Blackberry Z10 & Q10 May28

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Blackberry Z10 & Q10

BlackBerry OS 10 Devices

This is the first, but likely not the last of my (crotchety) technology reviews.

As a decision-maker in the IT arena, I’m not comfortable recommending solutions I haven’t in some way made an effort to expose myself to first. This rant is fueled by having used each of the two new devices as my only device for about a month. The most striking observation was unrelated to the salable features, but in the brokenness of the basics.

The Blackberry 10 family of devices was a long overdue and a highly anticipated revamp of Blackberry’s flagship devices. Having previously owned the BB Bold 9900 (among many many others) I was hoping RIM’s Blackberry’s new contribution would live up to the Bold legacy. The 9900 was a great device, it had a great keyboard (until an OS update caused it to start repeating characters), was relatively quick, introduced type-to-search (just start typing the thing you want, contacts, email address, phone number, no menu selection required), was relatively stable, had a reasonable browser, and was tough as nails.

Blackberry Bold 9900 Sample image

 What it lacked was a decent camera. Camera-wise, this fell way way way behind the pack. In an attempt to slim down the device, BB opted for fixed-focus lens. I have no idea why anyone would ever do this. Ever. This feature failure combined with the mediocrity of the camera sensor meant that if you moved the phone far enough away from a subject such as a newspaper that it was relatively in focus (about a foot and a half), the camera was in no way sufficient to capture enough detail to make the text legible, if you moved it close enough to capture the detail on the sensor, all you got was out-of-focus fuzz. Needless to say, this was next to useless.

A typical sample of the BB Bold 9900’s photographic prowess; the “happy” medium between focus and sensor detection.

 

Before anyone has a chance to jump all over me for being a staunch Blackberry zealot, let me clarify – I am not a fan of Blackberry any more than I am of Apple. That being said, I require my phone to have a keyboard. I’ve owned every single Apple device at one point or another, from the original iPhone to the iPhone 5. Touchscreen phones are just not for me; some combination of a mismatched choice of diction and a love of demolishing the English language on a whim, but in full sentences, doesn’t lend itself to predictive text. Let’s not kid ourselves, without predictive text, everyone is useless on a touch keyboard. If you disagree, feel free to turn off all predictive and corrective functions on your phone and rant away at your normal type speed in the comments below.

What I’d hoped for from the Blackberry OS10 devices was essentially a 9900 updated with a usable camera. The Q10 delivers for the most part, the Z10 not so much.

 

 

Blackberry 10 Devices

You’ve read the reviews of the on-paper features. Neat new OS, high-res cameras, spanky hardware specs. Great, how well do they work in the real world? What about the basics, how well do they work? Why does no one test this?

Fancy Features –

Camera: Fine. An 8MP camera, ahead of most, but a distant second to the iPhone. Terrible sub-optimal light focus. Substantial lens distortion in the corners. Post-shot editing is easy to get to and has a good selection of usable feature to go with the 50% totally useless ones (“Sketch”? Watercolour? You implemented that trash and couldn’t manage to implement a timer for how long you want the phone to vibrate?).

Look & Feel: Z10: It’s a tall thin black phone with a touch screen, looks like the rest of the pack. They beat Apple to the punch on removing *all* the (useful) buttons. How does it feel? It feels like I’m tired of swiping. At least they had the decency to design most of the required swipe actions in a usable way for single-handed operation. / Q10: Looks like a 9900 except with less aluminum and more plastic, but missing the button bar and stalwart navigation pad/roller ball. This was a a mistake. Maybe just a nipple a la IBM ThinkPad or a clickable nav joystick lifted from the Sony Ericsson K790/K800. The NavNipple isn’t the fastest interface, and would be terrible for browsing the web, but it’s a big step up on poking at the same piece of text for five minutes to no avail.

Browser: Surprisingly fast and accurate. clap. clap. It’s a phone. Way to allocate your resources.

OS Speed: Fine. Mostly. Except when sending email prevents you from marking any of your other messages read or unread while it spends an excessive amount of time trying to send your 8 character email response.

