three calls before realising that you have to swipe up then move a button to answer — none of this is obvious. There is no such confusion with any other smartphone. Anyone can pick them up and start working without the need for a training session.

I’m not going to pretend the rest of the experience was plain sailing. Although there’s little in the technology world that’s intuitive, most devices are relatively easier to get started with. You can be productive quickly. After days with the Z30 I’m still googling how to do simple things.

That’s a pity, because BlackBerry has built an operating system that focuses on communications first. That makes the phone a great work tool. There are also features making it easy to integrate into company systems — I’m sure CIOs and other corporate technology professionals would prefer the way they can lock down information on business phones.

Not much fun

When BlackBerry demonstrated the Z10 at a swanky lunch a couple of years ago, it emphasised the phone’s fun features. If they are real, they are buried deep under the surface. This is a tool, not a toy. There are games and entertainment downloads, but compared to other smartphones, the BlackBerry App store is more like a North Korean supermarket than a glittering pleasure dome.

There’s a lot to admire in the Z30. BlackBerry has nailed button-down collar smartphone essentials like battery life, security, call quality and managing communications. Sadly admirable isn’t loveable.

What does this mean? Don’t buy a Z30 unless your company insists and pays for it; you are a keen BlackBerry loyalist or you can’t find anything to whet your whistle among the massed ranks of iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8. Frankly, if none of them please you, the Z30 and the austere BlackBerry 10 OS is unlikely to put a smile on your face either.

 

16 thoughts on “BlackBerry Z30 review: Likeable, unremarkable

  1. Well this was a waste of time… clearly you took no time learning to use the phone before you wrote this review. Just like when the iPhone first came out, it was much different than what was available… What BlackBerry introduced with BlackBerry 10 is a paradigm shift that involves peek, flow and gestures. it’s really more intuitive than anything on the market. The fact that you reviewed a Z10 before, you shouldn’t have experienced any problem with the UI. Your walk through of the interface was more wrong than right, clearly you ignored the tutorial that every user is greeted with when they first power on a BlackBerry 10 device. You swipe up to leave an app, (versus pressing a button on every other platform) , you swipe down in an app to reveal the settings… and yes there is a home screen which is populated with active frame… swiping down on the home screen brings up the quick settings. 3 simple gestures that doesn’t require a learning curve more difficult than swiping up in the iPhone to reveal the control panel, or four finger swipe between apps and 5 finger gesture on the ipad.If your are going to review a product atleast mention the things that make it stand out from the crowd. Long lasting battery life, Stereo speakers which trump any smartphone on the market including the HTC One, Paratek Antennae which prevents drop calls in low signal areas, USB OTG right out of the box, NFC and it’s capability of running 98% of all android apps. You aren’t even running the latest software update, yet you are doing a half-baked review. How about loading up BlackBerry 10.2.1.

    • Tech reviewers seriously annoy me. I cannot believe Windows Phone 8 was even mentioned here… windows phone 8 that just got a notification center… Windows phone OS that has been on the market much longer than BB10 and gaining traction much slower.

      • According to IDC BlackBerry — that’s all BlackBerry devices has a 1 percent market share. Windows Phone has 3.9 percent. I haven’t seen any figures suggesting BlackBerry is picking up speed faster than Windows Phone.

    • Yes I saw the tutorial.BlackBerry’s UI is so different from other phones – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make for a steep learning curve.

      • No man, you learn slow. I have a iphone5, and a Z30, and only need, one day to learn the BlackBerry 10. Is a great product

      • Man you are a clueless…… No point trying to educate you as you are set in your ways and lack the ability to be neutral in a review with your apple color glasses.

        Now all 6 blackberry users have replied and if you can’t take criticism on a poorly written article as you criticized blackberry maybe you should just stick reviewing iPhones

    • I agree that this is a half-baked review. Or worse…
      “I missed three calls before realising that you have to swipe up then move a button to answer — none of this is obvious.”
      Wow, I’ve never had to swipe up to answer a call, just slide (swipe) the Answer button to the left if I wanted to take the call, or to the right to send it to VM. All with pretty little icons that show what your choices are. I’ve had Nokia w/ Symbian old & new (S3, Belle), BB Curves, have used my wife’s iPhones 3, 4 & 5, uses Android phones at work, and when I reluctantly decided to replace my Nokia N8, the Z30 was the obvious choice for me. If BB survives as a handset maker or not, I’ve got a very nice piece of hardware running an advanced handset OS: beats all or nearly all other smartie phones for battery life, runs most android apps, handles multi-tasking like a desktop workstation, transitions to any new app or screen instantly… and took maybe an hour to set up and another hour learn to use.

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  6. Thanks for a great review, Bill. I rate user experiences highly.

    It’s tough being a Blackberry user these days.

    I am still waiting for a decent replacement for my Blackberry Bold (c 2008) as the keyboard rocks if you need to get a message out quickly and accurately, I have found.

    I agree neither Z10 nor Z30 cut it and seem more like lame attempts to match Apple mainly. I think many hardcore Blackberry users are looking for touch sensitive keyboards as we still tend to communicate via somewhat linear text.

    So I’m holding out for the Blackberry Q30 or Classic which apparently is due in November when.my life will be complete.

    • The big question is how long BlackBerry can go on making new phones. Hopefully the brand will get picked up by another phone maker, but there doesn’t appear to be a queue of them.

    • Lame attempts to match apple?? The Z30 is everything the iPhone is not. It’s way better hardware from every angle and the old argument was lack of apps but with BlackBerry 10 able to run over 98% of all android apps that’s no longer an issue. This was a horrible horrible review. Here are some of the technology that the Z30 has that the iPhone canNOT match.
      NFC
      Stereo Speakers
      Miracast
      Paratek Antenna
      2880mah battery,
      2gigs of RAM
      FM radio tuner
      USB OTG
      720p HD screen

      The above features are on the hardware side of things. On the software side BlackBerry has a superior Keyboard, World Class browser scoring higher marks than even desktop browsers, superior email and communication and the amazing BlackBerry Hub. If you haven’t used a product for more than a week you shouldn’t post a review. BlackBerry and iPhones should no longer be in the same sentence because iphones are lagging behind in so many ways. BlackBerry has leap frog iphones…its the popularity of Apple’s brand that’s saving them at the moment. There’s nothing the iPhone can do that the Z10/Z30 can’t do but the list I’ve written above shows just how much better BlackBerry 10 is because Apple’s flagship is incapable of any of them.

      • I think at the right price the Z30 could get more share.

        The problem is the margins are so tight if you are not in the top 3 these days.

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