BlackBerry Z30 Smartphone: 5-Inch Display Proves Big Isn't Everything

REVIEW: The best thing about the BlackBerry Z30 is BB10.2, its thoughtful, efficiency-minded OS. The lamest thing is its 5-inch display.

BlackBerry Z30

BlackBerry completed its 2013 portfolio with the Sept. 18 introduction of the BlackBerry Z30, a smartphone with a 5-inch—Samsung big—Super Active-Matrix Organic LED (Super AMOLED) display that Verizon exclusively will begin selling in November.

It's by far the largest display on any BlackBerry, and with it one gets the sense that the struggling phone maker is ticking a box—putting out the these-days-mandatory big-screen phone before it closes the book on 2013, feeling it did everything it could, and turning to the matter of selling its business.

The Z30 is for fans of BlackBerry or BlackBerry 10 who very much want a very large display. (It's certainly not converting anyone from another platform with the Z30.) But even toward satisfying that user group, the Z30 feels like a half-hearted attempt.

The Z10, introduced in January, is solid—a compact, smart, conservatively attractive smartphone with a good camera and a crisp, 4.2-inch display with a resolution of 1280 by 768 for 356 pixels per inch.

The Z30, with its 5-inch display, has a resolution of 1280 by 720 and 295 pixels per inch.

While giving the Z30 a less-crisp display than the Z10 wasn't a great decision, it's an understandable one. BlackBerry begged its developers to stick with it, through the long delays that plagued the release of BlackBerry 10, and it didn't want to alienate or hurt any who stuck with them by offering a new display that Z10-ready apps couldn't step up to.

During a small press briefing Oct. 28, Vivek Bhardwaj, BlackBerry's head of software, said part of the company's commitment to its developers is to "make sure we have a healthy ecosystem first," before any fragmentation occurs.

The Z30's display epitomizes the feeling of the newest BlackBerry as a larger, flabbier version of the more muscular and compact Z10.

The cameras, another key consideration for users, also stayed the same as on the Z10—there's an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel up front. However, on the Z30, the rear camera felt slower. It was difficult to capture a crisp photo of anything not standing completely still (a 200-year-old church, no problem; a 3-year-old child, forget it), and at times, I had issues just getting the camera to focus on an object in the foreground, instead of the background, which it found more compelling.

Even the general look of the Z30 feels sloppier, or less disciplined. While the Z10, with its straight, even sides has a very specific look—there's no confusing it with anything—the Z10 is more rounded and could, especially with its woven back, seeming to mimic Motorola's Droids, be any big-screen phone in the Verizon lineup.

Great Additions to BlackBerry 10.2

BlackBerry certainly made some smart upgrades in its new OS, and the Z30 benefits from these (other BB10 devices in the U.S. will be able to upgrade in the coming weeks; in Canada, the 10.2 has already pushed out).

One great new feature is Priority Hub. For non-BB10 users, the Hub is a place where, at a glance, a user can see her latest emails (for several accounts), text messages, voicemails and missed calls, BBMs, Tweets, Facebook updates and more. If in the last five minutes I received a voicemail, five emails and a text, with a glance I'll see all of those things listed in a row (email-ish style) instead of having to poke at three different apps. Hub is the heart of BB10, and it's a fantastic feature.