If you're like me, you thought RIM was left for dead, right? The stock crashed, the CEOs were fired -- after dominating the business market for a decade, it missed the boat on consumer smartphones. Who needs apps? Real businessmen want secure e-mail, or so the company thought. And instead of game-changing innovations, each new release felt like a series of flawed patches -- always one step, then two and three, behind Apple and Android.
Touch screen? Here's a trackpad, instead. Camera? Laughable. Web browsing? Not on a 3-inch display, you're not. And don't even start on BlackBerry OS. After hemorrhaging its market share away, RIM -- excuse me, BlackBerry -- went all in and bought QNX, then took another year developing and releasing the ill-fated PlayBook tablet, before revamping it yet again and calling it BlackBerry 10, or BB10 for short.
Well, after countless delays and hundreds of millions of dollars lighter, the company has finally launched its Hail Mary pass, the Z10. And you know what? It's actually pretty good. I can't say for sure a comeback is coming. The company needs to string together a few hits, rally developers to build a thriving apps ecosystem and build a franchise. But from a hardware and software standpoint, the Z10 has it all. If you'd left BlackBerry for greener Android pastures, it's time to come home.
It's thin and good-looking, but you won't recognize it. The angled, rectangular body, larger touch screen and missing keyboard are a departure from the iconic, yet outdated, BlackBerry look. Despite the plastic material, it looks and feels like a premium product. The textured back gives a nice grip, and pops off so you can swap the batteries.
Where's the trackpad, you say? BB10 is all about the touch screen. The 4.2-inch display is very impressive. The 1,280-by-768 resolution is sharper than the iPhone's Retina display -- 356-pixels per inch compared to 326. And colors are wonderfully vibrant. I forgot I was watching movies on a smartphone.
The 8-megpixel camera has a few tricks up its sleeve. It takes detailed and true-to-life photos, but a step below the iPhone and Galaxy S3. Outdoors, pictures are superb, but in low-light, noise and grain tends to creep in. The photo-editing tools are outstanding, though. One, called "Time Shift," takes rapid-fire shots of people. Then you can tap on faces and "swap" expressions back and forth through two seconds of footage. So, say you take a group shot. Instead of retaking it until everyone looks just right, you can pick the best face for each person. Software then stitches it all together to make one perfect photo. Nice.
BlackBerry actually got its start with smart pagers in the '90s. And since then, every device focused on messaging. The Z10 lacks that reliable BlackBerry keyboard, but the on-screen typing is quite accurate. Hands down, it's the best QWERTY I've ever used -- virtual or physical. You might be skeptical, but let me explain: it has to do with the prediction engine.
What's so great? Well, as you type, the software guesses what word you're typing. No big deal, right? It also predicts what word may come next and displays guesses on the corresponding next keys. So, for example, when I type the "I," it'll show "I'm," "I've" or "I'll." If I choose "I'm," it'll suggest the next word: "going." On average, I save about 60 percent of the typing. Out of a 50 letter sentence, I counted just 17 keystrokes. Over time, it learns the way you write and gets phenomenally good at predicting.
Now, if for some reason, you prefer manual mode, that works fine, too. I made a few mistakes on the generously-sized keyboard, but auto-correct does a miraculous job. The iPhone and Android simply can't compare.
A little light blinks when you have new messages, mail, calls or Facebook or twitter -- all your communications is in the Hub, the central nervous system. Think of it as a "super app" that pulls everything together. Swipe to the right to bring up apps. Flick to the left to see a snapshot of open programs. Brush down to view the calendar. One swipe shows it all.
BlackBerry left BBM largely the same, except you can make free voice and video calls. Most people use WhatsApp or Snapchat these days. BBM is nice, but that ship has sailed. There's speech recognition, but it's not very accurate, either. You can share your screen, though, so others can see what you're doing.
BlackBerry browsers are notoriously awful, so I didn't expect much, but I actually found it easy to use. Webpages load in a split-second, and the content, including Flash, renders faster than ever. Take that, Apple.
