The Blackberry Z10 was supposed to be the company’s come-back phone. It’s solid and capable. There’s much to like. But not enough to revive the BlackBerry’s fortunes.
Let’s break the laws of reviewing and start with a history lesson to explain the opening paragraph.
Until Steve Jobs decloaked the first iPhone, Blackberry was the smartphone superpower. A range of qwerty-keyboard equipped handsets and its back-end messaging services meant Research in Motion, Blackberry’s former name, dominated the business mobile phone sector.
Momentum, a strong brand and those rock-solid back-end services saw BlackBerry ride out the first iPhone waves. Complacency set in. By the time Apple was on its third generation iPhone things looked bleak for BlackBerry. Apple showed you could type messages without a physical keyboard and safely send mail without heavy-duty, expensive background systems. That BlackBerry physical keyboard suddenly looked less essential.
Blackberry responds to iPhone
The Z10 is Blackberry’s late response to six years of iPhone and the rise of Android. BlackBerry learnt much from its rivals, just not enough to steal the lead it so desperately needs. Keep in mind the Blackberry Z10 isn’t priced as a premium smartphone.
At around $800 in New Zealand it belongs to the second tier. Carriers will give you one for nothing upfront it you commit to $100 a month.
Unused Z10s sell on TradeMe for less than $500. It doesn’t come out badly when compared with other phones in the same price range.
Physically the Blackberry Z10 is an iPhone-like touch-screen phone. There is also the keyboard-equipped Q10 for die-hard Blackberry fanatics.
The display is as good as any other phone I’ve seen in the price range. The phone feels good in my hands. It has a rubbery back cover which makes it comfortable and easy to grip most of the time. Unlike the more sleek models, it won’t slide out of your hand.
The Z10 is roughly the same size as an iPhone 5. You can do most phone tasks using one hand and your thumb. It weighs a fraction more than the iPhone 5 – but you don’t notice the difference in practice.
On paper the Z10’s 8 megapixel camera looks good, in practice it can’t take pictures as good as you’ll get from top of the line rivals. Pictures are often grainy. The Blackberry Z10 struggles with poor light conditions – the real test of a phone camera.
Taking pictures is easy enough and for most of the time the picture quality is acceptable, even if they lack crispness and clarity. If picture-taking is important to, spend more money and buy a Nokia 920 or an iPhone.
Blackberry’s software innovation is the Hub, this is a central point pulling together all your mail, Twitter, notifications, calendar reminders and other incoming services. Think of it as a unified inbox. It’s a good idea: perhaps the place where you can expect to spend most of your time.
A little red LED lights up when something arrives in the Hub. If you’re like me there’s a constant stream of incoming stuff. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. A tip for new players, don’t enable the Twitter feed, it will ping all day long and you’ll never do any work.
Swipe-based user interface
You control the Hub, and most other phone features with a simple set of swipe gestures. They tend to be unfamiliar at first, once you’ve tuned in, they work fine.
One thing the swipe gestures replace is the traditional hardware home button for that matter there isn’t an obvious home screen.
When you swipe the screen to open the display the phone takes you to a grid of open apps. You can easily move between them, close them and see what’s going on, but I don’t find this as good as the live tiles on the Windows Phone 8 home screen or even the messy Android home display on phones like the Galaxy S4.
Some of the gestures are good. I like being able to slide up the screen to see if there are incoming messages waiting for me. I prefer this to the Android notification bar. A simple swipe up and right will take you to the Hub from any other application.
Blackberry fans expect nothing less than the best software keyboard on a screen-only smartphone. The Z10 delivers this in spades, although it takes getting used to. The keyboard even learns your behaviour.
So is the BlackBerry Z10 for you?
You won’t like it if you’re a geek. There’s relatively small app store and the Z10 doesn’t hook directly into an ecosystem the way iPhones, Androids and Windows Phones do. There’s less scope to tinker and customise.
And you probably won’t like it if you’re mainly concerned about social media – although it does a good job notifying you of incoming tweets and Facebook messages. Nobody would describe it is a ‘fun phone’.
On the other hand if you’re more concerned with owning a business-class phone simply to get a few basic tasks done, it will appeal. It’s relatively straightforward with little to distract you from productivity. The phone will connect with your existing email service and comes with Microsoft Office compatible software. All the most important smartphone apps are there.