RIM BlackBerry recently went back to the drawing board with their latest phones, slowly but surely they have been losing to the competition with previous models and as such, they needed some way to become relevant once more. But does the answer to that lie with the new BlackBerry Z10? that’s something I hope to answer for you during the course of this review, I have been using the Z10 for a couple of weeks now (as my main phone) and I think I can give a pretty good view of what the phone might be like to use for you, the customer.

Upon first look you might not think this phone had been thought up by the guys over at BlackBerry, there are some areas where the old systems poke their head up, but it’s mostly a clean slate for the company.

And this lies with both the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, the Z10’s design and even the company as a whole.

But is it enough to take the market spot as 1st, 2nd or even the 3rd best phone on the market?

 

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The design of the Z10 sticks out, with a sleek plastic and glass overalls, you won’t find any other phone that looks the same, which is first noticed by the 4.2 inch display on the front, that takes up pretty much all the real estate of the phone, with no bezel around the side of the phone, the touchscreen takes center stage.

And so it should, as the Z10 does not include a home button, everything within this phone can be controlled via a simple gesture or swipe. There are a view buttons on the side and top of the phone, allowing you to change the volume and power on the device, as well as a small action button placed in between the volume buttons, used to mute the phone as well as controlling the voice assistant (which is pretty rubbish, and most questions you ask it will simply be relayed to the internet).

In the hand this phone feels great, sized at 130 x 65.6 x 9mm whilst weighing only 137.5 grams. The phone is neither too heavy or large to hold, and once you get around to the back of the phone, you find a smooth, dimpled rear cover, that just adds to the overall comfort when using the phone.

In fact the whole construction of the Z10 feels extremely robust and strong in the hand, almost like you are holding a solid brick at times, which is of course, a good thing.

The squared edges of the phone however, don’t seem to work well with the way you normally hold the phone, and it doesn’t feel as sculpted when compared to other phones on the market, such as the Windows Phone 8X by HTC, or even the Galaxy S III, however it does mean that you can perch the phone on your desk and uses the sides to their advantage.

BlackBerry have also placed two connections on the side of the phone, a Micro-USB port for charging and syncing, alongside another micro HDMI port.

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On the inside of the phone you will find a 1.5GHzz dual-core processor with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal memory and support for a microSD card up to 64GB. There’s also connectivity for 4G LTE (making it one of Vodaphone’s first 4G-ready smartphones), HSPA+, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 ad NFC.

Alongside that you will also find the usual motion sensors and GPS support, one of which includes a new ambient light sensor, that will allow the phone to automatically change the brightness of the display according to your surroundings. I found that sensor to work great in the phone, with tremendous response when changing from light to dark environments, the Z10 adjusted the screen almost instantaneously  something a lot of other phones can’t seem to get the hang of.

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As mentioned before, the Z10 packs a 4.2 inch screen with a 1280 x 768 resolution and a 335ppi, which I found to look and work great in various applications and during various tasks, pictures look sharp and text can be rendered very quickly, a simple zoom into a web browser shows you how clear the display really is.

However I do have one thing that really annoyed me with the display itself, which is the fact that it’s a massive fingerprint collector, not good for an OS that is focused on the touchscreen, as you can probably tell.

 

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In terms of a camera you get an 8 megapixel shooter on the back of the phone, and a second 2 megapixel camera on the front.

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The main feature with the camera is BlackBerry’s new software, boasting a new mode called Time Shift which allows you to edit the time at which a moment was taken to make sure that all the faces in your photos are smiling, it does this by capturing a number of images at the same time and then allowing you to simply swipe across the screen until you find the right moment, after which it will also detect the faces within the picture allowing you to tap each one to closely fine tune the image.

Alongside which you also have the regular shooting modes, such as single capture, burst shooting and image stabilisation, focusing in on an image is extremely fast, however sometimes the can find problems when too close to an image, you can change where the camera focuses with a drag of the icon on the screen to the correct position, lifting your finger off will then take the picture.

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You can also use the camera for video capturing, allowing you to take 1080p or 720p videos. During which you can control whether you would like to use image stabilisation, autofocus and of course, the LED flash.

On the battery side of things, the Z10 does not cope well, despite being powered by an average 1800mAh cell, the phone lasting an entire day is a rarity.This means that you should probably stick near an outlet, or carry a spare battery around with you if you’re a heavy user, which actually points out one of the advantages to the Z10, the battery is replaceable so you could do this with no trouble.

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Of course one of the biggest features of the Z10 is the new OS, BlackBerry 10 which will be debuting on the Z10 itself and is likely to stick around for future headsets.

What makes the OS different is that it’s mostly controlled via gestures, allowing you to simply swipe up from the bottom of the phone to unlock the screen or access the BlackBerry Hub, a process BlackBerry are calling BlackBerry Flow. Once your on the home screen you find 3 different options, the first you will see is the active frames screen, which is a sort of multitasking area displaying your most recently opened opens, swiping to the left will go to the Hub, and swiping to the right will reveal your app pages.

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Or you can swipe up to peek at your notifications, swiping fully to the left in order to display the entire Hub. On the bottom of the homes screen you will thing three buttons to access various things on the device, including the camera, universal search and the phone app.

I actually enjoyed a lot of this process, and found it really easy and quick to simply swipe around the OS to get to anything I need, it’s quick and extremely efficient. I would not be too displeased if Apple came up with something like this for their OS.

bb10searchThe Universal search within the OS also works well, allowing you to simply type in your query to search the entire device, if it doesn’t find anything it will then allow you to extend your search to other applications such as the BlackBerry World.

