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BlackBerry Z10 in-depth review: Good phone, truly great OS

BlackBerry's new smartphone has a superior display and navigation, making it a device worth checking out.

February 6, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - The BlackBerry Z10 4.2-in. touchscreen smartphone brings the company's product line up to date with other competing smartphones, offering decent hardware and a stellar new operating system: BlackBerry 10. Whether it catches the breeze and flies in a crowded market depends largely on how well BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) markets it, prices it and supports it -- including with plenty of apps.

BlackBerry Z10
BlackBerry Z10

BlackBerry announced the Z10 on January 30; it is due to go on sale in the U.S. in mid-March via the four major carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Sprint.

BlackBerry and the carriers are going to have to work hard to market the Z10, especially considering BlackBerry's paltry 5% market share, putting it well behind Android and iOS. To begin with, the company must dramatically increase its 70,000 applications in the BlackBerry World app store; this is just a fraction of what is offered by Apple's App Store (about 800,000) and Google Play (over 700,000).

Based on my testing of the Z10 over several days, the new smartphone could begin to help BlackBerry reverse its declining share. It is a great smartphone with a fantastic browser and impressive screen resolution that, taken together, address major flaws in previous BlackBerry touchscreen phones.

It does come with some notable problems -- like its uninspired handset styling, lack of bountiful applications and a deadly slow boot time -- but the Z10 nonetheless deserves the attention of smartphone buyers.

Not quite the style

I'll start with that styling problem, which is a big one for me, at least. The simple truth is that the black Z10 just looks like an ugly slab of plastic with a glass cover; it's virtually unchanged from the Dev Alpha version released last fall. There's a grip texture on the rear cover, which is nice enough, but nothing special.

The front, with its curved corners, looks similar to recent iPhones, except that where the iPhone runs glass to all four edges, the Z10 runs glass to the side edges but leaves a quarter-inch-wide band of flat black plastic on both the top and bottom. Where the iPhone display has a black bezel on all four sides, the Z10 has a wider bezel on the left and right sides. There are no control buttons on the front face and the power button is on the top edge.

The Z10 will come in white as well as black; to my eyes, the white version looked slightly snazzier.

BlackBerry Z10 v. iPhone 5 v. Galaxy S III

The new Z10 begs comparisons to two of the latest hot devices: Apple's iPhone 5 and Samsung's popular Android phone, the Galaxy S III. On paper, all three share similar hardware specs. But the real power of the Z10 will be in the new BlackBerry 10 OS, the phone's interface and its related software, which are vastly superior to previous BlackBerry generations.

The other new smartphone: BlackBerry Q10

BlackBerry's new operating system will also run on the BlackBerry Q10, a somewhat smaller smartphone with the traditional physical qwerty keyboard that is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in April.

BlackBerry Q10
BlackBerry Q10

At BlackBerry's press conference for the new devices, I got some hands-on time with the Q10 and found the qwerty keyboard easy to use, which should delight some current BlackBerry fans. The only disadvantage: The physical keyboard cuts down the screen real estate to a 3.1-in. display, almost too small for how many people are using phones today.

At 4.8 oz., the Z10 is a tad heavier than the iPhone 5 (3.9 oz.) and the Samsung Galaxy S III (4.7 oz.).

In size, the Z10 fits in between the other two smartphones at 5.1 x 2.6 x .35 in. The Samsung Galaxy S III is the biggest (except for thickness) at 5.4 x 2.8 x .3 in. while the iPhone 5 is the smallest at 4.9 x 2.3 x .3 in. This makes sense, since the Z10's 4.2-in. display also comes between the Galaxy S II's 4.8-in. display and the iPhone 5's 4.0-in. display.

The three phones all have screen resolutions that are very close to each other -- the Z10's LCD display is rated at 1280 x 768 pixels (LCD) while the iPhone 5's Retina display is 1336 x 640 and the Galaxy S III's Super AMOLED display is 1280 x 720.

The Z10 seemed to me to offer up crisper images than the other two. Maybe that is because the Z10 tops the other two at 356 pixels per inch (ppi), compared to 306 ppi for the Galaxy S III and 326 ppi for the iPhone 5.

There are other similarities among the three devices. For example, all three have an 8-megapixel rear camera; however, the Z10 boasts a 2-megapixel front-facing camera , while the iPhone 5's camera is rated at 1.2 megapixels and the Galaxy S III's at 1.9 megapixels. All three have fast processors, with both the Z10 and Galaxy S III running the 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4. The iPhone 5 runs the Apple A6 processor. All three support LTE and up to 802.11n Wi-Fi.

The Z10 offers NFC for file sharing and mobile payments, something the Galaxy S III also includes (but not the iPhone 5). BlackBerry didn't talk about NFC features at the launch of the Z10 beyond a mere mention, possibly because NFC has already been available in BlackBerry 7 smartphones.



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