After more hype than you could shake a very large stick at, a year of more downs than ups and the rebranding of an entire company, BlackBerry 10 is finally here thanks to the arrival of the BlackBerry Z10. Despite the fact that leaks were bountiful in the run up to the phone’s unveiling on January 30th, there were still plenty of unknowns, particularly on the specs front, but, at long last, we’re finally able to lift the lid on the new operating system and, more importantly, the new high-end handset from the Canadian company.
On first glance, the Z10 is your typical modern-day smartphone. It’s got a plain front, dominated by its 4.2” LED display, somewhat muted design features at the top, bottom and sides, and a stylishly subtle textured back sporting the BlackBerry logo, the device’s rear facing 8MP camera and an LED light to ensure you capture the best shot even in low light conditions. Where other companies are pushing the “bigger is better” mentality, it seems that BlackBerry is happy to stick with the “less is more” approach instead and, you know what, it works a charm.
While it lacks the pizzaz of other handsets, the Z10 really is a beautiful device. It might be smaller than some, but it boasts a premium heft, weighing in at 137.5g with the battery installed (compared with the 112g of the iPhone 5 and the 133g of the Galaxy S III). The understated aesthetics really add a sense of intrigue to the device, showing that you don’t need to go over the top with bling to deliver a unique handset.
Despite the first impressions based on looks, the BB10 launch was always going to centre on the new operating system. With so much competition out there from iOS, Android and Windows Phone, BlackBerry has known for a while that it really needed to pull something special out of the bag in order to ensure it could compete and, despite a few niggles here and there, we’re positive they’ve managed it.
Central to the BB10 experience are two key features; BlackBerry Hub and BlackBerry Flow. The latter, although being hugely important to BB10, doesn’t immediately show any great benefits. On paper, it’s the seamless integration of all your communications, your apps and your phone’s capabilities into one smooth, uninterrupted experience, but it’s not until you’ve had the chance to spend some time with the Z10 that you begin to appreciate how important it is to BB10.
One of the key features of Flow is the BlackBerry Hub. Despite being touted as two separate things, they’re very much interconnected. From the Hub (accessed at any time by swiping up from the bezel and then right) you’ll be able to check out all your recent communications from SMS to BBM to email to social networking. It might sound trivial, but being able to keep tabs on everything from a single location really does make the smartphone experience all the more engaging. Hub also features the particularly neat ability to “peek” at your correspondences, allowing you to decide whether to respond immediately or leave it until later. Within a few hours of settling down with the Z10, you’ll wonder how on earth you managed to survive all this time without Hub – it’s that good.
On top of that, there’s the best in class browser to play with. Fully HTML5 compliant, this little beauty actually outperforms Google’s desktop Chrome browser across the board, giving you an idea of just how much time and effort has gone into the BB10 infrastructure. Enabling Flash takes just seconds and opens you up to a world of video, games and interactive media without the headaches that accompany its use on other platforms, and making the Z10 the best device available right now for web browsing – quite a turnaround considering the lethargy of previous BlackBerry browsers.
It’s not all plain sailing though – the new BlackBerry World store, although it has seen improvements since last week, still has a long way to do. Despite announcing partnerships with the likes of Skype and What’s App during the official unveiling of BB10, they’re still suspiciously absent from the store, meaning that early adopters will no doubt face plenty of frustration. Thankfully, the new BBM does go a way to addressing the issue thanks to its new video calling and screen sharing, though it’s limited to other BlackBerry users only, which might cause problems in some parts of the world where BlackBerry doesn’t have quite the foothold it does elsewhere.
Thankfully, though, BlackBerry World is really the only issue with BB10 as an operating system. Everything else works beautifully, and even if it takes a while to adjust to the new touch gestures and layout, it’s well worth the time investment because it’s a beautiful OS. It’s slick, efficient and, most importantly, makes the smartphone experience a hell of a lot more accessible, discarding the need for individual apps for social networking communications and instead bundling everything within the Hub.
But enough about BB10, how does the Z10 size up against the competition? Well, in terms of specs we certainly have no complaints. It’s got a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage space (which you can increase through the use of a MicroSD card) , which is more than up to task for anything you can throw at it. Performance wise, it runs like a dream, and we’ve yet to encounter an OS related crash (although we did run into some issues with poorly ported apps, but that’s not BlackBerry’s fault).
One thing we haven’t touched upon yet, is the media capabilities of the Z10. While it’s never really been the forte of BlackBerry, they’ve really upped their game this time around. Not only are movies, TV shows and music available from BlackBerry World, but adding your own media is a piece of cake. You can either drag and drop by connecting the phone via the device’s micro USB connection, or if you’d prefer, you can instead use the BlackBerry Link software which syncs seamlessly with your iTunes library, should you choose to make the move from iPhone.
Video display is top notch, making great use of the LED display, or alternatively you can connect to a HDTV using the HDMI output located on the side of the device – although the lack of services like Netflix from BlackBerry World may not make that quite as usefully as it could have been (at least for the time being).
Given the hype surrounding BB10, it was always going to be difficult for BlackBerry to deliver on all fronts, but they’ve given it a mighty fine go. The Z10 is a superb debut for the new platform, marrying top-quality functionality with high-end specs. Hub and Flow work perfectly together to make for a genuinely unique and inspired communication experience, and with the BlackBerry World store improving on an almost daily basis, we’re happy to recommend the Z10 as a worthwhile purchase – and on a personal level, I’ve officially made the switch from my Galaxy S III to the Z10, which I really didn’t think I’d be saying a few months ago!