BlackBerry might just be on the way out, but that doesn't mean it's about to go quietly. The Canadian manufacturer still has a few great handsets left in it, one of them being the new Z30.
Editor's Note: Republished on 29 October from 30 September as the product is now available in stores.
What Is It?
The BlackBerry Z30 is a powerhouse, not to mention the largest BlackBerry handset ever created.
It’s a full touchscreen model measuring 5-inches diagonally, packing in a resolution of 1280×720 at 295ppi. Underneath that is a dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU for handing all your video and gaming needs.
It also has an 8-megapixel camera with a constant f/2.2 lens, 4G support, Bluetooth 4.0, microHDMI out and a massive integrated 2880mAh batter which BlackBerry claims can get 25 hours of “mixed use”.
The great stuff about this handset is immediately visible as soon as you turn the phone on thanks to the bright, beautiful AMOLED touchscreen. It's beautiful! Although we'll have some complaints of the overall design of the handset later, it's worth noting that this screen is about as edge-to-edge as you're going to get on a phone.
The BlackBerry Z30 is the proving ground for BlackBerry 10.2: the latest update to the software meant to save the ailing smartphone manufacturer.
One of the best improvements comes from in the form of BlackBerry Hub and the new Priority Hub.
Priority Hub seems to filter out keywords to create actionable "priorities" you should be looking at. People asking for the status of projects, time-sensitive content like "this will be up in an hour" or "the iPhone 5s releases on Friday" were flagged in my tests. If something you want in Priority Hub doesn't magically appear, you can mark it as important for future updates which is great. Messages to myself are also surfaced in Priority Hub. BlackBerry correctly assumes that if you're resorting to sending yourself something in an email, it must be important. That's where Attachment View comes in handy.
Attachment View is a crude concept executed very, very nicely. Basically it pulls out all of your email attachments and dumps them into a single view sorted by date. That's great for when you need something like a flight itinerary or a briefing note in a hurry.
The Z30 now also supports something called Instant View for BBM, which drops an iOS-style Notification Centre alert onto the screen whenever you get an instant message. The good thing about it is that you can actually reply to the message on the screen you're on by tapping the banner, without having to leave your current app to go into the BlackBerry Messaging app. Very powerful for those on the go.
The BlackBerry 10.2 update also brings in better share sheets for you to send your files about. The software now creates its own shortcuts based on what you share to whom and how you send it. If you upload photos to Box a lot, Box will feature as a large tile on your share sheet. If you send photos to your girlfriend or whatever, she will be a large tile. Small tiles follow in descending order of what you share most until you have four "most shared" options. It's incredibly simple and powerful at the same time. It even figures out if you're having a meeting at the time the photo was taken and pulls out the relevant contact details of the attendees for easy sharing to them. Awesome.
This is what BlackBerry does well: it organises an operating system entirely around you and your information, rather than have you organise your information around it in the way that some other, more intrusive Android skins do. It surfaces that information quickly with enough context to keep you satisfied at a glance, rather than make you go digging.
BlackBerry 10.2 packs some genuinely useful productivity features, and I want BlackBerry to survive just so I can see what they come up with next. Right now it's hit after hit after hit. They just need to communicate that better.
BlackBerry has introduced a crazy new audio codec to its call functionality that allows you to get better than HD Voice and Skype-quality calls on the handset. It's really impressive and coming to other BlackBerry devices when the 10.2 update officially hits, but the problem is that you will need to call another BlackBerry for it to work, as it sends the call over data and not a cell network.
It's really heavy. Like, Lumia 920 heavy. The BlackBerry Z30 weighs just shy of Nokia's behemoth at 170 grams (15 grams lighter), but compare that to the Android and iOS competition and you find that the weight starts to become embarrassing. The iPhone 5s weighs a minuscule 112 grams, while the svelte Samsung Galaxy S4 with its larger screen weighs an equally impressive 130 grams.
We forgave the Lumia 920 its weighty foibles thanks to the gorgeous looks that got it over the line. Those beautiful curves and ceramic accents were a thing of beauty. Sadly, there's nothing quite like that here to get excited about: style clearly wasn't a consideration when the BlackBerry Z30 was being put through its paces.
The silver bar at the bottom of the handset looks cheap, and the carbon fibre backing plate with the large black bars at the top and bottom of the handset makes the whole thing feel a little 2010. Think Motorola's first RAZR rebirth and you're there. What happened to the beautiful garden path we were walking down when it came to the BlackBerry Z10?
The silver sat up the top, serving to flow down into a beautiful black supermodel, with a rear case that was gorgeously textured. Let's have more of that in future!
Thankfully, BlackBerry still make some of the best looking cases and accessories around so you can dress up your duckling and turn it into the swan the hardware deserves.
We'd have to disagree with BlackBerry on the 25 hour battery thing. While it does last longer than any comparable Android handset does at around 12-hours of battery life, the power performance is still shy of the 25-hour benchmark. Still, a week after reviewing a handset we canned for getting over 8-hours of battery, 12-hours is nothing to sniff at.
Should You Buy It?
If you weren't exactly convinced by the Z10 because of its slightly outdated personality, the Z30 should be all you need to get you over the line with BlackBerry. It's faster, bigger, and sounds better than ever before.
BlackBerry 10.2 makes this phone great, and the operating system now supports more apps than ever with more being added every week. Plus, now that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is on its way for iOS and Android, you're not going to fall out of touch with your friends.
The BlackBerry Z30 won't save the beleaguered Canadian manufacturer like shareholders want it to, but it's a great help at arresting what is turning out to be a very steep descent.