Blackberry Z30 review: Solid device that arrived a little too late

Sunday, 8 December 2013 - 11:30am IST Updated: Sunday, 8 December 2013 - 11:38am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA Web Team
With Nokia, Samsung and Apple boasting their flagship devices in all glory, will Blackberry be able to grab eyeballs with the Z30? Let's find out.
Blackberry announced its flagship premium smartphone, Z30, with much fervour and promise. Boasting the new BB10, the Canadian company was hopeful that the device would receive a grand welcome in the market.
 
In a bid to catch up with the recent times, Blackberry tried to revive its tarnished image with the successor of Z10. Blackberry Z10 did not see great sales. The Z30 comes with a larger screen, better audio, a new antenna technology that BlackBerry claims will noticeably help in poor coverage areas, stereo speakers and a very juicy battery that really sets the Z30 apart.
 
I was fortunate enough to use the Z30 for almost a month to ascertain whether the phone did manage to take BlackBerry’s productivity edge to an all new level or not.
 
First impressions
The box was impressive. The tiny matt black box with Z30 plastered in bold made the point clear. No beating around the bush, the Z30 is here. And not surprisingly, as you open the box the smartphone sits proudly atop in-ear headphones, USB cable and the AC charger. The whole presentation is slick, professional and evades any cheat codes.
 
 
Despite a lot of raised eyebrows, the 5-inch 720p display with the Super Amoled offering gives it a much more glossy appearance, both to the device itself and to the quality of the images on-screen.
 
Visible Highlights
It’s bigger with a new operating system. The touch is smooth and friendly. The Blackberry Z30 falls comfortably in your hands. Even though it is a little bulkier than the Z10, the Z30 is definitely thinner than its predecessor. The lower metal casing is classy and sophisticated and does give the phone a premium-feel.
 
The phone does not disappoint with the battery. It does run longer, a definite fresh welcome change. Android phones have an irritatingly low battery life that seem to run out only when you need to use the phone for more important things rather than games or music.
 
 
The navigation on the phone is simple and easy to use. The look and feel of the phone is a plus point along with the camera that is decent for basic photo-taking.
 
Specs
The device is powered by a 1.7 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, an Adreno 320 GPU, and 2 G RAM, which is a similar load out to the middle-high end Android smartphones this handset will be in direct competition with. BlackBerry is also pushing the ‘natural sound’ capabilities of the device, with stereo speakers and improved audio handling for media playback and video calling. The phone boasts a 2880 maH battery that Blackberry claims can last upto 25 hours with ‘varied use’. The phone also comes with v10.2 of the new BB10 operating system.
 
The phone weighs 170 gms, heights at 5.53 inches, width at 2.83 inches and depth at 9.4 mm. The Z30 seems to fit into most pockets.
The phone seems to be a treat for gamers. The graphics are brilliant with motion sensors doing a decent job. Real Racing 3 on the phone was quite a stellar experience.
 
There’s an 8 megapixel HD auto focus camera on the back, which does seem like a let-down when smartphones far cheaper boast of 13 MP cameras, and there’s a 2 MP fixed focus HD camera up front.
 

Photo taken with the device.
 
Camera
What’s good: The 8 megapixel camera looks poor on specs but the indoor images look crisp and sharp. Camera features include Flash, continuous and touch to focus, image stabilization, a proprietary Enhanced Super Resolution Digital Zoom (5x), and 1080p HD video recording. Shooting modes include Normal, Stabilisation, HDR and Burst mode. Scenes gives you the choice between Auto, Action, Whiteboard, Night and Beach or Snow. The cool TimeShift camera that captures multiple images in a burst is also included. TimeShift detects faces in the picture and allows you to choose the best profile shot of each person in the picture with a simple zoom and toggle option. The LED flash helps in night and low-light shooting.
 
What’s bad: The now widely popular panorama mode is still missing from Blackberry and that is the only noticeable bad thing about the camera on this device.
 
Operating System
What’s good: The improved BlackBerry OS 10.2 introduces new features and changes over the previous version. The biggest change is the Priority Hub, a dedicated inbox for your emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter notifications and BBM messages. It's instantly accessible from any part of the operating system with a swipe gesture, with the ability to preview messages as they come in thanks to interactive pop-up notifications. The lock screen now lets you preview messages without having to unlock the handset. There's also a new attachments tab that lets you quickly find important files so you don’t have to trawl through your inbox.
 

