BlackBerry Z30 review
Abbas Jaffar Ali
Spy shots for the BlackBerry Z30 started leaking a few weeks back and as details about the new device started emerging, I found myself unimpressed. It seemed to me that BlackBerry had taken the Z10 and increased the screen size without increasing the resolution along with giving it a slight speed bump. Now that I have been using the Z30 for a few days, lets find out if that opinion has changed.
I received the BlackBerry Z30 from BlackBerry the day after it was announced- a few days ahead of the official launch in the Middle East. It came is a rather large box which is likely intended for press rather than retail. You can watch the unboxing video below but to summarize, the package included the charging plugs, a USB cable, a battery charger and a pair of headsets.
Design & Construction
The BlackBerry Z30 is a 5.0-inch device and I was expecting it to look rather large. Surprisingly it isn’t. BlackBerry has kept the top bezel small making the device easier to manage than the Xperia Z1 in one hand. Where BlackBerry could have made some cuts is with the weight of the device. At 170 grams, the Z30 is one of the heaviest devices I have tested in recent months and certainly weighs your hand down with extended usage.
The design of the device is a bit of a mixture between the Z10 and the Q10. Some people have compared it to the HTC One, but keep in mind that the Z10 was released months before the HTC One. The screen is surrounded by a black frame and this frame is surrounded by another gun-metal colored frame that also makes part of the bottom bezel. The two tone design definitely adds a bit more character to the Z30.
Flip it over and the back cover has the same finish as the BlackBerry Q10. Some will like the look and feel and some won’t but it is removable as a whole so you should be able to replace it. Like the Z10 and Q10 you have power and HDMI connections on the left and while the power/lock key along with the 3.5mm jack sits on top. The volume/pause keys are present on the right side of the device and I found these keys a bit too easy to press. Multiple times during my testing the mute button would get pressed and the voice recognition engine launched.
Specs & Performance
Although the Z30 is an upgrade from older BB10 based devices, it isn’t exactly a next-gen update. BlackBerry has updated the SoC to Snapdragon S4 with dual cores running at 1.7GHz. Almost everything else remains the same- the RAM is still at 2GB and built-in storage at 16GB. Honestly, you don’t need to worry about why the Z30 doesn’t come with the latest quad-core processor that you see on Android phones. The overall experience of using a device falls equally on the software as it does on the hardware as proven by Apple and BlackBerry is no different. It took a day for everything to settle but the Z30 proved to be quite zippy. Yes, there were lags here and there but this was mostly in applications like Twitter.
Display & Sound
I was a little disappointed when I originally heard that BlackBerry is increasing the screen size on the Z30 without increasing the resolution. After all, the Z10 sported one of the highest PPIs when launched. However, after playing around with the Z30 for a few days, I really had nothing to complain about. Yes, the screen does not feel as crisp as a 1080p panel when you put in next to the Xperia Z1 or the HTC One but in general, the screen is just fine. The 5.0” display is Super AMOLED and works much better than the Q10 in daylight.
The larger screen also helps in one other aspect- the keyboard. The Z10 has the best soft keyboard I’ve used on any device but the extra width on the Z30 makes it so much better. I was intentionally trying to misspell words for it to give up but it didn’t falter. The Z30 is easily the most efficient keyboard I’ve ever used on any device- including the Q10.
Another thing that really adds to the experience of using the Z30 are the speakers that BlackBerry has built on the Z30. With speakers on top and bottom, the device is just fantastic to watch videos or play games on. Not only are the speakers loud but they are pretty good in quality. The following video compares the same video playing on the Z30 and the HTC One which also has a pair of speakers positioned somewhat similarly to the Z30.
OS and Applications
The Z30 is the first BlackBerry device that comes with the latest BBOS 10.2. For me, the biggest update is the Android player to Jelly Bean which should allow for more Android applications to work better on the BBOS platform. There are plenty of other things that BlackBerry has worked on such as copy/pasting that is much improved on the new OS and the larger screen helps in pinpointing the cursor. The following video highlights some of the changes I came across on OS 10.2.
On the applications side, the BlackBerry 10 ecosystem is moving although very slowly.With the new Jelly Bean run-time, we should see more developers making their Android applications available on the BlackBerry App World. Flipboard is already in and I hope that we get to see the likes of Instagram soon too.
The camera on the Z30 is the same 8 MP one that was present on the Q10 before it. BlackBerry mentioned that they’ve done some improvements to the software but it’s not one that could compete with the likes of the Lumia 1020, the Xperia Z1 or the iPhone 5S. You will get good daylight shots but start decreasing the light and you can see the camera showing its faults.
Battery & Usage
With the Z30 briefing, I was informed by BlackBerry that they have used an integrated Paratek Antenna technology that helps keep the phone connected to the network where you would normally see a dropped connection. The elevator in our office building is a wonderfully confined space to lose phone signal. My iPhone 5 and my Xperia Z1 show no signal soon after the door closes. The signal on the BlackBerry Z30 dropped to the last bar but it did not lose the connection. I made a test call while in the elevator and moved from the top floor to the bottom floor and back without dropping the call.
BlackBerry has generally been good with battery but the Z10 and Q10 have been a hit and miss for me. Recently, I took the Q10 with me for a business trip and saw the battery go down to red before 5PM. Considering that my flight was at 9PM, I switched off all data connectivity to make sure I have some juice left by the time I am back home. However, I see no such issues with the Z30. The Z30 has the biggest battery that BlackBerry has ever used on a mobile device. It is also the first time that the battery is not removable. During my few days of testing, the Z30 proved to be a very dependable phone as far as staying alive is concerned. Where my Xperia Z1 with its 3000mAh battery would die by the end of the day, the BlackBerry Z30 with its 2880mAh battery would keep going like the Energizer bunny.
Probably priced at AED 2499, the BlackBerry Z30 turned out to be a much better phone than I was expecting it to. It is the best BlackBerry phone to date- now whether that is enough or not really depends on you. On one hand, the Z30 is fantastic and secure when it comes to mobile messaging with a brilliant soft-keyboard. But on the other hand, popular apps and games like Instagram and Candy Crush are not available for the average user. And with BBM going cross-platform, BlackBerry no longer holds that card either.