The BlackBerry Z10 is an incredibly important device, not only for the company formerly known as RIM but also for T-Mobile. For BlackBerry, the Z10 represents a fresh start, with a more modern interface and a touch keyboard that promises to beat them all. For T-Mobile, the Z10 is a big deal because it's one of the first devices to support the carrier's new 4G LTE network. Plus, this is the only Z10 you can get with unlimited data. So, should you pick this Berry?
Editors' Note: T-Mobile has not yet released a price for the Z10. We will update this review with pricing details when available. Portions of this review were taken from our review of the BlackBerry Z10 for AT&T.
BlackBerry's sturdy, black slab looks like a slightly larger iPhone 5 with similarly rounded corners, though it's not nearly as elegant. No diamond-cut edges or any aluminum here. We do like the dimpled, soft-touch feel of the back plate, which makes the handset easy to grip. Those looking for a little more flair should opt for the white version.
You won't find any button underneath the Z10's 4.2-inch screen. It's all about gestures on this smartphone. The top edge of the Z10 houses a headphone jack and power button, while a micro USB and micro HDMI port occupy the left edge. A Pause/Voice Command button sits between the two volume buttons on the right edge.
Measuring 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.35 inches and weighing 4.9 ounces, the Z10 is one-hand friendly. The iPhone 5, however, is a full ounce lighter.
Display and Audio
The BlackBerry Z10 sports a 4.2-inch display with a fairly sharp resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels. And while the display's 405 lux rating is higher than the category average of 371 lux, it's still lower than theHTC One (463) and iPhone 5 (525).
When viewing an HD trailer for "Iron Man 3," the white dress on Pepper Potts popped, but we didn't see the same luster in Iron Man's helmet and suit as we did when using the iPhone. More of the details got lost in shadows. On the bright side, viewing angles were fairly wide.
The Z10's speaker fared better, delivering an impressive amount of volume and clarity when we listened to The Lumineers' "Ho Hey." Every pluck of the guitar resonated. At the max setting, Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning" sounded fairly clean.
Those holding out for the BlackBerry Q10 and its physical keyboard should really try the Z10's touch keyboard, because it's one of the best--if not the best--around.
BlackBerry designed its touch-screen keyboard to ape the look and feel of a traditional BlackBerry keyboard, right down to the frets between the keys. Large capital letters were easy to target, and because the Z10 tracks how you strike individual keys, typos became less frequent the more we used the phone.
The standout feature of the Z10's keyboard is its word-prediction functionality. As you type, words appear directly above the keys that you would tap for the next letter. To accept a word, you swipe it up to the body of the email or document you're typing.
Auto-correction makes an appearance on the Z10, too; you'll see suggestions appear on the space bar as you type, which you can then accept by tapping the key. We also found it convenient that the keyboard automatically presents a number row above the letters whenever you enter a password.
To say the Z10's keyboard has lots of other tricks up its sleeve is an understatement. Need to delete a misspelled word? Just start swiping from right to left on the layout. You can even switch among three different languages on the fly if you add them in Settings.
If you need to cut or paste, tap the screen to make a circle appear that you can drag around. Double-tap to select a word, then drag two anchor posts where you want them to go before tapping again to copy. There were a few occasions when the cursor didn't always go where we tapped, and the anchor posts for selecting text moved erratically at times.
Software and Interface
BlackBerry 10 was designed with one key goal in mind: making multitasking easier. To do so,the company developed BB10 with two key pillars: Flow and Peek. Flow is the design paradigm that BB10 is built on and refers to the overall user experience, which allows you to quickly look up key info without jumping in and out of multiple apps.
For instance, when you tap on a meeting in the calendar, you can look up the LinkedIn profiles for the attendees right within the calendar entry or see your last several messages going back and forth on the subject. This approach saves time and ensures that users are always in the know.
The term "Peek" describes the gesture you use to access the BlackBerry Hub, up from the bottom of the screen and then to the right. The Hub, a one-stop shop for your messaging needs, aggregates everything from your email and texts to Facebook messages and Twitter mentions. You can also Peek at the Hub just by swiping from right to left while on the main home screen.
Unlocking the Z10 activates a nifty effect. As you swipe up, you'll see the lock screen start to fade and the home screen appear, as if you were clearing the fog off a window. The lock screen itself displays some useful info at a glance, such as a camera shortcut and a listing of how many messages are waiting in your multiple accounts.
The only persistent navigation buttons you'll find on the home screens are the Phone, Search and Camera buttons. Unfortunately, you can't change these. BlackBerry does, however, make the Search function universal, which means you can hunt for apps, contacts, calendar entries, messages and more just by typing.
