Hands on review of the BlackBerry Z3 – punches above its price category

BlackBerry Z3 punches above its price category

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” said BlackBerry. Ok maybe it wasn’t BlackBerry who said it, but the sentiment is the same. While much of the tech media is waiving goodbye to BlackBerry, the company is not only holding on but is releasing new products too – even amidst falling share prices. Recently BlackBerry has announced that the Z3 is heading out to South Africa. The 5 inch smartphone is specifically aimed at the price sensitive market. I discovered that you would pay R2999 and for that you get a whole-lot-of-phone.

Look and Feel

The BlackBerry Z3 does not feel like a budget phone as it has a good solid build and the finishing makes it look like a premium device. The Z3 is a 5 inch device with 540x 960 pixels which still pack a nice punch. Icons are clear and so is the text but the display does suffer a bit in direct sunlight. Overall the display does a great job in displaying YouTube clips and high definition games.

The Z3 measures at 140mm x 72.8mm x 9.26mm. It is easy to handle and manipulate with one hand (either left handed or right handed) and even though it is slightly on the heavier side (164 grams) I didn’t have any issues holding it for a period of time whilst compiling emails.

Looking at the device, on the left is the power button, Volume buttons and in between is the Play/ Pause Voice Command button. On the right of the Z3 is the MicroSIM and MicroSD card slots and along the bottom is the microUSB charging port and the microphone. On the back of the Z3 is the camera and flash and the speaker is towards the bottom.

Under the hood is a 1.2GHz processor and 1.5GB RAM which handled all application and tasks perfectly fine. BlackBerry did limit the amount of Active Frames (ie number of apps opened at the same time) to 4 compared to 8 on the other BlackBerry 10 devices.

Features

The BlackBerry Z3 comes with BlackBerry 10.2.1 operating system and all its features such as Priority Hub, BBM, Time Shift Camera,  Story Maker, FM Radio and just as important the ability to run Android Apps. This ability to simply tap into the Android Play Store and the Amazon Store and install Android apps directly onto the BlackBerry Z3 device (and all the Blackberry 10 devices) means that BlackBerry users lack for nothing. All the native Android apps I installed including Instagram and even Google Maps work flawlessly. Currently  BlackBerry 10 users will need to install an app such as SNAP which access the various Android stores, however with the new version of BlackBerry 10.3, this will be made even easier.

What was surprising with the Z3 is that Android apps actually load just as fast and work just as well as the Z10 and the Z30 device which shows the remarkable power of the BlackBerry operating system and the way it manages processor power and memory utilisation.

I must note that the Z3 has a decent speaker system too. Granted it is not as powerful as the Z30 but it is loud enough to blast some Tiesto even in a crowded room. This was not expected from a budget phone.

Camera

BlackBerry Z3 punches above its price category

The Z3 comes with a 5 Megapixel rear-facing camera which has the BlackBerry very simple camera interface. You can choose between Normal, Stabilisation, Burst and HDR with limited “scenes” including Auto, Action, Whiteboard, Night and Breach or Snow. You can change the Flash from Auto to off to on and the photo ratio from 1:1 to 4:3 to 16:9.

Sapping shots during a well lit day was perfectly fine. The camera takes a little bit of time to focus after you tap the screen to take the shot. Under non-ideal condition the camera starts to suffer and the picture becomes grainy with lots of noise. Micro images were very sharp.

BlackBerry Z3 - images from cameraBlackBerry Z3 - images from camera

BlackBerry Z3 - images from cameraBlackBerry Z3 - images from camera

The video recording on the Z3 is an impressive 1080p HD and the quality is rather good. Even the sound on the video comes through clearly with no distortion even when there is an ambient background noise such as wind.

The front facing camera is 1.1 Megapixel camera which does an OK job for those mandatory selfies.

Battery

The BlackBerry Z3 comes with a non-removable 2500 mAh battery. The combination of very good power management on this 5-inch device with 1.5 GB RAM and 1.2 GHz processor means that I constantly managed to get to 10pm on a single charge after disconnecting the device from the charger at 6am. My usage patterns includes phone calls (which drain the most out of the battery), 3G internet surfing, Emails (3 different accounts al stream to the pone including Gmail), photo taking, Instagramming (and other social networking), Story Maker movie editing, gaming and music.  On days of heavy usage I would get to 7pm before I start looking to my battery pack.

So in summary:

The device is simply good. Good for its price and good for the value you get out of it. Comparing the Z10 to the Z3, you will find that the Z10 is speced slightly better with a faster processor and better camera however it lacks the screen size and the battery size of the Z3. So if you want bigger screen that lasts longer the Z3 is a better choice. The different in processing power is not noticeable even when running the same app side b side on the two devices.

Speed, battery, apps and good hardware makes this it hard to fault this little guy which definitely punches above its category.  Just hope that the sales people in the shop don’t persuade customers against the device because of their personal biases towards the brand.

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