Blackberry Z10 Smartphone Review

Blackberry Z10I have been following the development of the Blackberry 10 mobile platform for quite a while. In the months leading up to the launch there was a lot of buzz, speculation and even leaked pictures of the upcoming devices.

I was even more excited when I received an invitation from RIM (now Blackberry) to attend the launch event in New York City. I was lucky enough to be part of a select group to attend, learn about all of the advanced features of the devices and even get to try them out first hand. Please check out my other post on this experience.

To top off the amazing launch event, everyone in attendance got to take home their very own Blackberry Z10!  I have been using mine close to three weeks, and I am ready to share my thoughts on Blackberry’s newest smartphone and BB10 platform.

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed about the Z10 was its sleek and thin design. The Z10 was clearly a different breed of Blackberry.

It felt solid in my hand, and fairly light weight. The 4.2″ screen is beautiful. The colour just pops, and the screen resolution (1280×768) is the same as my 42″ plasma HDTV! The HD screen makes your games, pictures and videos look really sharp and crisp, making for a fun multimedia experience.

Apps loaded quickly, including the camera. The Z10 is fast, and the specs back that up. The Z10 comes equipped with a dual-core 1.5Ghz processor, comparable to other high-end devices. It comes with 2GB RAM, 16GB of Flash memory and the memory is expandable with the built-in Micro SD slot.  This is good news, especially if you plan to use the device to take a lot of video, or download a lot of movies and large files.

Other hardware features of the Z10 include an 8MP camera on the back and a 2MP front camera for self-photos or video chatting. Your wireless options include Bluetooth 4.0 to connect with accessories and other devices, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n for plenty of connection options as well as NFC (near field communication) — a feature becoming more prevalent for sharing information with other devices, mobile commerce and even replacing your security swipe card at work.

The device came loaded with typical apps like BBM, and Blackberry World, Maps, Docs-to-Go, Calendar, Contacts and others you might expect. It also came with some of the top social media apps pre-loaded — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and even Foursquare.

The browser is fast, although I had issues loading some websites — mostly when I was not connected to Wi-Fi. I also don’t like how some emails open bigger than your screen and you are forced to “pinch” them down to see all of it.

Blackberry Hub

After entering my email and social media account information, all of the accounts were now displayed in Blackberry Hub — the heart of communication in the BB10 platform.  The Hub acts as a repository for all communication with your email, messaging and social media. Imagine, all of your messages and updates located in one location — available at the swipe of your finger. Blackberry has alleviated the need to check all of your accounts individually.

I really like this feature. When you receive a message of any sort, you are notified via a customizable sound effect as well as the iconic red flashing light.  Simply swipe the device to get to the Hub from any app, or “peak” at the message without even lifting your thumb from the screen. You can reply to any messages within the Hub as well — no need to launch the Facebook or messenger app to respond.

This convenience is one of the highlights of BB10, something you won’t find incorporated natively anywhere else. (Note: I have seen similar functionality on a Samsung Galaxy Note, but it was achieved via a separate app, and was not nearly as elegant).

Apps

At the BB10- launch, Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins announced that more than 70,000 apps would be available soon after launch — the most of any other mobile platforms at launch. They will include the top 1,000 apps  — apps like Facebook, Skype, Amazon Kindle and Angry Birds. This was great news for Blackberry fans as a lack of apps was a major concern for the new BB10.

Blackberry 10 AppsI was personally excited to hear that Amazon was supporting BB10 with a Kindle app, considering they had not done so with the Playbook running QNX. I am a heavy eBook reader, and have a lot of Kindle books already on my iPad. This was a big plus for me.

While the initial selection of apps on Blackberry World seemed a little thin, I was able to download a free copy of Angry Birds Star Wars, the WordPress app for managing my websites, weather apps, stock market apps, CBC news , TimmyMe and some others. I have also noticed more of the announced apps have been trickling in each day, including some really fun free games like Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP — a jetski game.  The Z10 can definitely hold its own as a mobile gaming machine, and with EA, Gameloft and Disney on board we should see some good quality games available soon.

I would suspect that we will see more of the top apps appearing before the U.S. launch of the Z10 in March.  But if you are like me and need your apps now, you can always side-load your favorite Android apps to get you through.

You can’t simply download and install Android apps on your Z10 though. There are a few steps necessary. Websites like www.goodereader.com explain exactly how to do it and also have the software necessary. It involves putting your Z10 in developer mode and loading the apps from your PC or Mac. It is quite simple actually, if you follow their instructions closely. They also have almost 1,000 apps that you can download which will work on your Z10.

I downloaded my CIBC banking app, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble NOOK app, Ebay, Overdrive (borrow ebooks) and the PhotoShop Express app. All of them worked fine on my Z10 and I can now wait a little longer for the native apps to be released for Z10. If you’d like to see what Android apps are available and learn more about side-loading, click here.

