BlackBerry Z10 Australian Review: Old Dog, Mostly New Tricks

BlackBerry is back and it's making no secret that its latest smartphone contender is a big deal for the future of the brand. So is the Z10 a life-jacket that will just keep BlackBerry afloat, or a jetpack that will propel it to the coveted number-three spot?

What Is It?

The Z10 is the great BlackBerry hope, and 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 long-awaited 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 BlackBerry Z10 goes on sale today at Optus and shortly at Telstra, both with 4G capabilities.

What's Good?

BlackBerry really has built something special here that is unlike any of its previous models. Old BlackBerrys feel like they belong stuffed into twee briefcases lined with important business papers, or stuffed into some horrible proprietary car kit in a 1990's company sedan. That's not the Z10.

The combination of aluminium, rubber and glass makes the Z10 feel sleek and professional. The design is discrete, like your best business suit, yet cool enough to take out for the weekends. The bezel on the Z10 is clever, because it stays sexy when you're not using it, yet gives way to activated corners when you are.

Much like the BlackBerry Playbook — which was mostly rubbish — the Z10 has gestures embedded into that bezel: 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.

Unlocking the handset is as simple as swiping up from the bottom of the Z10 over the shiny "BlackBerry" logo. Like a waterfall in reverse, the screen unlocks to reveal the unicorn-like BlackBerry 10 operating system: something I genuinely thought we'd never see before the company went bust.

The whole UI centres around the BlackBerry Hub: a type of notification centre that keeps all of your messages, emails, BlackBerry Messages (BBM), Tweets, Facebook notifications and calendar alerts all in the one place.

Getting to the Hub is as simple as swiping up and left from the bottom of the handset, and wherever you are in the device, it will slide it out of the way for a moment so you can get a detailed look at what's going on in your digital life. It's probably the best feature of the handset, and it puts the notification centres of iOS and Android handsets to shame. Note to all of you manufacturers out there: yes, you can do better on your notification centres.

There's no real home screen on BlackBerry 10. It's just an infinitely scrolling list of apps you previously had open so that you can scroll back to them when you need to. BlackBerry calls it "true multitasking", but to be honest it just feels like a more grown-up version of HP's old webOS operating system. That's a good thing, because it's a fresh and interesting way to use a phone that actually works. Getting around the device and generally using it from day to day is wonderfully simple. It just has a way of fitting into your life.

The camera has Timeshift functionality that lets you get a great shot of someone even if they had their eyes closed or were pulling a stupid face, which is great, and it performs admirably in well-lit situations. Not so much anywhere else, however. Colours are a little dull on the screen compared to other devices, which may affect how you view your photos.

And of course, the Z10 has all the features we've come to expect from BlackBerry that have kept it going during the hard times: super-secure email, BBM integration (which now supports video and screen sharing), and BlackBerry Balance which puts a firewall between your corporate life and your personal life on the device so bring-your-own-device is a cinch.

4G is also a welcome addition.

What's Bad?

I'll be honest, I'm coming at this review with a very BlackBerry-free slate. I have always been an Android/iOS/Windows Phone user in the past. BlackBerry — or RIM as it was known back then — was never for me. It felt clunky and sluggish next to the devices I had access to, so I never bothered.

I don't begrudge people who owned Blackberrys, they all seem to enjoy them so good for him. Having spoken to a few of them who have actually played with the Z10 and its operating system tell me that it's actually a step backwards for power users who want to get stuff done quickly.

Lifehacker's Angus Kidman, for example, was telling me the other day that the Z10 actually removes some handy selection functionality from the email app in BlackBerry 10, making it a more laborious and time consuming process to actually mark, move and generally deal with emails en masse. If email is one of your cornerstones, maybe don't deal yourself a one-two punch to the groin by hamstringing existing users and making your core functionality worse.

The battery life is nothing short of atrocious on the Z10. At the best of times, I got nine hours of standby time. The phone was pulling coverage from the network and keeping one or two apps in standby, and I got nine hours at best. That's pretty shocking when you think that the people most likely to use a BlackBerry will have between an eight and 12-hour workdays and rely on their phone for everything.

