Slick interface aids multitasking; BlackBerry Hub combines email, messaging and social networking; Superior touch keyboard learns as you type; Smart integration of calendar, contacts and messaging; BBM supports video chat and screen sharing
Performance lags at times; Some apps feel watered down compared to iOS and Android; Camera struggles in low light
The BlackBerry Z10 offers a slick, multitasking-friendly interface, killer keyboard and one-stop shop for messaging and social networking, but BlackBerry needs to work out some kinks.
Do you smell that? It's the scent of fresh BlackBerry. After more than a year of waiting...and waiting...the first BlackBerry 10 phone is finally here. The Z10 is certainly a welcome departure from the clunky, touch-unfriendly handsets that caused BlackBerry--the company formerly known as RIM--to become the tech world's punchline. A slick Flow interface makes multitasking a breeze, and there's a killer touch keyboard that learns as you type. BBM gets an upgrade, too, with the ability to video chat and even share your screen mid-call.
On the other hand, just as with Windows Phone, BlackBerry is playing catch-up in the apps department. And then there's the hardware itself. So does the Z10 have what it take to revive the brand?
Editors' Note: We tested the AT&T version of the BlackBerry Z10, which is expected to be available in March. BlackBerry's suggested retail price for the phone is $199, but the pricing had not yet been finalized. As the software we tested is not yet final, we reserve the right to change the Z10's rating.
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Measuring 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.35 inches and weighing 4.9 ounces, the Z10 is one-hand friendly, but not as svelte or light as the Motorola Droid RAZR M (4.4 ounces; .32 inches thick). The iPhone 5 has a smaller 4-inch display but is a full ounce lighter.
Display and Audio
When viewing an HD trailer for "Iron Man 3," Pepper Potts' white dress popped, but we didn't see the same luster in Iron Man's helmet and suit as we did on the iPhone. More details got lost in shadows. At least the viewing angles are fairly wide.
The Z10's keyboard is designed to mimic a traditional BlackBerry, right down to the frets between the keys. We found the large capital letters easy to target, and the Z10 tracks how you strike individual keys to cut down on errors.
Traditional auto-correction is on board, too; you'll see suggestions appear right on the space bar as you type, which you can accept by hitting the key. We also found it convenient that the keyboard automatically presents a number row above the letters when you're entering a password.
If you want to correct copy, tap the screen, and a big circle appears around the text with a cursor you can drag. Double tap to select text, then drag two anchor posts where you want them to go before tapping again to copy. However, the magnifying-glass graphic for the cursor didn't always go where we tapped, and the anchor posts for selecting text moved erratically at times.
Software and Interface
For example, when you tap on a meeting you can then look up the LinkedIn profile of the attendees right within the calendar entry or see your last several messages going back and forth on the subject. This approach not only saves time, but ensures that users are always in the know.
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 how many messages are waiting in your multiple accounts. There's also a camera shortcut button.
Three buttons remain present on each of the home screens: Phone, Search and Camera. And you can't change these options. At least the Search function is universal, though, which means you can start hunting for apps, contacts, calendar entries, messages and more just by typing.
Multitasking and Active Frames
When you return to the home screen, you'll see the app you just minimized in the top left corner and a grid of other recent apps listed below it in a thumbnail view. Tapping the X on the thumbnails lets you quickly close an app.
These aren't all just shrunken shortcuts, though. Many apps take advantage of BlackBerry 10's Active Frames feature, which shows helpful information on the shrunken tile. For instance, the weather app displays the current conditions and temperature at a glance, while the Calendar frame shows your next meeting. Expect more goodies as developers plug into BB 10.
BlackBerry Hub and Email
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. You don't have to take that extra step with Android and iOS; on those platforms, you can see all of your alerts at any time via a single swipe down from the top of the screen.
Our favorite 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.
Other 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 has a dedicated Voice Command button on the right that gives you many of Siri's abilities. 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 Command let us successfully change our Facebook status and schedule a lunch meeting. However, the feature had some trouble with certain names, such as Avram. It also mistook Z10 for "see 10."
