BlackBerry Z10 Review: Can It Compete with iOS and Android Rivals?

By Marcy Bonebright, dealnews Senior Staff Writer

BlackBerry's newest — and perhaps most important — smartphone hits stores this week. And to say that BlackBerry has a lot riding on the Z10 is an understatement. Although it was once a dominant voice in the smartphone market, a string of recent failures has left BlackBerry reeling. A company with deeper pockets, like Microsoft, can afford to have a hit-and-miss product line, but that's not so for BlackBerry, and the company has bet high, rolling out a brand new operating system with the Z10.

The BlackBerry Z10 is now available with contracts from AT&T and Verizon, for $199.99 upfront, and for $99 (with an additional $18/month) on T-Mobile. The 16GB BlackBerry Z10 is also available unlocked for $619.99 (a low by $25). And yet, even with the big three stocked and ready to sell, experts wonder if the new handset could make BlackBerry relevant again, or if it will finally push the company over the edge. To get a better idea of where the Z10 falls amongst its competitors, we combed through a wealth of expert reviews and compared its OS, design, and more.

The BlackBerry Z10's Guts and Glory

For starters, the BlackBerry Z10 weighs in at 4.8 oz.: 0.8 oz. more than the Apple iPhone 5. It features a 4.2" 1280x769 touchscreen display, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB flash storage (expandable up to 32GB), a 2-megapixel front-facing camera with 720p video recording, an 8-megapixel back camera with 1080p video recording, GPS, accelerometer, 4G connectivity, 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, and the latest BlackBerry 10 OS.

Beyond the aforementioned specs, the BlackBerry Z10's hardware has been mostly well received. TechCrunch found the device to be both aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing, noting that "it's a light device, since it's mostly made of plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap; the pebbled back cover has a pleasant feel in the hand, and it's practical too, since it's slightly grippy." However, the review goes on to discuss that while the display boasts a resolution and pixel density similar to (or better than) some Android and iOS offerings, the Z10's color rendering and brightness leave much to be desired, especially when compared to the iPhone 5.

Many reviewers lament the Z10's distinct lack of physical buttons, which is a major departure from BlackBerry's signature design. Instead, the Z10 sports a power/lock button on top and volume controls on the right. A center mute/play/pause button between the volume buttons also activates the Voice Control app, which is the BlackBerry equivalent of Siri. "And ... that's it," read an Engadget review. "The Menu button is gone and there's no physical camera button this time around, either, but the volume buttons can be used as such if you don't feel like tapping on the screen."

Speaking of cameras, TechCrunch found the Z10's camera offers comparable picture quality to other smartphones on the market, but was blown away by the TimeShift feature, saying that it can seem like "magic." "Basically your phone takes a rapid series of photos, then auto-detects faces in the picture series (be warned, this doesn't work reliably in very low light conditions), and then lets you select which face to use." However, CNET's hands-on review was unimpressed with the Z10 camera's lack of photography-driven options and controls: "There's no HDR, no ISO settings, no grid, no geotagging, no option to drop resolution, and — one of its worst offenses in my opinion — no way to silence the shutter's loud clacking."

Blackberry 10 OS: Gestures, Gestures, Gestures

Since the BlackBerry 10 OS comes without any Home button, navigation is controlled by a series of gestures and swipes. These movements thereby enable users to switch between apps without having to return to a home screen. The BlackBerry Hub displays up to eight running apps as tiles and is accessed by swiping up and left. Yet this gesture-led navigation can have a steep learning curve. "The nice thing about gestures is that they are available almost regardless of what mode you're in, so it could be argued that it makes the phone easier to use," a Forbes review points out. "But it's not easier to learn. Aside from the fact that it's different from Android and iPhone, it's also not as intuitive."

The BlackBerry Hub is also the central point for retrieving notifications, though some users may be initially put off by the absence of detailed pop-up notifications. CNN says: "There's an LED that blinks and a motor that vibrates and icons that appear on the lock screen when mail, text messages, or updates roll in, but there's nothing to tell you who is sending you what in real time. You always have to go into the hub to find your answer."

While some experts may be displeased with the Hub, most can agree that one of the phone's best features is its innovative touchscreen keyboard. A writer for The Huffington Post claims that the on-screen keyboard is the best he's ever used on a smartphone, claiming that it is "fast, accurate, responsive, and very easy to get accustomed to." It purportedly even learns writing styles so that users' commonly used words and phrases pop-up from the keyboard. Furthermore, words that are often misspelled will be autocorrected as the user types.

Thousands of Apps ... on the Way

The Blackberry Z10 scored points with some reviewers by coming with several apps pre-installed (i.e. Facebook and Twitter), and the BlackBerry App World store currently offers over 100,000 apps. However, as CNET points out, both Apple and Android offer several hundreds of thousands of apps, and the company is struggling to find app developers to help make up the dearth. Notably absent apps include: Netflix, Hulu, Instagram, and Google Maps. However, customers can reportedly expect apps from The Wall Street Journal, CNN, eBay, and Skype soon.

Is the Z10 Worth the Money?

Most reviewers agree that the BlackBerry Z10 is a solid, usable phone. It's sure to please BlackBerry fans who are already familiar with parts of the new operating system. But unfortunately, BlackBerry doesn't need a solid smartphone, but rather a standout hit that can challenge Apple and Android's marketshare. That is not the BlackBerry Z10. As CNN Money put it: "This is a phone that feels like it's six months behind the rest of the pack." And it doesn't help that BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has been talking up "an 'exciting' new flagship device [that] could launch around the holidays," instead of the just-debuted Z10.

All in all, while the BlackBerry Z10 does offer a unique experience via the revamped OS, button-less stylings, and an impressive keyboard, the current lack of apps available and the Z10's less-than-intuitive functionality may be shortcomings that prevent it from drawing users away from iOS and Android.

But if you want to give the BlackBerry Z10 a try, set up an email alert now to receive notification as soon as we list a deal.

Front page photo credit: Engadget
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