BlackBerry Z30 Unlocked GSM Smartphone Opens Door to Android Apps

REVIEW: The big new BlackBerry Z30 GSM handset eliminates one of the major stumbling blocks to using BlackBerry devices with its ability to run Android apps.

BlackBerry Z30

When Michelle Maisto reviewed the BlackBerry Z30 in November 2013, the phone was only available from Verizon as a CDMA device and it came with a subsidy and a mobile service contract.

Since then a great deal has changed. The phone is now available in a GSM version, meaning it can be used worldwide, and it's only available as an unlocked phone without a contract, either from BlackBerry or from Amazon, where it costs less.

You can use the Z30 GSM in the United States on either AT&T or T-Mobile, where the phone will work with either carrier's HSPA+ or LTE networks. This phone will also work globally on GSM, 3G, most HSPA+ and some LTE networks. The phone supports T-Mobile's WiFi Calling, but that requires a release of BBOS that was not available for testing. This test was conducted using BBOS, which has the ability (along with some other release numbers) to run Android software.

The ability to run Android apps is a significant development for BlackBerry, if only because it provides a doorway to a vast collection of software that BlackBerry users have only dreamt about until now. BlackBerry does this by creating an Android-compatible container in which the app runs, while the phone still supports its full, real-time multitasking and strong security.

But running Android apps isn't the same thing as going to the Google Play store and just downloading an app. Because this isn't Google's operating system, Google Play isn't available. Instead you will need to browse to 1MobileMarket or the Amazon app store, download the store apps and then use those to search for the apps you want to download. This isn't as cumbersome as it sounds, and most Android software works fine.

Unfortunately, not all Android apps work. When an app does fail, most of the time it's because it requires Google Play Services, which isn't available on BlackBerry devices. And, of course, you can't use an app if it's not available in a third-party app store. To reach the third-party app stores, you must first go into the settings area on the device, open the App Manager and select the "Installing Apps" function. There you can choose to allow the installation of apps from anywhere.

I found that the Android support made the Z30 significantly more useful, especially for some productivity and travel apps. I was able to download Microsoft Office Mobile and OneDrive, for example, and install them on the BlackBerry Z30. OneDrive integrated properly with the camera on the device so that photos were uploaded automatically. Microsoft Office Mobile didn't really work properly.

In some cases, Android apps worked fine except for some functions. The WeatherBug app worked properly, except for the function that shows the weather radar, which did not work. Unfortunately, you need to check BlackBerry's support forums to find out which apps worked and which didn't for other users. Perhaps at some point BlackBerry will provide some guidance here, but currently that's not available.

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...