Swiping down from the top of any home screen launches the Settings menu, from which you can toggle Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, the Alarm and the phone's Notification/Silent Mode. You can also activate Rotation Lock and hit the Settings button for more options. We'd like to see BlackBerry add Airplane Mode to this list of options. Moreover, the company should make this settings menu accessible while you're using any app, not just the home screen.
Multitasking and Active Frames
With the Z10, minimizing an app couldn't be easier. Simply swipe up from the BlackBerry logo at the bottom of the display to the top. If you happen to be using an app in landscape mode, you need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen while holding the phone sideways.
Minimizing an app automatically returns you to the home screen, where a thumbnail for the app will appear in the top left corner along with a grid of other recent apps. Tap the X on the thumbnails to quickly close an app.
Minimized apps aren't just shrunken shortcuts, though. Many of them take advantage of BlackBerry 10's Active Frames feature, which shows helpful information on the shrunken tile. The Weather app, for example, displays current conditions and temperature at a glance, while the Calendar frame shows your next meeting.
BlackBerry Hub and Email
The BlackBerry Hub is where many business users and BlackBerry Messenger fiends will spend the majority of their time. It's easy to switch from a view of all incoming alerts and messages to BBM, Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn or calls. You can also scroll to the top of the hub to see upcoming appointments.
Note, however, that if you're looking at your Exchange email and then decide to surf the Web, you'll need to back out of the Exchange inbox when you come back to the Hub in order to see all of your alerts. On Android and iOS, you don't have to take this extra step. Users can just swipe down from the top of the screen to see their newest alerts in various apps.
The BlackBerry 10 email client supports multiple accounts, including Exchange ActiveSync, POP and IMAP. We had no problem adding our Exchange, Gmail and Yahoo accounts.
One of the coolest features of the Hub is that it suggests additional contacts to include in outgoing emails based on the first person you enter in the To: field. So if you tend to send emails to the same groups of folks on a similar subject, BlackBerry 10 can save you time.
Further highlights include the ability to compose messages in rich text (which includes Bold, Ital, Bullets, etc.) and robust attachment-support. You can even easily attach files from your Dropbox account.
Voice Command and Voice Typing
The Z10's Voice Command is BlackBerry's answer to Apple's Siri and Google Voice. You can do everything from send messages (text, BBM or email) to schedule an appointment or make a note. You can also update your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn status.
When it worked, Voice Control let us successfully update our Facebook status and schedule a lunch meeting. However, the feature had some trouble with certain commands. When we tried to search the Web for "BlackBerry Z10," Voice Control searched for blackberries.
BlackBerry 10 lets you voice-type, but it needs to feed your dictations to a server before processing. So, it can take several seconds for the Z10 to translate your utterances. Because Android Jelly Bean phones offer online voice typing, they don't suffer from such delays.
BBM, Video Chat and Screen Sharing
One of the true "Wow" moments when testing the Z10 came when we received a video call within BlackBerry Messenger. After we swiped down on the screen to accept the call, we saw an icon that allowed us to share what was on our display with the other caller. This BB 10-exclusive feature can really come in handy for giving a quick presentation (as we did with Documents to Go). Of course, you'll want to make sure you don't have anything on your screen you wouldn't want others to see.
We experienced only a brief period of blurriness when switching screens or opening an app. Just don't expect to share video via screen sharing, as we found out when another Z10 user tried to Rickroll us on YouTube. Thankfully, playback never started.
The Z10 is the first phone to launch on T-Mobile's new 4G LTE network, which has a lot of catching up to do. Up until now, T-Mobile users have had to rely on the carrier's 4G HSPA+ 42 network for their high-speed data needs. And while that network is capable of fast downloads, uploads are nowhere near LTE territory.
T-Mobile says that its LTE network will come online in time for the Z10 launch at the end of March. The carrier wouldn't provide launch cities, but told us it will cover 100 million customers by mid-2013 and reach as many as 200 million by the end of the year. Because the network was unavailable at the time of our review, we performed our Web tests over T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 connection.
On Speedtest.net, the Z10 notched an average download speed of 3.1 Mbps. Upload speeds were much slower, reaching just 900 Kbps. Naturally, we expect those speeds to see a drastic improvement once the carrier's LTE network launches.
The Z10 loaded websites quickly, with ESPN and The New York Times' mobile sites loading in 6 and 3.3 seconds, respectively. Image-heavy sites like Laptopmag.com took a bit longer to load, finishing in 6.5 seconds.
