BlackBerry-coverWhen BlackBerry finally took the covers of its much awaited and much delayed operating system, BlackBerry 10, in January this year, the whole world was waiting to see what the former number one smartphone maker had in store for its loyal customers. Along with the release of the new OS, BlackBerry also unveiled its latest flagship phone – the Z10, which came as a bit of shock as a full touch screen device. The company which made the Qwerty keyboard popular said they would only be releasing the physical keyboard device, the Q10, in the middle of the year. The Z10 has found its way to the Indian market even before it was officially on sale in the US and some European markets. We take a look at BlackBerry 10 and Z10 to see if BlackBerry has done enough to retain its customers and also draw new ones from iOS and Android.

The review is in three parts. The first part deals with mainly the hardware and camera of the Z10.

Hardware

The first thing that anyone says when they look at the Z10 is that it looks like an iPhone. Well that may be stretching it a bit far but there is a very close resemblance. It is also long and narrow with rounded corners and flat edges. But unlike the iPhone you will not find any physical buttons on the front.

With dimensions of 130 x 65.6 x 9 mm and weighing in at a comfortable 135 g, the Z10 fits well into pockets. We like the fact that BlackBerry kept the phone at this size and did not try to join the me too big phone crowd.

The front has an edge-to-edge 4.2-inch glass screen, though the screen when on display does not fill the entire area. There is a very tiny bezel.  There is also a speaker on the top along with a sensor array and a 2 megapixel front facing camera.

The Z10’s 4.2-inch LCD display has a 1280×768-pixel WXGA HD resolution (355ppi when compared with the iPhone 5’s 326ppi density). While lettering is fine and crisp and you do get deep colors, we found ourselves keeping the screen at maximum brightness to get the best out the screen. In terms of quality, we prefer the screen on the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3. It has excellent viewing angles and is quite visible even outdoors in the sunlight. One major flaw with the screen is that it  is a fingerprint magnet, so keep a cloth in handy.

The back is a textured plastic, which we found out really helps in making the phone better to hold.  The big BlackBerry logo on the back serves an additional purpose of being the NFC antenna. You will also find the 8-megapixel camera as well an LED flash at the top left hand corner.

On top of the phone you will find the power button as well as a 3.5-mm stereo headset jack. The bottom has a speaker port which produces very nice sound at respectable volume levels.

The left side of the phone has a micro-HDMI out port and a micro-USB port for charging and data transfer. We found this to be very inconvenient and would have preferred it at the bottom or top of the phone. It makes the phones a bit difficult to use if you have the micro-USB port plugged in.

On the right side you will find the volume rockers which is spaced by a button which serves as the voice command button as well as the play/pause button. To take a screenshot one has to press both volume buttons simultaneously. If you’re in camera mode, pressing either one snaps a picture.

On removing the back panel, which is very easy to detach, one will find a long narrow 1800 mAh battery and a microSD slot which supports up to 64GB. To insert the SIM card one would have to remove the battery. The phone needs a micro SIM. The phone comes with 16GB of on-board memory.

Overall we found the hardware to be pretty good and loved the size of the device which made it easy for one-hand use especially for a device that is highly gesture based.

Camera

The BlackBerry Z10 comes well equipped in the camera department, with an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera. A  single LED flash accompanies the camera on the back of the Z10, and the handset is capable of shooting 1080p video.

The camera app can be accessed in a number of ways. The first is the shortcut on the lock screen where you hold down on the camera icon to launch the app. It can also be opened by selecting the icon from the app list or by tapping the camera on the home screen dock.

The camera does load up fast. The camera app like most other apps on BB10 is very basic. There is not fancy photo sphere or panorama options. The shutter speed is rapid but there is no dedicated button and one has to click on the screen to click a picture. One can also use either volume button to click a picture. There is no tap to focus but auto focus which is there takes time to settle.

The setting menu does not offer much options. Just toggles for the flash, front/rear camera and aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3) along with three shooting modes (normal, stabilisation and burst) and four scene modes (action, whiteboard, night and beach or snow).

There’s a 5x digital zoom which is controlled by pinching the screen on the BlackBerry Z10. The digital zoom does not work well and pictures get pixelated badly the closer in you get.

Image quality is pretty, especially when we compared it with images taken from the S3 which also has a 8-megapixel camera. Images taken where there was a lot of light came out quite well. But in low-light situations, the images were not up to the mark. There was a lot of noise and the images turned out very grainy. The flash is quite strong but one can notice a lot of noise even on pictures clicked with it on.

The highlight of the camera app is a feature called Time Shift. Time Shift is a feature for BlackBerry 10 where you can take a photo of a person or a group of people the Z10 and adjust the picture so that you have the right frame.

Once you click a picture with this mode, each individual face will be highlighted. You can then press on any face after taking the picture and a disc will appear on the screen with that person’s close up in it and a slider below. Move the slider left and right and you’ll see the BlackBerry Z10 has captured the face before and after as well as during the time the shutter was pressed. This enables you to fine tune each person’s face to ensure everyone is smiling and has their eyes open. We can say that this feature worked flawlessly but unfortunately it does not work with the flash on. This feature after first making its appearance at the first demo of BB10 has now made its way to other phones like the Nokia Lumia 920, the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4.

You check out some sample images clicked withe the Z10 below.

Media Performance

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Audio playback on the Z10 was pretty decent though we definitely think that it could be improved a lot to be on par with other devices in its price range. The Audio player app is very basic and does not have options to tweak audio output with settings like bass boost. Built-in EQ presents for customization of sound are also. The library feature lists songs in the following categories – artists, albums and genres, list of all songs is missing.

There is video support for most popular formats, but not all. It does not support . MKV, .MOV and .WMV, so you are going to have to keep that video converter handy before you transfer files to any BB10 device. The display does shine when videos are played because of its high PPI and bright display.

We had a small problem with the way videos are displayed as they show only thumbnails and not the name of the file. To find the file name one would have to use the file manager app to locate the name.

Call Quality

Call quality was very average with the receiver constantly saying that we sounded muffled. We also thought that the audio was a little low and had to turn the volume up to hear properly. We found the ringtones to be decently loud and the vibration was perfectly strong. Network pick up was a bit disappointment in areas with low network coverage like basement parking lots.

In the second part of the review we take a look at the brand new software of BlackBerry – BlackBerry 10 and in the final part we look at the app situation as well as other BlackBerry services like BBM, Protect and Balance, and also offer our verdict on the Z10.