Scott Hanselman

Review: The Blackberry Z10 - In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

August 6, '13 Comments [39] Posted in Reviews
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imageI've been hating my iPhone lately and I've got a love-hate relationship with my Lumia 920 so my buddy at AT&T loaned me a Blackberry Z10 for a month to try out. This is the same buddy who loaned me an AT&T Unite Hotspot in May. These are loans, I don't keep them.

Imagine a world where there is no iPhone and there is no Android and there is no Windows Phone. In this world, the Blackberry rocks. Not just rocks, present-tense, but rocked, past tense.

I mean, seriously, the RIM 950 had an Intel 386 and 4MB of RAM. That thing ran for a week on a AA battery and changed my life. Blackberry connected me. That was truly innovative. Research in Motion changed mobile forever.

The Blackberry Z10 changes nothing. It pains to me to say this, truly it does. I'm sure that in some parallel universe Blackberry is on top and Mr. Spock has a beard. But on this planet, Mr. Spock has an iPhone (or probably a rooted iPad Mini that runs LCARS).

rim-850

But, still, I ran with a Blackberry Z10 for a month and I tried, I really did. It's a lovely device, the Blackberry Z10, make no mistake. But, it's a Blackberry-iPhone. It's evil Spock, not Spock - a mirror if you will.

BlackBerry_Z10_front_and_back

Don't we all appreciate the innovation in phone design that's happened since the introduction of the iPhone?

image

But is it a Blackberry? Kind of. It has BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) but that's where it ends. It actually feels more like the lovely HP TouchPad's webOS than like anything I've seen in the Blackberry universe. It's certainly more visually polished and consistent than any Android I've used, has more clarity and depth than a Windows Phone and is some how as fluid as an iPhone.

Moving Around

You can move in and out of apps within a grid of four running apps. It's similar to the row of thumbnails you see on iPhone iOS7 or Windows Phone, except in a grid. One nice touch is that some apps, like the NYTimes for example, can opt-in and draw a custom tiny thumbnail of their own. Apps that choose not to just show a standard thumbnail. This is a small but under-utilized touch that has potential if it takes off with developers.

You swipe left and right between the Blackberry Hub on the far left, the running task list, and the actual app launch takes up the remaining screens.

IMG_00000017IMG_00000018 IMG_00000008

Browsing

The browser is excellent. It supports much of HTML5, CSS3 and Media Queries and modern sites like my blog and podcast site rendered great. It's not quite Mobile Safari but it's very close. Fonts render clear and clean and the 1280x720 screen is fantastic.

IMG_00000001 IMG_00000002 IMG_00000003

Your Information

The calendar has such potential, although the Month View is useless, as it is on literally ever smart phone I've ever used. It's all birthdays and wasted space. Week View tips over quickly as well once you start having anything that resembles a normal person's schedule.

IMG_00000011 IMG_00000012 IMG_00000014

Email and The Hub

The one differentiator that this Blackberry has is the omnipresent "Hub." It is always off to the side and accessible from any app. It's Email and Facebook and Twitter and Texting all in one.

IMG_00000015 IMG_00000009 IMG_00000010

Pros

  • Mini HDMI connection - I'm not sure I'd never use this, but I love that I have the chance. However with things like the Chromecast (and Miracast, AirPlay and Wi-Di) there's just no reason to have a physical connection to a large screen anymore. Or at least there soon won't be.
  • Feels great in your hand - It feels like an iPhone 5. It's weighty, but not heavy, firm and well built. Even though the back comes off (a plus, so you can swap batteries) it still feels tight.
  • Fast - It never lagged, swipes were recognized and responsive
  • Blackberry Hub - Everything (Twitter, SMS, Email, etc) is all in one place. Reminiscent of the Windows Phone People Hub, but more "swiss army knife" with all your messages in one giant list, my only complaint is that the swipe to access the Hub is not-intuitive. You swipe up from the bottom, then turn 90 degrees and keep swiping to the right, like a right-turn sign.
  • Browser - I was really impressed with the browser. It supports CSS3 media queries nicely and scrolls fast.

Cons

  • Smallish battery - I never made it a full day without having to charge. To be clear, my iPhone barely makes it past 2pm, but I somehow expected more from a Blackberry. This battery is only 1800mAh.
  • Small App Ecosystem - The Angry Birds, Twitters, and Facebooks are all here, but once you start digging it's clear that this is a paper dragon of an AppStore.