Tapping the menu button to the right of the address bar provides access to several options, including the Add to Home Screen, Add BookMark and Find on Page. If you tap Settings on this menu, you can turn on private browsing; Chrome for Android makes this easier.
Unlike many new Android superphones, the BlackBerry Z10 doesn't offer quad-core processing power. Instead, it packs a 1.5-GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU with 2GB of RAM. Onboard storage is limited to 16GB, but that can be augmented with a microSD Card (up to 32GB).
Overall, the Z10 offered mixed performance. The phone was quick to switch between multiple applications, though we noticed occasional slowdown while playing "Jetpack Joyride". The phone was also slower than the iPhone 5 when changing screen orientations. In addition, in a few instances. the Z10 failed to recognize our inputs. We expect performance to improve as BlackBerry continues to fine tune the software.
The biggest turnoff was how long it took for the Z10 to reboot. We spent nearly 2 minutes (1:55) waiting for the phone to fully restart. Then you need to twiddle your thumbs as the Z10 prepares the BlackBerry Hub for another minute, during which time your emails and other messages are not accessible. We also noticed that the back of the Z10 became warm during extended use, especially when surfing the Web.
In order for BlackBerry 10 to be a success, it needs to offer the apps smartphone shoppers are looking for. The renamed BlackBerry World is off to a decent start, offering 70,000 apps at launch; Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Foursquare are all on board. Other favorites, such as Evernote, MLB at Bat, ESPN and The Weather Channel, are also available.
What's missing? Instagram, Neflix and lots of other apps we use on a daily basis.
To BB10's detriment, many apps seemed watered down compared to their Android and iOS incarnations. ESPN ScoreCenter, for example, lacked the kind of functionality offered by the Android edition. In fact, whereas the Android app normally breaks down scores by sport, the BlackBerry app lumps all sports scores together in a scrollable list.
The shopping experience is fairly straightforward, with the option for credit card, PayPal or carrier billing (if supported by your carrier). We just wish you could launch an app you downloaded right from BlackBerry World itself. You'll see a grayed-out Installed button after an app installs, forcing you to return to the main menu.
Since its launch, BlackBerry World has seen its games library increase tremendously. Whereas the selection was at one time a barren wasteland, you'll now find games including "Angry Birds Star Wars," "N.O.V.A.3," "Where's My Perry", the previously mentioned "Jetpack Joyride" and more.
We enjoyed USA Today, which sports an intuitive layout that mimics some of the sideways swiping of the BlackBerry 10 interface. Flixster (pictured) made it easy to look up movie times and watch trailers, while Docs to Go lets you view and edit Office documents.
The bundled Remember app is more than a task manager that syncs with Outlook. You can also use it to record audio notes, as well as to scrapbook Web articles, photos and other items. Plus, Remember syncs with Evernote. The Slacker radio app proved disappointing because it forced us to drill down to find our favorite station (which should be right up front) and because we couldn't skip tracks unless we were in the app. We could adjust the volume, however.
T-Mobile doesn't load down the Z10 with bloatware like it does with some Android phones. Instead, the carrier only installs its T-Mobile My Account app, which allows you to check your account information, find featured apps and get device-specific support.
Developed in partnership with TCS (the guys behind VZNaviagtor) and with TomTom's map data, POI and traffic info, the Z10's bundled Maps app is functional, but barebones compared to Google Maps and Apple's Maps app. You won't find 3D satellite views or fancy fly-overs, nor does BlackBerry Maps include images or ratings of businesses that you search for. The app doesn't even work in landscape mode yet. The good news is that the spoken, turn-by-turn navigation worked well and included accurate directions and street names. Still, maps were slow to fill in as we panned around the screen.
Music, Video and Magazines
BlackBerry is attempting to build BlackBerry World into an ecosystem, complete with more than 22 million songs (thanks to 7Digital), along with premium movies and TV shows (via Rovi). BlackBerry World makes it easy to discover content by displaying Top Albums, Movies and TV Episodes right underneath apps on its main page.
The content selection was current, with such flicks as "Life of Pi" and "Argo" available to rent or buy. TV Shows include "The Walking Dead" and "Downton Abbey" for $1.99 per episode. There doesn't, however, appear to be an option to purchase entire seasons.
Our Z10 had a Newsstand app that promoted such magazines as Motor Trend, Marie Claire and Surfer, which can be purchased for between $6.99 and $0.99.