The Z10 also feels a little sluggish at times, especially when you have more than a few apps open at once. Multi-tasking takes a little longer than it should and the screen animations don't flow as well as you might expect them to.

BlackBerry prides itself on great keyboards, and the Z10 has a new way of predicting what your about to say to make one-handed typing even faster for the power-users out there. The way that it can jump in and out of different languages while learning what you type most is pretty goddamn impressive, but actually learning how to use it to speed up your typing is tough. It's predicated on the idea that you type a few letters, the handset predicts what you're about to type, then you make a swipe upwards, essentially "throwing" the word onto the screen. Great idea, shame it misses the swipe gesture so often. That means a keystroke you didn't mean to execute, slowing you down. Stick to physical keyboards in future, I say.

BlackBerry 10, much like Windows Phone 8, is still missing a few killer apps, but it has enough to placate business users. I'm not about to call that a win, however.

Should You Buy It?

The BlackBerry Z10 is a great phone stuck in the wrong year. In 2011 and 2012, the Z10 would be a solid contender against its main rivals Android, iPhone and Windows Phone. It has specs that could stare down the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III, but in 2013, it feels outdated and irrelevant before it has even been pulled out of the box. We're living in a brave new octa-core, Ultrapixel world now, and the BlackBerry Z10 feels like a throwback to the old days.

It probably isn't even the Z10's fault: BlackBerry probably designed the Z10 for an June 2012 announcement followed by an October 2012 release, but delays in the BlackBerry 10 operating system put it way behind. As a result, the device feels old hat, and that's a shame.

If this device had been in our hot little hands in October last year, I would have told you to go and buy one, but sadly, it's March 2013, and it's not the best you can get anymore.

It's not all bad, though. If you're a disillusioned BlackBerry fan looking for light at the end of the tunnel, the Z10 is exactly what you need. It's the phone that will make you believe in BlackBerry again, but it won't be enough to lure back those who defected to iOS and Android.

If BlackBerry doesn't have a follow-up album to the Z10 quickly, it's going to find itself slipping back into irrelevance and on the phone with various banks faster than you can say "BBM".


Comments

    Worst review in my opinion.
    I already have this phone and this phone is amazing. Fast browser speed, lots of good feature. I can put my confidencial and financial information without afraid of anything. Camera is very good and clear picture performaance.
    May be MR Luke wants to cover his short position on the stock price.

    Thanks.

      Just because the review doesn't agree with you, doesn't mean the review is terrible.

      I have used the Z10, and compared to the Xperia Z and the HTC One the camera is very poor and the smoothness and browsing experience is also very lacking. Not to mention the screen resolution is now lacking behind the standard the day it came out.

      Also... "put my confidencial and financial information without afraid of anything". I am glad the lunch money your mummy gave you this morning is safe.

        What phone are you calling the standard for resolution? I read that the Z10 has 356 ppi vs the revered iPhone Retina screen of 326 ppi

          I am calling the 469 ppi of the HTC One the new benchmark in resolution.

        I agree with Navsari, Its clearly a dumb review, he says "We’re living in a brave new octa-core, Ultrapixel world now, and the BlackBerry Z10 feels like a throwback to the old days"

        What old days? you mean like iOS that has had only minor cosmetic changes since it was introduced! or Samsung/Android that is a copy of iOS! And as far as this core war that Samsung is fighting with other Android vendors is totally stupid, anyone who is familiar with tech knows the number of cores means nothing! Samsung has got nothing but hardware to throw at it because they don't develop the OS and don't tell me hovering your finger over the screen is something worth having, its code for" we don't know what to do so we came up with this stupid idea to impress stupid people"

        I'm confused how anyone can criticize the browser.

        Can you give me more details on this? I'm genuinely seeking your feedback on this - as my experience has been absolutely the opposite.

        As for screen resolution - I think 355ppi is probably decent enough, don't you? I mean one-upping Apple's flagship? How many pixels do you need?

        Can I also mention, that on release firmware, the Camera performs quite well compared to the competition.

