Truth be told, it feels rather weird to review the Blackberry Z30 at such a turbulent period for the Canadian phone maker.
The bad aside,BlackBerry certainly knows how to put its best foot forward; it always has. The Z30 is a beautifully designed smartphone, with an attractive mix of materials merging into a handset that looks and feels like it belongs on the top-shelf. This isn’t a phone that will be sneered at by smartphone snobs, the way the Galaxy S4 has been for Samsung’s use of cheap plastics in the phone’s construction. Funnily though, the BlackBerry Z30 is also made mostly from plastic, but designed to look like metal and leather. BlackBerry keeps the weight of the Z30 reasonably low, while also making the handset feel solid.
The backplate is removable, giving users access to the 2880mAh battery below, as well as a micro-SIM card slot and a port for a micro-SD removable memory card. Along the left-hand side of the handset you find a micro-USB port, along with a very handy micro-HDMI port. The latter is a connection we see less and less these days, but is always a welcome inclusion on a smartphone.
As it is with the handset’s plastic construction, BlackBerry’s goal with its display on the Z30 is to give the appearance of having the best without incurring the expense of actually having the best. The screen here is a large 5-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 1280 x 720 (720p HD) pixel resolution. The gamble here is that BlackBerry is banking on you caring more about the size of the screen, and the excellent image an AMOLED panel gives, while not caring too greatly about the number of pixels that make up the same image. Many of its competitors are now using 1920 x 1080 (1080p HD) pixel screens, which is a decent jump up in clarity.
The problem is that this clarity is difficult to perceive on smaller screens. If we were talking about 50-inch TVs, the difference would be more pronounced. On 5-inch smartphone displays, a 720p resolution proves to be adequate every time — as it does here with the Z30.
Compared with the BlackBerry Z10 (released a year earlier), the extra screen real estate you have with the Z30 is very welcome indeed. BlackBerry’s BB10 operating system relies on a series of gestures for control of the phone, and these work better with more room for your fingers to swipe about.
BlackBerry’s own platform has come forward by leaps and bounds in the past 12-months. A lot of the recent enhancements are ‘catch-up’ features that we’ve seen before in other systems, but together they make a compelling and easy-to-use system which is great for everyday use. With recent changes, you know get more information than ever on the lock screen of the phone. When you receive a message, you can tap on the name of the sender to see a snippet of the message in your inbox. If you need to act on it, you can touch it again to unlock the phone and be taken directly to the app you need to reply
BlackBerry has also expanded the notifications panel you see when you swipe down from the top of the screen. This shows you a list of Quick Settings toggles, which you can use to turn key functions, like WiFi, on and off. These settings are customisable too, so you can dictate which toggles you see. These are examples of new additions which work with the existing BlackBerry 10 OS we saw last when we reviewed the BlackBerry Q10. If you read our previous reviews, you’ll know we are big fans of the work BlackBerry had put into the gesture-controlled
Touch responsiveness in the Z30 is better than that in the Z10, and was very consistent over many hours of use over several days. This is probably the result of many factors, including the use of a 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor. (There’s also a QuadCore Adreno 320 GPU.)
The Snapdragon S4 Pro in the Z30 is only dual-core, even though Qualcomm makes a version of the Pro in a quad-core version. A BlackBerry spokesperson said the dual-core processor was used in the Z30 because it optimizes battery life and doesn’t substantially degrade performance when compared to the quad core in performance tests. BlackBerry chose a quad-core graphics chip to improve speed and fluidity — and it certainly works.
Camera and Camcorder
Like the Z10, BlackBerry’s Z30 comes with an 8-megapixel rear camera. Photos taken using the Z30 looked relatively crisp and colorful, though a bit washed out compared to those taken with the iPhone 5s, HTC One and Galaxy S4. The Z30’s camera did, however, blow away the Z10’s 8-megapixel shooter, which captured relatively grainy photos.
An image of a busy Bloemfontein sidewalk looked clean, though when we zoomed in, we noted that the facade of buildings looked blurry, especially when compared to the iPhone 5s’ shots. Colors were also flatter in images taken with the Z30 than with other handsets. A 1080p video of a busy intersection taken at night with the Z30’s rear camera looked grainy, though colors were relatively accurate. A video shot of the same intersection during the day was much clearer and colours were far more accurate.
The Z30’s 2-megapixel front camera captured fairly good photos. An image of a young man offered fine details, though the colors of his checkered shirt were slightly washed out.
The Z30 is a great smartphone, offering a brilliant, responsive 5-in. touchscreen with valuable sound improvements.
The BlackBerry 10.2 software will please users of all types, but especially workers and older BlackBerry physical keyboard users who may be converting to a touchscreen for the first time.
I was put off by the lack of a removable battery and the truly long boot time. Some users might not find the device stylish enough, but if the black and silver body isn’t flashy enough, you can buy a custom case that’s more like a pocket protector in white (or black) leather.
On the other hand, the Z30 still suffers from a limited number of apps. It also may need to be protected from BlackBerry itself, as the company tries to re-invent itself under leaders that seem headed toward putting more emphasis on BlackBerry management software and less on devices and device software.
Time will tell what happens to BlackBerry as a company, but the Z30 is a striking device that should get full support from Vodacom and BlackBerry over the next two years at least. Current BlackBerry users should definitely try it out, and even Android and iPhone users might want to play with a Z30 at the nearest Vodacom store to see what they’re missing.
*RRP is at R5899