Security and Parental Controls
BlackBerry Enterprise Server customers will be pleased to know that the Z10 features BlackBerry Balance, which lets users switch between work and personal profiles. The Work perimeter protects data with 256-bit AES encryption, and administrators can set up a storefront for corporate-approved apps. You can still access personal info in the Work profile, such as the Hub and your calendar.
BlackBerry 10's security extends to locating or wiping a lost smartphone via the BlackBerry Protect feature. Once this is enabled, you'll be able to track down the Z10 online at protect.blackberry.com, as well as have it display a message and play a loud sound. Should you decide to wipe your device remotely, you can also remove any data stored on the microSD card. In our testing, the service found our phone traveling down the NJ Turnpike within just a few seconds.
The Z10 offers several parental control options. You can disable various core applications and functions, such as the browser and Twitter, as well as the camera and the ability to purchase content. However, while you can restrict apps and other content based on ratings, you can't drill down on an app basis or white-list specific apps, as you can with Kid's Corner for Windows Phone.
Camera and Camcorder
The standout feature of the Z10's camera is its TimeShift mode, which can all but do away with shots in which one subject blinks but the others look great. After taking a shot with the back 8-MP camera, you can drag a nob back and forward in time, then select the version of the subject's face you want. As long as our subject didn't move too much, this feature worked well. If they do, though, be prepared for a head that looks dislocated from person's shoulders.
BlackBerry says the speed of its camera was a big focus area for BlackBerry 10. Sure enough, the Z10 fired off shots quickly in our testing, and there's a Burst mode that captures multiple shots in succession.
You'll also find a camera shortcut button on the lock screen. Too bad you have to long-press the button and watch a circle progress bar fill up first. It took 3.6 seconds to launch into the camera app, versus 1.8 seconds for the iPhone 5.
A shot we took outdoors of a motorcycle exhibited good color accuracy, but it looked slightly fuzzy when we zoomed in on the Honda logo. A shot taken with the iPhone 5 of the same bike turned out clearer. A shot of a busy New York street appeared sharp, with the yellow of passing cabs standing out nicely against the grey background. Below is a brief video sample recorded with the back-facing camera.
Photo and Video Editing
We do give BlackBerry a lot of credit for letting you have more fun with your photos and videos after you've captured them. The Pictures app lets you apply all sorts of Instagram-style effects and filters, and you can preview them just by sliding the effect onto the photo.
On the video front, there's Story Maker, which lets you easily combine video with music and various templates. Not only is the app intuitive, it made an otherwise dreary snowy Monday morning look interesting.
Call Quality and Battery Life
The Phone app on the Z10 lets you create a few shortcuts to your favorite people for quick dialing. While in the middle of a call, you can enter a quick note, or, if the person is on BBM, switch to a video call. Over T-Mobile's network, call quality was mostly clear on our end of the line, though we noticed a slight bit of static. The other caller noticed the same issue.
The Z10's battery life is on par with competing smartphones, but as with the iPhone 5, you'll struggle to get through a full day if you're a heavy user. On the Peacekeeper Battery Test, which loops through a series of animations online using the Z10's 4G HSPA+ 42 radio, the Z10 lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes. That's better than the AT&T version of the Z10 (4:10), though that phone ran its test over 4G LTE, which uses more battery power than HSPA+42. The Galaxy S III for T-Mobile got just 4:05 on the same test.
NFC Support and Accessories
The BlackBerry Z10 features an NFC chip for sharing files with other BlackBerry 10 devices, as well as for supporting mobile payment services. We successfully transferred a URL and contact from a Droid RAZR M to the Z10 with a tap, but the BlackBerry wouldn't accept an image file because apparently it was too large.
BlackBerry will make several accessories available for the Z10, including a Bluetooth-powered BlackBerry Mini Stereo Speaker ($99) and a Battery Charger Bundle ($49) that can charge your phone and a spare battery at the same time.
With the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry 10, the company has created a platform that should not only keep many faithful from jumping ship, but also win some back. In fact, there are some features here that all sorts of smartphone buyers will appreciate, especially the superior keyboard and the BlackBerry Hub, which shows you your emails, BBM and social alerts all in one place. And while it's not totally unique, we appreciate the camera's Time Shift function.
Those focused on being more productive have some reasons to look BlackBerry's way, but the app selection needs improvement. Whether you should buy the Z10 for T-Mobile depends on how long it will take the carrier's LTE network to roll out in your area, and how much you want to spend each month. You can get unlimited talk, text and Web for $89.99 per month on T-Mobile versus $119 on AT&T (unlimited talk, text and 3GB of data). If you want a Z10 on which you don't have to watch the meter, this BlackBerry is a good value.