If you're #teamblackberry and you have #iphoneenvy then this is likely the phone for you. However, there's no compelling reason to switch if you already have a smart phone. If you're in the market for your first smart phone, I'd consider one of the top three phones, as I just don't see Blackberry winning. Still, it's an impressive first outing.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013 9:40:16 AM UTC
Thanks for the article. I personally enjoy using my WP8 and the only thing that is a pain for me is the same as for Blackberry - lack of apps. Btw, is this a typo or intentional - RIM stands for "Research In Motion" and you have it as "Research in Mobile changed mobile forever."
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 9:53:19 AM UTC
"Imagine a world where there is no iPhone and there is no Android and there is no Windows Phone. In this world, the Blackberry rocks"

Hahahaha.
Andrei
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 9:55:09 AM UTC
What's 'MOMMY DAY'? :)
Sam
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 10:29:23 AM UTC
Your are writing too many reviews these days
Smangla
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 10:41:56 AM UTC
Why the love-hate with the 920?
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 10:53:57 AM UTC
"The Blackberry Z10 changes nothing."
At this point, what *would* be considered innovative? Not everyone can be Steve Jobs and have the foresight to come up with a game-changing device.
Blackberry is in a precarious position - on the one hand, it has to come up with something new and exciting to differentiate itself from the pack, but on the other hand if it goes too far it risks alienating everyone and the company's existence is literally at stake.
Frank
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 12:33:55 PM UTC
I don't think the hail-Mary that RIM/Blackberry needed was copying the iPhone. Yes, the OS has some differences when you dig into it, but superficially the body and OS looks like a total ripoff. If people want an iPhone, they will buy an iPhone. Blackberry should have gone with something a lot more distinctive if they wanted to save their company.

At least MS tried to go their own direction with Windows Phone.

Scott, I'm curious as to why you didn't mention the on-screen keyboard in this review. In every other review I've read, that's the part people are most excited about as the OS lets you complete words by swiping from the pressed key rather than lifting your finger up and touching elsewhere on the screen.
Sam
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 1:00:41 PM UTC
I hear you on the 920. I finally ditched mine after about 4 months. Partly because it was such a brick, but mostly because some of the key apps I used on a regular basis were just too buggy on it.

I had bought a Nexus 7 to replace my Kindle Paperwhite (which my son inherited) so I could check out Jelly Bean in its unmodified form. I found it to be unexpectedly snappy, intuitive and generally pleasant to use. So, when I ditched my 920, I replaced it with a Nexus 4 which is now running 4.3 (not rooted). I very much prefer it to my old iPhone 4 or Lumia 920. If you get the opportunity to try out a plain vanilla Android 4.3 device, I highly recommend it.
Jim Lamb
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 1:41:26 PM UTC
Hi Scott,
What's wrong with the iPhone? After 6 months pain with my Nexus 4 and because of the missing essential apps in the winmo universe the iPhone 5S is my last hope. Btw I was also thinking about this BB, but it is a dead-end, not a real option compared to the MS and Apple worlds.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 1:51:27 PM UTC
Just curious...it seems like the one BIG thing that BB brought was the corporate manageability. That's why big companies and government agencies still hold on to their old Blackberries. I know there are some management functions in Android and iOS, but my understanding was that BB was far more powerful, and the new devices even better (despite requiring a new management server). I never expected BB to compete as a stand-alone consumer device; that ship has sailed.

Any sense of the Z10's management functions? Might be impossible to tell if you're not part of a managed device network.

(And yes, that does mean that your IT department is run by Evil Spock. Are you really surprised?)
Neil Laslett
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 2:32:43 PM UTC
Scott, you have made my choice so much more difficult. I'm ready to retire by Bold, and was leaning to the Z10, but now wondering if I should abandon my Blackberry loyalty and jump ship. Thanks for the review.
Carrie
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 2:53:16 PM UTC
Why you no like android scott?
Gregor
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 3:05:47 PM UTC
About 6 years back my wife and I bought Blackberry Pearl. I've since had an Android and then a Lumia 900, but she still uses hers. She has no real use for the data plan, and she doesn't use it for anything other than phone calls. But the truth is, it's the finest phone either of us ever owned when used as a phone. She loves hers and refuses to part with it.

I offered to get her a touch screen phone, but she has no interest in it.

I have a Lumia 900. It's unlikely I'll buy another Windows Phone ever again. I'm not a fan of iPhone, but maybe if they make a slightly larger screen... otherwise I'm curious about the new Moto X. I've still got many months left on my contract.
Steve S
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 3:29:33 PM UTC
Subtle tangent, but one of the things I appreciate about the Modern "Don't Call It Metro" App aesthetic is how much it seems like the closest we might actually get to LCARS in real life. Great Windows 8 apps and Windows Phone 8 apps feel to me like what their LCARS equivalents would be, only with a few more Mondrian squares and a few less rounded edges.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 3:30:40 PM UTC
I feel like I'm swimming against the tide here because I just replaced my BlackBerry Torch with a Nokia 925. I LOVE the windows phone OS and Nokia still makes some nice hardware so I'm very pleased. I tried android and it was a disaster - have they fixed the bug yet where music played through the phone jack would skip and stutter? How that got out the door, I'll never know.
Neil
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 9:45:00 PM UTC
Scott,

I disagree with @Smangla who says you are writing to many reviews. I enjoy the reviews. To me you are reviewing products a developer is likely interested in.