BlackBerry 10 lets you voice type, but it needs to feed your utterances to a server before processing. So, it took several seconds for the Z10 to process the following: "I hope to be done with the copy today, but it might be as late as early Monday morning." When it did finish, the phone mistook "copy" for "country." Android Jelly Bean phones are faster because they offer offline voice typing, while iOS suffers from similar delays.
BBM, Video Chat and Screen Sharing
Otherwise, BBM is just as addictive and instantaneous as before, with multiple emoticons to choose from and the ability to attach files. Both video chats we conducted via the front 2-MP camera (one from 4G to Wi-Fi and the other with both users on AT&T's network) looked clear with synchronized audio. We'd say it's on a par with FaceTime.
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.
The Z10 doesn't have quad-core power like some Android superphones. Instead, it packs a 1.5-GHz dual core processor with 2GB of RAM. You'll also find 16GB of storage, which you can augment with a microSD Card (up to 32GB).
Click to EnlargeHowever, the Z10 was sluggish at times when responding to taps, opening applications and composing emails (the screen would dim briefly before launching a window). The phone was also slower than the iPhone 5 when changing screen orientations. We expect performance to improve as BlackBerry continues to fine tune the software.
If you need to restart or turn your BlackBerry Z10 off and then on, be prepared to wait. It took nearly 2 minutes (1:55) for the phone to fully reboot. 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.
In addition, the back of the Z10 became warm during testing, especially after hitting the 4G LTE radio hard for a while. After streaming a YouTube video for 15 minutes, we measured a temperature of 95 degrees Farenheit, which is uncomfortable, but not disturbingly so.
While the social apps worked similarly to their counterparts on other platforms, The Weather Channel seemed watered down, though. We didn't see a 36-hour forecast option, and we had to manually sync to get the latest weather.
Although the game selection was positively sad during our testing period (think Pong), BlackBerry says EA Games is bringing 15 of its titles to BlackBerry World, including "Real Racing 3," "Plants vs. Zombies" and "Dead Space." Meanwhile, Gameloft promises 10-plus games, such as "N.O.V.A 3" and "Batman Dark Knight." Parents will appreciate "Angry Birds Star Wars," "Fruit Ninja" and "Where's My Perry," as well as "Sonic 4."
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.
So what's missing? At least for now, BlackBerry World doesn't have such top-tier apps as Spotify, Pandora, Instagram, TripIt, Yelp, Netflix, "Temple Run 2" and "Words with Friends." We'd also like to see Concur added for tracking expenses.
Music, Video and Magazines
The content selection was fairly current as of press time, with such flicks as "Taken 2" and "The Dark Knight Rises" available to rent ($3.99) or buy (19.99). TV Shows include "Homeland," "The Walking Dead" and "The Carrie Diaries" for $1.99 per episode. We didn't see a season-pass option.
Our Z10 had a Newsstand app that promoted such magazines as Esquire and Cosmopolitan, but it wasn't fully operational during our testing.
Security and Parental Controls
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
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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 1080p video we recorded of a busy highway in New Jersey produced mixed results. Areas lit by the sun looked bright and clear, but we noticed pixelation in shadows.
We do give BlackBerry a lot of credit for having 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 Z10's battery life is on a 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. For example, after 3.5 hours of use -- making a few calls, checking messages, shooting some pictures and making two videos in Story Maker -- the battery meter was down to 65 percent.
We also ran the Peacekeeper Battery Test, which loops through a series of animations online. On this test, which constantly uses the 4G LTE Radio, the Z10 lasted 4 hours and 2 minutes. That's better than the Lumia 822 (3:54) and on a par with the HTC Windows Phone 8X on AT&T (4:04). The Galaxy S III got 4:04 on the same test, and the Droid RAZR M lasted 3:52.
NFC Support and Accessories
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.
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||BlackBerry OS 10|
|CPU||1.5-GHz dual core|
|Memory Expansion Type||microSDHC|
|Display (main)||4.2 inches/1280 x 768|
|Front Camera Resolution||2MP|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Talk / Standby Time|
|Size||5.1 x 2.6 x 0.35 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|