The Blackberry Z10, armed with the new QNX OS is ready to take over the world again by flaring up the fairly new gesture trend. And of course, by doing what they do best: making messaging pleasurable.
Blackberry is not in the hardware specs race and it doesn’t need to be. It wins by miles in creating a modern OS with a highly integrated set of core applications and has a layer of Android app virtualisation to boot- all this running perfectly snappy on a dual core configuration. But haven’t we seen this before in Windows Phone?
Back when the Z10 first came out, the OS was bug-ridden and vital functions such as Google Calendar had problems synchronising. Certain animations stuttered quite a bit, battery life was a 12 hour affair and Whatsapp was non-existent. Heck, even Blackberry’s most valuable feature- Encryption- was missing from its early firmwares.
But being the obsessive-compulsive rom-flasher that I am, I couldn’t resist but to try out the leaked firmwares that began appearing incidentally around the same time. The first one I went through was from the stock 10.0.9.2372 to 10.0.10.261 which already had the calendar issue fixed but introduced an unusable radio rom (where it does not connect from 3G to H+). The second leak I went through was much closer to the official public release firmware (10.0.10.85) that came out in March which brought significant battery life improvements, better camera etc. The firmware at this point only had a few minor bugs left (reboot switches off the device instead) and I was a happy camper, free to explore the rest of the OS and its ecosystem. Kudos to Blackberry for such rapid bug fix releases.
But beyond the wonderful core apps, I found relatively little joy from Blackberry World and running ported or sideloaded Android apps is clearly only a stopgap solution that was not going to be sustainable.
And so this is what would make or break Blackberry- 3rd party apps. Because believe it or not, it is no longer enough to have a great mobile OS with tightly integrated core apps- just look at Windows Phone. Any phone’s usefulness is greatly extended by the availability of 3r party apps, preferably the native kind as opposed to ported ones.
Blackberry still has much pride in themselves or at least they’d like to appear so. Evident by the way they’ve priced their Z10s around the world. But it would help if they could swallow some of that and be more competitive especially now that that clearly intend to appeal to consumers of the general public, rather than of the corporate kind.
The world has changed since Blackberry was last on the throne. Gone are the days when employees are forced to carry a corporate phone and a personal phone. Companies have moved on with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and hardly looked back when nobody thought Blackberry would make a comeback.
Blackberry has taken two big steps. One in truly opening up their phones to the consumer sector and one in acknowledging the importance of third party apps. Here’s hoping Blackberry is getting with the rest of the program and able to position themselves more competitively in this fight against iOS and Android.
Note: The Blackberry Z10 I have is the STL100-1. This is the 3G variant and it runs on the Texas Instrument OMAP 4470 as opposed to the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus. Regrettably, Blackberry Balance- Blackberry’s enterprise “work mode” is not in this review as I do not have access to a BES server.
The Blackberry Z10 is available from Amazon.com for $600~
++++++ messaging maestro- combined inbox and messaging, highly customisable Hub. You can fully de-clutter the combined inbox by separating and preventing messages and notifications from dropping into the Hub- this should save your sanity.
+++++ blackberry data plans are no longer required, effectively unlocking the device to the general consumer masses
++++ Whatsapp Blackberry Hub integration was worth the wait
++++ volume buttons and mute button (the one in the middle) can double as music control for skipping tracks and Play/ Pause. This is good thinking on Blackberry’s part and is one of the much loved features on certain rooted Android roms
++++ Blackberry 10’s gestures are practical, not just for show. and don’t let other reviewers tell you “it’s complicated to use”. That’s just their half-arsed effort at reviewing a phone by not spending enough time with it. Anyone who bothers with getting used to the gestures will find out what interruption-free productivity means.
++++ Bedside mode, just what every modern phone needs. Equivalent to iOS’s “Do Not Disturb” or Samsung’s “Blocking Mode”- it’s designed to block out all notifcations except for phone calls. And it’s accessed form the lock screen by swiping downward. Now, if only this can work by schedule just like in the aforementioned OSs.
+++ fantastic idling battery life. considering the number of accounts I have set up, with one being on push, the battery life is absolutely amazing. Sure, under heavy loading, the device still gets hot and could drain fast. But this is as good as it gets for a 45nm fabrication SoC with a 1800 mAH battery in tow. for a more detailed breakdown of how I tested the battery, scroll to the bottom.
+++ full screen apps are great but virtual Back buttons are still necessary for navigation
+++ the ability to sideload converted Android apps. For those that don’t make it onto the Blackberry World appstore, you can still download (or attempt to convert yourself) Android apps in .bar form.
+++ Blackberry Remember is the Evernote for blackberry…and integrates Evernote also. finally, a good notes app.
+++ Blackberry Messenger is here and works without a BB data plan. It’s now been upgraded to do voice and video calls, and screen sharing but sadly it’s not something I was able to test.
+++ the widgets or “Active Frames” as Blackberry calls them is their solution for widgets
minimised apps become widgets
set them to do so here
+++ Blackberry’s universal search is back. And it’s fast and searches through your messages, emails, contacts and so on depending on what you choose. Also, in what is known as Extended Search, shortcuts are provided to other apps such as the browser (using Google, Bing or Yahoo), Blackberry World, Foursquare, Maps etc.