Cool Features

The Blackberry Z10 comes with a few standout features and apps. As I mentioned, with 8MP, the camera is pretty decent and after taking it with me sight-seeing in NYC, I can attest to the quality of the images. But the Z10 also has a really neat feature called “Timeshift’.

Have you ever tried taking a picture of your group of friends? Invariably someone is always blinking, looking the other way or not smiling yet. Timeshift helps you fix that without reshooting the photo. In fact, when activated, Timeshift actually takes 10 shots at once, and then using face recognition, gives you the ability to isolate each person’s face and choose the best shot. It works amazingly well.

The Story Maker app included with the Z10 makes it so easy to create your own high-quality movies in minutes. To test this function, I selected a number of photos of NYC, and a video clip I had taken of the Brooklyn Bridge. Next I chose the background music, added the title and credits and chose a theme from the six available. Within minutes I had made a fun video of my trip and uploaded it to YouTube. You can check it out here.

Unless you explicitly close an app on the Z10, it will remain running in the background utilizing true multitasking. Simply swipe your thumb up from the bottom of the device and the app will minimize into an active frame on the screen. You can have up to 8 apps running simultaneously, and you’ll notice that even in minimized form, the information or images in the app are changing or updating. To get back to an app, simply tap it with your finger. This feature makes it easy to jump from app to app without closing and restarting the apps.

The virtual keyboard on the Z10 is one of the best I’ve used. With next word predictive type, Z10 will begin to show words above the letters on the keyboard as it tries to anticipate what you will type next. You simply swipe up from the key to use the word it is suggesting.

It actually works really well and according to Blackberry it will learn from you so that it will get more accurate over time. I have typed some messages using all swipes after entering just two letters, and this really speeds up your typing, as you can imagine. This feature will impress even diehard physical keyboard lovers — but if you can wait until April 2013, the Blackberry Q10 with keyboard will be available.

Blackberry Balance is a great feature, allowing you to separate your work from your personal accounts, apps and data. The IT department can still choose what apps are available to you on the corporate side, and still have some control over your work side, but they can’t see the personal side. Although I haven’t yet been able to try this feature because I don’t yet have a work account on my phone, I think the separation is important and will please a lot of Blackberry users.

Blackberry has really focused on giving the user the ability to share information, pictures and videos easily on social media and other mediums and devices. If I snap a picture for example, I simply press the “Share” icon at the bottom of the screen and I can share the picture on BBM, text message, email, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, via Bluetooth, or even via NFC to another person’s Blackberry. Talk about options!

But that’s not all. One of the coolest features of the Z10 is the ability to play your music, videos and even pictures on your Smart TV or other DLNA devices (Blu-ray players, media players) without wires! Unlike the iPhone or iPad which require you to buy an adapter and HDMI cable, or an Apple TV device ($99) to play your media directly on your TV, the Z10 allowed me to stream my video clips right to my TV over Wi-Fi.

Overall Impression

After using the Z10 for a couple of weeks, I really like it. I think BB10 and the Z10 have delivered on the promise of a re-designed, re-engineered and re-invented Blackberry experience.

To me the Z10 is refreshing. The interface is innovative, Blackberry Hub and other functionality is unique and works well together. The ability to stream music, video and pictures onto my HDTV with no cables or accessories is exciting and impressed every person I demonstrated it for.

There are still some challenges ahead for Blackberry as they try to convince existing Blackberry users and new users to give them another look. But I think people will be impressed with what they see.

As more and more apps enter Blackberry World, and more phones hit the market (Q10 in April and perhaps others this year) Blackberry may prove to be a solid contender and alternative to Apple and Android.

The Final Verdict

The Good

  • Solid build, nice design
  • Beautiful HD screen
  • Unique functionality
  • Built for sharing media and information
  • Blackberry Hub is excellent
  • Great camera + Timeshift feature
  • Blackberry Balance
  • Ability to side-load Android apps
  • View photos, music and videos wirelessly on HDTV
  • Battery can be easily replaced or swapped out
  • Expandable memory
  • Price

The Bad

  • Small app selection – although more and more each day
  • Boot-up time was over a minute – 30 seconds longer than iPhone
  • Decent battery life but not as good as I hoped – won’t last full day with heavy use
  • Voice control – SIRI like functionality is just OK
  • Maps function is decent, but not as good as Google Maps

A Look at the Last Decade in Tech

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine, January 2010

Wow. 2010…it’s hard to believe! If you would have asked someone 50 years ago, what it would be like in the 21st century, they might have said we would all be driving around in flying cars or communicating with our wristwatch picture phones.

We have come along way, and this last decade is no exception. So when reflecting back on the last ten years of technology, I wasn’t surprised at all that there was so much that I could talk about.

