, ,

The BlackBerry Z30 Has A Lot of Promise – Yes, We Said it: Review

DSC00053

We’ll hand it to BlackBerry, the new Z30 is nice. And yes, we realize it seems like BlackBerry is a sinking ship, but there’s a lot of promise in this new smartphone and BlackBerry 10. First and foremost, it supports most Android apps, so it already has Windows phone beat. Secondly, the entire OS revolves around the fact that you are a social creature and you need easy access to your emails and notifications at all times. There’s a bunch of other neat/convenient features too. You’re headed in the right direction, BlackBerry.

Z30 is a good looking device. It fits right in today’s smartphone market. It’s sporting a large 5″ super AMOLED screen and it’s dressed to impress. There’s a thin black bezel, a gun-smoke chin and gun-smoke sides, and a real carbon fiber back plate. It’s a tough phone, which is why it’s heftier than it looks (6 ounces). The design is relatively minimalistic. There’s no buttons on the front, just a few on the side for volume, mute, and lock. There’s a micro-USB port for syncing/charging and a micro HDMI port for video out. Snap the carbon fiber backplate off and you can swap out the micro-SIM card, or micro-SD card.

The specs are solid: 1.7GHz dual core Qualcomm processor, 2GB of RAM, and a large 2,880 mAH battery. The screen is a beautiful super AMOLED 720p display with high pixel density (295ppi). There’s an 8MP autofocus back camera with 1080P video recording, and a 2MP fixed focus front camera.

What service provider is the Z30 tied to you ask? None! It’s completely unlocked. It’s quad-band and supports LTE, HPSA, UMTS, GPRS, EDGE, and GSM.

This is the largest screen that’s ever been on a BlackBerry. Measuring at 5” corner to corner, it’s a really nice size. Not quite phablet, but still a large phone. The screen detail is fantastic. The colors are very vibrant and the blacks are inky black (our favorite). It fits the “retina display” guidelines and looks just as nice (if not nicer) than Apple’s official retina display.

Usability is maybe the most important feature of every phone. I wouldn’t call the BlackBerry 10 intuitive, but once you learn the few gestures, it’s insanely easy and efficient to use. The key ingredient is the swipe up. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen and you’re at your recently used apps. After swiping up, swipe right and you’ll reveal your information Hub (or swipe up and towards the right), or swipe left and reveal all of your other apps. There’s technically no home screen. Swiping up takes you to home base. It takes no time getting used to and BlackBerry Hub is a beautiful, beautiful, feature. Also, because everyone’s come to love quick toggles and shortcuts (i.e. toggle WiFi, toggle airplane mode, brightness).

BlackBerry hub. If there’s one thing BlackBerry knows, it’s how to organize notifications for busy people. The Hub is one of BlackBerry’s greatest features. It consolidates all of your messaging and notifications into one list, and can even prioritize it based on past behavior. Every notification in one easy-to-get-to place. If only iOS and Android were this easy. Of course you can also break down all of the notifications/messages by account. BlackBerry has integrated the Hub into the lock screen too so you can see all of your notifications, separated by application.

The camera can take fantastic shots, but it might take a bit of work. The focusing can require effort, as does white balance. The camera controls are easy to use, but compared to an iPhone, it’s not as easy to take a beautiful shot off the bat. With the right conditions, the photographs come out very detailed, very vibrant, and very beautiful.

There’s no Chrome or Safari on the BlackBerry Z30, but there is BlackBerry’s Browser which is supposed to be the fastest mobile browser out there. The study is from New Relic and they claim that Blackberry outperformed every mobile browser for fastest page load time. It’s fast, but feels no faster than iPhone or Android. All of our browser tests was on par with Android and iOS (Acid3, CSS3test.com, Google Octane, and HTML5test.com). There are some neat features like saving websites for offline viewing, read-mode, developer tools, and the ability to switch default search engine on the fly from Bing to Google or Yahoo. The browser is not quite as smooth (scrolling/zooming) as Chrome/Safari, and it could benefit from gestures and an quick-access forward button, but BlackBerry has done a pretty solid job at building a competitive browser.

There a ton of other neat and useful features baked into the Z30. For now, we’ll just list some off. Responsive typing with next-word suggestions and haptic feedback, voice activation, desktop syncing, time shift photo taking, universal search, profiles to separate work and home, LED indicator, dual stereo speakers, multiple microphones, BlackBerry Tag with NFC for syncing other devices, Face-to-face video chat with BBM Video, GPS, Navigation, HDMI mirroring and presentation mode, BBM (which is now supported by iOS and Android), and also Bedside Mode which puts your phone on do-not-disturb and also displays a dim clock.

That’s everything BlackBerry Z30 has, but what doesn’t it have? Well, it’s lacking familiarity since it’s more-or-less a brand new OS. It doesn’t take long to get used to though. It supports most Android apps, in addition to a bunch of native BlackBerry apps, but it’s unfortunately missing out on all of the good Google Apps (Hangouts, Maps, Drive, Chrome). There is, of course, support for Calendar, Contacts, and Mail. It also may not be the easiest to find Android apps of your choice (I used the Amazon app store). If you get a Z30, you might as well embrace the BlackBerry World app store, it has most of the popular apps (Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Evernote, DropBox, Angry Birds), but it’s missing some of them too (Instagram, Spotify). Other than that, it’s not missing out on much. It can do just about anything iOS or Android can, and in some cases even more.

Verdict

We’re not sipping the koolaid, the BlackBerry Z30 is a very fine phone. Are we giving up our iPhones anytime soon? We’re not, but you could easily make a case for switching. BlackBerry was always the working persons phone, and they’ve done a fantastic job on optimizing around productivity, messaging, and notifications. It makes us realize how badly iOS and Android need a “hub”. The fit and finish is well done; it’s a sleek device with a smooth interface. When you sum it all up, you’re just missing out on a few apps, but the Android support solves most of that problem. You can score the BlackBerry Z30, unlocked, off of Amazon for $429.99. It might sound like a lot, but for an off-contract phone you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck. Oh, and we forgot to mention, the mega battery will easily get you through a day (maybe two).

The Good: Beautiful, large, responsive, polished UI, and very efficient/productive to use. BlackBerry Hub is the best for managing messages and notifications. Screen is gorgeous. Lots of features, supports Android Apps, long-lasting battery, and great specs. HDMI output, unlocked, durable, real carbon fiber backplate and great speakers/sound quality.

The Bad: Still lacking some of the best apps. On the heavy side and BlackBerry Browser not as good as Chrome or Safari.(detailed above)

Update June 3: Browser feedback