BlackBerry Goes Big
BlackBerry unveiled the fourth BlackBerry 10 (BB10) OS device, the Z30 in September. Touted as the "biggest, fastest and most advanced" BlackBerry smartphone, the Z30 packs quite a decent set of specs to try and grab market share from the competition. Can the Z30 achieve what the Z10, Q10 and Q5 could not - to break the stranglehold of the mobile market by Apple iOS and Google Android? Let's find out if it has what it takes to pose a strong challenge and make consumers reconsider BlackBerry once again. Here's a quick look at the BB10 flagship devices:
Design, Features and Handling
(Note: We've done a hands-on article with the Z30, so we'll summarize the key points here instead of going into great length again.)
In a nutshell, the Z30 feels great in the hands although it somewhat lacks the simple premium look and finish that the Z10 has. For example, the Z30 has the rear carbon fiber backing of the Q10, which in our opinion, looks a little cheap. Fortunately, as noted in our review of the Q10, the rear carbon fiber finish has a matte feel and provides some grip.
The Z30 also has a silver accent at the bottom lip of the device which honestly does not appear aesthetically pleasing. A simple black finish like the Z10 is more than adequate to exude class. Apart from the two visual oddities, the build quality of the Z30 is solid and you can't fault it on that note.
As noted in our reviews of the HTC One, One Mini and Butterfly S, the power button should be placed at the side of the device instead of the top for easier access. Unfortunately, BlackBerry committed the same mistake on the Z30; for a 5-inch device, this forces users to stretch their finger to reach the power button at the top center of the phone.
5-inch Super AMOLED Display
The Z30 currently has the biggest display ever on a BlackBerry smartphone at 5 inches across. This puts it in the same league of most flagship Android smartphones that were unveiled this year.
However, it lacks the eye-popping 1080p displays of its rivals, and comes with a 720p one instead. This works out to be a pixel density of 249ppi. Nonetheless, the quality of the display with its wide viewing angles is excellent with rich and vibrant colors.
BlackBerry 10.2 OS
The Z30 is the first BlackBerry mobile device to run on the latest BlackBerry 10.2 OS. According to BlackBerry, there are hundreds of refinements and several new features to help users be more productive on their devices. The core user interface remains the same, which you can read up on it here. While we cannot go through every single of the changes made to the BB 10.2 OS, we highlight the key features:-
Lock screen notifications
You can now view notifications on the lock screen of your BB10 device. The feature can be enabled or disabled via Settings > Display > Lock Screen Notifications. You also have a preview of the notifications by tapping on the individual app notification icon (e.g SMS, email, Facebook) and a preview of its contents will appear on the right.
Having lock screen notifications will certainly benefit BlackBerry 10.2 OS users since there is no need to unlock the screen to just view the notifications. Users can decide whether they should reply to an urgent email, SMS or comment on their social networking sites or leave it. However, these actions require you to unlock the screen and it's not a direct action available from the lock screen notifications. Competing platforms offer more advanced functionality in this respect.
The Windows Phone 8's lock screen offers the flexibility of displaying images or information from selected apps and services since last year. Google has introduced a slide-down notification tray in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and enables more actionable notifications in subsequent versions of Jelly Bean. Apple's iOS 7 allows users to view and remove notifications on the lock screen. At the moment, you cannot act on the lock screen notifications in BB 10.2 OS.
Instant Previews of BBM, SMS and Email from Any App
To help BB 10.2 OS users be more productive on their devices, the new OS allows previews of emails, BBM and SMS messages in any app. In addition, BBM and SMS can be replied in any app. This means that you can reply to conversations while browsing the Internet, watching videos or using other apps. The below screenshots illustrate this point.
BlackBerry Priority Hub
The BlackBerry Priority Hub can now learn what conversations and contacts are most important to you by collecting priority messages across your email, social networking and other accounts. You also can manually select which messages to be sent to the Priority Hub and unmark them any time in future. This helps you to keep up-to-date with the latest and most important emails and messages.
The Z30 has an 8-megapixel rear autofocus camera with back side illumination (BSI) for better low-light photos, 5-element F2.2 lens and a 2-megapixel fixed focus front-facing camera. Click on the image below to check out the rear camera's quality:-
Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:
- Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
- Constant data streaming through email and Twitter
The Z30 lasted 11 hours and 33 minutes, making it the best performing 5-inch smartphone that we've reviewed so far. As a point of reference, the Samsung Galaxy S4 managed a battery mileage of 10 hours and 47 minutes. Even the LG G2 and Sony Xperia Z1 with 3,000mAh batteries could not last as long.
Looking at the Power Consumption chart, the Z30 has one of the lowest power consumption at 1.08Wh and the chart also shows why the G2 and Z1 failed to hit the record set by the Z30. Its lower power consumption can be attributed to the fact that the Z30 uses a more power-efficient AMOLED display and requires powering lesser pixels on its display compared to the 1080p screens on the PadFone Infinity (Late 2013), G2 and Z1.
In the Portability Index where each device is assessed on its ability to balance battery mileage with its size and weight, the Z30 topped the comparison when pitted against its rivals. Only the Z10 was better, but it's a smaller device to begin with.
Can BlackBerry break the stranglehold of the mobile market held by Apple iOS and Google Android? Unfortunately, our answer is no. Make no mistake about the Z30 - it is the best BlackBerry smartphone yet, and should appeal to BlackBerry users who have liked what they've experienced with the Z10 but have been yearning for a larger display.
While the premium design aspects take a backseat in the Z30, we still find it to be a solid, well-built device. Its handling is also good. Although it lacks a 1080p display, the 720p display is more than sufficient for most tasks such as replying emails and browsing the Internet. What made the Z30 particularly outstanding is its ultra long battery life, which is a rarity today since most smartphones can hardly make it through a day of usage.
Meanwhile, the BlackBerry OS still poses a learning curve for Android, iOS or Windows Phone users who are planning to give it a try. Its navigation and interface are very different from that of the competing platforms, and we think it takes a combination of an open mind, a willingness to try and a little patience for these users to ge accustomed to it.
Don't get us wrong - the BlackBerry 10 OS provides a refreshing experience for any smartphone users who are searching for one. Its advanced keyboard and revamped BlackBerry Hub are killer features that competing platforms do not have. However, we are unsure whether these features are enough to entice users over to its camp. After all, a vital part of the mobile phone experience lies with the quality of apps available to it and while BlackBerry is making progress there, it's still a far cry to the two most popular app platforms.
Retailing at S$828, it is hard to recommend the Z30 over the other smartphones unless you are a loyal BlackBerry user or you need a smartphone with the longest battery up-time. At about a similar price point, the S$898 ASUS PadFone Infinity (Late 2013) and LG G2 are compelling alternatives if you are willing to fork out an extra S$70.