BlackBerry’s Z30: a mixed bag

The BlackBerry Z30 is bigger than its predecessor, the Z10, in both screen size and battery life. But it’s let down by its camera and the BlackBerry 10 operating system’s poor application ecosystem. By Nafisa Akabor.

BlackBerry-Z30-640-2

BlackBerry’s newest flagship smartphone, the Z30, is the successor to its very first BlackBerry 10-powered handset introduced earlier this year, the Z10. The most notable difference between the two is the Z30’s much larger 5-inch screen, up from the Z10’s 4,2 inches.

Like the Z10, it’s devoid of front-facing buttons, with rounded corners on the 5-inch display, and dimensions of 140,7mm x 72mm x 9,4mm compared to the 130mm x 65,6mm x 9mm of the Z10.

The Z30 is heavier at 170g, versus the 136g of its predecessor, but the added heft is quite manageable.

Surprisingly, the Z30 comes with a 1 280×720-pixel screen, for a pixel density of 295ppi — lower than the Z10’s 356ppi. But the Z30 has an Amoled display, which gives it more saturation and colours look better than on the Z10’s LCD, and viewing angles are good.

To the left of the handset are micro Sim and microSD card slots, but these can only be accessed by removing the backplate, which makes no sense as the battery is non-removable. It takes quite some effort to remove the backplate, too, something which could have been avoided by making the ports accessible from the side. Micro HDMI and micro USB ports sit below the Sim slot.

BlackBerry-Z30-280To the right are the volume up and down keys, and between them is a media play/pause voice command button, which we kept pressing accidentally. Below that are noise-cancelling microphone ports. New to the Z30 are stereo speakers, on the lower-rear of the device, and another speaker and mic are higher up on the rear. BlackBerry refers to these speakers as BlackBerry Natural Sound, which provides an enhancement to voice and video chats within BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

The handset does feel ever so slightly heavy in the hand, but it has a more solid build to it and comes in the same carbon fibre lookalike back as the keyboard-based Q10. The front-facing camera now sits next to the speaker. The slightly-too-big BlackBerry logo still appears at the bottom of the screen.

Just like the Z10, there are no buttons on the face of the handset. This takes some getting used to, though a tutorial at start-up goes through the basics like swiping up and left to unlock the handset and access various services.

From the homescreen, swipe all the way to the left to get to the BlackBerry Hub, a unified inbox of e-mail, social media and other services, revamped for the new BlackBerry 10.2 update. A Priority Hub tab learns your habits over time and presents the most important messages from e-mail, social networks and other linked accounts.

The updated BB10 operating system also displays notifications from BBM in a preview format viewable from any app you’re in. You can choose to dismiss these or respond instantly without exiting the app you’re in.

The handset comes with a good selection of pre-installed apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, YouTube, Evernote, Box, Dropbox and Docs To Go. Once you are in an app and need to go back to the homescreen with the swipe-up gesture, it docks opened apps between the BlackBerry Hub and home screen icons.

Faster processor
The Z30 is powered by a 1,7GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor with quad-core graphics, a step up from the 1,5GHz dual-core one found in the Z10. It has the same 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage as the Z10, with expandable storage.

The phone could handle running multiple apps without crashing. However, it struggled to play games, which froze the handset on launch on several occasions. The camera also stuttered a bit.

The main 8-megapixel camera, with 5x digital zoom, is decent, but with only basic options compared to other high-end handsets. Auto-focus didn’t work well and we ended up with a bunch of blurry pictures. The camera wasn’t snappy and there were a few seconds of lag between tapping the screen to capture an image before it rendered. It offers only four modes to shoot images – normal, stabilisation, burst and high dynamic range, with options to turn off the flash and change the ratio between square, standard and widescreen formats.

BlackBerry-Z30-640-1

Unfortunately, cameras have never been BlackBerry’s strong point.

The phone records video at 1080p resolution, while the 2-megapixel front camera offers 3x digital zoom, fixed focus, image and video stabilisation and 720p recording.

The battery on the Z30 is a whopping 2 880mAh, a huge step up from the 1 800mAh battery on the Z10. It will easily last a full day.

