Imagine being one of the biggest smartphone brands in the world. Imagine seeing your marketshare slip away. Imagine not launching a major product for almost a year (a decade in tech terms!). And then returning in an all-new avatar, attempting to win back lost ground.
If you can imagine all that, you would be standing in BlackBerry’s shoes. The company that was once synonymous with enterprise phones has been through a rough spell and is now attempting to get back to where it thinks it belongs with a brand new product, one that is unlike any that has emerged from its portals — the Z10.
The Z10‘s design is totally minimalistic, with no buttons of any sort on the front, which is dominated by a 4.2-inch touchscreen, while on the back is the BlackBerry logo in shiny steel on textured black.
The right side houses metal buttons for volume, the left a microUSB and HDMI port, and on the top resides a power button with a 3.5mm audio jack. All this in a slim frame that weighs about 140 grammes. It has a solid, efficient look and feel to it, with smooth edges and rounded corners (and that logo on the back) adding a touch of class.
In terms of specifications, the Z10 is steady rather than sensational, as far as flagships go. The processor is dual core, the RAM 2GB, the storage 16 GB (expandable using a microSD card), there’s an 8.0-megapixel camera at the rear, a 2.0 megapixel one in front, and connectivity options include 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC.
The one hardware component that does stand out, however, is the display, which is not the brightest we have seen but at 1280 x 768, it has a higher resolution than both the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy Note 2. Its pixel density of 355 ppi is higher than those two worthies as well. The result is a very good viewing experience, especially for those who love to read — the fonts look glorious at this pixel density.
But the real strength of the Z10 is its button-free interface based on BB10, which is unlike any BlackBerry OS — or any other mobile OS — you might have used. Hardware buttons are rendered redundant as gestures abound — to unlock a screen, swipe up from below; to evoke the onscreen keyboard, swipe up with two fingers, and down, to remove it; and of course, you can swipe from screen to screen just as you can on other OSes like Android and iOS.
Those concerned about the touchscreen not providing a good typing experience will be pleasantly surprised by the keyboard on the Z10, which is not only spacious but also comes with very good predictive text, showing word possibilities above the next letter you are likely to type — to select, just swipe upwards, to ignore, continue typing. It takes some getting used to, but it really works.
Minimising an app is as simple as swiping upwards, and a swipe to the right from the homescreen will show you the latest from your mails and social networks, individually as well as clubbed together in the BlackBerry Hub. Multi-tasking is incredibly good — just minimise apps and go back to them when you wish — and even multimedia is much better than we have seen on previous BlackBerry devices, with the camera doing well in the detail department, although the colours look a bit washed out sometimes.
The core BB strengths of BBM, e-mail and social networking remain as good as ever, and push notifications ensure that you get update alerts on your lock screen (just swipe to view them in detail). Round that off with very good call quality, and an excellent web browser (with Flash support!) and you would think that the Z10 does more than enough to be BlackBerry’s comeback vehicle. Where it comes unstuck is in two departments — the price and apps.
At Rs 43,490, the Z10 is staring at some very formidable opposition, most notably from the likes of the Galaxy Note 2, the Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5. While the Galaxy twosome can boast better specs in terms of processor muscle, the iPhone scores in terms of design, and significantly, both have a much better app library at the moment than the Z10.
In simple terms, the Z10 looks great and is wonderful to use, but you can currently do more on a similarly priced Android and/or iOS device, thanks to the apps — paid and free — at the disposal of both. The Z10 is easily the best touchscreen device ever to carry a BB logo and easily the most innovative touchscreen device we have seen for a while, but we are not sure it does enough right now to knock the Android and iOS biggies off their perches.
As of now, BlackBerry is back in the battle. Whether it triumphs, only time will tell. More apps —and a price cut —would certainly help its cause.