BlackBerry Swings for the Fence With Well-Designed Z10 Smartphone

REVIEW: To really learn how well a phone works, you have to use it every day, for everything. eWEEK reviewed the BlackBerry Z10 that way. We found a lot to like but some things we didn't.

The BlackBerry Z10 and its soon-to-emerge sibling, the Q10, need to be a home run for parent company BlackBerry. While a failure of the new BlackBerry 10 phones won’t necessarily bring down the company, it would certainly be much diminished. So is it a home run? Not yet, but the ball is still in flight, and may yet clear the outfield fence.

To find out how close to being a home run the BlackBerry 10 might be, I quit using my old phone, got a micro-SIM for my mobile service and started using the Z10 exclusively. What I found is that the Z10 has a lot to like. But there are things that BlackBerry needs to get right quickly if this device is to meet the sales numbers that the company needs.

First, the device itself really is a home run. This is a solid, well-engineered phone that does everything you wish your mobile phone could do. The screen beats the much-vaunted iPhone 5 with a higher pixel density of 356 PPI and a 1280x768 screen. While you probably couldn’t tell the difference even with the two phones side-by-side, the Z10 does an exceptional job of displaying images and videos.

In addition, text is crisp and easy to read, even on the much-reduced font sizes you’ll encounter on tiny Web pages you’ll find when browsing. While you can enlarge any image by spreading your fingers apart on the BlackBerry Z10 just as you can on any other smartphone, you frequently don’t need to.

The Z10 includes a standard micro-USB port and a micro HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) port on the side of the phone. You use the USB port for charging the phone, and for syncing it with your computer. You can also use it to tether a computer to provide Internet access. The Z10 can also be a WiFi hotspot.

The volume control on the side of the Z10 does just what you’d expect it to do, which is to adjust the audio level of whatever you’re listening to. But it can also serve other purposes, depending on the app that’s being used. In the center of the volume control is a button that works as a mute button when you’re listening to something on the BlackBerry.

But it can also be a hold button for a phone call, and it can be the speech control button when you want to control the Z10 verbally. Note that speech control is not a BlackBerry version of Siri, which is probably just as well.

The BlackBerry comes with a built-in music player and the ability to play music stored on a micro-SD card. The micro-SD cards are hot-swappable. So if you get bored after listening to 32 gigs of music, you can change to a card with more. Hot-swapping the micro-SD card requires that you remove the back panel of the Z10, and that’s something that is becoming rare in the world of smartphones.

Removing the back panel is a simple matter of pulling it open starting with the speaker port at the bottom of the device. The back snaps off to reveal the micro-SD card as well as the 1,800mAH battery. The battery is easy to remove. In fact, the company will sell you a spare battery and charger so you can always have a fresh battery available.

BlackBerry says that the phone has up to 10 hours of talk time and 13 days of standby time. I never saw times like that, but with normal use the phone lasted more than 24 hours before needing a recharge. Keep in mind that for me, normal use includes performance testing, which could shorten battery life.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...