Before I kick off this review, I'm going to put a few things out there. First of all, I am well aware of the current situation regarding BlackBerry as a business and that there is an uncertainty about what's coming next for the mobile company.
This review isn't about that. It's about the BlackBerry Z30 as a device that you use to communicate, entertain and be productive with. That's what I'll be looking at, and that's what I'll be judging the phone on.
The Z30 is BlackBerry's new flagship device. Its tagline is “BlackBerry 10 Amplified”. You really want there to be something special about the Z30 to make that boast. What we want to know is - does it deliver? A new streamlined hardware build with enhancements along with a larger screen compared to other BlackBerry 10 devices shows a new focus that we'll be looking at.
The Z30's standout points are the overhaul of hardware compared to the Z10. It sports a Super Amoled 5" display to save on power which is backed up with a 2800mAh non-removable battery. BlackBerry boasts that this will be a device that will easily get you through the day. The sound is brought to life by built-in stereo speakers and well as having four distinct microphones to pick up crystal clear audio.
Despite this, the RAM remain 2GB and the CPU remains dual-core as on the Z10 which is an interesting decision. BlackBerry have instead opted to give the main power boost from a quad-core graphics processor. The CPU gets an upgrade from the Z10's 1.5GHz processor to a Dual Core 1.7 GHz Qualcomm MSM8960T Pro.
Overall, you wouldn't be blamed for considering this to be a beefed-up Z10. Coming from a Z10 myself, I felt that there needed to be something very special about the Z30 to make me want to use it over my trusty and slightly smaller Zed.
Take a look at the specs in the BlackBerryOS Compare-a-phone:
|BlackBerry Q5||BlackBerry Q10||BlackBerry Z10||BlackBerry Z30|
|Colours||Black / White / Red / Pink||Black / White||Black / White||Black / White|
|Display||3.1”, IPS LCD display||3.1”, Super AMOLED display||4.2”, 4 point multi-touch IPS LCD display||5” Super AMOLED display|
|Resolution||720 x 720||720 x 720||1280 x 768||1280 x 720|
|DPI||329 PPI||330 PPI||356 PPI||295 PPI|
|Network||4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming||4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming||4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming||4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming|
|Connectivity||NFC, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0||NFC, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0||NFC, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0||NFC, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Wifi||802.11 b, g, n||802.11 b, g, n||802.11 b, g, n||802.11 b, g, n|
|USB||microUSB 2.0||microUSB 2.0||microUSB 2.0||microUSB 2.0|
|HDMI||None||Micro HDMI||Micro HDMI||Micro HDMI|
|Talk Time||12.5 hours||13 hours||10 hours||18 hours|
|Processor||Dual Core 1.2GHz||Dual Core 1.5GHz||Dual Core 1.5GHz||Dual Core 1.8GHz|
|Additional Storage||microSD card slot - up to 64GB||microSD card slot - up to 64GB||microSD card slot - up to 64GB||microSD card slot - up to 64GB|
|Rear Camera||5 megapixels, 5x digital zoom||8 megapixels, 5x digital zoom||8 megapixels, 5x digital zoom||8 megapixels, 5x digital zoom|
|Front Camera||2 megapixels, 3x digital zoom||2 megapixels, 3x digital zoom||2 megapixels, 3x digital zoom||2 megapixels, 3x digital zoom|
|Video (rear)||1920x1080 (1080p HD)||1920x1080 (1080p)||1920x1080 (1080p)||1920x1080 (1080p)|
|Video (front)||1080x720 (720p HD)||1080x720 (720p HD)||1080x720 (720p HD)||1080x720 (720p HD)|
The Z30 is the first BlackBerry device to officially run BlackBerry 10.2 as its core operating system. This brings in a lot of pleasing enhancements to it as well as a few nice improvements not found in BlackBerry 10.0 and 10.1. Currently installed on this review device is Z30STA100-2/10.2.0.1521.
Probably the most noticeable improvement from the previous BlackBerry 10 iterations is the Android runtime. The double-blow of the OS upgrade along with the extra power makes the apps run extra smooth. New arrivals in BlackBerry World such as Flipboard really showcase the improved runtime.
