BlackBerry Z10 Review: A Much-Needed Reboot

February 8, 2013 by Grant Hatchimonji Reads (10,946)

Performance

The BlackBerry Z10 is a more-than-capable device that’s powered by a 1.5 GHz, dual-core processor and sports 2 GB of RAM. Though concrete numbers weren’t available — reliable benchmark software has yet to hit BlackBerry World — the OS, which relies heavily on quick navigation, always ran smoothly. Apps launched quickly and switching between pages, apps, and the hub was virtually seamless, with the only noticeable launch time coming from the camera app.

BlackBerry Z10 Angled 1

Apps themselves always ran without a hitch and games looked especially impressive, running at butter-smooth framerates. The Z10 could handle quite a heavy multitasking load as well; the phone never seemed to get bogged down to matter how many programs I ran at once. Users can minimize apps but still leave them open by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, so I tried opening up 8 or 9 different applications and minimizing them, but I could never get the OS to lag.

Also appreciated were the NFC support and the respectable amount of storage with which the Z10 comes equipped. 16 GB is the sweet spot for us (a good amount of storage without running up the cost) but the microSD card slot for up to 64 GB of expandable memory is always an option for those who need it.

The only issue we ran into with the phone was how extraordinarily long the Z10 took to boot and shut down. Boot times varied quite a bit, which was odd in and of itself, but they were always entirely too long, with the quickest one we experienced taking just over a full minute. Meanwhile, the shutdown process, which is typically brief on phones, took over 30 seconds on average.

Software
BlackBerry OS 10 isn’t quite worth the wait — because nothing is worth waiting so long — but it comes awfully close. This is a clean, efficient, and above all, intuitive OS that’s based around a smartly-designed navigation system.

The highlight of BlackBerry 10 is the BlackBerry Hub, accessed by swiping one page to the left of the first page of apps, which are organized in a four by four grid that feels pretty familiar (I’m sure Apple will be suing any moment now). The Hub aggregates all of communication into one inbox, including BBM, text messages, email, calls, and whatever other social media outlets you may happen to use. Once you sign into any social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. it’s automatically added to the Hub.

BlackBerry Z10 Angled 2The key, however, is that the Hub doesn’t have to have everything in one giant shared inbox. Swipe one more page to the left when you’re in the Hub and a comprehensive list of all the different inboxes feeding into it is pulled up. Tap on any one of the items on the list and the Hub will only display messages or notifications from that particular service.

As mentioned, navigation throughout BlackBerry 10 is a breeze. The gesture-based navigation, which minimizes the need to stop and tap “back” or “home” buttons, is so intuitive that it becomes second nature. We would venture to say that no other mobile OS out there can match BlackBerry 10’s speed and efficiency when it comes to completing certain tasks.

Let’s say you have a new message in the Hub — at which point a red notification light above the display starts blinking — so you want to read it and go back to the home screen. From the home screen (your first page of apps, basically), drag your finger to the right and you’re taken to the Hub. Tap the message to open it and once you’re done reading, swipe right, then left, and bam: you’re back at the home screen. All of this is done in literally a matter of seconds … unless you have particularly verbose friends sending you emails.

This ability to swipe windows away is what makes navigation in BlackBerry 10 so speedy, and leaving apps is handled the same way as well. While swiping from the top within an app pulls down a menu of all available options, swiping up from the bottom minimizes it. All minimized programs are stored on their own page between the Hub and the apps, and any of them can be tapped at any time to resume. In a rare moment of impracticality, however, the apps can only be fully closed by tapping a painfully small “X” in the lower right hand corner of the minimized window icon.

BlackBerry Z10 Earpiece and CameraBlackBerry 10 has other highlights like a sleep mode, which is activated by swiping down from the lock screen and disables all notifications, and a quick pull-down menu of options (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, alarms, etc.) that can be accessed by swiping down from the top of the display when on the home screen. But our next favorite feature of BlackBerry 10 has to be the new browser.

After seeing how painful it could be to use the browser on previous iterations of the BlackBerry OS, the browser in BlackBerry 10 came as a welcome surprise. A big part of the improved experience is that it’s entirely touch-based now (an improvement mirrored in the OS on the whole), which makes navigation much less of a hassle. We’re all much more familiar and comfortable with swiping to scroll and tapping to click links rather than having to use a dinky trackpad to scroll and to sift through each individual element on a webpage before getting to the link we want to click on.

But the browser is also much faster. Granted, Sunspider benchmarks indicate that it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack compared to today’s competition, but it’s still shows a massive amount of improvement in terms of page load times compared to older versions of the BlackBerry browser.

Cameras
The Z10’s front-facing camera is great for video chatting and keeps the picture sharp, at least relatively speaking, thanks to its 2-megapixel resolution. It can also take 720p video which, for a front-facing camera, is not too shabby.

The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera takes respectable photos with good color saturation and contrast, but as is usually the case with camera phones, you’ll always get better results — or at least pictures that are significantly less yellow — when shooting outside. And despite what some people are saying we found low-light shooting to be pretty decent, at least for what it is. This isn’t professional grade stuff, but there wasn’t nearly as much noise as we were expecting after reading early reviews.

BlackBerry Z10 BackOur real problem with the camera was actually the software. While focusing generally wasn’t an issue (the autofocus would actually “catch” pretty quickly), we didn’t care for the fact that tap-to-focus was not an option. Instead, users must hold and drag a reticle to mark the point of focus. It’s a slower process that’s generally not as convenient.

Another issue was with how quickly the camera could be accessed. For one, as previously mentioned, there is a surprisingly long boot time, and not just to start the camera app. Even within the app, if users want to browse their photos or videos and then return to standby mode to take a shot, it still takes a second or two of wait time. BlackBerry’s attempt to include some sort of “quick launch” feature from the lock screen also falls short; users have to hold down the button for so long that it arguably takes less time to unlock the phone and tap the camera app icon.

Battery Life
The battery life of the Z10 was decent, but while it could easily get us through a couple of days on a single charge, this is not quite indicative of the performance of the final product. See, BlackBerry has yet to ship SIM cards out for review units, so our entire time spent with the Z10 involved using only Wi-Fi.

That being said, considering we kept the display on the highest possible brightness setting and enable push notifications for all of the constantly updating outlets connected to the BlackBerry Hub, two days wasn’t bad. The phone would usually die sometime before lunch on the third day, which was sufficient, but there are more than a few handsets that could last longer than that on Wi-Fi only.

Plus, the moment our usage got more intense than just a few minutes of reading emails or browsing the web each day — like when we spent about half an hour downloading and testing out apps — the longevity was shortened even further, sometimes not even getting to the end of the second day.


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