Name: BlackBerry Z10
Carrier: AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon
Price: $200 (w/two-year contract)
The Back Story:
By now we’re all familiar with the story behind the rise and fall of Research in Motion (RIM) and its BlackBerry brand of handsets. If not, we strongly recommend you read our piece on the company’s Biggest Fails. The once-dominate telecommunications giant ruled the mobile landscape with its QWERTY-equipped handsets. Then the smartphone revolution came with the introduction of the iPhone and everything changed. But instead of adapting with the times, the company dismissed Apple’s game-changing device as its biggest threat, along with the idea of dynamic software, touchscreen functionality, and an ecosystem built upon mobile apps becoming the wave of the future.
Six years later, RIM watched as its U.S. market share plummet to 1.6 percent, losing millions of subscribers and billions of dollars in the process. In search of a miracle, the company placed its final bet on an all-new platform, one built from the ground up around the very same principles it once shunned in the past. The new platform is called BlackBerry 10. Introduced in December 2011, the latest operating system from the company formerly know as RIM has a number of changes aimed at making it competitive with the current crop of smartphones. while suffering a year-long delay that, needless to say, hurt the brand’s momentum.
Unfazed by the criticism of its year-plus long delay, BlackBerry looked to ring in 2013 with a bang and has done just that, unveiling its new OS, along with the first of two upcoming BlackBerry 10 devices: the BlackBerry Z10. Scheduled for launch in March, the Z10 ditches the company’s patented physical keyboard in favor of a full touchscreen, bringing forth quite possibly the best virtual keyboard on the block, as long with innovative features sure to appease fans. But is too little, too late for BlackBerry?
• BlackBerry 10: The latest BlackBerry OS flaunts a fresh-looking UI that’s heavily reliant on touch gestures and welcomes a host of innovative features including BlackBerry Flow, BlackBerry Peak, Time Shift, and dual-profile modes (Personal and Work). Interface navigation is controlled through Flow, which allows for transitions between apps and different screens without the use of back or home buttons. Peak allows users to check for new messages without existing a program. Both functions work in unison with the system to enhance productivity. Time Shift is an innovative burst mode for the camera that captures several shots and lets users determine the best one. It also gives users the ability to switch between a personal and corporate profile works great for organizational purposes.
BlackBerry Hub serves as a unified inbox that aggregates all BBMs, emails, and every other notification that comes to mind. That also includes missed phone calls, social media alerts, and app updates. Then there's Active Frames: a multitasking feature that lays out the most recently used apps and runs mini-versions of them in a window. BlackBerry hates referring to it as a widget, but that’s exactly what it is. Overall, BB 10 is a fresh new take on the BB OS that caters to all smartphone users: business and casual.
• Best virtual keyboard around: Those of you with reservations about adapting to a non-physical QWERTY BlackBerry can breath easy and put the Storm nightmares to rest, because the Z10 arguably has the best virtual keyboard on the market. The degree of input accuracy on the device is quite amazing. In addition, the larger on-screen keys provide a smoother typing experience. But it’s the predictive text software that steals the show. The feature adapts to your typing style and vocabulary, shooting suggestions above a set of different letters to accommodate faster sentence creation. It takes some getting used to, but it’s only a matter of time before you start shooting long-winded BBMs at a ridiculous pace. What’s also incredible about the keyboard is it supports and recognizes three different languages simultaneously. So, lets say you jot down a Spanish word, the keyboard picks up on it and allows you to finish a message without enabling any settings.
• Modern spec sheet: It took long enough, but BlackBerry finally made the push to stuff its mobile devices with more advanced hardware. Plastered on the front is a sharp a 4.2-inch (1280 x 768) panel that produces deep contrasts and wide viewing angles. It’s no Retina Display or Super AMOLED screen, but it’s a massive step up from the Bold 9930’s puny 2.8-inch capacitive touchscreen. Powering the Z10 is a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM, both of which are credited for the phone’s speedy and responsive performance. And like the BlackBerry 7 lineup, the Z10 also offers Near-Field Communication for file sharing and mobile payment transaction, though the company hasn’t expressed any interest in the popular feature that’s gained serious traction over the past few months with Android devices.
• Excellent call and data service: BlackBerry’s famous for delivering stellar cellular and data coverage. The Z10 proves the company is still on its A-game. Reception in the Tri-State area was solid for the most part, as we screened loud and distortion-free calls throughout most of Manhattan and Brooklyn without calls being dropped. Data speeds were impressive, with apps downloading at fast rates and the browser loading web pages instantly.
• Cool accessories lineup: Where Motorola failed, BlackBerry is looking to succeed on the mobile accessories front. Leading the pack is a funky U-shaped Bluetooth 4.0 speaker that clips onto any messenger bag or seatbelt, serving as both an audio receiver and speakerphone. Another hot and highly recommended add-on is the battery charger bundle: a portable device that charges a backup battery on the fly (Oh, yeah, did we mention the battery is removeable?). Then there are a number of fashion-forward protective cases to keep on your radar.
• BB 10 still needs work: BlackBerry Flow and Peek are cool concepts that help simplify the process of switching between apps. However, the problem lies in the OS’s execution. Since the device doesn’t have physical navigation keys, more touchscreen engagement is required by the user in order to weave through the UI. Example: deleting an email becomes a three-step procedure consisting of opening it, expanding a menu, and hitting the “delete” button. Also, not all programs feature an on-screen “back” button, so you’re forced to perform two or more swipes just to access the open apps screen or Hub. On top of that, there’s noticeable lag in the Hub and some bugs present in the software.
• Poor battery life: One the biggest gripes about BlackBerry phones in the past was the lack of phone vitality. Sadly, the more things change, the more they say the same. LTE, video calling, and multimedia playback are like kryptonite to the Z10’s 1,800 mAh cell, draining energy much faster than anticipated. Our device struggled to get through a full day on moderate use. Now you know why we recommended the battery charger bundle.
• BlackBerry World & Android app integration: While the company’s managed to stock its virtual app store with some of the industry’s top programs (Dropbox, Foursquare, Angry Birds Star Wars), the absence of heavy hitters like Instagram and Spotify is sure to turn consumers away. Speaking of which, BB 10 also supports a variety of Android apps, although most perform sluggishly and aren't plesant looking.
Final Say: BlackBerry 10 is a fresh (and innovative) take on the company’s once-obsolete software that excels in two of the brand’s most popular touchstones: multitasking and messaging. New software calls for modern hardware and it’s a relief to see a more up-to-date spec sheet on the Z10, though its uninspired design makes it seems as if BlackBerry is playing catchup rather than innovating. So is BlackBerry’s new smartphone a game-changer? No. As impressive as the OS is, it’s still not enough to convince iOS and Android users to jump ship. Plus there are clearly some software kinks that need to be fleshed out. But for the CrackBerry faithful, it’s the smartphone they’ve been eagerly anticipating.