Home Reviews Mobile Devices BlackBerry Z10 is a nice smartphone
BlackBerry Z10 is a nice smartphone Featured

An inveterate Windows Phone user tries living with BlackBerry’s newest and very corporate “flagship” BlackBerry Z10 handset and its totally new look and feel operating system. Does it pass muster?

My first smart phone back in 2004 was the extremely advanced (for its time) O2 XDA IIs Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC, 3.5” screen with a slide out QWERTY keyboard. I loved this phone and as I travelled a lot grew totally reliant on Pocket Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF viewer), MP3/4 player, GSM phone, email and occasional, slow Internet access. Consumer apps were not a major issue to me – good integration with my corporate Microsoft Exchange email account was. I even bought a Bluetooth keyboard so I could write long tomes in Word and email them to publishers.

When Co-Pilot GPS navigation software was released in 2005 for Windows Mobile I quickly bought a small SIRF/Bluetooth receiver and the XDA became my GPS navigation device as well as my phone and portable office.

 

 In 2010 the phone was stolen and I had a frustrating flirt with an iPhone trying to do all that I could do on the 6 year old Windows based XDA. After some weeks I gave up and bought a HTC Mozart, Windows Phone 7.5, 3.7” screen and was back in my comfort and productivity zone.

Note to Apple – I promise to flirt harder with the new iPhone (when it comes out) to see if the frustration is still there.

My review stance therefore is that of a business person who uses Office at work, Exchange email and only use free and paid apps occasionally i.e. compass, GPS, flashlight, twitter, music etc.

 Back to the BlackBerry Z10 - a typical geek alphanumeric name. I was more impressed with previous BlackBerry names like Quark, Electron, Pearl, Curve, Bold, Storm, Torch and even Porsche Design… Hint – if you want to be sexy you have to sound sexy.

 

Specifications

The Z10 is a smartphone with multi-band 4G/3G/GSM, 4.2”/1280 x 768/356 ppi Touch on Lens (not Gorilla GlassL) screen, 2/8 MP front/rear camera, Snapdragon S4/1.5GHz/dual core CPU and 2/16/64GB RAM/internal storage/micro SD slot. It has all the usual sensors like GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 4.0, light, gyro and a mini HDMI out port (great for video presentations) etc.

By comparison it has lower specs than the new Samsung S4 (closer to the S3) but higher than the Apple iPhone 5. Looks wise it’s an understated, plain, black slab of glass and plastic weighing 137.5g - more corporate rather than cool (Telstra has an exclusive white version). 


Setup

Easy. Gently prise off the back cover, insert the Telco micro SIM and removable battery (and the SD slot is there as well) and after turning on for the first time connect to a Wi-Fi network (unless you want to download the 112Mb software update over 3/4G!). Then login to BlackBerry Services and create an ID (no technical skill required) and set up MS Exchange email (only need to know the email server address) and mail, contacts etc., all downloaded in a few minutes. To finish optionally download BlackBerry link for Mac or PC to hook up via USB to your computer.

When you turn it on the lock screen requires an upwards swipe to reveal the app menu – an Apple like icon driven screen. Swipe left to see subsequent app screens (or vice versa).

BlackBerry World – be “appy” with what you got.

Installed Social media apps include Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Foursquare, Box, Dropbox and Youtube.

Productivity apps include Mail, Contacts, Browser, Calendar, Calculator, Clock, Alarm, Camera, Music player and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger for video and audio between BlackBerry phones only).

General apps include weather, GPS navigation, newsfeeds, Smart Tags and more.

 

 Apart from music and games and there are some 70,000 apps in BlackBerry World. About 20% of these are ported from Android apps, 70% are Z10 only apps and 10% are web and AIR based. If you buy a BlackBerry understand that the majority of consumer apps are developed for iOS and Android first.

I tested the GPS Maps app (Maps by Tom Tom) and it provided reasonable turn by turn navigation and some local traffic updates. It integrates with the contacts list. I would also like the addition of a “walking” mode and more customisability – there appears to be none.

 PS – Back on 23 January 2012 when new CEO Thorsten Heins took the reins he said that BlackBerry 10 would have an Android Player to run apps from that platform. I can’t find any further references.

Using the phone – BlackBerry Flow

BlackBerry 10 OS is very different from previous BlackBerry OS’s so there is a learning curve for BlackBerry users.

Gestures are simple – swipe up from the bottom bar minimises the running app. Then touch the “X” to close the app or swipe to the left side to bring the app menu screens. I found having to swipe and X rather than just close from the app a little tiresome but I can see the multi-tasking logic of the two step process. However not all apps are consistent once working inside them.

BlackBerry Hub

The hub combines all communications – phone calls, email, Facebook, twitter, SMS, MMS etc.

