So, BlackBerry has a shiny new flagship to flaunt, boasting a new blazing fast CPU and GPU, sleek HD screen and a big battery boost. The BlackBerry Z30 is undoubtedly the best BlackBerry phone available now, so how does it stack up against its competitors running Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8? Does it have what it takes to beat them at their own game, while proving once again that enterprise features are undoubtedly its niche? Read on to find out more, as CrackTech reviews the BlackBerry Z30.
Let’s start with the hardware and general build of the Z30. The Z30 cannot be classified as a bigger Z10, because it just isn’t. BlackBerry have completely changed the design and materials with the Z30. The whole front of the device is glass, except for a thin aluminium band at the bottom, below the BlackBerry logo that holds the chassis in place. The 5.0 inch takes up most of the smooth and sleek Gorilla Glass panel, and we really like how the display sits flush on the front. Our gripe with the Z10′s screen wasn’t the size but the general aesthetics of it. It wasn’t a smooth panel, nor did it feel flush with the top and bottom plastic panels flanking the display. On the top of the glass panel lies the speaker grille, proximity sensors, LED light and 2MP camera. Since BlackBerry 10 is a purely gesture based OS, there are absolutely no buttons on the front of the phone. On the left hand side of the Z30 lies the micro-USB charging port and micro-HDMI out port, while the right hand side hosts the volume rocker and pause/play button. These three buttons have more functions though. The middle pause/play button will activate Voice Control on a long press, while the “down” volume rocker is also a hardware camera shutter key. Both the “up” and “down” volume rockers can be used to skip tracks in the music player if long pressed. We commend BlackBerry for adding extra functionality with the hardware keys. Where the BB10 software lacks in areas, the hardware keys do come in handy ( more on that later ) . On the back of the device, you’ll see the removable woven carbon-fibre backplate. We really like the premium design and feel of the Z30 backplate, but it can be slippery at times. The Z10′s did not feel slippery, but it did feel very cheap. On the top left of the back, you’ll find the 8MP camera with an LED flash by its side. On the top and bottom of the back lies the much advertised speaker grilles. The bottom of the phone is bare, but the top holds the 3.5mm headphone jack and wake/sleep button. On the whole, BlackBerry have improved on the Z10 in every way, with the weight and heft of the device feeling just right. Comparing this to the equally sized Samsung Galaxy S4, the Z30 feels much more sturdier and premium, and worthy of the flagship moniker.
Display and Software
BlackBerry Z30 features a 5 inch 1280 x 720p HD screen. That’s 294PPI for you display geeks out there. BlackBerry have incorporated Super AMOLED technology into the Z30′s screen, and so the phone also inherits all the caveats of an LED screen; a boost in battery life but oversaturation of colours. A very simple example of the oversaturated effect is with the stock blue wallpaper on the Z10 and Z30. The hue of blue on the Z30 is more saturated than the Z10, but we don’t see a problem here. The display itself is fantastic, with deep blacks and clear texts. Our favourite feature of the Z30 is the glass panel on the front of the screen. It just feels extremely sleek and smooth to touch. We commend BlackBerry for including such a great glass panel, because it makes the swiping and navigating so much more easier. The Z10 had a very generic, fingerprint magnet of a display, and it was not as comfortable to navigate. We also like how the display sits flush in the front of the phone, unlike the split bars on the Z10 which made it look cheap.
In terms of software, our unit was running BlackBerry 10.2.1, the latest version. BlackBerry have included a number of theme options throughout the UI, offering a dark theme instead. This dark theme will improve battery life on LED-based displays. LED displays turn off the diode when displaying a black ( or dark ) background, so you save power there. ( Sorry Z10 users, no power saving themes for you ). However, we would have liked BlackBerry to offer a more consistent experience with the black theme. For instance, the settings app is dark-themed, but the BlackBerry Hub, which is where most users will spend a majority of their time in, is a light theme. BlackBerry should also push developers to offer the dark theme in hub-apps like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. This also brings us to our next gripe on the software – user customisation. BlackBerry 10 leaves very little in the form of user customisation. You cannot select the colour theme throughout the OS, so we hope you like blue. You also cannot set different wallpapers for the lock screen and home screen, or rearrange the order of apps in the Hub. The Music player also leaves much to be desired, as it has very basic functions. We would have liked an equaliser, GraceNote integrations and a lock screen widget for music controls. BlackBerry has also been trying their best to lure developers with campaign after campaign, even including a new Android runtime in OS 10.2, enabing APK installations. While this enables most Android apps to work, we feel BlackBerry is taking the short way out with this. Most apps don’t function well and just don’t fit in with the UI. Even native apps don’t run well or lack features that their iOS and Android counterparts have. An example would be Facebook, basically a full Android port that ignores all the BlackBerry OS features. Nonetheless, BlackBerry OS is still fantastic for enterprise users or people who need their email and social feeds at their fingertips. The BlackBerry Hub really does a superb job showing all your networks in one place, and Peek is an intuitive way to check if you have a new email while working on a word document. Emailing is still unparalled, whilst attachment handling is arguably its best feature. You never have to worry about editing Word and Excel files, or viewing PowerPoint slides on your phone. No hassle of downloading more apps to view, extract, browse files, or even create accounts and fill up forms ( like iOS and Android ). Everything just works, and flawlessly we would say. The web browser is now the only mobile OS that still supports Adobe Flash so all your online video, movies and TV shows will work without a hitch. To sum it up, if you are a business focused person who is always on your favourite social networks, this is OS would best fit you. If only more renowned apps were available on the platform ( we’re looking at you, Instagram ), people wouldn’t worry about jumping ship to BlackBerry 10.
