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This review was written by guest contributor Tom Heiber
The time has come to unveil Blackberry's (formerly Research in Motion) long awaited BlackBerry 10 platform, and the first device to carry the rechristened company's banner is the BlackBerry Z10. Let me start with saying right of the bat that this phone is awesome. BlackBerry really stepped up its game and released a mobile device that is at least on par with existing phones out there, but how does it compare to the most popular Android device, the Samsung Galaxy S III?
The BlackBerry Z10 is solidly built and looks like it can take a fair bit of punishment. Unfortunately I can't really test the limits of the device just yet as I only have one unit to test, but the hard plastic rim and soft rear-casing feel durable and comfortable to hold without fear of drops.
Some have compared the design of the BlackBerry Z10 to the Apple iPhone, which is understandable. It's easy to make that comparison, after all, because most modern smartphones look basically the same. One could argue that the iPhone looks like every other phone before it. In my opinion the Z10 looks a lot sexier and feels "just right" in my hand, and the larger screen size makes it clear that this is a different beast. In comparison to the Samsung Galaxy III, the Z10 is a lot sturdier. The GALAXY S III feels flimsy and looks like it wouldn't survive very well in a work environment.
The Z10 comes with a 4.2-inch display with a 1280x768 (356 ppi) resolution, compared to the Galaxy S III's 4.8-inch 1280x720 (306 ppi) display. The screen on the Z10 is for the lack of better word, beautiful. It's incredibly crisp; so crisp that I ended up reducing the font size on the phone a few notches so that I can fit more email content on the screen while still being able to clearly read the contents arm's length away. The colors are vibrant and the screen contents still look clear in direct sunlight (such as it is in January). As far as visibility is concerned, both phones perform admirably under a variety of conditions. I've read comments from people stating that the Z10 should be 1080p, but that is ridiculous because there's no way a human eye can distinguish a difference between 1080p and 720p on such a tiny display. The high pixel per inch count is more than enough for a 4.2-inch screen. Adding additional pixels would serve absolutely no practical purpose and would only tax the GPU more.
One thing that always irked me about the Samsung Galaxy 3, and pretty much every other modern smartphone, is the lack of the bezel. It can create an awkward feel when trying to hold the phone firmly with one hand without affecting what's on screen. In my opinion, the GALAXY S III simply cannot be used with one hand as comfortably or efficiently as the BlackBerry Z10. I have seen some very odd ways people hold their phones to prevent this from happening. Fact is, I shouldn't have to worry about this and I'm very much willing to give up a tiny bit of phone real estate to achieve this. With the Z10, I can hold the phone in one hand, and due to the ample bezel space, not have to worry about accidentally tapping on the screen while I'm in the middle of typing. This feels a lot more natural than typing on the Samsung GALAXY S III where I have to be very careful to keep my meaty fingers off the screen or risk the phone misbehaving.
BlackBerry Z 10 Keyboard
In one word: phenomenal. I've been a BlackBerry user for over 10 years, and I can type on a BlackBerry keyboard nearly as fast as I can type on a regular PC keyboard, which is fairly fast. When the iPhone came out with an on-screen keyboard, I found it difficult to type on its virtual screen. The lack of tactile feedback, and constant missing keystrokes, terrible auto-correct made for a very poor and time consuming typing experience. Advancements have been made obviously, but not far enough to please me. Last year, I finally picked up a Google Nexus phone to use as my "toy" or browsing phone. I was still clinging to my Bold 9900 for work and punching out emails and texts, but wanted something else to use for entertainment. It's been over a year of attempting to compose emails and messages on the Android keyboard, and I still hate typing on it with a passion. The amount of time I have to spend correcting mistakes on the Android phone is unbelievable.
Enter the BB10 keyboard. The on-screen keyboard is absolutely a work of art with unbelievable accuracy. After typing out a few emails and sending a few dozen BBMs and text messages, I hardly ever make a typo. Even the auto-correct barely ever has to fix my mistakes. The swipe-up feature takes some time getting used to but it also is a tremendous timesaving feature. The keyboard also is very responsive, quickly delivering a prediction or showing the last key pressed. On the GALAXY S III, I've often found the keyboard to lag occasionally when typing, after few seconds the keyboard would either catch up or miss a few letters requiring me to go back and edit the text.
Editing text on the BB10 is very similar to the way iOS does it. When attempting to position a cursor within a word, a small magnifying glass appears that makes this positioning very easy.
There's now a real possibility that I might move away from physical keyboard entirely. I still would like to get my hands on the Q10 to try the new physical keyboard on BB10 but things are looking pretty good for the Z10.
