Quick Impressions of the BlackBerry Z10

RIM (now BlackBerry) has been having a tough time of late – its phones have quickly fallen out of favour from even die-hard crackberry fans, and the competition is more stiff than ever. Users of high-end smartphones have flocked to Android and iPhone, and even enterprise customers have moved to these alternative devices.
Problem was that until now BlackBerry devices have had to do with sub-par software, poor app selection, slow browsers etc. But fans lived with these issues for the benefit of having flat-rate data in the form of BIS. But time has moved on, and the potential benefit of having flat rate data is just not relevant anymore in the high end smartphone world.
BlackBerry’s BB10 devices hope to convince users that they should give up BIS for the benefit of a completely new operating system.

I went to the launch of the newBlackBerry 10 devices – it was a high profile affair, with Johannesburg being one of the six launch cities worldwide. I had some hands-on time with the BlackBerry Z10 phone, and I walked away impressed.
Here are some of my initial impressions –
this is not meant to be a review. You can expect a full review of the Z10 the moment it lands in SA.

  • Not very flashy hardware – not that that is a bad thing. The Z10 is predominantly plastic device, and the back can be removed to get to the removable battery. The white model looks very good.
  • The OS does not rely on a home button, and is predominantly gesture based. You quickly get used to it.
  • Fast, very slick UI. BB10 must have some “project butter” type of optimisation  – there is simply no noticeable lag anywhere in the interface.
  • Software is surprisingly intuitive, and features like the “peek” into your messages “hub” looks like it will work well in everyday use.
  • BBM finally gets video calling, and screen sharing is included.
  • Camera was not particularly good in low light – not great in a dark launch venue. Will have to wait to try it properly in the outdoors. But software of camera is pretty cool – the time-shift feature is really one of the most innovative things I have tried in long time.
  • App selection is decent by the way – all the big names are there, and all the major SA app brands you might want is there as well (like FNB, Nedbank, News24, DStv etc).
  • Lack of BIS is let down, yes, but everyone that has moved away from Blackberry cannot complain – they are already living with data bundles, right?
  • One brilliant part though – MUCH, MUCH better than any other phone I have seen – is the keyboard. Super fast, and it works so well. I have never been too amazed by all the fancy Android keyboards out there compared to the simple iPhone keyboard, but the BB10 keyboard is simply awesome. The little pop up words (that you flick) works great in use, and it will apparently dig into your contacts and data to find often used words.

Overall – I think its a phone that brings Blackberry up to par with other smartphones, but it does not necessarily exceed its competitors. There are aspects of it that show some real innovation out of Waterloo, but only time will tell whether the Z10 is a success – it is clearly a major bet for RIM BlackBerry. The question is whether existing BlackBerry users will upgrade to a non-BIS BlackBerry, and also whether BlackBerry can convince its old fans to return to their new operating system.
My suspicion is that yes, the BlackBerry 10 OS will be a success, and it will give Windows Phone good competition. Whether it will convince users to switch from Android and iPhone is a different matter entirely.