Sunday, May 12, 2013

4 weeks with my BlackBerry Z10 personal review

Disclosure: I was given my BlackBerry Z10 by the BlackBerry Australia Social Media Team. The comments here are my own, and not of BlackBerry.

4 weeks ago I received an email from one of the members (thanks Tori!) of the Blackberry Australia Social Media Team (@BlackBerry_AU on twitter), asking me if I would like to be provided a new BlackBerry Z10. Now I must admit, I was waiting for the BlackBerry Q10, as you know, my preference is for the physical qwerty keyboard. But this was one of those opportunities not to be turned down.

So, my new BlackBerry Z10 arrived in the mail the following day, with a little note (see photo).

So after 4 weeks of use, what do I think of the new BlackBerry Z10.... and how does it compare to my previous Blackberry handsets (7100g, 8100, 8300, 9000, 9700, 9780, 9790, 9800, 9810, and 9900)?

This review is not about specifications, facts and figures ....that's all been done before. My review is from someone who has been a user and fan of BlackBerry devices since 2004.

First and foremost, this is my first real touch screen BlackBerry handset. Yes, my wife had a BlackBerry 9860, so yes, there was one previously in the family, but I didn't use it. I was assured by a friend and long time BlackBerry supporter (thanks Gary!) that my typing would actually be quicker on the Z10's virtual keyboard, compared to my Bold 9900's physical keyboard. Having such a long history with the BlackBerry physical keyboard, I did wonder how exactly I would adapt to the Z10's virtual keyboard, but it only took literally a week for it to become almost second nature.

I have used various virtual keyboards on other manufacturers' devices, and also the highly rated Swiftkey, but the things which stand out for me with the Z10's keyboard ....word prediction, learning your way of typing, and its knowledge that you will make mistakes. Unlike other keyboards, I feel that the Z10's was designed knowing people make mistakes when typing on small keyboards, and it knows it had to correct the mistakes. It does this well, and makes my typing look rather good, while not sacrificing speed. It is more than a match for the best of the BlackBerry physical keyboards so far.

Word substitution still exists! And one feature I am so very please to see. If you're looking at efficiency best practices on a smart phone, word substitution is one key element. To find it, go Settings>Language and Input>Automated Assistance>Word Substitution. If you've never used it (or it's predecessor, Auto Text), take a look: you will never look back.

Fit and feel of the BlackBerry Z10 hardware:
This feels like possibly the heaviest Blackberry yet, not surprising, considering it is the biggest. But it does fit nicely in the palm of your hand, and the textured rear facia helps out here. Even though it is bigger than an iPhone 5, but smaller than a Galaxy S3, the Z10 is definitely big enough to be effective, but still can be operated efficiently held in one hand navigating by the thumb of that hand. And it still feels right thumbing out emails, social media, etc, with the Z10 cradled within your 2 hands. I think BlackBerry got the size right (my iPhone friends have shown quite a deal of screen size envy, and my Galaxy S3 friends have been surprised the new BlackBerry is as big as it is).

Unlike the BlackBerry 9860 (the last full screen BlackBerry prior to the Z10), there is no physical buttons for calls, menu, escape and select/enter ....rather, everything is done on the screen, some of which is reminiscent of the BlackBerry PlayBook. Which is no accident, for those not in the know .....both devices run versions of QNX (BlackBerry 10 being the latest incarnation, and something the PlayBook is mooted to be receiving later this year). One thing I miss from the PlayBook is the diagonal swipe to show / hide the keyboard (hopefully BlackBerry can introduce this to the Z10 later?).

And this is the start of a common thread in my discovery of the BlackBerry Z10's traits embraces what is "now, and the future" for smart phones, but with a solid dose of the the time proven best practices of previous BlackBerry devices gone by.

The BlackBerry Hub:
I was a little sceptical at first when I first read about and saw pictures of the Hub ....the centralised inbox for the BlackBerry 10. This is place where all of your emails, BBM, texts, WhatsApp & other notifications and social media arrives (note: you can choose which accounts are incorporated into the Hub). I thought I would exclude social media from the Hub, but felt I should include all and see how it flies. 4 weeks later, all accounts are still included in the Hub, with no complaints.

Productivity wise: the Hub promotes productivity due to hiding the inbox and notifications away (revealed bu swiping up from the bottom of the screen and drawing to the right (upside down L), so you aren't distracted by every single notification. And more importantly, accessible from within any and all apps.....simply peek at the hub, for a quick overview, and back to what you were doing. Ingenius!

A lot of developers and users alike are calling for more apps to be included into the Hub, and maybe this is a good thing, maybe not, so only time will tell. For now....I am a fan of the BlackBerry Hub.

Its a fact that Blackberry users have always been behind in the number of apps available to them, when compared to Apple and Android, but things have changed for BlackBerry 10. The vast majority of the popular apps are now on BlackBerry 10, with more to arrive.

The big one for me was Skype....and while not official for the Z10 yet, I sideloaded a version onto my Z10 and it works perfectly ("sideloading" is a term used to describe the process to get a non-BlackBerry Application World app loaded onto your BlackBerry 10 device. The app file is downloaded onto your computer and via a linking program (computer and BlackBerry) is loaded onto your BlackBerry 10 device (that has been already USB connected to your computer)). I have also read my favourite fitness app, Endomondo, is coming to BlackBerry 10 as well.....happy days!

There has been quite a discussion around Android apps that have been ported to BlackBerry. While in a perfect world, all of the apps on offer would be "made for BlackBerry" the positive of the Android ported apps has been the access for the BlackBerry 10 user. And no doubt as time goes on, these apps will be updated and tweaked, making them much more "made for BlackBerry".

I've also read quite a few complaints about the cost of apps ....seriously? For the record, I am happy to pay for an app, if it gets the job done, that I have purchased it for problems. If it happens to be an Android ported app, then paying for it also is not a problem.

I have felt somewhat hampered by the current twitter apps on offer .....I currently have 3 loaded (Twitter for BlackBerry10, Neatly and Blaq: the last two I paid for). The Twitter for BlackBerry10 does not have multiple account ability, but the other two do. All three are quite sluggish and sometimes unresponsive, but they are all slowly being improved.

No more rebooting after an upgrade / deletion of an app either, which is most welcomed.

Battery life:
Compared to my old Bold 9900 running OS 7.1 (where I could only just get to lunchtime), I can get to mid to late afternoon with the Z10. And still following the BlackBerry tradition of a removable battery means I can carry a spare battery to keep moving (the first accessory I purchased).

Oh yeah, and if you have to reboot the Z10, the reboot takes far less time than on a BlackBerry 7 device. And when you reboot, you are presented with a rather lovely BlackBerry symbol with the progress bar circling the symbol.

So what do I think overall?
For a brand new device and new operating system, I do believe BlackBerry have delivered a very capable smart phone, and one that is the equal or superior to many devices in the market now. More importantly, it continues to be improved, as do the applications.

Transitioning from a physical keyboarded BlackBerry to a full screen BlackBerry with no hardware buttons, and no physical keyboard has actually been rather painless and quite smooth. I've enjoyed the ride. Welcome back to the game BlackBerry.

My thoughts for now,