AT BB10 Event: First impressions of Z10

Some have called the Z10 touchscreen smartphone a radical reinvention of BlackBerry’s previous smartphones. Well, OK, I guess so.  

What I’d say instead is that BlackBerry (the new official name for RIM, but obviously not so new) has finally caught up with the touchscreen market typified by the Apple iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III, among others.

The old BlackBerry Torch of two years ago didn’t have much of a responsive touchscreen and relied upon an abysmal browser. We’ve been waiting more than a year to see BlackBerry 10 run on new hardware so I wanted especially to see how well the touchscreen and browser work on the Z10.

I haven’t had time to do a full review of either capability, but I have held and used a review unit for a couple of hours. The response time on touches is really capable, I’ll say, but I haven’t had a chance to evaluate the browser speeds fully. More on that in a later review.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What might matter a great deal more to many people is how the Z10 looks and feels. It really is only a black, angular slab with a large black bezel around its 4.2-in. display.

The Z10 is surprisingly lightweight (4.8 ounces), which is nice, but the plastic case feels and looks cheap, especially next to a Galaxy S III or a white version of the iPhone 5.  I think that fact will turn off some consumers, unless they like the styling of some of the Motorola Droid (and other) devices.

With a 1280 x 768 resolution, the clarity of images and text on the Z10 is however superior.

What will matter to many users are BB10 features like the BlackBerry Hub and the ability to peek from an open application to view an entire inbox list of messages from Twitter, email or other sources.  The peek capability involves using a finger to pull back the open app screen to see the list of messages in the Hub, which will be very useful for workers on the go.

Much has been said about the predictive text capability in the Z10 keyboard. A person can type the wrong word repeatedly and the software will learn the mistake to offer up a correct spelling above each row of letters.  To make the correct word appear in the text field, you only need to “flick” the word upward. It worked well when I tried it, but I can’t imagine that would be a reason alone to buy the Z10.

What might be a major single reason to buy the Z10 is the BlackBerry Balance capability, which allows dual personalities to run on the BB10 software for personal and work data. I couldn’t try it fully, since it requires my workplace to install BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 on server behind a corporate firewall.

Balance shows up on the display as a choice between personal or work, with  personal apps and data on a separate screen from work apps and data.  The advantage of Balance is more for corporate IT shops, but will benefit individuals as well who want to keep the Z10 when they leave a company and will have all their personal apps, videos and songs still in place.

BlackBerry announced it will sell the Z10 in the UK on Thursday, but not until mid-March in the U.S.  And we still don’t know the cost in the U.S. on the four major carriers, although a subsidized price of $199 is expected. The late arrival in the U.S. is a disappointment after such a long wait.

Much has been made of the shortage of apps in BlackBerry World, with 70,000 in place. I don’t feel the same way, although that is really just one-tenth of the apps in Apple’s App Store and in Google Play.

A big benefit of the Z10 is a removable battery, at 1,800 mAh. That should last a user a full day, but maybe not a power user, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins pointed out in a session with reporters at the New York event.  As such, that removable battery means a power user can quickly insert a second one instead of having to stop and recharge.

Also at the event, I got to witness two Z10 users engage in a video chat over Wi-Fi which was smooth and clear.  The video chat also works with LTE or HSPA+ cellular.  There is also the ability to share whatever is on your screen with another BlackBerry 10 user, which could be very helpful to workers sharing presentations, drawings and other documents.  One thing I learned is that you can't share a screen while also running the live video in a video chat, although the voice connection will be maintained.  This would make Z10's capabilities almost as good as a Web conference call from a desktop.

The Z10 is the touchscreen model, while the Q10 is the new smartphone with a physical, qwerty keyboard. I briefly tried the Q10 keyboard, and felt it was easy to use, although I’m now such a devoted touchscreen user after trying many Android phones and iPhones that I don't recall the point of a physical keyboard anymore.

In summary, I want to spend more time weighing the value of the Z10’s browser and other capabilities.  Having a removable battery and BlackBerry Balance makes the device worth considering, but I’m not completely sure it excites me enough as a smartphone to want to go out and buy one. At least so far.

Maybe having singer Alicia Keys as the new BlackBerry creative director will help create that needed excitement?

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