If you have not read our BlackBerry 10 operating system review and walkthrough, I highly recommend reading that first. I have had the pleasure of using the BlackBerry Z10 for over a week now, and I have to say I am in love. The device is not perfect, but RIM is now taking leaps instead of baby steps. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the BlackBerry Z10 hardware and how it is married with the BlackBerry 10 OS.
Love at first sight?
When I first heard about the BlackBerry Z10 being the first BlackBerry 10 model, I was shocked that it did not have a keyboard. As a die hard keyboard user, I have never been happy with glass slabs of touchscreen phones. That is why I am so surprised by how much the Z10 has grown on me in such a short while. First, let’s cover the specs, then on to the device.
Getting to know the device
The BlackBerry Z10 is a beautiful yet understated device from RIM. The device sort of reminds me of a bigger iPhone 5 with softer aesthetics and less sharp edges. RIM specifically designed the Z10 to be subtle and not distract from the BlackBerry 10 OS while still looking beautiful. I think they hit that on all the marks, with improvements across the board.
The most noticeable changes are the volume buttons moving higher and being of much better quality than those on the PlayBook. Not as nice as the 9900 buttons, but similar. RIM has put bezel to bezel glass on the Z10, which really makes it stand out and even look nice from the sides. Notice one of the two microphones right by the BlackBerry logo.
The MicroHDMI port and MicroUSB ports are placed on the left side. Both are very sturdy solid ports that do not have any wiggle. I just wish RIM would either put the charging port on the bottom or higher up the side, though it is possible to type with it this way.
The back has a nice, soft rubberized texture that feels great in your hands. It has a nice silver logo on the back along with glass covers for the camera and LED flash. There is also the on/off button on top and the headphone jack. RIM did a nice job keeping the coloring between silver and black. Also, notice the second microphone on the top of the device for HD voice. It really blows your socks off with audio quality when using BBM Video or BBM Voice.
The screen is nice and bright and the touch responsiveness was tight. You can tell that BlackBerry 10 was made for touch, not hacked on like it was on legacy BlackBerry devices. RIM also shaved the glass to get the screen to be very close to the surface. The screen holds up well in direct sunlight and does not get washed out. I find the brightness, viewing angles, and contrast to be top of the line and very competitive, especially with the amazing 356DPI. It also has a 4-point multitouch screen, which allows for some awesome multitouch gestures.
The main complaint I have with the Z10 design is that the screen attracts oil and smudges and requires regular cleanings. I am not sure why this is the case since the same usage on a Samsung Galaxy S3 does not yield such smudges.
It’s not bad when the screen is on, as you can see above.
I have found the quickest fix to be to simply use my lens cleaning wipes or one of those microfiber cloths for glasses. Hopefully, this is fixed with RIM’s OEM screen protector that is supposedly coming out. We will report back!
You can remove the battery cover to access the memory card, SIM, and battery. The MicroSDHC slot is thankfully hot swappable so you can easily change it out. The battery is a nice 1800mAh battery that gets you through the day, but RIM should be able to squeeze out a bit more with software improvements.
Overall, the build quality is solid and the edges are not sharp, which is nice. It feels nice and hefty, but not heavy in your hand. On the other hand, there is no creaking plastic or cheap feel like the Samsung Galaxy S3. It weighs in at 135.4 grams according to RIM, which puts it in competition with the Galaxy S3 at 134.1 grams. This is heavier than the smaller iPhone 5: 112 grams.
The glass is not exposed all the way to the edge on any of the corners, so it should be able to withstand a small fall without shattering. I have dropped it twice while wearing gloves (it was freezing in NYC) and it has survived, as you can see.
You can find more about the camera software on the Z10 in our BlackBerry 10 OS review, but the hardware is solid. They are packing an 8-MP back camera and a 2-MP front camera, so both can record 720p video. The back camera has 5x digital zoom and the front camera has 3x digital zoom. I did find the pictures soft at night, but that has a lot more to do with the software. I also could not find any signs of HDR support. Either way, the camera is super fast, just not as sharp as I would want it to be in low light.
Storage and Memory
The Z10 has 2GB of RAM and, throughout the whole week, I did not run into any limitations caused by it or apps closed to free up RAM. The only concern I had was that the device comes with 16GB of storage built in, but is expandable via MicroSDHC. The problem is that it looks like apps and games are limited to the internal storage, which could fill up quickly with some of those 1GB games. Hopefully, RIM allows installing to SD card in the future.
The BlackBerry Z10 comes packed with a dual core 1.5Ghz processor. This thing is a beast and performs tasks like video editing without choking. I am not sure how much of a factor the OS is, but either way, I have yet to have the phone lock up. Enough said? The only concern is that sometimes the device’s back cover did get slightly hot.
Wireless – Cellular, LTE, Wi-Fi, & Bluetooth
The cellular connection on my BlackBerry Z10 was solid on AT&T, which follows in the footsteps of my 9900. I managed to make a solid phone call in the elevator shaft, where my 9900 would drop calls regularly. I did run into an issue with the LTE that required me to cycle the wireless radio off and on to make it work again, but I think this is an AT&T issue since I have to do it on the Samsung Galaxy S3 too. I don’t have the issue at all on Wi-Fi. My Bluetooth headphones and headset worked like a charm on the Z10, with one small caveat: the volume control is disabled when you use the Bluetooth headphones, so you can only control the volume on the headphones. Not a big deal, but a change from my 9900. The Z10 also supports Bluetooth 4.0, which includes the new Low Power profile and should garner some fun new accessories!
Note: I did not have access to turn on the Mobile Hotspot option, but the Z10 can act as a 4G Mobile Hotspot or provide Internet tethering over USB and Bluetooth.
I have not had the Z10 for long enough to really comment fully on battery life, but I am easily getting through a day with regular use. The problem is that on most days for the past week, my Z10 has been used constantly, so it has been on and off chargers. The stated battery life is pretty solid, at up to 10 hours talk time on 3G and 300+ hours standby on 3G. RIM did not provide the numbers for LTE. Personally, I would say the battery life is better than that on the 9900, but not as good as what my 9700 used to get.
The Z10 has the benefit of working with the standard MicroUSB PlayBook Folding Blade Charger. That means you can charge it at 1.8mAh, which is more than twice as fast as standard BlackBerry chargers. I am not sure yet if the Z10 will ship with this charger, but you should definitely pick one up if it does not!
I am getting the distinct feeling from RIM that the full touch BlackBerry Z10 line is going to be the flagship BlackBerry 10 model. The hardware is solid and everything has been optimized and developed for it first before the QWERTY model. The device itself complements the BlackBerry 10 OS, and other than the smudge issue, I think RIM has a solid hardware platform for BlackBerry 10. Here is to hoping they keep on pushing the BlackBerry 10 platform to its limits! Let us know if you have any questions.