Lets start with a frank admission. I nearly forgot to file this review as I was too occupied playing Angry Birds Star Wars on the BlackBerry Z10, the first device running the BlackBerry 10 operating system (OS).
Did I just say that? Yes, like most other people it surprised me that gaming on a BlackBerry can be such a lot of fun the Z10 is the perfect companion to while away the time while you wait for your client to arrive. And one gets a lot of popular games, available on other platforms earlier, on the BB 10.
Looks do matter
The first thing that hits you when you take the Z10 out of the box is the size of the screen 4.2 inches and the absence of any buttons other than the volume rocker/play/pause combo on the right and the power switch on top.
The left side of the Z10 features a microUSB port for charging, data transfer and a Micro HDMI out port to connect to larger screens. The front side has the proximity sensor, phone speaker, a 2MP front camera and notification LED on top of the screen while the back is dominated by a metallic BlackBerry logo, which doubles up as the NFC antenna and the 8MP rear camera with LED flash. While the back panel has a nice brushed feel to it, I feel the Bold 9000 had the best back plate of the lot. In fact, the back cover has to be carefully pried out like most Android phone to access the SIM and the microSD card. The phone feels as solid as touch screens do, but I dont know if it can take the knocks my trusted QWERTY-based Curve has taken over the years. I guess investing in a protective shell is a prerequisite for touch screens.
The Z10 is noticeably different from previous BlackBerry devices for two reasons the device has a micro SIM slot and one doesnt need to subscribe to a BlackBerry plan in order to start using all features. Also, BlackBerry Desktop Software doesnt support BB10 devices and one needs to download BlackBerry Link to sync the device with your desktop.
Those upgrading from older BlackBerry devices can transfer their contact information, notes, media and other personal data to this device. But applications built for older BlackBerry OS wont work with BB10. But one does get a list of the apps and most popular ones have BB10 versions as well but youll need to install them again.
The phone starts with a wizard and a short tutorial, after which one can set up email and other accounts similar to the way one starts up the PlayBook. The tutorial also explains the gesture-based interface. The controls are fairly simple. Swipe up from the bottom bezel to wake up a smartphone, swipe down from the top bezel to access settings and swipe up from bottom to minimise any open app, which then minimises into an Active Frame.
In standby mode, the phone displays date and time, as well as message notifications. One can also access the camera via a button on the screen. Swiping in and out is smooth and while the gesture interface might take some time getting used to, it saves time. Thanks to my experience with the PlayBook and Windows 8, I felt at home with this UI.
The Phone, Universal Search and Camera button are always accessible on the home screen while the BlackBerry Hub icon appears on the far left of the screen. When applications are running in the background, the Active Frame icon also appears alongside the Hub icon. The four-point multi-touch display is a boon for touch junkies, though for a QWERTY fanboy like me, it takes time getting used to.
Hub, peek, sharing and multi-tasking
The BlackBerry Hub lets one know at a glance about all notifications email, BBM, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, as well as calendar entries. If you find that too much of information at one glance, as I did, you can pick and choose what to display. If you want to find out who pinged you while you were getting rid of the piggies, just swipe to peek at the notification.
Nowadays, people love sharing practically every aspect of their lives. While I dont go beyond tweeting about an interesting article Ive read, if you love to share, the Z10 lets you share content from within an app without batting an eyelid. And if you have an NFC device, just tap and share. Cool!
Multi-tasking is a joy on the device. We never seemed to feel any lag, thanks to the 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM. While the Z10 isnt a quad core like many in its price bracket, the processor gets the job done efficiently. We did face one instance of an app not responding, but then the app had crashed and an update did the trick. Keeping multiple windows open wasnt an issue, nor was it using all eight Active Frames together. The battery did tend to heat up a bit while simultaneously listening to music, browsing the web, playing a game, syncing media wirelessly and downloading an app.
Im a self-confessed QWERTY junkie and so had my apprehensions about the full-touch Z10. While I had been impressed with the beta version of the device thanks to its adaptive touch screen keyboard and predictive words, I was simply blown away by the final version of the device.
If youve always wanted to own a touch phone but were too much in love with QWERTYs, this is the one. For example, this is the first touch screen phone Im typing on faster than I normally do on my trusted QWERTY keypad, thanks to the fact that the intuitive software quickly learns the way you type and offers predictions which get better with time. For example if I had to type Can I call you later, all I need to key in now are in bold: Can I call you later and I can flick the suggested words up. At this rate, I might not even miss the QWERTY keypad!
A BlackBerry device isnt supposed to have a good camera, logic says. But despite that, whenever Im on the road, I tend to carry my ancient Curve 8900 along. Because, that sir, is great at taking outdoor snaps, thanks to its autofocus camera. Something that my current Curve 9360 lacks. With the Z10, I didnt need to though I confess I did take some accidental snaps while trying to zoom in. The rear snapper which features the auto focus also shoots videos in 1080p High Definition, while the front camera can shoot them in 720p. And Story Maker weaves a vacation movie out of videos and photos. The picture app lets one edit photos on the phone itself. And for those fidgety people, theres the TimeShift feature to pick the best frame for a photo. I never knew how important this feature was till I tried snapping a group of friends I was having brunch with on Sunday. No one can say the camera caught them at the wrong moment.
BBM addicts couldnt have it any better. While the last update to BBM let users have voice chats over Wi-Fi, the one on BB10 makes possible video chats and screen-sharing. While most social networks have BB10-specific apps, some havent yet launched. And the Z10 gives you the option of collating all data on a single person and link multiple entries of that person over several phone books. Weve heard that Skype will launch a version for BB10 soon. Lets keep our fingers crossed.
Work, web and world
BlackBerry was and still is getting the job done for corporates. With a BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES 10) back-end, the Z10 features Balance, which lets one segregate personal and work portions on the same phone into two separate world. Most popular protocols are supported by the Z10 but configuring the phone on older email clients could be a bit tricky. Also, since the phone uses a data plan, not the BlackBerry plan to connect, it makes sense to go in for one to spare some nasty surprises at the end of the month.
The new browser pulls data off the web in a jiffy and is a big improvement over previous versions. And Flash videos are supported, though not by default.
The biggest surprise is BlackBerry World, the BB10 version of the App World. While not as exhaustive as iTunes or Google Play Store, the store features a fair collection of apps, games, music and videos. And since the Z10 comes with 16GB of onboard memory (which can be expanded to 32GB via microSD), suffice to say you wont run out of space. The Z10 lacks an FM radio for now but there is a free app called Saregama Worldspace radio, which streams classic Hindi and regional music.
The Z10 features voice recognition its not extremely accurate but should get better with time. And free Siri clones are available on BlackBerry World.
The Z10 is a great device but comes at a price. While its valid that one can buy the latest iPhone for the price, owners of Apples nifty device have been left impressed with the Z10s interface and capabilities. Of course it will help a lot if its priced cheaper, but hey, we hope BlackBerry is thinking of launching cheaper BB10 devices as well.
The Z10 is not an iPhone or a premium Android killer. For those in the market for a premium device, they have one more choice. BB fanboys whove always stared with awe at their friends and their sleek iPhones and Androids this is your chance to get back, and for BlackBerry to put the company back on track.