BlackBerry Hub is one of the best features of the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, allowing you to access your messages and notifications by a simple gesture, to set it up you need to sign into the services you wish to receive notifications for, such as your email accounts, Facebook and Twitter, the service will then remember all of these accounts and let you know when you have something needing attention.

The Hub will also tell you if there’s an app update or even a software update that needs downloading.

All of which links to some of the best parts that BlackBerry phones are known for, BBM and that sometimes annoying status indication light. BBM has evolved somewhat  now allowing users to share video and there entire screens, but stills works the same as it used to in other ways, allowing its users to send messages over an internet connection.

However if you don’t want to use BBM, Skype and WhatsApp have been promised for the system.

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There is one main thing however that lets the entire OS down, the app store. Which is full to brim with applications, but not many of much worth. For example, the other day I was browsing the new list of applications and for pages upon pages where individual apps that would show a map for a specific city, £2 a piece.

Which is basically what most of the BlackBerry World store is like, full of applications that no one actually needs but still have over-the-top prices.

bb10activescreensWhen you first pick up the phone you will be greeted with a number of pre-installed applications to save you sifting through this mess, these include Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and LinkedIN, alongside the usual apps you would expect on a phone such as a calendar and calculator.

However even these applications are missing a lot of features you would expect on other systems, they look terrible when compared and simply don’t perform, for example, the Twitter app just doesn’t seem to fit the screen properly, this means that you end up with apps that seem to be forced onto the system, and images that don’t look all too great.

However not all apps are completely terrible, and some apps actually make BB10 something worth using, ones such as Accuweather and even the File Manager which both work great on the OS, fully using the active frame to their advantage, for example with Accuweather it will show a bit sized version of the full application, displaying various weather stats straight from the app at a glance, the file manager widget is also great, showing storage stats for each of your storage locations, which will sync with both your internal and external storage as well as online accounts on other services like Dropbox.

Within an app you can share to a wide range of services such as e-mail accounts , BBM, Facebook, Twitter and even link it on the Remember application, which can be used to store various things from various applications to look at later.

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With the new Z10 also comes the removal of the keyboard, meaning you will have to turn to a fully touchscreen controlled keyboard, instead of the usual QWERTY keys we are used to, this may seem a little daunting, but don’t worry as its actual a great experience.

The keys have been designed in a way that you would expect a keyboard from BlackBerry to look like, so no nostalgia there. The keys themselves have been broken up into various horizontal bars with different sizes of keys, which makes it easy to hit a number in succession, however one of the best features for efficient typing is the new suggestions feature, that will show suggestions on what it thinks you will type next, this will learn how to suggest better options as you use the system more often, and I found that after a week it started to notice how I typed and quickly shown what I was actually going to write, it’s quite spooky especially when it can guess an entire sentence.

When a new suggestion is displayed you simply swipe up from it and the word will be inserted.

You can however change this to display suggestions in the top row, instead of over the top of the keyboard itself, this can be selected for both landscape and portrait modes, I found using the in-column for portrait mode and in-letter for landscape. There’s also an auto-correction feature that will show corrections on the spacebar, allowing you to tap the spacebar to change to the correct answer, the weird thing however is that the keyboard will always be displayed as it is in CAPS, even when caps lock is not selected, which could get quite confusing.

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Prices for content on the BlackBerry World store can be quite expensive, especially when compared to systems like Windows Phone, which has an extremely cheap store for music and film, once you do pluck up the money to pay for the content however, you can display on a number of applications, BlackBerry’s own probably working the best, loading content with a great design and with ease. You can also play your currently owned DRM-free content on the device, however loading it on from the PC can be a bit of pain, having to install software before you can do anything.

Apps such as Netflix are none existant  with BBC iPlayer being the only decent streaming application available, however the browser does support Flash so you can access a lot of content online if it has been optimised for a mobile browser.

However one of the best features of BB10 is most defiantly the music player application that comes with the phone, it looks great and can be controlled from anywhere on the phone, even from the lock screen, allowing you to skip tracks, pause and check what your listening to, whatever you are doing, during playback the mute button also works as a play/ pause button.

Sound quality when playing music is average for a smartphone, however when headphones are plugged in it does not perform as well, with music suddenly turning quiet, and I would not advice to use the headphones from the box, which are pretty crappy if I’m honest, especially considering this is a top-model phone. However features such as background play (even when listening to YouTube videos) makes up for that, allowing you to play more or less anything in the background.

 

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Overall I was pleased with the new BlackBerry Z10, it’s not perfect yet, but it’s defiantly a great stepping stone for a company that was once at the top to make its way back, I just hope that BlackBerry notices what they have and try’s to improve further over the next year, I hope to see the inclusion of more apps and support from developers worldwide.

You can pick up the BlackBerry Z10 from various stores and carriers, Vodafone, who supplied us this phone for review, will be selling the phone as part of their “4G-Ready” line-up, which will allow you to pick up the phone now and then switch to a 4G LTE plan when they launch their 4G network in the UK.

The phone is available on their site, from free for £42 a month on their 24-month Red plan, which includes unlimited texts and calls as well as 2GB of data a month.

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Disclosure: Vodafone sent us this product for review purposes, all views and opinions with however are our own.

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