        You can't compare it to the Lumia 920 of course, which beats hands down every device on the market including many point and shoot cameras :) But compared to other camera phones, it does very well. (again, I stress, release firmware is a vast improvement over pre-release).

        I've taken test shots across the iPhone 5, Z10 and GSIII and found the Z10 to be superior to the GSIII in almost all situations, and generally on par with the iPhone 5 (although I find the Z10 to be slightly sharper and capture more detail). Colour is sometimes slightly cold in daylight and every so slightly warm in low light - but the detail and noise is still on par or better than iPhone 5 and GSIII.

        It's a phone, not a camera, so who cares? And I fail to see how a browser that supports Flash natively can feel "lacking" compared to competitors who don't. It would have to be broken to be worse than my Playbook's browser, which is really good. And as Bazz has already pointed out, teh screen res is well up to standard compared to the competition.

          Actually the camera does matter. Who wants to carry a separate camera around. My phone needs to be able to do everything.
          Its a great phone but it can be better. hope that the 10.1 upgrade fixes lots of annoyances or else will have to sell

      So, at least you and Luke can agree on the Battery life..

      Gould not agree more Mr Navsari, most have gotten used to iOS and Androd's and not realise that the Z10 is built from scratch and for a first generation device it's pretty damned good.
      After using the Z10 for less than half hour and going back to my iPhone5, the iPhone5 pales in comparison...Blackberry Z10 may just well wedged itself in between Android and Apple if it isn't for Apple's iPad.
      Things I look for from Blackberry in the future are, more apps and bring back auto On-Off functionality

      To the non-Blackberry fans, don't knock Blackberry Z10 till you really tried it.

    I'm told by people close to blackberry (people who are under NDA with them) that there is a firmware/OS update coming that increases battery life by up to 400%. Not sure how accurate that is, but 36 hours of battery life sounds pretty damn enticing!

      This is true. There are some work going on to increase the battery life.

        It's already out, and has been for a few weeks now. 10.0.10.90 contains massive battery life improvements. It seems apparent the reviewer wasn't even using a release version of the phone (as release versions come with this firmware).

          Mind you, they may indeed be working on further improvements, but 10.0.10.90 certainly boosted battery performance massively compared to pre-release firmware. It would be amazing if future firmware improved this even further.

    Its not a (Old) dog ? Its a cellphone.
    Blackberry is already succesful and selling lots of phones.
    We don't need your opinion, Luke.

      Firstly, successful? Is that why their stock has fallen from $140 to $6 in the past 5 years?

      Secondly, Selling a lot of phones? I work in a carrier store and I haven't sold a BlackBerry since the Bold 9780 was the latest handset. I go months without even having a single customer ask about one.

        He might be referring to the recent reports of Z10 sell outs in many territories (which will have to be verified on the earnings call that's on March 28).

        Also, on the news that Morgan Stanley upgraded their rating on BlackBerry, their shares have rallied a little. I concede that the past five years have been savage to BlackBerry (RIM) stock, due to their lack of movement in the OS, but they've come to market, I feel, with a contender with genuine potential.

        If you work in a retail store, you're not the target audience of the older BlackBerry devices (9780 etc) - this would explain why you didn't see many sales.

        Even before the Z10 release, BlackBerry was holding to a user base of 79 Million globally - quite a significant number indeed.

        The Z10 has been reported to have sold well in the UK and Canada markets so far, with a higher than anticipated churn rate from iOS and Android users to the new BlackBerry platform.

        Time will tell how USA and Australian sales go - but one thing's certain, the device itself, and the operating system are leaps and bounds ahead of previous products from BlackBerry, and offer a genuine competitive challenge to Apple and Google.

          My retail store had many many business users who already had Blackberry phones, so I certainly had the customer base of people who "should" be interested in one. I am now a pro at backing up and transferring data from a Blackberry 9300 and 9700 to Android it happened so often.

    Which version of the OS was used during this review? There were reports that a recent update increased battery life significantly.

    Cheers

    Current Telstra software release (10.0.10.90) has massively improved battery life, better camera and improved responsiveness. From the looks of this review, an older firmware was used.