App World: Garbage. There may be 70,000 apps, but 69,890 of them are lingerie apps, ported shareware, or otherwise vehicles for ads. And the search can find nothing. Even if you type in the full name of the app.

 

Every Day Features –

Ringing / Notification: Z10 & Q10. Ridiculous. Selecting the ringer I’ve used on the last three BB devices (which is a stock ringer from OS5), it rings manically. The device plays it as fast as possible in a repeat loop. Instead of *ring*……..*ring*………*ring*…….. you get *ring!ring!ring!ring!ring!ring!ring!ring!* it’s nuts. Total fail. Also, there are no controls for this or the vibrate length.

Typing: The keyboard was a little hard to press at the outset, softened up. Very good, but doesn’t have *quite* as good a layout or tactile response as the 9900.

OS Navigation: Okay. Which is very sub-par on a flagship device and operating system. The flicking & swiping are annoying, and don’t work in the neighbourhood of 15-20% of the time. As in, the operating system prevents you from moving away from that screen. And as you have no Home button, you’re stuck. Stuck where? Oh, like agreeing to the Facebook EULA after clicking on the F icon the first time, with only one option: “Agree”. You can’t cancel, nor swipe away home. You can “Agree”. Or yank the battery.

Text manipulation (Copy/Paste/Select/etc.): Z10: FFFFFFFFFFF!!!! smash! smash! smash! / Q10: Terrible. Seriously, just don’t bother. Get it right the first time, or backspace all the way back. The only real option for correcting text is to click between the word in question and the next, then backspace the whole word and retype it, although inefficient, this seems to work fairly regularly. God help you if you’ve moved the cursor far enough away that you can’t see the end of your text message, there is basically no way to get back. Just send it. Or YTB.

Corrective Text : Z10: Idiotic. “Flicking” the suggested text (this appear inlayed on the space bar) on the Z10 works about 20% of the time, the other 80% closes the text message interface (takes at least two clicks to get back). / Q10: Very Good. If it wasn’t for having to hold the suggested words for about a half second, this would garner the rare and vaunted ‘Great’ rating. No flicking involved, if you see a better word in the unobtrusive suggestion bar, just tap it. Mostly this just learns and suggests quietly. Red squiggly lines for unrecognized words can be easily tapped post-writing to select from a list or add to dictionary.

Ease of setup: Z10: Hideous. / Q10: Surprisingly easy. Although I’d moved from a Blackberry, the transition to the Z10 managed to lose half my contacts, and trying to attach it to both my Gmail mail and calendar was horrific and I just gave up. The Q10 managed to clear this hurdle easily. I have no idea why this would be different, but it was markedly so.

MMS/Picture Messaging: Putrid. Awful. Staggeringly horrendous. An embarrassment. Taking photos looks fine. Once you try and send them via MMS or Facebook, however, the image is re-sized prior to sending with no input from the user. And it’s done very very very badly. The camera natively takes 1MB photo files. These are scaled down to about 1/20th of that. 60KB (or 0.06MB). Unfortunately the source material only rated “Fine.” to start with; this approach might work if the source material was from the Hubble, but it is decidedly not. I don’t know what 1/20th of “Fine” is, but it definitely still starts with “F”. MMS photos are substantially worse quality that then awful quality of the 9900. Substantially.

Photo Management: Moronic. You’ll need a third-party app to find any photos taken more than two weeks ago. Like Windows Explorer.

 

Conclusion: If you want a touch-screen phone, buy the iPhone 5. It works, it’s polished, and is basically better than the Z10 in every way. If you liked the BB legacy, require a keyboard for your needs, or have any real requirement to input text longer than 140 characters, the Q10 is totally serviceable, just allow some time to get used to the swipe interface. You’ll actually need to follow the operating system tutorial when you start up the device. The only thing more embarrassing than having to follow the tutorial to operate your phone is skipping it and having to ask for help to get it to run it again.