Tim
Tim Murphy
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 9:56:34 PM UTC
Gregor - I gave the Blackberry back and the AT&T guy gave me a Samsung Galaxy S4 to check out. Review in a few weeks to a month.

Michael - I find the 920 a little slower in switching apps than my iPhone. I tend to move very fast, move into email, process, then tweet, etc, and there's always a...pause...on the 920.

Sam - Every other week my Wife gets a Mommy Day where she can just "punch out" and go do whatever. She's off the clock. I get one on alternating weeks.

Gargol - Thanks, fixed!
Wednesday, August 07, 2013 3:32:15 AM UTC
You know, this reminds me of a story with Nokia.

A long long time ago, in an ecosystem far far away, Nokia had a problem. Symbian's APIs and general developer friendliness was horrible. Programmers hated to program for it (I still shudder at the memory). And most of Nokia's own employees had a love-hate relationship with it.


Until one day, the Symbian gods demanded that Nokia's web services division turn a Symbian smartphone into a full fledged web server. They were forced to port Apache, MySQL et al onto a Symbian smartphone, than they had to make it so that their own web services can run on an array of Symbian phones (albeit in a reduced capacity).

It was a herculean task, took years and was never fully completed. Many developers quit in the face of such adversity. Yet after that, Nokia finally weeded out the weak willed of their developers, forced themselves to completely rework the APIs and the user interface, and convinced themselves to splurge on QT to improve developer friendliness.

Mind you, Windows Phone can get a lot better, if Microsoft forced itself to port all its products to it. IIS, ASP.net, SQL Server, Visual Studio, the whole shebang. You guys would hate the experiance so much the windows phone would be fixed of all its issues ;)
Sihan
Wednesday, August 07, 2013 9:52:05 AM UTC
Hey Scott, I'd like to see a review of a vanilla android phone, e.g. Nexus 4 if you're going to do android reviews.

Every time I use someone's non-vanilla android phone I feel like the "polish" added by manufacturers actually detracts from the experience (especially Samsung's gaudy skin). And for that reason it would be interesting to see how you feel about vanilla vs non-vanilla android!

Keep up the good work
Wednesday, August 07, 2013 2:58:51 PM UTC
What about development tools for Blackberry? Is there any tool (Xamarin-like) that allows .NET development on Blackberry?
Amir
Thursday, August 08, 2013 2:14:15 PM UTC
@Amir

No, but a workaround that I've found is to just develop for Android then port it over to Blackberry 10. BB10 will be having Android 4.2 emulator running on it very soon. Only problem with doing the work around is that you can not really take advantage of the features of BB10.

@Scott you mention the lack of apps I wondering did you try side loading apps? There is a chrome extension that allows you to side load them over almost effortlessly. Can read more about it here : http://crackberry.com/sideload-apps-your-blackberry-using-google-chrome

Knowing that you can do that(sideload android apps) plus having the 4.2 emulator would that change your outlook on BB10. Seem like the only problem with it then would be smallish battery. Which I agree I expected more from BB with regards to battery life.
Guest 007
Friday, August 09, 2013 9:43:18 PM UTC
Nick - Someone just gave me a Samsung S4 from AT&T. What percentage of phones is 'vanilla' vs. with carrier and stuff? I wonder if reviewing a vanilla phone isn't realistic, because it's not what my dad is going to buy.
Friday, August 09, 2013 9:51:21 PM UTC
Fair point, I guess. But the most recent Nexus devices have been incredibly popular and you can now get a HTC One Google Play Edition, which comes with stock Android. I can only imagine a greater market penetration in future as Nexus becomes a brand in itself and more manufacturers might make GPE phones. Perhaps you could review a vanilla device in future, for comparison against a non-vanilla experience?