All are viewed as single messages in date order (or name/subject or vice versa) or conversations (similar to, but not as functional as Windows 8 “threads”). You can select what you want to see in the hub.

There are more keystrokes than Windows to delete a message – press and hold the message, press delete from the action bar, press confirm. Deletion within a message requires pressing the “three dots” to bring up an action bar and then delete and then confirm. To get back to the email screen you use the back key instead of a swipe (that brings the app screen back). Marking and moving messages is not easy. I guess I will get used to it but I think BlackBerry can do better. 

 

 


BlackBerry keyboard

The on-screen QWERTY keyboard has intelligent prompting and learns to eliminate common mistakes (although in my case it kept inserting Rat instead of Ray – bad keyboard). It suggests words that you have to flick into place – not sure it’s a time saver. I don’t think it is any better or worse than any other OS. There is also a speech to text mode that is less than perfect and seems to turn off after every phrase.

Those who want a real keyboard should wait for the imminent release of the Q10.


 

 

 

 

 

 

BlackBerry Balance – separate work from home

I was not able to try this feature but in essence when connected to a corporate network Balance allows the phone to have separate firewalled personalities for either. It is similar to other iOS, Android and Windows MDM (mobile device management) – perhaps more advanced.

It a camera too

I use a particular reference short (out my office Window) and it took daylight shots equal to the Lumia 920. The Camera’s Time shift mode (a lot of smartphones now have a similar feature) allows you to select the best shot from a bracket of shots. Indoor flash shots were not as good as I would have expected. Photos are geo-tagged and have face detection.

Video was capable of 720/1080p (rear camera) and 720p (front). Image stabilisation works well and quality is good even on a 55” TV - HDMI out is a great feature. Make sure you use an SD card as HD really chews up storage space. Using a card also makes it easier to transfer to a computer via a card reader.

There is a relatively easy to use Story Maker app that can create a widescreen video from stills and music.

Oh its a phone too

Over a period of a few days I made many calls – all where clear and none suffered drop out. But maximum volume was a little less than I was used to. Remember that this uses 4G for data and a 3G or GSM for voice so it should be fine in regional areas.

And the internet

Browsing speeds over 4G are impressive (my last phone was only 3G). The browser is HTML5 compatible and based on WebKit open source project and supports Flash. I could not find any issues with it but was surprised that it is not the more universal Chrome or Firefox given the QNX base of the OS. There is a text only mode that strips out images and tabbed browsing is supported.

The Z10 can act as a 4G hotspot – a handy feature for supporting other devices.

Music and video

Don’t expect sophisticated support here – standard MP3/WMA/WAV/eAAC+/FlAC player and DivX/XviD/MP4/WMV/H.263/H.264 players are included.

Battery life – much shorter than expected

The 1800mAH battery is alleged to have up to 10 hours talk time (3G) and 13 days standby. I got around 10 hours use (a working day) before needing a charge – not what I expected but I did have 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 going and a few too many apps open (it is easy to do if you don’t remember to “X” them closed). I think you would be very lucky to go two days between charges.

Price:

BlackBerry Z10 is around $750+ outright purchase from major retailers or from $67-130 per month on a Telstra NextG/4G plan (most Telcos offer BlackBerry plans as well).

Consider that you can buy an iPhone 5, LG Optimus G, Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung S4 (when released) or Sony Experia Z for a similar price it’s a hard choice. For me the Windows 8 Phone Lumia 820 or 920 still have the edge for corporate users or the Samsung S4 when it comes out for consumer use.

Who should buy it?

I think BlackBerry has tried to bridge the gap between a consumer and a corporate phone – “corpsumer” and as with all compromises made it half way there.

It’s a solid phone for corporate use and does enough to keep BlackBerry fans happy - from the System Administrator to the road warrior. Docs to Go has “reasonable” text/layout compatibility with Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and that is an advantage over iOS and Android offerings but it is not a substitute for Windows smartphones that ship with Microsoft Office (yes I know macros are not supported).

How is BlackBerry doing?

BlackBerry is the little fish in a great big pond and I am sincerely hoping it wont be swallowed by a bigger fish. It aims squarely at the corporate market and don’t let anyone say otherwise. It will do well if it keeps a laser like focus on retaining and growing its reasonably loyal user base. It deserves to gain traction over iOS and Android in the enterprise space.

BlackBerry stated that of the Z10 sales to date 55% were changing from a ‘rival platform’ (but that is a really dodgy statement unless backed by statistics showing which platforms – it could be non-smartphones, Symbian etc).

On 28 March BlackBerry announced that in Q4, 2012 it had sold 6 million smartphones (including sales of 1 million Z10’s) and 370,000 PlayBooks and lost 3 million subscribers, down to 76 million. Q1 2013 (and beyond) will be more indicative of BlackBerry’s new strategy and OS take-up so let’s revisit this mid-year.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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