Hands-on review of BlackBerry’s biggest phone the Z30
There seems to be a rule in the media that when you write about BlackBerry you have to mention phrases like “will this save the company” or “too little too late”. Well this article is not about that but rather it is about a new mobile device to hit the market. Its a 5inch device that has many software features and is aimed at getting work done on the go as well as having a fun side to it. This device is Blackberry’s Z30.
I have been using the Z30 for a while now and here are my experiences hands-on review of the BlackBerry Z30:
Look and Feel
Lets start by confirming that that the Z30 is not a phablet. It has a 5inch 1280x 720 Super AMOLED screen and at this size it doesn’t compete with other phablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note but is rather a “regular” phone that is more in the arena of the iPhone and the S4.
The screen is nice and bright and is readable even in direct sunlight. The icons have a nice pop to them. The front of the phone is almost all-screen with a small bezel around the edges where the speaker and front camera and LED are neatly tucked into the top.
On the top of the device is the headphone jack and the power button and on the left of the device are the micro-USB and the micro-HDMI slots. On the right is the Volume Up/ Down buttons which can also be used to skip tracks when you play music. There is a third button which is the voice control button.
Strategically dotted around the device are several speakers which is how BlackBerry managed to get its Natural Sound. This is a unique feature of the Z30 which amplifies sound especially when holding a voice over BBM chat. The quality of the calls is clear and crisp and at times the BBM Voice sounds clearer than using the cellular networks.
Performance and Battery
The Z30 is ready for business. It doesn’t have the fastest chip on the market (1.7GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro) but does have 2GB of RAM. BlackBerry’s ability to truly multitask is astonishing and o matter how many apps I had open at the same time the Z30 just hummed away without any lag. This included having high-intensive graphic games open too as well as streaming music.
The Z30 does not have a removable battery which normally makes me panic. However, this time there is no need as I consistently managed to get to “bed time” with still 40% of the battery still in tact and that is after a moderate to heavy usage. I happen to be travelling internationally and during the entire flight I use the Z30 to play my music and play some shoot-em-up games. When I landed 10 hours later the phone still had 45% battery – that was impressive and a fantastic surprise as I needed to the use the Z30 maps to work out where I was going. Battery life is critical in a smartphone world.
The Z30 has a 8-Megapixel rear facing camera which is still a tad schizophrenic and my only main gripe with the Z30. On some days I managed to capture amazing clear shots whilst on other days not-so-much. When the day is clear with good visibility and good light the camera just works like a charm. However when the light conditions are not so great, there is lots of “flare” that appears in the shot so I often had to take multiple shots just to get one useable one. When I enabled HDR then the shots were better however the camera is slow to respond as each shot is processed – so no fast moving action shots with HDR.
When it comes to recording Video the microphone does a neat job of picking up the right sounds. Again the colour is a bit faded but still good enough for those day to day moments that you want to capture in video form.
The phone camera is so important to consumers that it is definitely an area that BlackBerry should be looking at improving.
This is the first BlackBerry phone to be launched with 10.2. By the way: it is worth noting that BlackBerry has negotiated with the South African cellular carriers to push the 10.2 update to Z10 and Q10 users at no cost – even when doing it over the air without WiFi it will be free (and it is surprisingly fast too).
Back to the Z30; there is a mixture between 10.2 features and Z30 hardware that just come together beautifully. Here are some of the ones that I used and thought were worth picking out:
Priority Hub – I didn’t understand the power of this until I used it. Priority hub is a way to quickly view any messages that you have deemed as important. These are not only limited to mail but extend to Twitter, Facebook, SMS. All of the important messages are dropped into the Priority Folder for you to quickly view and action. You can set which messages are important and can de-prioritise these too. This is a perfect tool for quickly checking the important mails when getting off a flight or when finishing a meeting without having to go though all the clutter of the Inbox.
Reply Now – this feature allows to send a message to someone if they call and you can’t answer. Whilst other devices send an SMS BlackBerry “knows” that the person calling is a BBM user and that you previously communicated with them via BBM and therefore it will send your “I cant take the call right now” message via BBM. Nice touch and saves you money too. This feature is slightly hidden and can be found under the Call, Settings, Priority Calling.
Adaptive Sharing – the software monitors how you interact with the device and what you share and with whom. So next time you want to share it gives you the options to instantly with the people or app you previously used. It is also application aware. So if you are constantly updating pics to Twitter, it will have Twitter as the app to quickly share with. It still has all the other apps listed for you to choose from.
Going to be late – when you get a meeting reminder, you are able to instantly send an email to all the participants of the meeting saying you will be running late. With a few simple taps, you do the right thing and let everyone know you are not going to be on time.
OTG – On The Go is still the most underused facility in my opinion. By buying a R50 cable you can use the device to read any external hard drive that is FAT32. So no need to copy that movie onto the device, just play is directly off the USB stick. I use this to read the USB memory sticks and don’t need to fire up the laptop.
Preview – You can look at a preview of messages that have come in without unlocking the screen. So at a quick glance you can see the latest DM or Mentioned Tweets, your Facebook message, Email, BBM and LinkedIN. With just one tap and without unlocking the phone you can quickly take a peak and see who is sending you what.
So in conclusion:
The Z30 has plenty to offer. It is robust, works hard, has superb sound and screen quality and the battery to keep it going and delivering. The camera is frustrating and is a critical component of a mobile phone – I hope BlackBerry will be look at this more carefully for future software updates.
The keyboard remains excellent and the predictive text just makes typing a pleasure. 10.2 also brings improvement to cut/copy/ paste as well as the ability to move the cursor to where you want to make changes.
There are still some critical apps that are not in the BlackBerry World – the most notable one for me is Instagram. On the positive side with BlackBerry 10.2 there has been impressive improvement at handling Android Jelly Bean apps by side-loading the .BAR file onto the phone. With this in mind, when the loading of apps becomes simpler (and more “official”) then the BlackBerry World can be jam packed with popular android apps – something that is desperately needed.
When I was in the US and used my Z30, I was asked repeatedly what kind of phone it was. When I showed that it was BlackBerry, the reactions were amazing. People remarked about the build quality and even how cool it was and how responsive the device is. So even in an Apple dominated country, when people had a chance to actually see, touch and play with the BlackBerry 10 device they were incredibly surprised as just how much the system has evolved.
So if you are in the market for a great device, for both business and pleasure, then the BlackBerry Z30 should be considered. Ignore the “techies”. Ignore the “media hype” and just go and play with the device and make up your own mind.
From the official press release:
The BlackBerry Z30 smartphone is available from Vodacom for the recommended retail price of R8 799 – pricing may vary at stores. The smartphone is also available on Vodacom Smart S for R399 per month which includes Anytime Talk, Mobile Internet and Anytime Text. Customers who opt for this deal will also be able to choose from one of these five gifts: Always on travel and car charger, Bluetooth headset, Power bank battery back-up, SanDisk 8Gig memory card or an over ear headset. This deal will be available until 6 December. For more information, please visit https://www.vodacom.co.za/personal/phonesandpackages/productdetails?baseDeviceId=445&dealId=7587&deviceId=2352
On a related note: I am trying out a new carbonite case called BlackBerry® Carbonite Pocket. The case is very thin and light to protect the device from drops. It also has automatic power-saving technology works to help extend battery life.