Playing around with the BlackBerry Z10 – Research In Motion Ltd.’s newest, most attractive and least ancient-feeling smartphone – is a bit like watching a very well-executed version of one of those Las Vegas celebrity impersonator shows. The guy playing Elvis has got the hair and the hip-swing down to a fine art; Faux Michael Jackson is moonwalking with all the ease and grace of the real one; the app masquerading as Instagram feels just like Instagram.
In building the Z10, RIM’s executives made one of the smartest decisions in the company’s history: they spent years finding out what users loved about other smartphones, and then built their own facsimiles. The result is a phone that at once feels like a true BlackBerry and a collection of the competition’s home runs. If you were expecting the latest BlackBerry – the one on which the company has pinned all its hopes of survival – to be revolutionary, you’re going to be disappointed. But the smartphone industry hasn’t been truly revolutionary since the first iPhone came out in 2007. Today, in an industry where every manufacturer’s idea of grand improvement is cramming a few more pixels into the screen or throwing in a voice-activated butler that nobody ends up using, the Z10 is exactly how a smartphone should be made.
The Z10, goes on sale in Canada on February 6th for about $150 on a three-year contract. The phone’s many... let’s call them inspirations... are visible from the moment you set eyes on the full-touchscreen device. In short, it looks exactly the same as roughly half the touchscreen phones out there, in that it is a plain rectangular slab whose front face is dominated by a glass panel. In other words, it looks like an iPhone.
With a 4.2-inch screen and a 1280-by-768 resolution, the Z10 has a slightly bigger and higher-resolution display than the latest iPhone. But Apple’s phone seems more crisp and bright, even when the brightness on the Z10 is cranked all the way up. Still, for virtually anything visual you plan to do with the device – primarily, watching movies – the Z10 screen is more than adequate. (The dual-core 1.5-gigahertz processor is in line with most high-end smartphones these days. Coupled with 2 gigabytes of RAM, the Z10 showed very few signs of slowdown when we ran multiple apps on it).
There are no physical buttons on the front or back of the BlackBerry, although the front bezel, stamped with the BlackBerry name, functions as a vital part of the swipe-gesture system by which you do most things on this phone (more on this later).
The Z10 comes armed with an 8-megapixel camera around the back and a 2-megapixel camera up front. Along the sides, you’ll find the volume controls on the right and a USB and HDMI port on the left. (As an aside, you will probably jam the wrong cable into the ports with some frequency, since they look alike and are right next to each other). The physical power button resides on the top edge of the phone.
The textured back cover feels like a plastic-rubber hybrid and comes off as a little cheap when you rip it out. But beyond dumping a battery and a SIM card inside, you won’t have to remove the back cover all that often.
In short, nobody’s going to buy the Z10 because of its distinctive hardware design. Where the new BlackBerry shines is on the software side. For years, as the much-hyped BlackBerry 10 platform suffered delay after delay, RIM market research sleuths were focus-grouping as many smartphone owners as they could. Then they went back to the shop, and used that feedback as a blueprint.
You like Evernote? Here’s a thing called BlackBerry Reminder that feels a lot like Evernote, and even syncs with the note-keeping software. You like Instagram filters? Here are a bunch of photo filters that were definitely not inspired by Instagram. You like Apple’s voice-command assistant Siri? Wait, nobody likes Siri. Anyway, here’s a mostly useless voice-command assistant. You like the way icons are arranged on an iPhone and, when you want to move or delete one, you just tap and hold until the icons start shaking? Guess how you perform the exact same task on the Z10.