The year 2000 brought with it a new millennium, the Y2K bug – which never fully materialized, and the end of the Dot-com boom. Amazon.com was already the most successful online retailer, and Google was still a fledgling start-up company – not a verb!

This decade has seen the creation of the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry and other smartphones, HDTVs, and next-gen video game systems like Xbox 360, PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. Blu-ray beat HD-DVD, ebooks finally began to catch on, and Netbooks became one of the most popular computers in years.

As an “early adopter” I tend to jump in to new technologies as they come out. I picked up the iPhone when it hit Canada – and can’t live without it. I own all three video-game consoles, which I use not only for gaming and movie/music streaming, but with my new Wii I can also get fit!

I was rooting for HD-DVD during the high definition video war (it was cheaper and more advanced) because I already had the add-on unit for my Xbox 360, but I am ok with Blu-ray winning the war. It still appears that DVD is king, however. When you are an early adopter, you sometimes get burned because it is inevitable that technology will become cheaper, faster and better. But even though my $2,500 HDTV now costs $700 to buy, I have enjoyed every minute of it over the last 4 years.

Getting back to innovative tech, digital music was revolutionized when Apple launched the iPod in 2001, and then iTunes in 2003 – now the most successful digital music marketplace in the world, with almost 10 billion songs downloaded.

Apple did it again with the iPhone – a smartphone that puts email, Internet, music, video/movies, games and over 130,000 apps in your pocket. It is now the number two smartphone in the world, behind RIM’s Blackberry, which had a significant headstart. Over three billion apps have been downloaded since the App Store was launched in 2008.

Apple is expected to announce a new “tablet” computer in January 2010 – could tablet computing (which has been around for at least 10 years) finally be the next big thing?

From its early beginnings in the first half of the 1990’s, theWeb really came into its own in the last decade. Websites went from being cheesy-looking experiments, to truly attractive, engaging, and interactive mediums. The concept of Web 2.0 has taken this even further with web-based communities and social networking sites, video-sharing sites like YouTube, blogs, wikis and other online technologies.

Social networking exploded in the last five years, first with the popularity of MySpace — perhaps the first successful mainstream social networking site, followed by the current king, Facebook. I personally use Facebook to keep up with my friends and share a little bit of my life.

Blogging became a hit as millions of people took to the web to express themselves, provide professional advice and information, or just voice their opinions about everyday stuff. There are now hundreds of millions of blogs on the Internet. I too have a blog – mostly for posting articles I write such as the one you are reading, but I hope to do more with it in the future. You can check it out at www.digitaladventures.ca.

Twitter is another popular service (referred to as micro-blogging) that allows you to express yourself in 140 characters or less, and share it instantly with all of your followers. Personally this is one online innovation I just don’t get…but if you want to know what Ashton Kutcher is up to every moment, be my guest.

YouTube has become so popular that the site hosts over 100 million videos and over 13 hours of video is uploaded every minute. Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. The site costs over $1 million a day to operate, but Google says it will soon be profitable because the number of people viewing videos supported by advertising is increasing.

The web continues to grow as technology evolves and more and more users log on. It is estimated that the number of Internet users has increased from 361 million in 2000, to over 1.7 billion in 2009. This is over 25% of the world’s population.

The technologies and products I have discussed are only a fraction of the innovations we have seen in the last decade. And if that is any indication of what is to come, then we have even more to look forward to in the coming years! If you are like me, then I know you can hardly wait to see what is ahead.

Apple iPhone 3G – Regular Smart Phone or Technology Breakthrough?

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Originally published – July 2008)

I’m a PC, as the Windows Vista-bashing commercials go, but I have always admired Macs and other Apple products for their style and quality. I do own an iPod Shuffle, but never switched to Mac computers due to the lack of games and gaming capabilities. But when the iPhone was first released last year, that changed everything.

I just had to have one, but alas they were not released in Canada. No, we Canadians would have to wait until version 2.0.

On June 9, 2008 Steve Jobs, the infamous CEO of Apple launched the next version of iPhone, at an even lower price than the first, stating that “Just one year after launching the iPhone, we’re launching the new iPhone 3G that is twice as fast at half the price.” The great news was, that the pricing would be the same in most countries – just $199 for an 8GB or $299 for the 16GB version.

Immediately after the launch, Rogers formally announced that the iPhone 3G would be available for sale in Canada on July 11, 2008. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

Because I still had my Telus phone until October, I decided I was going to hold out for as long as I could…besides the monthly Rogers pricing was quite expensive. In fact there was a public outcry and rumour that Apple itself had contacted Rogers directly to communicate their “disgust” in Roger’s proposed monthly charges. By launch time, Roger’s did in fact change their plan pricing to include essentially unlimited data for $30 to go on top of any regular Roger’s voice plan – but the deal would end August 31st. This was enough incentive for me to make the purchase!