 
What’s bad: You still have to install BlackBerry Link just to copy content from a PC to the phone. There is an option to bypass this, but it's buried deep within the settings menu.
 
Performance and battery life
What’s good: The battery does not disappoint. It lasts way longer than most iOS and Android devices. We tested the run-time and the phone ran with heavy usage of social media, emails and video playing for a good 18 hours. Blackberry however promises 25 hours of battery life with ‘mixed usage’. We suggest you leave the spare external battery at home unless heading for a vacation somewhere isolated. The phone handles multi-tasking quite well. We tested it with almost eight apps running simultaneously and the phone did not even stutter. The phone also boasts a Paratek antenna which basically boosts data transmission in areas with low signals. This basically means better call quality; less dropped calls and faster downloads.
 

 
What’s bad: The boot-up time of the phone takes at least one minute if not more. That is a lot compared to most flagship devices in the market. Also the absence of Chrome even in the App World was a big personal disappointment.
 
Visible disappointments
The phone is a huge improvement to its predecessor Z10 but it still had some glitches that one cannot ignore. Apart from the lack-lustre App World, even the navigation on the phone needs training and some getting used to. The phone’s OS even though has a decently impressive upgrade, is decades behind the Android and iOS devices. Both have immersive markets, competitive features and constant upgrades leaving Blackberry without much zeal. During my experience with the phone, the device took a while to wake up. The power button had to be literally threatened on occasions to finally forcefully get the phone active again. The lowly Maps app and the force installation of Blackberry Link on your PC is also cumbersome and discouraging. One thing that bothers me is the non-removable battery. Being on the road most of the time, it poses a great threat for damage. The cost of repair with the in-built battery raises some questions. The back cover is huge let-down. It jars the sleekness of the front part of the device.
 
 
Conclusion
Even with all these disappointments, the Blackberry Z30 is a good smartphone. It fulfils all the basic needs of a smartphone and the Priority Hub does make life much better for the user. The notifications on the locked screen are a welcome change. It is bigger than the Z10 but just the right amount to fit in the hand perfectly. The audio and performance of battery really was a fresh welcome.
 
However, Blackberry is pitted against Samsung Galaxy S4, iPhone 5S, Nokia Lumia 925 and even the LG G2. Knowing the Indian market, one of the major factors involving consumer decisions is the price. At Rs 39,990 the Canadian manufacturer does ask for a lot. However compared with its predecessor Z10 it is much reasonably priced. The Z10 was priced incredibly initially in a price-conscious market like India.
 
Also, there is nothing exclusive that Blackberry Z30 offers that is not available on the other flagship devices. With the recent controversies surrounding Blackberry and the only exclusive element left, BBM was made available for Android and iOS operating systems in September. Even that had many glitches and lags during launch.  All of this has made the Canadian manufacturer not a very hot product in the market. There is a lot of damage control that Blackberry needs to do. The sale of its mobile business was just scrapped recently by appointing a new CEO for that vertical. Initially, the ruler of the smartphone market, Blackberry failed to keep up with time. The future lies in Blackberry’s passion to innovate and come out with competitive products that will blow consumers’ minds.
 
Coming back to the Z30, if you are someone who hates commoners like Samsung and Apple and are looking for something that stands out from the crowd; then this phone is meant for you. The phone is a humungous improvement to its predecessors. Instagram is also going to be available soon in the App market. Even though the App World is scant, the fair basic apps are available for making life easier and smooth functioning. For a business person, all your communications are effectively managed with the help of the Hub. The hardware on the phone is solid and the battery life is a definite ease to one’s everyday problem of trying to find a charging point.
 
Having said that being just good isn’t good enough. The phone should have arrived much earlier in the market. The competition has moved on to gesture touch, fingerprint recognition and much more. From a flagship device in 2013 we would expect much more. We enjoyed the time spent with the Blackberry Z30 but it wasn’t a tough task to say goodbye.
 

Jump to comments

Around the web