Mobile

BlackBerry Z10 Hands-On: It's Like A Smartphone, Only Civilised

The first thing you probably do when I say the words “new BlackBerry” is either laugh, yawn or offer sympathy to the poor idiot that thought those were intelligent words. But pity me no longer, readers: the BlackBerry 10 is here, and it serves as proof of life for a company we all thought was long gone.

The Z10 is the crown jewel in BlackBerry’s swathe of announcements today. It sports a 4.2-inch, 1280×768 screen with 356 pixels per inch, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, 16GB of internal storage space, support for microSD expansion, an 1800mAh battery and the fabled BlackBerry 10 operating system.

There are a bunch of new bells and whistles in BlackBerry 10, which include more apps, more content, a better way to organise work and social life so you don’t have to carry two phones and the same super-secure communication and email platforms we came to love from BlackBerry all those years ago.

The hardware looks stunning, with the Z10 sporting a textured rubber back cover, curved edges and a big, beautiful screen.

The bezel on the front of the Z10 supports gestures much in the same way that the bezel on the BlackBerry Playbook did. Swipe up and you’ll unlock the phone. Up and to the right and you’ll land in the new BlackBerry Hub which organises all of your messages and social networks in the one place. Swipe down and you’ll find a whole lot of quick access buttons for your settings, while sliding right will drop you into your app drawer.

The front page isn’t so much the tiles and tiles of apps we’ve come to know from other smartphones, instead it’s a view of all the apps and windows you have been using most recently. Because the Z10 is without a physical home button, much has been made of the need to simplify how people multitask between apps. Rather than exiting an app or double tapping a button to jump into another part of your phone, BlackBerry just want you to swipe via the bezel. Believe it or not, that’s actually strangely intuitive and can be done easily with one hand.

As far as using the device is concerned, I’ll go on the record and say that the keyboard is actually pretty difficult to use. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t gotten the hang of it yet or maybe it really does blow, but it seems too cramped to use and the tactile feedback isn’t nearly strong enough, so you don’t know if you’ve tapped that character or not if you’re typing while walking. BlackBerry’s new autocomplete feature that lets you throw words into your typing space is also pretty confusing. Methinks more practise is required.

The camera has what’s known as TimeShift technology installed, which is a lot like Best Face on a Samsung Galaxy phone. Take a few seconds of video and you’re able to spool through and pull a still image out of it that doesn’t make the scene look like it was shot by Michael J. Fox. That’s a nice feature, as are the nifty image and video editors that come pre-installed, but the camera doesn’t perform well in low-light. Not at all. We’ll have more on that later on today.

Keyboard and camera gripes aside, however, the Z10 feels really slick. It’s easy to forget you’re using a BlackBerry to be honest. While the hardware is nice, good-looking and fast, the real stand-out on both the Z10 and the QWERTY keyboard-boasting Q10 is the new operating system.

BlackBerry 10 feels like a hybrid operating system: it’s as pretty as iOS, as interesting and card-like as webOS and as free and open as Android. Actually if I had to choose, it feels most like Android.

It’s smooth, easy to navigate and different from anything you have ever used before. It’s like a grown-ups version of Android: it’s built better for business and personal stuff, it looks more mature and it doesn’t flash stuff in your face every 10 seconds. Also, there’s no obnoxious overlay or skin to get in your way or slow you down.

The Z10 will go on sale with Telstra and Optus in March. We’ll have a full review up soon.

Luke Hopewell travelled to New York as a guest of BlackBerry.

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