Performance and Battery Life
The Z30 comes with a 2880mAh battery to keep it juiced, and it does the job very very well. The biggest problem and arguably the factor that kept buyers away was it’s deplorable battery life. Thankfully, BlackBerry have listened and given Z30 users a battery they can trust. Say goodbye to the extra battery pack or charging kits, you won’t be needing them. In general the battery will last a whole day with heavy use, or two days with light to moderate usage.We unplugged the phone at 7AM, and on a busy work day that included calls, non-stop usage of Whatsapp and Twitter, email on instant push, some light gaming and heavy music listening, the phone dropped below 20% at 9PM. This was tested with WIFI on and data connection turned off, and brightness at 10%. If you’re using data, we recommend turning off 4G LTE because it will suck out two hours of that battery. 3G will be kinder on your battery. For light usage, which includes some texts, a few emails, some Twitter and Whatsapp, some gaming and music, and brightness at 20%, the phone lasted two whole days. The latest 10.2.1 update has definitely boosted the battery life and it’s a welcome addition indeed. In terms of performance, this is BlackBerry’s most powerful phone. Packing a dual-core 1.7Ghz Krait CPU paired with an Adreno 320 quad-core GPU ( same as the HTC One ), you can be assured of a buttery-smooth experience with your Z30. Since the entire OS is focused on swipe gestures, we were happy with how snappy the transitions were. We even tried to have 8 cards ( apps ) open and running concurrently, but the Z30 never slowed down. That 2GB of RAM sure seems to be doing a good job. The Z30 does get slightly warm on the back, but nothing like the Z10 which would get hot after a call or running a few apps. Overall BlackBerry 10 itself is a very smooth OS, second to Windows Phone 8 we would say, but it is still great to have apps open instantly and the camera app launching in a second.
Camera and Speakers
The BlackBerry Z30 comes with an 8MP camera, the exact same shooter as on the Z10. While the camera itself isn’t bad, some aspects of the software make it a let down. For one, there is no shutter button, so you take a photo by tapping the screen. This also means there is going to be alot of accidental shots, and a lot of time spent in the gallery deleting them. You can use the volume rocker as a camera shutter button, so any indication of this functionality to the user would be great, or an option to turn of the touch to capture feature. Another huge miss is the focusing mechanism. Instead of tapping a part of the screen to focus, you have to manually drag the viewfinder from the middle of the screen to the part of the image you want focused. Our normal reaction would be to just tap a part to focus, but this will take a blur photo instead. Again, counter-productive and could be fixed with a software update we hope. There’s also not many customisable options or special modes present. You have a choice of Normal, Stabilisation, Burst and HDR shooting modes, and a choice of four scenes – Action, Whiteboard (???), Night and Snow. Again this are basic shortcuts to over and underexposure settings. You toggle between flash and change the aspect ratio, but that sums it up. No panorama, or more useful scenes that we could use day-to-day ( portait, scenery, macro ), or even exposure,ISO,sharpness or contrast settings. However, the stock Auto mode does work well not to oversaturate or make photos too contrasted. The overall quality is what you’d expect from an 8MP shooter. Photos are great, clear, and colours are vibrant. The Z30 also surprisingly takes very good low light shots. Couple that with the Night mode and you have some very good night or indoor photos. While we’ve ranted on about the software, our most favourite feature of the camera, or of any camera on any phone is Time Shift. BlackBerry should really market Time Shift because this will be a winning feature for a buyer. Time Shift essentially takes few seconds of a photo, and allows you to change individual faces to how they were a few seconds back. Have you ever taken a group photo, but realised one guy in the back looked away when the photo was shot. Enter Time Shift, your life saver. You can literally tap his face, and an intuitive popup appears that allows you to change his face to a few seconds back when he WAS looking at the camera. Despite a few aspects of the camera UI not being designed well, hands down we love Time Shift’s innovation, and we hope BlackBerry market this more.
On the whole BlackBerry promised a flagship that builds upon what the Z10 promises, and they achieved it every step of the way. Every aspect of the Z30 is miles ahead and improved from the Z10, but we can’t help but wonder, why now? The Z30 was launched in late 2013, when BlackBerry was in a very dangerous position. People were afraid to purchase BlackBerries, and even BES users were pulling out. If only the Z30 had been the launch device for BlackBerry 10, they would not be in this position right now. Strong hardware, a smooth OS, a fantastic display and time shift, would have guaranteed success of the platform. Now it feels as though the Z30 might have been launched as an upgrade for existing BlackBerry users. That’s the main issue here, and we hope in 2014 BlackBerry pushes their portfolio and software to bring in new users to the platform, not keep their existing fanbase updating. Sooner or later that fanbase is going to shrink and jumpship to the other fruit company, or that green robot.