The BlackBerry hub has introduced gestures to move back and forwards between emails. Just by pulling your email back and then moving your digit up or down allows you to quickly navigate between messages in a single gesture. Also, there is a new Priority Inbox in which messages from your most important contacts are found for easy access.
The clock has had some improvements with a glowing trail on the timer and when you move the alarm tags around. We're also able to set multiple alarms now which appear in the calendar app for good measure.
The weather app has also seen a nice facelift. Moving on from the AIR-based PlayBook version, it now features simple colours to show the type of weather with animated effects to see at a glance if it's raining or not.
The browser app has some additional new functionality such as being able to create a QR code of the web page that your viewing.
Copy and paste shortcuts now appear as popups over the selection rather than in the sidebar, making the process require fewer taps and work much faster. More video codecs are also supported for media playback.
There's so much more to BlackBerry 10.2, and I'm not going to bore you here. Amongst the list above though, there are so many improvements it really does make the Z30 feel like it's starting life on a whole new level.
The most distinctive element of the Z30 to anybody will be the screen. When the specifications of the device was leaked, a substantial number in the BlackBerry community were in uproar that the screen is 'only' 720p. This means that the Z30 actually has a lower resolution than the Z10 by a small amount.
Now, let me lay my cards on the table here. I didn't ever believe that a 1080p screen on a mobile device would have a noticeable difference to a 720p screen. I'm happy to say that I still believe this. The 720p resolution suits the screen perfectly. Holding the device at a usable distance, I couldn't see any pixelation or artefacts that you would expect from low-resolution devices.
A nice touch that BlackBerry have brought in with the screen is that they have made the most of the screen by adjusting the DPI of the fonts and icons. This means that the larger screen does indeed have more 'space' allowing you to see more of a website for example.
The super AMOLED unfortunately suffers from a similar issue to the Q10 – it just simply does not have the range of brightness that the Z10 and Q5 have. That being said, the S-RGB striping on the matrix seems to provide the Z30 with a richer colour depth than the Q10. The super AMOLED stacks up well against the LCD screen variants of the Z10 and Q5. Of course, being an AMOLED screen also means that it lends itself to a longer battery life – good news for any BlackBerry user.
The size was one that issue that I was concerned about. How large does a screen need to be on a mobile phone? Would a 5" display be pushing the boundaries too far? It wasn't so long ago when phones were getting smaller and smaller, and now the trend is to see enormous slabs that we press up against our faces.
The Z10's virtual keyboard comes over and is even larger. After a very short period of adjustment, it was easy to get used to finding the soft keys on the keyboard. If anything, I found it more difficult to move back to the Z10 afterwards – the key sizes feel like they were always meant to be this size.
I couldn't bring myself to get a holster for the Z30. I love having a holster for my phones as I know where it is at any given time. But a holster on the Z30 seemed extreme. Instead I ventured for the convertible stand.
This combo suits me very nicely and it really hits the sweet spot. Just like Goldilocks, the 5” BlackBerry is not too small, it's not too large. It's just right.
The Z30 brings features to BlackBerry 10.2 that you may not find in the Z10 or Q10 after the OS upgrade.
One of the exciting features is Miracast support. This is a feature that allows you to connect your Z30 to any supported Miracast screen. You don't even need to be on the same network because there is a direct WiFi connection created between the phone and screen. This makes connecting to devices to watch movies, play music or show what's on your screen a breeze. In fact, even BBM and Slideshow To Go now support playing on HDMI-compatible devices giving a completely HD experience when you use these features.
The extra benefit of this is that no new hardware is required - if your existing TV already supports Miracast, then this will work right out of the box.
What's probably the biggest "Easter Egg" on the Z30 is the USB host mode. Now you can throw files between your Z30 and an external USB device such as a memory stick just by plugging it in with a micro-USB to USB-A adapter. If you want to find one on the internet do a search for a USB On The Go (OTG) cable.
The Z30 really is the premium BlackBerry 10 device. It feels great in the hand. The woven fibre-glass back cover feels smooth yet tactile. The screen is super-sharp and bright. I don't know if it's my imagination - but I even think the screen feels smoother than it's smaller brother.