Overall, the Z30 feels like an attempt that came too late. It’s a solid device with a big, bright screen, better battery life and faster processor. But its camera is disappointing and there’s a poor selection of apps and games, a problem that plagues all BB10-based handsets.

The BlackBerry Z30 is available from Vodacom at a recommended retail price of R8 799. It’s also available on contract.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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  • Greg Mahlknecht

    >recommended retail price of R8 799

    Ouch. Dealbreaker. It’s competing against similarly-specced phones HALF that price! People moaned about the 180g Lumia 920’s weight, but at least that had some stand-out features – OIS on the camera a wireless charging – The Z30 weighs more than the Note 3 – which has a bigger screen and bigger battery (and is cheaper, too!)

  • nosnhoj

    Apps = craps, I have the latest leaked OS on my Z30, and have access to all the Google play apps, the only one I found I needed was Viper Smart Start, and I put Snap Chat on my daughters Z10. Blackberry World has all the apps I need. For business nothing beats the Bb10 devises.

  • Guest1990

    The Z30 is amazing. I don’t care if the note 3 has a “bigger battery”, my friend has a note 3 and the battery life is nothing compared to my Z30. Also, where I’m from the note 3 is more expensive than the Z30….. As for apps (article), you can get pretty much any app on BB10, that is the lamest excuse in the book now, clearly people haven’t browsed their app store and are still playing that card to put BB down.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    My point was that this handset is extremely overpriced and excessively heavy. The Note3 has a bigger battery and screen – and is lighter. People squealed like stuck pigs about the weight of the Lumia 920 (It didn’t bother me) – I would expect the same from this “heavy” phone.

    Just looking at the online shops here in South Africa, you can get the Note 3 for around R200 less than the Z30.

    The Z30’s probably a good phone, but it falls short of other flagship phones, its price has certainly placed it as a competitor to the Galaxy S4, Note3, iPhone5 and Lumia 1020.

  • HollyBolly

    I cannot wait to get my hands on one. I’m upgrading from a Z10. I will give my Z10 to my nephew who went swimming with his.
    BB10 OS is the best out there IMHO, Google Play is coming I hear, so App excuse is just a snoozer.
    Remember….Mobile is just starting…most people in the world still have the older phones. BlackBerry is just getting started. Now, we just need to convice them to do a Tablet with BB10 or Partner with Samsung!

  • Punji Panicker

    The only good thing is the OS. and I doubt the application lagged running multiple apps. It was probably indexing files which happens during the first couple of days. This OS is superior to everything onthe market. With the release of BB OS 10.2.1, you can now install the google play store and download directly from their to install apps. seamleslly

  • Dylan

    It may have a bigger battery but my understanding is that Z30 has a longer lasting battery. Maybe on account of smaller screen size or QNX efficiencies.

  • Dylan

    Also, some people like a wheightier phone. I find iPhone weighs just about right, but I found some other phones too light.

  • Dylan

    Article doesn’t mention all google apps available for Z30

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Yup, you won’t find me defending Android battery life – it and iOS are notoriously bad for sucking batteries dry. BB10 might be decent on battery, but it’s a lot heavier than BB7 – WP8 and BB10 seem to get about the same life out of similar batteries, they’re both pretty efficient.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    As far as I’m concerned “weight” is just another feature – to some people it’s important, to some not. I was just pointing out that this phone is pretty heavy for what it is, and the 920 was dragged through the mud for that. The iPhone5 is a particularly light phone, by the way. The Z10 weighs about the same as an iPhone 4.

    The Z30’s a nice phone by any measure, but so was the Z10 when it came out – “nice” isn’t good enough, Blackberry got stuck with a warehouse of $1bil of Z10’s they couldn’t sell, and unfortunately I see the same happening to the Z30. Just no compelling reason to go out your way to buy it. The only differentiator is the OS – hardware wise it offers nothing special. And it’s still a pretty new OS, doesn’t capture the BB7 market at all.

  • Roger

    Still BlackBerry bashing I see, even by the ill informed article writer… can you people not so some more research before writing such crap, come on!?

