I got my BlackBerry Z10 on its Canadian release day, February 5th. I guess my mobile device experience prior to the new BlackBerry was a bit like the Samsung commercial that is currently airing; I couldn’t find one that did everything I needed it to do. With a few caveats, the Z10 has become that phone for me.
My carrier is Fido and the phone runs on their 4G network. I was lucky enough to have an expiring contract and a lot of “Fido Dollars”, so the Z10 cost me essentially nothing. Prior to this device I used two phones, an iPhone and a BlackBerry Curve.
I write about BlackBerry a lot and I see a smartphone space that is clearly becoming commoditized and product cycles that are getting shorter. That said, I think the BlackBerry 10 platform will be enough for the company to secure third place globally behind Samsung and Apple. You can bet, however, that any advantage BlackBerry has with this device will be quickly co-opted, as BlackBerry itself should co-opt superior features of rival phones. Of course, the app world takes care of much of that. At the time this piece was written, Google was rumoured to be buying BBM tribute Whatsapp for a billion dollars.
To me, the most important feature of the Z10 is the BlackBerry Hub. The Blackberry Hub, which collects all your online personas and contacts an updates them in real time in one place, made me feel instantly better organized. I soon began wishing I had it on my desktop. I think this feature works especially well because people are beginning to have what I describe as “platform fatigue”. You go to FaceBook for your friends. Linkedin for you business contacts. Instagram for your pictures. Twitter for your news. Having all this in one place seems more intuitive.
The swipe gesture interface on the Z10 was the first thing that made my old iPhone seem outdated. Having to press the home button to move in and out of apps and programs I suspect won’t be a feature of any device, including iPhones, in coming years. I was puzzled when initial stories showed people were having trouble with the phone’s swipe gestures, I don’t personally know anyone who would.
Many smartphone reviews these days don’t really address how well the devices actually work as a phone. This may seem odd to someone older than 30, but maybe less so to kids, who are more fond of texting and use social media as their primary means of connection. But phone quality matters to me. There’s nothing especially better or worse about the quality of a voice call on the Z10. I would characterize the speaker as better than average, but there seems to be a slight glitch in that my screen will sometimes black out before I can hit the speaker button on the phone. When I swipe up to return to the screen it will again go black before I can hit speaker. As a result, in about one out of every ten calls I can’t activate the speaker phone.
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This brings me to my single biggest complaint about the Z10 and a common complaint from everyone I know who has one. If you want to password protect your device, the login buttons are simply too damn small. This becomes especially annoying when you are moving around, and results in frequent login errors. iPhone and Android devices have large type login screens that work much better. Some Z10 users I know are choosing to remove password protection because of this, but that is not a workable solution. I think BlackBerry needs to fix this right away. It sounds like a small thing, but it is a pet peeve of virtually every Z10 owner I have talked to.
The browser on the BlackBerry 10, which supports Flash, will be a revelation to those who have had an iPhone, and even more so to those who used previous BlackBerry devices. On my 4G network, it is lightning quick and allows me to view web sites I couldn’t before. One downside: I have found the browser crashes about 3-5% of the time I use it.
I would characterize the Z10’s battery life as below average, but I almost certain that is because I have switched from 3G to 4G. Degraded battery life is a common complaint from users of all 4G enabled devices. The Z10 does allow you to swap a fresh battery in, something the iPhone does not.
Many BlackBerry users are waiting for the Q10, the one with the physical keyboard that will be released later this month, but I find I can type as fast with the Z10’s virtual screen. The “flick-typing”, which works by building a vocabulary based on your use and predicts which words you might use next, can be very fast. Sometimes the word suggestions, which are quite small, disappear beneath my fingers, but In general I find this is a very fast keyboard to type on.
BBM Video works well on the Z10, but won’t be a huge improvement over FaceTime for Apple users looking to switch. One feature I find myself using a lot is BBM to make voice calls to other BlackBerry users. The quality of these calls is invariably much better than regular call.
The last thing I will tackle is apps. I haven’t ported over any apps from Android, but that is because there are none I feel I am missing. For some people the lack of Instagram, Spotify, Pandora, or Netflix might be a deal breaker, but not for me. When I was using my iPhone, I had several thoughts about Apple’s App Store: there were seemingly thousands of duplicate apps, things such as battery life monitors, flashlights, and texting apps. I just wanted the one that worked. Also far too many apps -including a navigation app I paid $99 for -simply didn’t work. I also wondered how many apps were necessary simply because the browser on the iPhone wasn’t very good.
When BlackBerry made a device that allowed people to leave their desks and still maintain contact through email, it was a watershed moment and what many in tech would call a revolution. That word, of course is overused and simply cannot be applied to the Z10, which is a superior evolutionary product.
What’s the difference? Email while you are golfing: revolution. Better contact manager, browser and camera: evolutionary. Still the Z10, in my view, has now set the bar for smartphones. The only trouble for BlackBerry is, with competition coming from all sides at an increasing pace, how will it define a lasting advantage for itself? Apple has built a moat by essentially becoming a purveyor of high-end fashion. What will be BlackBerry’s next move?