BlackBerry Z10: a review
I got the new BlackBerry Z10
phone a couple of weeks ago, and I've been setting it up and getting everything I like working on it.
Rather than provide a long, complex review (there are plenty on the web), I'm just going to jot down things I found relevant, and add a few screenshots.
This is coming from a long-time BlackBerry OS user, though I've had an iPhone and I've set up and worked with a number of iPhones and the occasional Android.
The Z10's hardware is really good. Fit and finish is top-notch, and the materials used feel good. The phone feels durable too, and scratch-resistant.
The screen is outstanding. Put it next to an iPhone 5, and it's unquestionably better – not only bigger, but higher-res. User interface elements take advantage of this – the clock, for example, is beautiful. The screen has a much nicer feel to it than my old 9810's screen – maybe it's an oleophobic coating?
The camera is good, but not great; it needs improvement in poor light. I believe there are some software fixes for the camera due out. One thing I do like is that the button-to-picture lag on the camera is very short. The HD video recording is pretty impressive. I like the time-shift camera, but I haven't really used it much.
The input/output capabilities on the Z10 are great. With HDMI-out, I can connect the phone to a TV or decent computer screen and play movies or whatever there. The Z10 has DLNA too, which means I can use my TV to browse the phone and play media off it over wi-fi (and it works really well!). Wireless storage access is available, so I can connect to the Z10's internal storage and SD card over wi-fi; that's very handy. BB 10.1 will add the ability to access network shares from the phone.
Battery life is not bad; I get about 10+ hours on a busy day, more on a weekend. That's better than I got on my old BlackBerry. It does help that I have a really good car charger, the Energizer 2.1 amp dual-port charger; that can get a phone up to usable levels within minutes.
Phone call quality is excellent; there seems to be some good noise cancelling.
The BlackBerry 10 user interface works well. It takes a short while to get used to, but after that, phones with physical "home" buttons (and the app in-out in-out paradigm) feel primitive. I love the way the integrated message hub is always only a swipe away, and the way running apps are displayed is cool (especially those designed to show something useful in the minimised app frame – like weather, battery level, album art, etc.). Everything feels quick and very, very slick.
The multitasking is handy; having the apps actually shown on screen makes it obvious. One downside – most of the ported or sideloaded Android apps don't multitask (in other words, they pause when they're not in the foreground).
The user interface (more specifically, the icons pages and running apps page) is obviously meant to be used in portrait orientation, but apps go landscape when the phone is turned.
The distributed real-time multitasking QNX underpinnings to the operating system will probably become more evident over time, as things get refined. I can foresee a lot of opportunity for integration with cars and other systems. The BlackBerry CEO, Thorsten Heins, was quoted last week as saying there may be no need for tablets in 5 years. I think what he means is that tablets as standalone devices may go away. It makes sense to have a larger dumb screen, driven by your single mobile device.
Something really nice about the user interface design is that most navigation elements are at the *bottom* of the screen, making it far easier to use one-handed.
I had some issues getting my data from my old BlackBerry to the Z10, but I think part of this was because of a flaky SD card. One annoying thing was that all of my contacts were saved as local contacts on the Z10, then duplicated the moment I added my email account and synched contacts. I had to remove all of the local ones. A clean setup works much better, especially if you have online contact/calendar sync.
I do like the way you can link various contact records (e.g. email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for the same person, and it's all displayed as one contact, showing interactions with that person (like calls, emails, etc.)
The web browser is stunning – it's faster than any other mobile browser I've seen. In fact, I wish my desktop Chrome were that fast. It supports Flash too. One very nice feature is the Reader mode, which with a click strips out ads and makes an article easily readable.
Storage handling generally is excellent. There's the 16GB of internal storage, plus your SD card, but if you log in to Dropbox and or Box (where you get 50GB free), you get those too, all shown as part of the filesystem. In other words, anywhere you can open or save a file, you will have Dropbox and Box listed as locations too. This is enormously convenient. The File Manager lets you easily copy/moves files between the various areas.
The Z10's virtual keyboard is brilliant – it's really, really good at predicting text. I've written entire sentences with a single letter and a bunch of swipes. That said, it does need a little more attention than the physical keyboard, and I'm not at the same speed as on physical. On the downside, it's not properly WYSIWYG – it shows uppercase letters all of the time, even when it's about to type lowercase letters.
Sadly, there's just no way of getting some of the efficiencies one has with a physical keyboard, like 20+ single-press speed-dials, or single-press access to most of your apps. It looks like the BlackBerry Q10 will handle those needs for people who value that more than the Z10's screen size.
BlackBerry Maps works pretty decently for navigation. For SA, there's Wisepilot too. I side-loaded Google Maps, but it's a little unstable.
There are plenty of apps available out there. I've been able to easily find either BB10 versions of my favourite apps, or equivalents. I've also side-loaded a bunch of Android apps; there's quite a little cottage industry in sideloaded apps. The ported or sideloaded Android apps, by and large, run very well.
One app I missed from my old BlackBerry was Social Feeds, for providing a single location for Facebook/Twitter/RSS feeds; soon enough I stumbled across Android's Flipboard, which I sideloaded and which works fairly well.
On my old phone, I used a car maintenance and fuel logging app called Fuel Economy. That's not on BB10, but I found one called aCar, an Android port, which is comprehensive. I spent a couple of hours playing with CSV files and imported 6 years of data into it.
Another app I've used for ages is a shared grocery list app, OurGroceries. Initially, there wasn't a BlackBerry 10 app, so I sideloaded the Android version. A few days ago, the BB10 version was released, so I have that loaded now too.
The ported Android app Vivino is quite fun; you can take a picture of a wine bottle, and it has a pretty good go at identifying it and letting you rate it.
The Z10's "Remember" app links to Evernote, if you have an account there, as well as to your corporate Exchange server's Notes, and integrates them into a single app. Very convenient. You can of course load Evernote too.
The Last Weather App is brutally straightforward (and surprisingly accurate).
The Compass is pretty
The desktop software for synching media, BlackBerry Link, sucks. It's slow and clumsy, and I had to beat it into submission.
"Balance" is a way of separating personal and work data, and it works very well, separating the access to corporate data from your personal stuff, where you may not be so paranoid. Contacts and calendar are integrated, conveniently. One awkward side-effect, however, is that "work" contacts run in the work context; the most visible consequence is that if you tap a contact's address, BlackBerry Maps will load – but in the work area, where it may not have Internet access.
If you have a corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Server, you get even more: you can have separate apps for work and personal profiles, with work apps deployed from the server. In the "work" profile, you can access internal resources, like intranet pages, and you can use apps like Work Files to access data off file server shares.
Data is a problem. With my old BlackBerry, I used about 300MB of data per month on BIS. Currently, it looks like my Z10, doing much the same stuff, is heading toward 2GB per month, which I have to pay for; I have a new respect for BIS's compression. On the plus side, internet access is much faster.
Playbook integration has been gutted. On the OS7 devices, Playbook bridging offered email, calendar, contacts, work browser, internet connection, text messages, phone call display, and remote control. With the Z10, all that's available is the work browser, internet connection (now much faster), and remote control.