    I have my work email running whole day, get messages, surf the web, watch movies from my HDMI cable to HD TV (try that in a itoy or samroid) and still around 10pm I have over 40% battery life, try that on your S4/5s.

    I don’t experience any lag in any app, camera is just fine especially the time shift. I love my story maker (makes movies from pics, mp3 and other videos), HUB work effortlessly, peaking makes it standout from other stupid 2007 back/home buttons. BBM’s built in video chat with screen share, voice chat and BBM Channels are heaven sent to a phone experience that no other platform can boast. As for the virtual learn your ways keyboard, ag man Others can go kak!

    Lastly version 10.2.1 will being so many new features that this article will sound like lies…. soon

  • Punji Panicker

    That’s a valid point. The pricing should of been better on the Z30. The Android OS demands a quad core for it to run smooth and to be able to multitask. That argument can’t be made with the Z10 or Z30 because of the QNX kernal. But when it comes to a screen resolution and camera, the BB is out classed, They kept the same screen resolution as the Z10 in order to keep App developers happy. If your looking for Camera, the Lumia 1520 is the premier device, for both screen and camera. then the Note 3. But if you are looking for a beautiful OS that is extremely efficient and proficient for business needs, – the BB10.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    I was a big fan of BB going QNX, but the more I looked into it, the more I think they might have made a mistake – I have friends who have used QNX in their jobs, and they reckon it’s the fact BB used it which put them a year behind schedule – the very nature of QNX was that it was a super-lean realtime OS , and so much work had to be done to make it error resilient and pretty. I think that the Java layer in Android hurts the performance more than the underlying Linux kernel (which is what you’re comparing QNX to).

    I’ve used a WP8 device for my business needs for a while – it’s extremely capable – better than iOS and Android IMO, I can’t compare to BB10 as I don’t have enough experience with it to make a call. But in the wake of the NSA revelations, I wouldn’t trust BB’s centralised model – I prefer my phone just connecting to the providers that I trust, over https, and not having any attack surface for a middle man.

  • freddysrevng2

    Z30 Review from an Actual Owner of One….

    – iTunes and Outlook “Sync Friendly” …. rare combination these days…

    – 2 Days + on a battery charge…. Equals 4-5X the battery life of iPhone 5S and most Android Phones

    – 6 external speaker “Natural Sound” is Superior to HTC “Beats Technology” for Music, Hands Free Calls, Gaming, Video Calls

    – BlackBerry Messenger Video Chat is Superior to Skype in “ease of use” and “quality of audio and video”….

    – Browsing experience is “as good as” if not “better than” anything else on the market…

    – Top Android apps are “loadable” and will be “even easier” when 10.2.1 comes out in the next couple of months…

    I had a Samsung Galaxy 3 for about a year, then a BlackBerry Z10 and wanted a “new phone”… I found the “following”: the iPhone 5S just had too small of a screen and I have a family member with iOS 7 on an iPod and I don’t care for the software………..Samsung Galaxy S4 (too much like the Galaxy S3 that I had and based on a 74% “recommend to a friend” rating on Verizon – did not make any sense to do that, again)…….. Nokia Phones – no interest in the plastic, the colors or the software….. LG G2 – nice screen, played the external speaker and could not believe how “tinny” it sounded – I thought that was a good indication of a lackluster “build quality”…

    Bought the Z30 for the reasons mentioned above…. Have had it for a month and it is not only the “Best BlackBerry Ever”, I believe that it is the “Best New Smartphone on the Market”…

    Don’t believe me… go look at the Verizon website where the Z30 has a “better rating” than the iPhone 5S and a “much better rating” than the Galaxy S3 and S4…. go to CNET… Amazon and you “keep seeing the same results” from OWNERS of the Z30 .. not the “biased reviewers”.

    People who had older BlackBerrys are really doing themselves a disservice by not taking a look at BlackBerry, again. The Z10, Q10 and Z30 are some of the finest and best rated phones on the market…. there is not a single line of code in BB10 software that is the same as what you had in your “old BlackBerry”… Totally New Experience that many are Enjoying…

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