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The new Blackberry mobile device shown in New York City, Tuesday, January 29, 2013 held by CEO Thorsten Heins. (Michael Falco for the Globe and Mail)
The new Blackberry mobile device shown in New York City, Tuesday, January 29, 2013 held by CEO Thorsten Heins. (Michael Falco for the Globe and Mail)

Review: Hands-on with the BlackBerry Z10 Add to ...

BlackBerry Z10 review Technology reporter Iain Marlow spent a day test driving Research In Motion Ltd.’s new BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone ahead of the device’s launch in New York. Here are his first impressions:

It’s fast.

I’ve used BlackBerrys for years and have come to expect lengthy wait times, really annoying stalls, unstable apps that crash and software that generally doesn’t always do what you want it to do – when you want to do it. But this BlackBerry doesn’t lag. Opening apps is quick and easy and browsing the Web is way faster than on older BlackBerrys and movie clips load relatively quickly. If you’re a BlackBerry user who’s used to losing Google races for random bits of Wiki-trivia, this phone may just even out the odds.

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It’s fluid.

Unlike older BlackBerrys, the touchscreen interface really feels like it’s baked in to this phone’s DNA, rather than some kind of afterthought frill tacked onto a stuffy-looking BlackBerry with a physical keyboard. The phone flows; moving from one application to another is quick and snappy. Unlike on RIM’s PlayBook, flicking apps into the background worked flawlessly in my test run and hasn’t – yet – closed any running windows on me by accident.

The BlackBerry Hub, which aggregates all your inboxes, is pretty cool. But to be frank, I’m not overly impressed simply because I don’t generally assign equal value to e-mails and Twitter alerts and LinkedIn invites and Facebook likes. I can see why people might love it, but maybe I’ve just gradually gotten used to the integrated inbox on my current BlackBerry Bold 9900. Regardless, the fluid nature of BlackBerry 10 makes it distinct – whether this wins over teenagers and business people is another question.

RIM’s CEO is playing up this angle of the phone as a main selling point, and it’s likely to be repeated in marketing. But the fluid, flowing nature of the new BlackBerrys is really the main thing that sets it apart from other smartphone platforms – and more so Apple than Android, which is more customizable and can have calendars and widgets running in the background. Videos of BlackBery 10 in action will show more clearly what I’m writing about here.

It feels well thought out.

From the moment you turn this phone on, you can tell that RIM has put a lot of thought into every aspect of the device. The phone is sleek, certainly, but it isn’t that striking to look at: All smartphones, turned off, tend to look similar nowadays; and from the side, it almost looks like RIM’s PlayBook tablet. But when you boot the device up, put your finger down on the BlackBerry logo – the logo pulses and reveals the device’s progress. It’s a small thing and is not immediately practical, but it’s a sign that RIM has prioritized the feel and look of the device, as much as the functionality. Nothing seems harsh or out of order and the software imposes a sort of gentle blue and black uniformity over some of the social media inboxes.

The apps are better.

This is perhaps obvious – and I’m not even going to pretend to review the thousands of available apps – but for what it’s worth, the apps look and feel better on the Z10 than on older BlackBerrys. Everything in Facebook loads more quickly and feels much more fluid: Previously, even scrolling through photo galleries was painful, but all the images load fine – and the bigger screen means that you can see more posts at any given time. Twitter looks nice and LinkedIn is a big improvement. My quick run-throughs of a few news apps – notably AFP and CBC – reveal some pretty sleek interfaces.

The keyboard is kind of cool.

Adjusting to the touchscreen is bound to be difficult. I’m not there yet. But the keyboard is pretty neat: It predicts words as you type them and is meant to learn as you go. It already knows my name and RIM’s full corporate name (one of which strikes me as slightly more creepy than the other). The first few times I tried it, it guessed some words right and saved me a bit of time. There is also a pretty accurate voice dictation thing for texts and e-mails that, while it seems far from Apple’s Siri, is still nice to have on a BlackBerry.

Quick conclusions.

This is the best BlackBerry I’ve ever used. I think a lot of people will like it and some will absolutely love it. After an evening playing with it – and about a year and a half following RIM’s efforts to actually release it – it’s going to be really hard to go back to my Bold, especially when even people at RIM are using cooler phones than I am.

Spec Sheet:

BlackBerry Z10 will be available on February 5. Available as of today in the U.K. and February 10 in the UAE, unfortunately U.S. customers will have to wait until March for carriers to begin offering the new phone.

  • Dimensions: 130 millimeters tall by 65.6 mm wide, and 9 mm thick
  • Screen: 4.2 inch, 4-pont IPS LCD display, 1280 x 768 resolution at 356 PPI
  • Weight: 135.4 grams
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM, 16 GB Flash (extra microSD slot supports up to 32 GB)
  • Processor: Dual Core 1.5 GHz
  • Camera: 8 megapixel, 1080p HD video recording (2 megapixel front facing camera, 720p video recording)
  • NFC-enabled support for mobile payments.
  • GPS: Assisted, Autonomous and Simultaneous GPS
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 low energy
  • HDMI: microHDMI out port
  • WiFi: Dual band 802.11 a/b/g/n, Mobile Hotspot Network: 4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming
  • Battery life: 10 hours of talk time on 3G, 305 hours on standby on 3G, up to 60 hours Audio playback, up to 11 hours video playback.

Follow on Twitter: @iainmarlow

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