    Also, can point out how garbage this review is? It's little more than an opinion piece mixed with what.. two hours of hands-on time? The writer is clearly in the anti-BlackBerry camp to begin with, and gives the 'review' (and I use the word lightly) a half hearted attempt.

    I've been using the Z10 as my sole device for the past two weeks and it's pretty incredible. I honestly can't stand going back to iOS or Android. They feel dated and clunky. BlackBerry 10 is silky smooth - absolutely beautiful in it's transitions and GFX. It's amazingly refined for a version 1.0 release and this gizmodo 'review' doesn't do it justice.

    My advice for readers - Ignore this review, and go try the phone yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised :)

      "two hours of hands-on time?"

      If you actually read the review (which obviously you didn't) he specifically stated that he was basing the battery life opinion on 9 hours real world usage.

        Hey Monkey, you are jumping everywhere. Joker !!

        He stated 9 hours standby. Which means it was sitting there not being used. And yes, I've read the review multiple times - makes it easier to pick it apart for it's inaccuracies and generalizations :)

        Some pre-release firmware had battery drain issues - one can only assume this is what the writer is referring to. He doesn't state that it was pre-release either, which he really should.

        Final firmware has fantastic battery life. I've been hammering my Z10 over the past few days and it's never run out of juice on me.

        I'm simply pointing out that the reviewer probably didn't give this device the time of day it deserves, nor was it disclosed that it was most likely pre-release firmware - which needs to be clarified for an "Australian Review" of the device. It seems the software he reviewed isn't the same as what you get if you pick one up at the Telstra store. That needs to be mentioned - especially when his criticisms of the device are firmware dependent.

    To be fair on Luke he is only testing what he has been given...that said this is the most negative review of the Z10 ive seen

      Fair enough, but he should probably also state if it was a pre-release evaluation device, or if it was running final firmware.

      Something like "during testing of the supplied pre-release Z10, I found the battery life to be rather poor, with the device failing to last even 6 hours on standby. This may not be the case when the device hits stores with newer firmware, but on my evaluation device the battery was less than desirable. We've reached out to BlackBerry for comment, who stated that significant improvements to battery life have already been implemented in the current release versions of firmware - so rest assured if you pick up a Z10 from Telstra or Optus, you should have a better battery experience than I did. We'll be sure to update our review once we receive and test a Telstra or Optus model ourselves."

      :)

    Well, the review is okay. It will make the reader or prospective buyer to consider the cons it presents. The writer/editor, however, would want to proofread this review more, as I have spotted some errors.
    As for the company BlackBerry, being a BlackBerry user myself, I'm pretty sure that the Z10, without having have used the device, might be a wonderful phone to own for a while. I don't know about you, but my old BlackBerry still surprises me every now then as, interestingly, hidden functions are revealed upon my own research. IMO it is still in its own way intelligent, reliable device that has a unique charm. So... I'm still considering getting a Z10. Ü

    The only thing good about Blackberry is the keypad, the Z10 does not have it and as Luke said, it should have been released in 2012, it is a dated device for the specs in March 2013, I will not even consider it. However, I will consider the Q10 when it was released. Currently using a BB9800 and Galaxy Note, and I only use the BB for sms and BBM, other than that, it is pretty useless.

    You'll note the 'reviewer' didn't even bother to insert a SIM card in the device. It clearly shows "SOS only" in the first picture, and subsequent pictures show only a wifi connection.

    It's a half hearted attempt at a review by someone who was never interested in reviewing the device in the first place.

    The three main critiques were Battery Life, Sluggishness and the keyboard swipe-up feature.
    The first two are definitely a non-issue on latest firmware (which it seems the reviewer never tested). I should mention this firmware has been available for a good two weeks now, so no excuses there. The final comments about the keyboard simply haven't been my experience at all! Either the reviewer had a dud unit, or the firmware was again causing issues.

    If the reviewer was reviewing the final release version, it would have had the most recent firmware (clearly it did not). If reviewing a pre-release device, the reviewer should have stated such and also taken that into account, letting users know the device he reviewed was not final software.

    Please, Gizmodo - if you're going to review a product, do it properly.

