BlackBerry Z10 Review

I recently got the chance to try the BlackBerry Z10, the new “flagship” phone from the former king of the smartphone. It is, unfortunately, underwhelming. While the hardware is beautiful, the software and ecosystem are pretty weak. Overall, the Z10 feels several years out of date and unlikely to catch up any time soon.

If you have never used an iPhone or an Android phone, you might be reasonably impressed by what the Z10 has to offer. It is, as I said, a beautiful piece of iPhone-esque hardware. The browser is solid, the user interface isn’t awful, and there are some nice apps available to cover your basic communication and social media needs.

Unfortunately, the only way you could be impressed by the BlackBerry Z10 is if you actually had not ever used an iPhone or an Android phone.

Before I talk about why the Z10 falls down, let me give you a little background on my smartphone biases.

Three of my first four smartphones were BlackBerrys. I had a monochrome 5000 or 6000, then a color 7000-series. Both were at least a year old when I got them, but I was just thrilled to have a smartphone. After a brief stint with a hand-me-down Palm Treo, I bought a BlackBerry Pearl 8100, new, from T-Mobile, although it had already been out for a year.

Then I bought my Nexus One. Android was a revelation. Where my BlackBerrys were slow and clunky with an ancient-feeling UI and no touchscreen, the Nexus One was fast, touchable, and powerful. My BlackBerrys were glorified pagers. My Nexus One was a pocket computer.

Now, I have an iPhone 5. I’ve moved on from BlackBerry, but I’ve always felt like I was missing that purpose-built messaging core that defined the BlackBerry experience. But despite its former dominance, BlackBerry has not accomplished much besides false starts since the launch of the iPhone and Android. The BlackBerry Z10 finally shows that BlackBerry might have a clue about building a modern smartphone, but not much more than a clue. And that awesome messaging core just doesn’t work any more.

When BlackBerry was dominant, messaging was mostly limited to emails and text messages. Enterprises were big on BlackBerry Messenger, but BBM wasn’t particularly relevant to those of us without corporate backing.

Now, messaging includes email, text messages, Twitter, social media updates, Google Hangouts, and more. With all that noise, the new BlackBerry Hub is little more than a near-useles firehose. So much for BlackBerry’s messaging core.

So what is left? Not much. A clunky user interface and a weak app selection.

I don’t want to turn this into a BlackBerry-versus-iPhone post, but I can’t help but make some comparisons to the iPhone 5 that I use every day. And I do think it is useful to compare the aging iOS UI with the brand-new BlackBerry OS 10. Here is the main difference: the moment I picked up my iPhone, I knew what to do with it. iOS has its flaws, but it is almost always clear about what you are supposed to do. And it subtly confirms your actions with feedback that lets you know you’ve just done something.

With BlackBerry OS 10, I spent the first few hours trying to figure out how to do things. Nothing is obvious. You have to work out how to do things, and then file it away for later. It starts with just unlocking the phone. If you tap around, you will eventually get some arrows that sort of indicate you ought to swipe up from the bottom. The animation that goes with this is a sort of fuzzy “wipe” that is hard to describe. It does not make clear what you are doing, which is going to the home screen. The home screen does not make a lot of sense, either. It is basically a grid of thumbnails of recently-used apps — sort of a multitasking tray, or something. Except this does not feel much like a home screen. I have never used an operating system that uses the app switcher as the home screen. It is always a background function. I don’t think it makes sense to put it front-and-center.

BlackBerry has tried to mask the lack of depth in its app store by including a number of apps ported from Android. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, but it really doesn’t. For example, I use the WordPress app all day, every day, for checking comments on Lawyerist. There is a WordPress app in BlackBerry World (that’s what the BlackBerry app store is called), but it turns out to be a poor Android port. Apparently, it doesn’t even work with self-hosted WordPress blogs, so I’m outta luck.

The keyboard isn’t great, either, and that’s a tragedy. The great keyboards were always the best thing about BlackBerrys. Apparently, they didn’t translate well to the screen. The Z10’s onscreen keyboard feels sluggish, and I made a lot of mistakes even after using it for a while. There’s some form of autocorrect at work, too, that is hard to make sense of.

All in all, the BlackBerry Z10 would have been pretty impressive if it came out 5 or 6 years ago. Today, it just isn’t enough.

Who should buy the BlackBerry Z10?

If you are laser-focused on communication, take yourself very seriously, and you don’t use much social media, you will probably be happy with the BlackBerry Z10. For everyone else, an iPhone or Android phone is a better choice.


BlackBerry Z10

Reviewed by Sam Glover on .

Summary: If you are focused on communication and you don’t use much social media, you will probably be happy with the BlackBerry Z10. Everyone else should get an iPhone or Android phone.

Score: 4 (out of 5)

One Comment

  1. Ben says:

    Interesting review. I happen to really like the blackberry interface. It did take me some poking around or googling to figure a few things out, but generally I like the way they do things. My biggest complaint with the iPhone was that you’re constantly jumping in and out of apps and the blackberry 10 is designed to make this as efficient as possible. My experience is that you’re often jumping in and out of a few of the couple same apps that you have open so it makes sense to me to have the apps switch front and center. It also makes the hub such a great idea because I’m also always checking messages, and not only are they all in the same place with blackberry, but you dont need to actually leave the current app to check them–you just slide to the right and then slide back to the left if there’s nothing you need to reply to. On the other hand I just bought my first android phone (an HTC One) and really am not a fan of how clunky the interface is. The Email app won’t push emails, the new Calendar screen is just way too complicated.

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