Blackberry Z10 Review: It’s in the Hardware!

This is the second half of the blackberry Z10 review. You can check out the OS and Ecosystem as well.

Build Quality

The Blackberry Z10 is a very slick device.  It’s incredibly thin, understated design might be the perfect evolution of Blackberry’s historically ‘all-business’ philosophy.  That said, Apple got there about nine months earlier.  Yes, the Blackberry Z10 looks so remarkably similar to the iPhone that most everyone that commented on the phone did so to ask if I ‘finally ditched Windows Phone to go back to iOS’.  Granted, the device’s materials are quite different from those employed in manufacturing the iPhone 5, but the style is on point with Apple’s own industrial design.

The back of the phone is made of what feels like a textured soft touch plastic.  It’s nice to the touch and is reasonably grippy.  By utilizing a removable back plate, Blackberry also keeps in tradition of allowing for battery swapping.  This is a huge benefit that is slowly but surely going the way of the dodo.  Samsung has gone out of its way with the S4 to keep the removable battery option, while other companies such as HTC and Nokia have forfeited the convenience to gain slimmer design, chassis rigidity and overall sleekness.

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Something that bothered me during my week with the Z10, while inconsequential, was that ultimately this phone’s lines just make it seems cheap.  More specifically, take a look around the edges of the screen; where its seams meet those of the surrounding bezel.  There’s a small plastic guard that threads the space and joins the two.  It’s obviously utilitarian, but I couldn’t help but feel that little things like that made the phone feel more prototype than finished product.  Speaking of bezel, this phone has plenty.  The bezel, both top and bottom, just seems fat and unnecessary when compared to something like the HTC One.  Little things like this add up.  Ultimately, while I have no direct qualms with the build quality of the Z10, I was never wowed.  It’s a plain ol’ vanilla ice cream sandwich that’s been better made by the likes of Apple.  There’s no real differentiation that can be found in any positive way.  Beyond the ports.  Blackberry has the traditional Micro USB port on the left of the phone, alongside a Micro HDMI port.  The SD card slot was intelligently placed inside the phone’s removable back plate.  I’ll say this does go a long way in preserving the externally minimalist style of the device.  All in all, though, I can’t help but feel unimpressed here.

Display/Camera

The display on this phone is no slouch.  As previously mentioned it carries  a resolution  that puts it comfortably among other modern devices with pixel density figures now considered ‘retina’ or some such nonsense.  It’s good.  Colors are sharp, fonts stay smooth, no matter how closely you zoom in and images are as vivid as you’ll find on most any other mobile device – almost.  The screen, for whatever reason just doesn’t pop that way you’d expect.  I’ve read in other places that the most apt was to describe the issue is to point to the backlighting simply not being up to par.  I can see how this might be the case.  Truthfully, colors don’t necessarily come off as washed out.  They just don’t grab your attention.  I could expound upon this is some sort of systemic metaphor, drawing parallels between the design of the phone, its OS and the screen and how none of them prove all that memorable.  It’d be a good metaphor.  Instead, I’ll spare you the literary devices and simply say that while the display on the Z10 is indeed HD and while it does reproduce colors accurately and somewhat vividly, the overall feeling one walks away with is still more ‘blah’ than it is ‘wow’.

Something similar can be said for the camera.  It’s adequate with an 8MP sensor on board.  Pictures come out just fine, if not necessarily as clear as I might’ve liked.  The colors the Z10’s camera captures just don’t pop.  And on a display like the one I’ve described above, any picture you take, when previewed in the device’s photo gallery, will never look as vivid as you want.  There are many advocates out there who loathe all the post-processing that the most popular smartphone cameras out there apply (looking at you iOS), but at the end of the day, photos taken on those devices are memorable.  They don’t need Instagram filters to grab your attention, though the user has that option (custom built for their respective OS).  The photo as-is is just remarkably more vivid.

The front facing camera was just aight!  

Battery Life/Call Quality

The Z10, for all its svelte design, was not designed to get you through the day on a single charge.  Maybe the engineering team responsible took for granted that any self-respecting enterprise user wouldn’t be caught dead without an extra battery tucked away somewhere.  Maybe they didn’t quite realize that, in real-world use, this phone wouldn’t make it past eight or nine hours.  Either way, if you’re an enterprise user who relies heavily on his or her Blackberry device to stay afloat during a busy work week, just factor in the cost of an additional battery when entertaining the notion of purchasing this phone.  Any amount of tethering you do will pretty much guarantee the need for one, or a charger on hand at all times.

Eight or nine hours of heavy, real world use isn’t terrible, per se, but it does remind that this new crop of devices isn’t trying to fight the same good fight their predecessors were.  This new image Blackberry is waving around requires that their devices, however business-oriented they might need to be, also afford the end user the ability to watch hulu on the subway ride into work.  Or play Angry Birds: Star Wars.  Or Draw Something.  Or any number of other distractions that a modern smartphone must be able to absorb chew up and spit out.  Smartphones are dynamic creatures with any number of use cases.  It doesn’t matter that Blackberry has historically been for douchebag celebrities and corporate monkeys alike.  This is a consumer device.  It needs to survive the media streaming onslaught that today’s user brings with him.  More to that point, will someone at Blackberry please figure their shit out to supply a native podcast application?  I shouldn’t have to wade through the murky backwater channels of Blackberry World just to find an adequate third party solution to watch an episode of TWiT.  I should be able to grab that off the home screen.  Out of the box.  In an un-convoluted fashion.

Regarding call quality, it was perfect.  I reviewed this device on AT&T’s LTE network in Chicago’s north side and in and around the loop.  If there’s one thing Blackberry has always done very well (besides BBM) it’s call quality.  They have not failed this time around, either.  Conversations went off without a hitch.  Even on speakerphone, callers could hear me perfectly and I them.