BlackBerry Z10 – the moment of truth

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Described before launch as a make-or-break device for the struggling manufacturer, the new Z10 touchscreen handset, powered by BB10, is a decent enough piece of kit, but it is marred by some strange interface decisions

There can be no understating how important the Z10 is to BlackBerry’s future – this is its ‘all in’ moment. Every resource the company has available has been thrown at this project, which is now launching nearly two years late.

But will anyone buy a smartphone on a brand-new, unproven operating system, with a limited app selection and empty marketplace?

Firstly, BlackBerry has hailed the Z10 and the new operating system launched with it, BlackBerry 10, as game changers – a differentiation it is pushing to draw users back from the rival Google Android and Apple ecosystems.

Tasty hardware

From a hardware point of view, the Z10 is pretty decent – the screen has a higher resolution than an iPhone 5 (it is a lovely screen for viewing photos and movies on – even BB10’s menus look classy) – and it is a full touchscreen model (the Q10 keyboard model will launch in a few months).

Its other specs are all marketcompetitive – more than enough to run any high-powered apps and games. Its 8MP camera is as good as most other A-grade smartphones, if unexceptional.

The body of the phone is very nice to hold, not too heavy and with a nice and grippy matte texture on the back. Its button placement is sensible enough, excluding the aforementioned absence of a home button. Its design feels very much like the iPhone 5, minus the brush metal finish. As an added bonus, the Z10 has a detachable back and removable battery, as well as an SD card slot for expanding storage.

The Z10 only comes in a 16GB option, and its battery life is poorer than an iPhone 5. The Z10 will require daily charging – it discharges quite heavily even then, presumably as a result of constant BlackBerry Hub updates. Serious corporate users will probably want to buy a few spare batteries or a travel charger.

Counter-intuitive user interface

As a pick-up-and-play smartphone, BlackBerry 10’s OS is a bit hit and miss.

The firm has been boasting that it has got rid of the ‘home’ button – as if that’s some kind of advantage. It’s not – BB10’s swiping up from the bottom of the screen (starting with your finger offscreen on the bezel) is not intuitive and natural – in fact it requires a tutorial.

Once you get past the initial frustrations of the UI, most Android and Apple users won’t have too many problems getting around the OS.

Swiping between the widgets page, BlackBerry Hub and the apps grid is pretty seamless – and the peek feature looks pretty nifty. Browsing the internet was nice and quick (the Z10 was tested on EE 4G), and the (limited) game offerings all ran without a hitch.

So while BlackBerry 10 is a pretty looking operating system, many of the new features (which BlackBerry unveiled as much as 12-18 months ago) have all been ripped off by the competition – BlackBerry’s endless delays to the Z10’s production have effectively dated its OS from day one.

Transferring your old BlackBerry account details, contacts and other content from a BlackBerry 7 phone (such as the BlackBerry Bold) to BB10 is an absolute nightmare. It involves downloading lots of software to your PC, carefully backing it up and using BlackBerry Link software – and it really does not like some of those old apps. Two What Mobile staff members spent the best part of three hours attempting to do it – so the best bet would be to do a clean install from scratch, as painful as it sounds.

No great incentive to switch

In terms of hardware, the BlackBerry Z10 is a nice enough piece of kit, but ultimately it is unexceptional – it doesn’t differentiate itself from the opposition that much. The lack of a home button is a poor design decision as well. From a software and apps point of view, there is little incentive for users to change from Apple or Android – everything you can do on BB10 you can do elsewhere.

Verdict

The Z10 feels like a lost opportunity. If it had been released on time (circa 2011), it might have had something new to present smartphone buyers – as it stands, it does little to stand out and demand you open your wallet.

 

+ BlackBerry 10 OS looks very sexy

+ Replaceable battery

+ Lovely screen

– Lack of unique features

– Lack of home button is daft

– Makes the interface counter-intuitive

– Battery life is poor to average

 

Performance: *****

Features: ***

Usability: ***

Design: ****

Overall: ***

Allan Swann,
Editor, What Mobile

This review is courtesy of What Mobile, the UK’s top monthly phone and tablet guide. See www.whatmobile.net for more information.

 

 

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