Is your Dad really the target demographic for your reviews? Haha
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 3:12:49 AM UTC
Scott, been using a Z10 for around 2 months solid now. Agree with you on most points. No thoughts on the keyboard? Personally, found this to be the No1 Pro for the Z10 (the Hub a close 2nd). Have fat fingers but somehow, even though I've totally stuffed up a word, the suggestion from the OS is 99% spot on. Makes typing an absolute breeze.
Yep, the Z10 body under a different OS would be great. Like you, just can't see this getting any more than low single digit market penetration WRTO other available options. Nice enough and a quality piece of hardware, but too little, too late. These days, it's the software that makes the difference. Cheers. Basil.
Basil
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 5:11:42 AM UTC
Basil - I found the keyboard to be solid, better than most Android ones. The "flick up" for autocomplete is a nice innovation, but not nice enough to get me to move.
Thursday, August 15, 2013 8:22:24 AM UTC
Still prefer WP8...
Friday, August 16, 2013 2:08:43 PM UTC
Thanks for the review Scott .... Well written and not boring. I actually finished reading your entire article which never happened to me before with other reviews... Good luck in your comic ambition... Everyday is a new beginning..
Amor
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 11:07:40 PM UTC
I have to say that comparing the Galaxy S4 and Z10 head to head, that BB wins on active app page feature, a faster web browser, (or equivalent at worst), BB security, the Handy HUB, to its phone calculator. Whereas the S4 has a better camera/video, better grouping functionality in the contacts, nicer calendar and a greater selection (of overvalued) appworld. Surprisingly, the screen quality in watching videos is almost the same, perhaps an edge to the S4, but marginal. The type and flick is certainly an innovative feature that works so well and something BB should be promoting, (frankly, it is fantastic for us non-typers!!). The 'docs on the go' editing is easy to use; something I found that was not as easy to use on the Samsung. Of course iPhones don't even have this function, or NFC.

The gesture system is practical and easy to use once you get the hang of it. Good clear phone quality, perhaps a little tininess to it.

As a side note, neither HTC nor iPhone could meet what BB and Samsung offer. Although a thumbs up to Apple's Siri (still the best there) and their gaming if that's what you’re into. Love my Z10 and the wife likes her S4, mainly because she likes Candy Crush.
Ryan Coke
Saturday, August 24, 2013 4:38:47 PM UTC
Why would anybody buy anything but an encrypted secure blackberry phone
Ask President Obama.
James Condon
Sunday, August 25, 2013 8:51:57 AM UTC
Hi,what is the name of the wallpaper used in the phone?
Andreas
Sunday, August 25, 2013 9:06:46 AM UTC
You didn't mention the keyboard or flash being supported. Also appears you didn't proofread your article, "off to the site", I think you mean "side".
jovanni
Wednesday, September 04, 2013 8:34:32 PM UTC
Great review, I have the curve and playbook. Just wondering is there a pocket projector that can connect to the Mini HDMI connection on this phone and playbook.
tom
Saturday, September 07, 2013 6:27:49 PM UTC
I will buy the Z10 and test it for me then I'll have my own review
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 12:54:53 PM UTC
My BB Z10 cant display my contact names on received sms in my country(Nigeria). Names of my contacts appear if only I tried saving the contacts with my country code but then calls stopped showing names. I cant find my country name in displayed regions on the setting. Whats happening. I need help before I dropped BB Z10!
Mike
Wednesday, November 06, 2013 9:18:30 AM UTC
Blackberry should have came up with some new.
Thursday, November 14, 2013 11:08:51 PM UTC
I'm sorry but the Z10 calendar architecture looks archaic, a but like a jazzed up Agendus Pro from the Treo 650 back in 2005 (actually though Agendus Pro rocked... but that was then).

The smooth WP8 integration of accounts and data into one continuous stream tightly integrated into the Calendar/Agenda/to-do is absolutely awesome. FB events come up in my calendar for me to accept or decline... that's cool.

I spent 6 months as an Android Developer and I'll say device/build fragmentation was a nightmare as was the completely kludgy 'Google we build it as we go along' UI.

The WP hub is great and I can't see how the BB implementation is any better, to me it looks again kludgy.

As a student of Operating Systems I suspect the elegance of QNX to be way beyond the Droid in many areas (Multtasking for one as seen on BB10) and I will always fight for the underdog... but this is too little.. too late.

It's hard to see where they will go from here, if Developer traction is impossible for WP you can be sure it'll be beyond the impossible for BB10.

Saying that I loved my 9900....

EdAustin
Thursday, November 14, 2013 11:11:18 PM UTC
BTW. Excellent review....
EdAustin
Friday, November 22, 2013 10:43:04 AM UTC
well, with latest leak 10.2.1.155 of BB10 OS, you can doubleclick Android apk file - and it installs. easy!

and since the Z10 prices dropped (180£ in UK for new, simfree) it makes probably the best phone on the market :)
Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:01:09 PM UTC
Minor correction - the RIM 950 has 512k of RAM and 4mb of flash.
Aaron Mason
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.