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BlackBerry Z10 expert review

Blackberry Z10 - vertical on stand - 4_3

BlackBerry (previously called RIM) today unveiled their highly anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system and the first phone to run it, the BlackBerry Z10. A fresh mindset for this device has ushered in a new era for the Canadian smartphone giant. Geek Squad's very own Agent Ashley Clark puts the handset through its paces in our expert review.

The new device is a BlackBerry but not as we know it...

Firstly, the Z10 is no longer dependant on BlackBerry Internet or Enterprise for a web, email and app connection. In fact, you can do almost everything on the new devices without a SIM card! You’ll still need a BlackBerry Service Plan for things which require the BlackBerry network, such as BlackBerry Messenger though. Here's a rundown of our key points of note:

Pros

  • A 1.5GHz dual-core processor, coupled with 2GB of RAM
  • Video calling via BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)
  • “The Hub” – a single location to retrieve every notification on the device.
  • Hot-swappable MicroSD card – it can be removed without turning the device off
  • Micro HDMI and DNLA technology - allowing you to stream your media in full 1080p

Cons

  • No native Outlook syncing functionality is a big surprise - see our work-around here
  • Gesture based navigation took a little time to get used to
  • Good looking although slightly generic styling

It's worth noting that I was test-driving a pre-release copy, so there were a few teething problems. At the time of reviewing the device, the BlackBerry World storefront was going through maintenance, so I was unable to delve deeply into the available applications. Although BlackBerry has promised there will be over 70,000 applications in time for launch. Fingers crossed!

Blackberry Z10 - Multi-tasking hero shot
The BlackBerry Z10 - A new era for Research in Motion

Design

The design is certainly a break from form for BlackBerry. The Z10 is sleek, sexy and slim, boasting curved corners, a full-touch front panel and a complete lack of buttons on the front.

Volume buttons and the lock button are on the side of the device in the traditional spots and the overall feel of the device is well put together and solid. It’s easy to operate one-handed and the all-touch interface supports both the sleek aesthetic appeal of the handset and the simple, intuitive gestures which drive the whole BB10 interface.

Hardware

Blackberry Z10 - Media Playback - 4_3
The handset didn't break a sweat with HD playback

In our tests, the BlackBerry Z10 was quick, very quick. This is owing to the synergy between the three main components: the dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm chipset, 2GB of RAM and most importantly its QNX-based operating system. This means the device can seamlessly run multiple high-intensity applications such as 3D games, streaming music, apps and VOIP calls.

One feature I loved is the new Qualcomm chipset which brings “multi-band radio support” to the handset, which means it can connect to all mobile phone networks in the UK and it’s compatible with both EE’s 4G network and Vodafone’s proposed LTE-Based network. This future- proofs the device, meaning you can keep some flexibility and choice over your future 4G options. Not many devices in the UK offer this functionality yet so the BlackBerry is an excellent choice if you fancy 4G in the future but aren’t ready to pick your network right now.

The device sports all the mod-cons when it comes to input and outputs, meaning there are no proprietary chargers or memory cards required here with both MicroSD and MicroUSB slots available. As is customary on high-end devices like this, NFC comes as part of the package along with micro-HDMI connector which is great for throwing content onto a big screen.

Blackberry Z10 - Camera - 4_3
The Time-Shift mode was wasted on our static Wombles!

The Time-Shift mode of the camera is something to behold - snap a multiple of shots of people and alter just one individual’s expression to get that “perfect shot”. Its impeccably clear quality allowed us to capture some amazing shots of the recent snow fall whilst out enjoying the cold. A top hardware spec and the efficiency of the software BlackBerry have produced makes the camera app especially quick to launch even from a locked device, meaning you need never miss that action shot again.

Software

The aforementioned QNX software system is one of the unsung heroes of computing. Their systems are used in all manner of places, running many highly critical real-time systems like nuclear power reactors and medical equipment. In terms of the BBZ10, it certainly made for a rock solid experience.

Blackberry Z10 - Hero - 4_3
The Z10 - A multi-tasking machine!

Multi-tasking is one area that the BlackBerry Z10 really excels at. You can download multiple applications simultaneously, play a game and stream a 1080p HD movie to a DNLA TV via Wi-Fi without missing a beat. Unlike previous BlackBerry devices, you no longer have to reboot your device when you update or delete an app, a welcome addition matching the performance of iOS and Android handsets. In fact, during our thorough review process of almost a week, we didn’t need to reboot once!