+++ Browser is lightweight, lightning fast and keep Flash alive.
++ multitasking is fast and easy but once again, open more than 8 apps and the 9th one just gets killed outright. The action is natural- you swipe up on any app- but is missing the ability for the user to pin them in place instead of sliding down toward the oblivion after you open the 8th app
++ animations are relaxed but smooth, probably ensuring the least dropped frame. it’s good eyecandy, and eyecandy sells these days.
++ while animation is usually used to hide slow load times, the Z10 doesn’t need this. everything is fast and seemingly loads without struggle
++ photo quality is actually pretty good but not consistent. the 8 megapixel sensor takes nice sharp pictures but is especially great for documents, for example. If you’re shooting people with it there’s also the Time Shift function where it takes a few pics, recognises the faces and then allows you to pick one version where the person is looking their best.
++ surprisingly good signal reception- and it’s not just the signal bar playing tricks either
++ wireless sync and storage access. as is the trend, wireless sync is built-in and works with the desktop client when plugged into an external power source. But Blackberry went one step further and implemented wireless storage access, also available when connected to external power. This works by mounting all the drives, including the sd card if there is one inserted- as a network drive.
+ the keyboard is interesting and generally works well in learning your pattern but it’s still not physical keyboard-good obviously. and it doesn’t learn as well as Android’s Swiftkey. It makes an attempt to learn and guess the next word you’ll type and plonks that on the next character you are about to tap. This is great in theory but you’d need to retrain your brain a little until you get comfortable with each other.
selecting text is sometimes buggy as the keyboard pops in and out
an educated guess?
+ Dropbox integration is useful and intuitive since it’s baked right into the file explorer but then lacks automatic photos upload
+ there’s voice controls in there somewhere but it’s even more useless next to the already-useless Siri. At least for you drivers out there, the option is there.
+ Blackberry Link is Blackberry’s iTunes desktop client. And it’s a good effort that requires some optimisation.
+ security is still a priority. apps ask for security permissions as they are downloaded and installed. You can also tweak per-app settings yourself.
+ the signature (read: dreaded) red notification light is back! and you can fully personalise it in what would activate it and what would not.
Photo samples- click to enlarge
looks great actually
could even pass off as a scanner
not too bad
typical grainy affair
these day time shots are disappointing
here’s the camera ui, Time Shift far left
and other camera settings and options
—– lack of recipient drag and drop- one way for the near-perfect messaging system to do a faceplant is its inability to allow the user to drag and drop recipient names between the To: and CC/BCC fields. Blackberry COULD easily rectify this problem with an update but they haven’t yet so far.
—– lack of a native Podcast client is inexcusable in this day and age. but the problem is compounded by the lack of good podcasting apps in the store.
—- Apps. O where to begin.. sure there are already some big name apps and games in Blackberry World (BB’s own appstore) but for the number of apps that they boast, a large percentage of them are Android ports. That means apps that are slower, possibly less battery optimised
—- for a phone that runs on a heavily gesture-based OS, it sure stands out that Blackberry didn’t make the effort to repel against fingerprints on the display. All it took was adding an oleophobic coating. How hard is that? As a result, it’s one of the biggest fingerprint magnet of a phone to exist since mankind walked the Earth.
— while all this rubbing around on the glass is great if you don’t mind the fingerprints, the gesture detection is not sensitive enough to let you swipe around any faster. Drag an email you want to delete, drag (i think of it as drag and drop) it down into the bin, aaaand nothing happens. You have to go slow… which enterprise users may not have the patience for.
— some minor UI inconsistencies- for example, you’re supposed to know like the back of your hand that swiping from top down is for the current app’s settings OR the shortcut menu
— music player doesn’t have an equalizer
– facebook updates and chat still has some ways to go; is inconsistent
– google talk integration is half baked, opens app instead of working within the Hub and doesn’t sync past conversations
– maps is useable, not on par with Apple maps though; drains battery fast
|Blackberry Maps versus||Google Maps. Fight!|
– is NOT the Blackberry 10 flagship. gee thanks Thorsten.
– Blackberry PIN still appears to stick to an outdated and insecure model. The first thing that happened when I activated my device and Blackberry Messenger, I receive a BBM message from some stranger.
battery life test:
the date isn’t shown here but I tried taking the screenshot by showing the time as well
which wasn’t straight forward due to everything being in fullscreen.
this is 15:07 on the next day, 26th March.
in use for 23 hours
with 15% to spare
with 12 hours on wifi, 6 hours of which on idle without bedside mode
gmail on push
gmail calendar and contacts on 24 hour pull
Exchange account on 4 hour pull
google talk kept signed in
bluetooth audio- 1 hour
video- 1 episode of The Walking Dead with lots of pauses in between, minimised as active frame
voice calls- 30 mins
messaging- a few emails, a few texts and a few whatsapp messages
web browsing- 15mins