Z10 Is BlackBerry’s Re-Invention, Not Yours
For years BlackBerry users have been bragging about their physical keyboards and long-lasting batteries. The BlackBerry Z10, the first model to come out of the smartphone maker’s reimagining, has neither. With a large 4.2” display and a dependence on touch controls (there are no physical navigation buttons), the Z10 is the first BlackBerry truly aimed at matching what the competition has been offering, and so requires similar sacrifices, but without the little refinements Apple and Samsung have developed over the years to compensate.
The battery takes a full one and a half hours to fill, there’s no quick charge option, and with a power-hungry screen to support will only last two-thirds of the day. You’ll need to have a charger at the office as well as at home. The physical keyboard that BlackBerry loyalists hold dear will arrive with the next model, the Q10, which has no release date set yet. Try-out samples were conspicuously absent at this week’s launch so it might be quite a wait.
I’ve previewed the BlackBerry 10 features before, and still find the ability to quickly peek at messages and to switch-out running apps valuable, but this week has been my first chance to do so with access to the full content of apps and media from BlackBerry World. With content to play I now find the screen dark. Although the resolution is high, 1280 x 768, it lacks the vibrancy and sharpness of competing smartphones and I find myself boosting the brightness to compensate. Movies suffer quite a bit in this area. It’s not worth paying $4.99 to rent The Dark Knight Rises, for example.
The app selection is now healthy and includes popular brands such as Flixster, Songza, Angry Birds, and The Weather Network, but is still missing many including Instagram, Flipboard, and Google Maps. BlackBerry Maps may have turn-based navigation, but its 2D graphics and sparse information gives it a primitive feel.
The simple gestures that make it easy to navigate BlackBerry 10 also make it hard to quit some apps. You’re supposed to swipe from the bottom of the screen, but with apps that run in landscape mode the bottom becomes the side where there’s little room to swipe. I find it really hard to do this with games in particular.
Two new features revealed this week include BlackBerry Remember, a counter-intuitive system for keeping track of due dates and project notes using folders and file directories, and Story Maker, a home movie maker that will automatically combine selected photos and music with video clips. Both seem like they were added at the last minute and could use more work compared to the rest of BlackBerry 10’s offerings.
With a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and software features geared towards easy switching between apps the Z10 should have the advantage with multitasking, but I found doing so hit-and-miss. I can stream music while surfing the web, for example, but the moment I open the calculator all other activities grind to a halt. Some apps have a hard time running when others are active.
Some hardware features that make the Z10 comparable to the competition include NFC for file exchanges and payment systems, microHDMI out for use with external displays, and both 16 GB of storage memory and support for microSD cards up to 32 GB. One hold-over from the old BlackBerry design is a magnetic backing and matching case to put the smartphone to sleep when you tuck it away.
Both cameras, the 8MP rear-facing and 2 MP front-facing, are worth having. 5x digital zoom, LED flash, and support for 1080p recording make it quite the mobile camera to become dependent on.
The virtual keyboard is surprisingly quick and easy to adapt to. I think it has a real shot at converting BlackBerry loyalists to touch. Other advantages include BBM’s new support for video calls and Balance, a feature that sets up different phone profiles for work and home to keep content and features separate for each.
The Z10 is a well-made smartphone that proves BlackBerry’s reinvention is a positive one. They are taking all the right steps and in the right directions, but it still isn’t strong enough to be a better choice over what’s offered by Google and Android. It’s a victory in BlackBerry’s battle to improve themselves, but not a victory against the companies they need to steal customers from. We need a smartphone that’s going to change our lives more than the company who makes it.
The BlackBerry Z10 will be available from all major carriers in Canada on February 5th for $149.95 on a 3-year contract.
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