      To be fair, if BB wanted a good review they should have ensured they supplied a handset running the latest version of the OS. They would be stupid to expect the reviewer to waste time checking for updates.

      Last edited 25/03/13 2:45 pm

        I guess my point is that if you're reviewing the Australian release of the Z10, then you should review an actual release model from an Australian carrier. If not, you should make it clear that you were supplied with a pre-release device from BlackBerry and the firmware may not be final. After all, we don't know how long ago BlackBerry gave this device to Gizmodo. I received a full release version (with final firmware) for evaluation within my organization two weeks ago. If they're reviewing for the Australian release, they should review an Australian release model, not a pre-release eval.

        Fact is that the device (or at least firmware) Gizmodo reviewed is not what you're buying from Optus or Telstra if you walk into a store today.

    The Z10 is true game changer. BB10 is way ahead of iOS and Android. Reviews like yours should not even been allowed as they are a complete disgrace to a profession where a lot of people try to do a good job at reporting unbiased information and backing their analysis with some solid facts. Yours has nothing in it, it's meaningless. Here are some facts for you to digest. On March 16, Frank Boulben Blackberry's CMO talked to the French financial network BFM (he’s originally from France) and this is what he saidregarding the launch in the US which is Blackberry's biggest market: Pre-orders levels with AT&T and Verizon so far, are proportionally comparable to what we have seen in Canada! The response is extremely positive and close to 30% of the people who are buying the Z10 are NEW to Blackberry. In addition, over 4,000 Enterprise customers in the US have now signed up for the BES 10 program (up from 2,500 a few weeks ago they had originally announced). There were over 130 million Blackberry shares sold short as at Feb 28 2013. Imagine what is going to happen to the share price when the short squeeze starts unfolding in the next few weeks…Earnings report coming up March 28 before market opens will show how successful this new phone is! Here is the interview in French: http://www.bfmtv.com/video/bfmbusiness/grand-journal-new-york/grand-retour-blackberry-aux-us-frank-boulben-grand-journal-ny-16-mars-2-4-116900/

    Despite this lacklustre review I was intrigued by what appears to be a really good OS and good looking phone and started checking it out further. However I quickly discovered that it doesn't have the ability to sync with Outlook on my pc, so that was a game breaker.

      Where's outlooking getting it's email from. Can't you just connect your Z10 to that account and bypass having to manually sync with outlook? Or were you referring to something else?

        Sorry, I don't understand your question. Outlook receives and sends email and has all my contacts and calendar and to-do, etc, etc which I want to sync with my smartphone. I don't want to use a cloud workaround since that's just using up valuable quota for something that doesn't require it.

    BlackBerry z10 beats Iphone 5 in almost every category,but its somehow outdated. With Iphone 6 not even on the horizon, android fans are enjoying a break. But with Samsung s4 being a mild failure, having a first gen phone from blackberry provide a great value is tough to acknowledge. I used every major OS, just switched from windows mobile which is a joke at this point 7.5 anyway. I wish people would give credit to tech pioneering and stop bulls******* about "Disappointing" launch the week of the release.

    Just thought I'd add to this discussion regarding this review. I also have a BlackBerry Z10. It is easily the best I've ever used. I was an iPhone user for many years. The second I played with the Z10 I wanted it.

    It's so good that the resident Android evangelist and iPhone evangelist in my office have both switched to the Z10 after playing with my phone.

    Telstra gave our company a Z10 to use as we only ever have used BB in our corporate structure. I must say I am impressed and the OS a nice change from iOS and Andriod. We were disappointed to hear BES 5 won't support the phone and currently trying a couple of MDM solutions and BES10 is on the cards ( want to try Bb Balance features), but I would be happy to give users this phone, provided they have the patients to learn a new UI but as we don't use iOS or Andriod yet no cons there.
    So far the battery is not as good as my 9900 but I've been using it a lot getting to know the phone so time will tell. I love the built in camera tools and movie maker, was shocked the on screen keyboard was as good as it is. Hopefully more apps will be made for it, and small qwerty I have seen and fixed but they ain't show stoppers in my opinion.

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