BlackBerry Z 10 User Interface
The user interface is very slick. Everything is incredibly smooth and "flows" naturally from one screen to the next. Switching apps is very intuitive and feels natural. There were a few occasions where the Z10 had trouble recognizing my gestures, but I'm not sure if it's just my technique or flaw in the gesture recognition. So far in my few hours of testing the UI has been very responsive and I have not seen any delays when launching apps or switching apps. In comparison to the GALAXY S III, I'd say that the UI is much faster and smoother.
BBM has always been the envy of other smartphone makers, and the latest version should turn even more onlookers green. The new BBM now offers video and voice calling on top of the standard messaging feature. During testing, the voice calling sounds superb with audio quality that is crisp and clear. In comparison to Skype, I'd say BBM Voice sounds better. The BBM UI has been revamped to match the BB10 design and it's now tightly integrated into the Hub. At its core, it's still the same BlackBerry Messenger with the typical Deliver and Read Confirmation flags, and response typing indicator. One disappointment in the new BBM is the fact that it cannot be used on more than one device simultaneously. Once I logged into BBM on the Z10, it has automatically logged me off from the Bold 9900. Video calling is great because of solid quality and the ability to share screens, but it is unfortunately limited to only work between BlackBerry 10 devices.
BlackBerry Z 10 Browser
The web browser on the Z10 is second to none. It's one of the fastest and most accurate browsers I have seen. The speed at which it fetches and renders pages is incredible. Compared to the GALAXY S III running either the default browser or Chrome or even Dolphin, the Z10 browser sails right past them without any effort. Even once the page has been rendered, the page can be navigated very smoothly regardless of how heavy is the content. This browser should be set as a benchmark for any future browser built. Navigating the web will definitely be a very pleasurable experience on the Z10.
The phone now ships with Blackberry's app store known now as BlackBerry World, which thankfully is currently filled with native BB10 apps. I've already downloaded some of my favorite apps like Bloomberg, Google Talk and a few others. While browsing the BB World, I found it rather amusing that the BB World app can display Top Paid Games and Top Paid Apps but no option to display Top Free Games or Apps. Not that I wouldn't pay for apps, but I'm sure it would be nice feature for frugal people or those looking to explore. Google Play on the Galaxy S III supports this feature, and so do other major smartphones.
During the unveiling, it was confirmed that Skype and Whatsapp will be available for the BB10 but as of yet they are still not available to download from the BlackBerry World. I've never really used Whatsapp as I found it problematic on the Bold 9900 but having Skype really does add value especially since Microsoft has eliminated MSN Messenger and integrated the contacts into the Skype app.
BlackBerry Z 10
It is a great shame, however, that Netflix was not able to come onboard and bring a BB10 client onto the Z10. This illustrates the only thing that I can think of that elevates iPhone and Android phones above the Z10 right now. The lack of Netflix is a disappointment to me particularly because I often let my 3 year old daughter watch her favorite cartoons on the phone while we're away from home. I was really looking forward to retiring my Galaxy Nexus as it was one of the reasons I was carrying it around. I know that Blackberry has been lobbying Netflix to get an app for BB10 built, even as far as offering to do the development for them, Netflix it seems has no interest in it.
Google Maps is currently also missing in action. The Z10 does come with native maps and navigation software and for the most part it works great. The software does perform turn-by-turn navigation and the address search is a lot more intuitive than previous Blackberry offerings. I must say that the Google Maps Nav 3D view is a lot nicer looking than the 3D view from the Z10's equivalent. The native Z10 maps software also provides traffic view which is nice and it's comparable to the Samsung/Android offering.
At the moment, the Galaxy S III has the clear app advantage. I'm pretty sure that the app-gap will eventually fill as more and more developers start including BlackBerry 10 as a release platform. The availability of apps should not be a huge problem in the near future. The BlackBerry 10 platform can natively run Android apps via minor porting proces, so the development process for bringing Android apps to BB10 should not be very challenging.
BlackBerry Z 10
The Z10 comes with an 1800mAh battery. This is about average for the size phone. It's too early to say how well the battery fares in real world usage. It'll take a few days of testing to really see how it hold up. One thing I did notice though that the battery does get rather warm when actively using the phone. I'm hoping this phone will be immune to the deep discharge problems the Samsung Galaxy 3 has been plagued. Even though the GALAXY S III comes with a larger 2,100 mAh battery, the phone must be regularly topped off during the day in order for the charge to last a day, and thanks in part to the large screen and laborious activities.
Early impressions of the Z10 show that this is an excellent phone and definitely one that I would take over the competition. BlackBerry had to create something phenomenal to bounce back, and that's exactly what they did with the Z10. However, there's still room for improvement. Here are a few things that I wish the Z10 had.
- Contactless charging or at least plug-less charging like the Bold 9900. This should be standard on all phones.
- Netflix (I know, I know, I already talked about that).
- Sugarsync, my cloud storage service of choice. I do not want to switch to Dropbox, so hopefully we'll see the app soon.