It has to be noted at this point of the review that while we're looking specifically at the handset itself, we did test out the desktop connection and we were amazed that BlackBerry have removed native Outlook syncing support from their new desktop application specifically for BB10. This may ruffle a few feathers as the previous generation of BlackBerry handsets were seen as the business users handset of choice primarily because of email support and this very syncing function! Here's hoping this comes in time with updates to the desktop client.

BB10 Facebook Cropped
Social networking is far from an afterthought in BB10

The device itself comes pre-loaded with many of the traditional BlackBerry apps, along with a whole host of new ones too! BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) includes the new addition of BlackBerry voice and video chat, taking advantage of the 2mp front-facing camera.

There's an in-built picture editor, allowing you to add effects and borders, akin to the filters offered by the likes of Instagram and a pre-loaded video editor, allowing you to create movies with titles, transitions, credits and more. We were also pleased to see social networking services Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook integrated into the new OS - critical features for any top end smartphone operating system these days.

The unified hub feature is particularly interesting as it means you no longer have to scramble around to find notifications from dedicated apps. To open the app and reply to a message, you simply swipe into the hub using the “Peek” gesture, driven by swiping your fingers on the bezel at the bottom of the device. Then tap on the new message and respond, delete, forward or manage it in any way you wish. Full integration with online services such as Dropbox and Box.net allows you to instantly and securely synchronise your files to a cloud service, or access files from your home PC whilst on the go. These features all worked well on the handset and even when throwing lots of these apps around at the same time, the handset stayed responsive and glitch free - good stuff.

Blackberry Z10 - Keyboard and BBM
The latest BBM on display with the Z10's smart on-screen keyboard

As for the iconic BlackBerry Keyboard, it may not be present on the touchscreen Z10 device but BlackBerry has introduced a custom touchscreen keyboard which I’m sure could read my mind! Okay, maybe not quite read minds, but it certainly seems to learn from you. The operating system understands how you construct sentences, learns how you hit keys and best of all, adapts to how you type. This has been a big development challenge for BlackBerry who is famous for the keyboard input on their devices. On one hand, apps and media are better experienced on the large screened devices but people don’t tend to like typing on them so the corporate market who still loves their QWERTY handsets is where BlackBerry rule the roost. The keyboard on the BlackBerry is impressive and certainly the best I’ve worked with on a touchscreen handset to date. It supports multiple languages at the same time and uses some cool heat mapping technology to recognise, record and adapt to your typing. Throughout our hands on time with the phone, the experience steadily improved and allowed for some really good typing speeds on longer emails and messages once I was up and running.

In our opinion, BlackBerry has once again proven themselves to be a true market leader in the world of Smartphone technology. They were the first to bring many things to smartphones 10 years ago and with this new operating system, they’ve brought many more.

Agent Verdict

Blackberry Z10 - In hand home screen - 4_3
Separating Agent Clark from the device proved challenging

For a first-generation device, this offering from BlackBerry goes to show just how 15 years of experience in the mobile industry pays off. Agent Andrews, who looks after our review samples was warned he would need a crowbar to extract the device from my hands when it came to returning it, and I’m not ashamed to say there has been a tear or two shed as he removed it from our possession.

Bar the occasional software gripe, which is acceptable for a review sample, I have struggled to find anything particularly wrong with the device, but as a BlackBerry owner and advocate, I am still a little sceptical about the apps available to the device at launch, but only time will tell on this score. A strong app library is critical to the success of the platform and BlackBerry has put a lot of resources behind getting a great collection ready for launch. Fingers crossed.

A new leader at the top of BlackBerry has brought a fresh way of thinking to the company which is evident in many of the features on this device. It's been a long, long wait, but what's been delivered is one heck of a handset. I would give it an 8 out of 10, but I’m only holding back my score because of the limited availability of BlackBerry World at the time of testing and a few little software oversights which I expect BlackBerry will have fixed by the time it is in the hands of consumers. Overall, BlackBerry has delivered the goods here and turned in a device that looks set to fire the company right back into the race for the future of smartphones.

Simply put, this is not just another BlackBerry, it proposes to be an entirely new way of working.

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