One last lament: Why, dear God, does recharging the battery via a computer’s USB port seem to take longer than the expected lifespan of the universe? (In fairness, on the battery front, the Z10, when fully charged, absolutely kills the iPhone and most high-end Android competitors. It’s not as stellar as the old, bomb-proof BlackBerrys of years past, but then again, you weren’t posting a dozen pictures a minute to Twitter on your old BlackBerry.)
Web browsing on the new BlackBerry, thankfully, is no longer a hair-greying experience. RIM will boast about all the esoteric speed and processing benchmarks the Z10 browser aces, but in reality, nobody is running those benchmarks in real life. Instead, the browsers handles just about any mobile site competently, including video sites. It is also no longer terrified of secure web sites.
On the social side, the Z10 performs admirably. Virtually every built-in app has one-touch sharing to Facebook, Twitter, BBM, or whatever outpost your hipster friends are using these days to let you know they have an opinion about Lena Dunham. The Twitter and Facebook apps look and feel almost exactly the same as the ones on the iPhone.
As for all other apps, well, they’re not as terrible as they used to be on BlackBerrys, which is to say they’re only kind of terrible. RIM has gone to Herculean lengths just to convince app developers not to give up on the BlackBerry platform. Their efforts mean you’ll have access to about 70,000 apps – or about a tenth of what’s available for Apple and Android phones – when the Z10 launches. RIM is quick to point out that this is more than any other phone had when it first launched, which would be great if the Z10 was going on sale in 2007.
Many of the big names are here: Angry Birds, Skype, the New York Times and the Globe and Mail (I have to mention that one). Twitter and Facebook apps come pre-loaded. There’s also an impressive selection of current albums, movies and TV shows for sale in the app marketplace. Selection will differ greatly depending on where in the world you live. As always, the U.S. gets the most offerings, although the Canadian store isn’t bad.
BlackBerry World itself still isn’t the best-designed app store on Earth. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to see what the top free apps are. And, as was the case with the PlayBook, it doesn’t take much searching before you find evidence that a lot of developers just sort of phoned their apps in. That organization manager app whose icon is a smiling green Google robot? Yeah, that was probably ported over from Android in a bit of a hurry.
But app store shenanigans aside, the Z10 is just a solid phone. For years, as Apple and Google were running laps around the track, RIM was still trying to tie its shoelaces. That is no longer the case. The Z10 probably isn’t going to convince too many hardcore iPhone and Android users to switch, but it is at least a comparable device. And if RIM’s plan is to push past the Microsoft Windows Phone ecosystem for the smartphone industry’s bronze medal, this is a stellar start.
Keep in mind that building a great phone has never been enough to save a phone company (See: Palm Pre). Even as RIM was unveiling the critically acclaimed Z10 this week, its stock was tanking – not because the phone is terrible, but likely because RIM won’t be able to sell it in the U.S. for more than a month, wiping out a chunk of potential earnings from its next quarterly results.
RIM’s salvation isn’t dependent on the Z10, it’s dependent on overall sales – how many people buy BlackBerry 10 phones, and in turn, whether that convinces developers not to give up on the BlackBerry brand.
But by building a phone packed with the industry’s greatest hits – and probably the best device it has built since the original, genre-creating BlackBerrys – RIM has at least bought itself some time, and relevance.