With a sober design and a large, 4.3-inch touchscreen, the Z10 has no physical keyboard—a first for BlackBerry. It runs on BlackBerry 10, the radically refurbished operating system the firm describes as both innovative and intuitive.
When it comes to hardware, the Z10 is on par with its biggest high-end competitors, with a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of microSD-expandable memory, an 8-Megapixel camera and a potentially scanty 1,800 mAh battery.
The Z10 is 4G-ready and boasts NFC compatibility for contactless payments and content sharing.
Can BlackBerry's new recruit hold its own on the hotly contested smartphone market? Is it a practical everyday tool with the convenience, battery life and multimedia features you and I need? Is this BlackBerry's next big break?
DESIGN & HANDLING
To say the least, the Z10 doesn't look like any other phone that has come out of the BlackBerry factory to date. The change is radical—which isn't to say original, because The Company Formerly Known As RIM has chosen a design that you may recognise... from the competition.
We cannot be the only ones to see how similar the Z10's design is to the iPhone 5. It's flagrant, if not excessive. It's got everything, from the ultra-minimalist cut to the rounded edges.
The Z10 simply does not have a body that stands out (unless you count the thicker thickness, wider width and slightly more industrial look than the iPhone 5).
BlackBerry has thus decided to spearhead its rebirth with a design that's pleasantly sober, but humdrum and lacking creativity. A phone with its own visual identity would at least have helped the company set itself apart from its mobile rivals.
Then again, originality isn't everything. Despite the all-plastic body, the finishing on the Z10 is impeccable, and it's really a nice phone to hold in your hand. The soft-touch back was a nice touch.
The frame surrounding the display is wider than most smartphones. The first time we first picked up the Z10, when the screen was turned off, we were expecting it to be a sort of 'infinity' screen. But once we turned the display on, we noticed how thick the border around it was. Why so wide? The answer lies in the operating system: BB10 is all about touch navigation, and many of the new gestures require a wide border.
There are two great things about the design that we love: the notification LED and the micro-HDMI out. Another cool thing about the Z10 is that it comes with a protective cover. When you slip the Z10 inside, the display automatically turns off. We have our doubts about how long this cover might last, but either way it's a good initiative on BlackBerry's part, given that most smartphones come bare.
The BlackBerry Z10 has a 4.2-inch IPS display with 1280 x 768 resolution, making it one in a long line of smartphones with 4- to 4.8-inch screens based on similar technology. The average contrast (1547:1) is gigantic! With a ratio as good as this, we highly suspect that it uses dynamic contrast, which is rare on a smartphone. To back up our suspicions, every time we used one of our test cards, the screen seemed to take a micro-second to adjust.
We were a little disappointed with the screen brightness, however, which only goes up to 291 cd/m². That's 20 to 30% less than the best on the market. As a result, while the contrast is indeed astonishing and provides good readability with the backlighting on minimum, it doesn't make up for the low brightness when you use the phone outdoors. The average gamma (= 3) is way over-the-top, making for a flagrant lack of detail in both colour shading and black/grey shading, where dark parts of the image turn out muddy (this is particularly noticeable when watching movies). The screen has extra-wide viewing angles and the response time is 18 ms, one of the best on the non-AMOLED market.
So, what's the verdict? Does the Z10 have a good display? Not entirely. Its advantages are high contrast and perfect viewing angles, and the disadvantages are a lack of detail in dark colours (especially with videos) and low brightness.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
We wrote a full article about BlackBerry 10 OS right here. To get an idea of the overall user experience—the interface, the menus, the features and more—you'll want to check it out.
As a smartphone built for 'the average consumer' with an 8-Megapixel camera (most of the high-end smartphones released in recent months have 8-Megapixel cameras), the Z10 should theoretically take good photos. Two weeks ago we showed you the initial results from our lab tests, and what (we thought) looked like a fairly decent camera phone.
Well, we take that back. After spending more time with the Z10, we've decided to revise our verdict. While the tests we ran were all solid and reliable, it turns out things are a bit more complicated than that. In low lighting the detail drops dramatically and contours come out just about as imprecise as physically possible. Also, it isn't always easy to focus, and even with the digital image stabiliser on you often get blurry images.
Basically, the conditions have to be just right and you have to have enough light (a grey sky is enough to considerably drop the sharpness). The Z10 is not an all-weather camera phone.
The video function, on the other hand, isn't bad for a smartphone. The images it produces are relatively fluid. As for the media player, it plays a wide range of file formats, including DivX/Xvid and Full HD 1080p videos (low and high profile).
The headphone output gives great sound, with high volume. It should work well with the great majority of headphones and portable speakers. It doesn't give the slightest trace of saturation and the dynamics are excellent.
In terms of sound quality, the built-in speaker is nothing extraordinary, but it does the job. Just beware of high saturation at high volume. One good thing about it that it's located on the bottom of the phone, making it one of the only smartphones with which your hands don't block the speaker when you hold it.
BlackBerry has gotten a lot of flack over the years for its web browser, considered by some as being less user-friendly than other browsers. On BB10 they've completely reworked the browser and the result is much more effective: it's actually fun to surf on! The new browser supports HTML5 and Flash, it's fast, pages scroll smoothly, and the zoom (which you rarely even need because of the high resolution) is responsive.
A word about BB App World. Fans of BlackBerry's corporate orientation will be on familiar—and satisfying—ground here. BlackBerry World has lots of apps (many paying) for things like security and business services. But the general public may get quickly bored with it. It has very few games other than Angry Birds and its multitude of followers, and almost nothing that really makes use of the Qualcomm Adreno 320's graphics capabilities. It has 70,000 apps, many of which are the same ones you find on Google Play, but when it comes to games and entertainment, there's practically nothing. In fact, Windows Phone 8 looks like video game heaven compared to this...
The Z10's removable 1,800 mAh battery simply doesn't have enough juice to provide adequate battery life. If you use a little bit of everything (multiple accounts, active notifications, multitasking, some gaming, lots of Internet, a few videos and YouTube), the Z10 has trouble lasting more than... half a day! What's worse, if you do nothing more than check your notifications, have the Wi-Fi on, and have a web page and the camera open in Active Frames, in less than four hours the Z10 loses 25% of its battery!
Put simply, the BlackBerry Z10 has a problem with battery life. This is really a penalising factor for a high-end smartphone in 2013 that has a host of longer-lasting rivals with beefier batteries to compete with. Battery life is one of the buzz features this year, and the Z10 is up against the likes of the Galaxy S3.