The staff at the Rogers store in the Station Mall were very helpful in answering my questions, and setting up the phone. I had read about bad experiences by customers in the US, but I was in and out in about 20 minutes!

The first thing I did after leaving the store was try out some of the built in applications. The new model comes with built in GPS – so I fired it up and next thing I knew I was looking at a satellite image (courtesy of Google Maps) with a blinking blue dot showing my location. Wow, this was awesome! But the coolest part was watching the blue dot move along the map as I drove down the street! As it turns out there are a plethora of applications that utilize the GPS functionality.

One program called “TimmyMe” determines your current location, and then finds the closest Tim Horton’s locations to you. When you click on the particular location you are interested in, the program provides directions overlaid on a Google Map for you! Other examples include applications that show you the closest movie theatres along with current movie times, as well as restaurants, clubs and other attractions. You really can see the power and convenience of such information the minute you step off a plane in a strange city.

Next I touched the web browser icon and the Safari browser loaded. I typed in a few websites and they loaded up fairly quickly. The device can display full web pages (as opposed to most cell phones) although this sometimes takes a bit of time. Some websites will automatically detect that you are using an iPhone and load their mobile site which is optimized for the iPhone’s screen size.

Since we don’t have 3G (3rd generation wireless) in Sault Ste. Marie (it is currently only in major centres) I was curious to see how fast the pages would load using EDGE. I have to admit some sites do take a while to load, but overall I found it to be acceptable.

3G is supposed to offer download speeds twice as fast as EDGE. On a recent trip to Toronto, I was able to switch on the 3G and did notice an appreciable difference in web surfing and download speed. But this came with a price – with 3G on I noticed my battery drained surprisingly fast.

The phone has a number of other built in applications such as push email (think Blackberry), contacts and calendar, stock prices, weather, world clock, calculator, and more. Let’s not forget the built in 2.0 megapixel camera, iPod music and video player, YouTube application and other innovative features!

The next step was to check out Apple’s new “App Store”, filled with thousands of games, and programs – many of which are free. The first thing I did was search for the Facebook application. Within minutes I had downloaded and installed it and was checking out my profile. I decided to update my status to “using my new iPhone!”

Apple has always been the champion of user interface and user experience, and the App Store was no exception. Applications were broken down by category, featured apps, top 25, and you can also search for anything specific you are looking for.

I proceeded to download a number of applications both useful and useless. One application called “Drinks” has a fully searchable database of over 4,000 drink recipes! Imagine, you have friends coming over for drinks, and all you find in your liquor cabinet is a bottle of Southern Comfort…what to do? Load iDrink, choose ingredients, type it in and you will discover over 40 different drinks are possible! Wow, not bad for $3.99! Click the Drinks page and you have the entire database listed alphabetically — it might just make you the ultimate bartender at your next party!

So I have now been using the phone for almost two months and I really have no serious complaints. I’ve found the battery life to be decent on a typical day, but I’ve noticed that heavy texting or GPS use can drain the battery quickly. Under normal circumstances you can get over a day of use before recharging.

The iPhone has built in Wi-Fi so you can connect to your wireless network at home or your neighbourhood café (and avoid data charges). The Wi-Fi is much faster than using the cell connection, plus you can only use the iTunes store over Wi-Fi, something that hopefully Apple will change some day. I have downloaded complete music albums right to my iPhone, and then synced them to my PC at home later. The Wi-Fi does tend to drain the battery as well, so I shut it off when not using it, but if you leave it on you will be notified the next time you walk within a wireless zone (a pop-up asks if you would like to connect).

Apple likes to lock down their devices and the iPhone is no exception. When syncing your PC or MAC with your iPhone, everything happens through iTunes, including transferring music, videos or removing any applications. As well, Apple engineers test and approve every program that is placed on their App Store, allowing the company to monitor and control just what kind of applications and content is allowed on the device.

My monthly bill is currently over $100 (including taxes) including the phone, data and additional upgrades, about double my old cell phone bill. But so far I am very satisfied with my purchase. As I continue to use the device, I will tailor my packages to my needs, hopefully lowering the price over time. For example, on my first full-month bill I saw that I used only about 1.4 GB of data download, while my current package allows up to 6 GB of data. Rumour has it that Roger’s will be announcing some new all-inclusive plans on October 1, 2008 and the 2GB plan may indeed be more than enough for my regular use, and could save me money each month.

In conclusion, I am extremely satisfied with the iPhone 3G. While there are definitely some improvements Apple can make over time, it is really a remarkable all-in-one device. Essentially you’ve got a phone, music player, game device and wireless computer all in the palm of your hand.

While it’s certainly more expensive to use than a typical cell phone, if you can afford the roughly $100 a month in charges, I would highly recommend getting the iPhone 3G when you are looking for your next cell phone purchase.

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