Unfortunately, it's not all perfect in the hardware department. I found myself being somewhat disappointed in the volume keys. The buttons are solid metal but don't feel solid. If you give the handset a gentle shake you can hear a gentle rattle as the volume up and down buttons jiggle in their spacees. The play/pause button itself feels spongy and there's no real resistance when you press it. You can just have your thumb resting on the button and it will activate without warning. It has been the cause of a number of embarrassing moments when I slide my phone into my pocket and then find my groin playing Progressive Rock classics to passers-by.
It's a minor issue though, and more of an irritant. It's just a shame that this minor detail rears it's ugly head. When you factor in the matted black of the rest of the device and the off-white bottom of the black device it all comes together into a very aesthetic.
Sporting stereo speakers, the Z30 sounds gorgeous. You'll never get a full range of sound with speakers this small - but it's a good compromise. While playing games or using apps that are heavy on audio, having the Z30 sitting in landscape orientation really makes using the phone more immersive. Just setting the phone down on a counter and listening to music on the go is more than satisfactory and perfectly adequate at filling up a room with sound.
The battery is probably the best and, for some, worst point in the Z30. Having a battery with almost double the capacity of the Z10 makes it easy to get through the day without needing an additional boost. You can perform a variety of tasks and play games with moderate use and not have any trouble thanks to the help of that AMOLED screen mentioned earlier.
However, as the battery is non-removable if you really do spend a good amount of time hammering the device, the don't be surprised if you can't make it all the way through the day. You either need to keep a battery booster to hand or give it the occasional top up through the day.
Personally, this isn't a regular occurrence and I'd regard my usage as a heavy user. But do bear in mind that if you're used to carrying a spare battery with you. The battery swap is not an option here.
BBM Natural Voice
Having a play with a Z30-to-Z30 BBM Video chat gave me the opportunity to try out the Natural Voice feature that BlackBerry is keen on. The Z30 comes equipped with 4 microphones so it picks up audio beautifully.
Over BBM the sound is great. I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to say that it sounds like the person is in the room. Well, unless you're using headphones to listen to the person at the other end. Then it sounds absolutely fantastic. Even more surprising, using BBM Video with a PlayBook sounds great as well thanks to the dual-microphone set up on the tablet.
Either way, BBM Video is the best mobile video experience that I have used to chat with hands down. I hope that when BBM Video comes to Android and iOS we'll have the same experience with those users.
There are some other bugbears that are more to do with the BlackBerry software more than anything else. First of all is the extremely long time it takes to switch from another BlackBerry 10 device. If you have around 8GB of apps - it can literally take hours to backup from one device and restore to the other. And as there's no way to selectively backup and restore the apps, it's all or nothing. It's anything but a fun experience.
The app situation is a lot better than when the Z10 launched back in January. We are seeing more and more big-name apps arrive in BlackBerry World plus some really high-quality indie apps from BlackBerry developers willing to take advantage of the developer tools. Even though there are still apps that people really want (such as Instagram), there are plenty of alternatives appearing. You can certainly leave it to the ingenuity of the BlackBerry community to come up with solid alternatives.
I think that I'm a little disappointed though. With all of the talk of BlackBerry 10 being a 'mobile computing platform' I was hoping for a special feature to hit the Z30 - something that would show the genesis of a real notebook computing replacement rather than just a better phone. I can't see any evidence of that here unfortunately.
What we do have though is a solid device with the best BlackBerry 10 experience so far. I don't think that anyone can deny that BlackBerry 10 brings something unique to the choice of operating systems out there and that's what keeps me holding onto a BlackBerry. Trying other devices, I just get frustrated with the stop-and-go approach to these interfaces. Meanwhile each iteration of BlackBerry 10 seems to bring a determination to remove these obstacles and make interacting with your phone an experience akin to skimming down a slide made from butter.
So what about current Z10 owners? Well, if you have a Z10 and you're due for an upgrade soon, I would recommend the Z30 – it just seems to bring everything together in a more classy way than the Z10. This is the top-of-the-line BlackBerry at the moment and you won't get a better BlackBerry 10 experience.
Of course, the Z30 has to fight against the likes of The Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5s. Those of you that have made it this far through the review have to decide what you really need out of a phone. If it's just apps to whittle the time away then maybe your money is better spent elsewhere. But being productive, enjoying media and being instantly connected to others in your social media network - nothing out there touches it right now.
It may not be perfect, but it's damn close.
BlackBerryOS Score: 9 out of 10