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BlackBerry Z10 review: the best BB ever made

image of the BB z10

So here we are. BlackBerry gifts us with the Z10, one of two “10” models released into the wild, with the other being the touch-and-type Q10. The BlackBerry Z10 is an otherworldly treat, a combination of blood, sweat and gears combined into a user-friendly smartphone that is fast, accessible and brimming with a heady catalyst of ideas. Here’s a BlackBerry you can finally be proud to own. Pity about the apps though — it really lets down the whole package, but not enough to squash the mighty PlayBook mini. Geek warning: I’m not going to ramble on about specs, you can visit the official site for that. This phone is more than specs, it evokes a feeling of joy.

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Z10, phone home

The Z10 is a masterclass of design. While it may not have the chamfered edge of the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini, it’s got that glorious mini-PlayBook look and feel. This is a tablet I practically fell in love with, and to have a mini version of it is one of the great gifts from the tech gods themselves, much like the Nexus 7 was.

Design-wise, you can’t go wrong. The Z10 is a pleasant 137.5g in hand, feels rich and leathery at the back (thanks to the dimples) and has a 4.2 inch screen that looks practically end-to-end when the display is turned off. It’s also fighting for the title of the smartphone with the most pixels per inch with 356PPI.

There may be too many buttons. A power and volume rocker are fine, but this “play content” button located between the up and down volume toggles is a misguided thought. While it works in theory, I spent a lot of time adjusting the sound, only to have the play button accidentally pause my content. While none of it feels cheap, the play button could have been happily omitted.

Even the back where the battery, SIM and MicroSD card slots are contained, looks like a class act. The Z10 has squeezed in as much as possible here, but in slimming down the battery have given us a phone with a paltry 1800mAh power output. This is under a day of use. The battery in fact, was a mystery in of itself. Some days, the phone would smash out a full day and night of use with 3G and without having to charge it. Other days, it would be on fifty percent battery before lunch. Let’s hope BlackBerry sorts this out in a further OS update, as the last update fixed precious little.

Overall, the Z10 looks outstanding and is very much a modern phone. There is nothing to fault in look and feel and this is a device, when combined with the very snug BlackBerry pouch, you’d happily whip out during lunch at yet another “save the hipster” charity event.

Button-free thrills

I’ve waited for this. A phone with no front-facing buttons. I was bored with the iPhone and its home button, and the soft-keys of Android did me no favours. All I wanted was a phone without a button on the front. Who would be one of the first companies to brave these murky waters? BlackBerry was, and the Z10 is a triumph of interface.

Swipe and tap to open apps. Pull up and right to open up the Message Hub. Drag down for a quick selection of settings such as WiFi, rotation lock, Bluetooth and alarm. Pinch to zoom. Swipe up to minimise. It’s fantastic. And it never fails to work. It’s initially an uphill battle as you struggle to understand where the home button is. But once you’re used to it, the device flies like nothing before it. BlackBerry says that the gestures are designed “with you in mind” and for once the marketing is spot on.

Happy snapper

The camera is lovely. It is just, lovely. An 8-megapixel camera delivers the goods in 0.5 second snapshots. Open the camera and take a shot almost instantly by tapping anywhere on the screen. Boom, picture. Click, movie. It’s fast and fantastic. Plus it can time-shift images. Not happy with how that selfie turned out? Adjust the slider after the picture is taken and pick a frame that suits the face. Again, this is intuitively handled. A great camera overall.

No sacrifice in power

BlackBerry have created an extremely potent phone that is bursting with speed. The 1.5Ghz dual-core processor is a treat and apps fly on it, with a smoother performance than I’ve seen on iOS and Android.

I won’t bore you with endless stats. Here’s a phone that can take the brunt of any action. I ran my messaging software, video editing apps, the browser, a game and a YouTube video while constantly swapping between each app. No slowdown, no hesitation, it just worked. And with the gestures, it worked better than any phone I’ve used before.

My 16GB, 4G Z10 may not be the fastest phone on paper, but it is the nippiest phone in function.

Apps, don’t judge me

I think it’s only fair that we rate the Z10 lower thank to its lack of quality apps at launch. BlackBerry went to great lengths to ensure that we understood that it “intends to launch BB10 OS with more apps than any other first-generation operating system.”. This is meaningless of course, as it’s launched with nothing but the basics.

Preinstalled with the Z10 was Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Dropbox, YouTube (which is sickeningly a link to the YouTube mobile site and not an app), the horrendous BlackBerry maps powered by Bing, and Docs To Go. There are some other odds and ends, such as the incredible Story Maker that weaves together content to create a fairly neat-looking video, and a Weather app that is so ugly and slow I’ve got no idea how it snuck out for the launch. Time constraints? Let’s hope so.

Here’s my judgement then: how dare BlackBerry do this? Its collection of apps is passable and BlackBerry World, its version of the Google Play store and iTunes, is an underwhelming mess. There is no native Whatsapp, Flipboard, Skype and criminally, no Instagram. The lack of that app alone will turn off many users. I’ve literally heard friends telling me that if a phone doesn’t have Instagram, they won’t purchase it.

BlackBerry World seems like an afterthought, as if the basic software is horribly broken and what’s left for users to buy is nothing short of junk we have to shell out R30 for. What quality apps and games that can be found look and run as well as any other mobile OS. I spent a lot of money on Sonic 4, and it looks and plays as well as it did on Xbox live. The future bodes well for top-class, well constructed apps.

How to fix this then? Do you wait for the official software, or do you sideload Android apps? The latter is a breeze to do and works very well. Pity BlackBerry is forcing me to jailbreak my Z10 in order to use it for everyday functions. So yes, this is a massive black mark against BlackBerry and smacks of laziness. Don’t release an iPhone competitor if you’re going to stuff up and leave out apps that 99% of smartphone power users cannot do without.

After the appeal of the Z10 wore off, kind of like when you spill water on your new car seats, the app issue began to haunt me. There is simply no reason for this — it’s not as if BlackBerry didn’t have the time to get these apps ready. It just makes me wonder about BlackBerry’s commitment to an app-focused environment. This is why users have abandoned BlackBerry in their droves, as the once-mighty company seems to have little to no care for the end-user as far as apps are concerned.

Turnaround time

You know that meaningless, old-fashioned saying of “pull your socks up son”? BlackBerry has done just that. It’s elevated itself into a winning position. The Z10 is fast, the gesture control is magnificent and the display is class-leading. Once the app environment catches up with the Z10, we’ll have a true fighter here. For now though, the Z10 is in a precarious position as it delicately balances user interest with its underwhelming selection of apps. Still, it’s one hell of a good-looking phone.

Verdict: The BlackBerry Z10 is an excellent smartphone with some of the best gesture controls I’ve ever experienced. Where it lacks in apps, it excels with innovation. 

Score: 8/10

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