If your company uses BlackBerry corporate suite, "Balance" can split the device into work and play. IT managers can remote wipe business data from the device, for example, and leave your personal photos and e-mails intact. Essentially, it makes it two phones in one. That way both your pockets won't be full.
Like any fledgling platform, BlackBerry suffers from a lack of developers creating programs for it. Just ask Windows. But right out of the gate, there's a decently-stocked app store of 700,000 apps. It has the basics -- Facebook, Skype, Angry Birds and a number of big hitters -- but smaller titles or iOS favorites, like Instagram, are missing. It's a good start, but catching up to Apple and Android will be tough.
I got around seven hours from a single charge. When I wake up at 7 a.m., for example, I'll have to charge it again by 2 p.m. Part of the blame goes to the push e-mail function. On weekends, when my messages are lighter, I last around 12 hours -- not bad, but a far cry from a full day. Luckily, you can swap batteries, so I'd recommend you buy another one. If not, at the very least, get another charger for the car or office.
The 16-gigabytes of storage is a bit on the thin side, too. I'd suggest you pick up a microSD card, otherwise you'll run out of room quickly.
If you reluctantly switched to iPhone or Android while waiting for BlackBerry to get its act together, it's time to come back. The Z10 is a great phone for BlackBerry to bet the farm on. The screen is detailed, the cameras are sharp and the predictive typing is amazing. Not to mention BlackBerry 10. And if you need a business device, Balance is a must-have.
Major improvements to hardware and software make browsing the Web, watching movies and even listening to music on par with the iPhone. The Z10 is a complete flagship phone, and no longer just a business device. It's really that good.
If you're not sold on BlackBerry. Or you just want to wait for the next line of products, you could always go with the iPhone, of course, but other high-end business devices to consider include the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. These are the kings of the Android hill. Stay away from Windows, though, since it suffers the same lack of apps as BlackBerry. For a cheaper alternative, the Q10 is a decent option, with a physical keyboard.
BlackBerry is back. Maybe. ♦
Other Reviews From Around the Web
I picked up the Z10 yesterday and have been very impressed thus far. The display and software are just awesome. The screen is sharp and vibrant and BB10 is so quick and responsive.
BB Hub is really useful. And the task manager makes opening and organizing apps very simple and convenient. The camera, browser and the music player are a pleasure to use -- surprise! And time shift is simply awesome. It can go toe-to-toe with any phone on multimedia now.
Of course, the business features -- reading and writing e-mails and Office documents, and viewing Adobe Reader and Flash -- are still top-notch. But best of all, the keyboard rocks! Seriously, this is best keyboard I've ever used. I'd never thought it'd be on a touch screen.
The battery life isn't too bad -- you'll have to charge it every day like any other smartphone -- and the 64-gigabytes of storage is plentiful.
I'd say it destroys the iPhone and Galaxy S3, and is on par with the DNA. BlackBerry did a very good job with the Z10 -- it's a polished device. If you've been waiting for the comeback, this is it. I highly recommend it.Was this review helpful to you?
I picked this phone up over the weekend and I'm already in love with it. I was skeptical of the virtual keyboard, but since BlackBerry makes great QWERTYs, but boy was I wrong -- the onscreen typing is so fast and accurate. I can type faster than ever.
The BB10 interface is just beautiful -- just incredible. You don't have to buy separate BlackBerry service to access BBM and e-mail -- so that's nice. The multitasking is fluid and there's no lag whatsoever -- the processor is blazing.
I wish there were a few more apps in the BlackBerry store though, but so far I'm thoroughly impressed with the phone.
If you were on the fence about giving BlackBerry another chance, don't hesitate. The Z10 is everything you've been waiting for. Even if you don't like touch displays -- I didn't -- you'll love the virtual keyboard. I sold my Galaxy S3 to buy the Z10. And I'm glad I did.Was this review helpful to you?