BlackBerry Z30 review

Pros

  • Nice hardware design
  • Impressive operating system tweaks
  • Large high quality screen
  • 4G LTE support

Cons

  • Poor apps support
  • Average camera

It likely won’t have escaped your attention that BlackBerry is a company with problems. It’s been all bad news for quite some time now – and the latest sales figures aren’t encouraging with the BlackBerry Z10 apparently failing to make an impression. Indeed, the vultures are circling, but BlackBerry must attempt to push forward regardless, and it has a new smartphone out. The good news is that it’s a great handset in many respects.

The Z30 is the largest Blackberry smartphone to date, and it is a size rival for the Samsung Galaxy S4, being just ever so slightly larger. Measuring 72 x 9.4 x 140.7mm (WxDxH), it’s just a shade bigger than the S4’s 69.8 x 7.9 x 136.6mm (WxDxH). This, of course, means it has a big screen – 5in – which matches the Galaxy S4.

Let’s not get too carried away concerning the screen size comparison, though. The Galaxy S4 has 1,920 x 1,080 pixels packed into its Super AMOLED panel, while the BlackBerry Z30 is more staid with a resolution of 1,280 x 720. This resolution is fine, though, and I’m not going to make it a huge discussion point or suggest that the Z30 fails because of it. For example, BlackBerry has selected a particularly small font for the descriptions under its app icons, and while it is a bit squint-making, the text itself is perfectly readable. I could live with it day to day.

The BlackBerry Z30 feels great in the hand and that’s in no small part thanks to good build quality. It shades under 10mm thick and has a really nice soft-grip finish to the back which goes some way to mitigating the rather ugly backplate visuals that BlackBerry seems to prefer these days. And the use of metallic silver in the chassis helps it feel solid as well as look good – the silver strip along the bottom follows through into a frame which runs all around the edges of the phone. The one slightly jarring aspect of all this is the LED that sits above the screen and flashes a different colour to give you different types of alert. You can disable it if you find it irritating, and rely on aural and/or vibrating alerts instead.

The BlackBerry Z30 is strangely heavy. It weighs 170 grams, a fair bit more than the Galaxy S4’s 130 grams, and the 5in Sony Xperia Z’s 146 grams. The weight might cause a noticeable sag in a lightweight jacket pocket, but it does add to the feeling of this phone as a substantial object.

The Z30’s ports and connectors are reasonably well located – though it is somewhat irritating that Blackberry insists on putting the microUSB connector half way up the left edge instead of on the bottom where it’s more ergonomic. There’s a microHDMI port next to it and what looks like it ought to be a removable cover – but it isn’t. In fact it’s a section of the edging that’s attached to the slightly wraparound backplate rather than to the main chassis. On the right edge are volume buttons with a pause button between them. The headset slot and power button are on the top edge.

You can get the backplate off, though I found it needed quite a serious yank to remove – so it’s a good job it is relatively thick and solid. With the back off you can get to the Sim and microSD cards which are hosted along one edge of the chassis. However, you can’t remove the battery.

The BlackBerry Z30 will set you back around £470 Sim-free, and so you should expect some seriously good specifications. 4G LTE is supported, and NFC is built in.

The dual core 1.7GHz processor keeps things running smoothly and it is helped out by 2GB of RAM. There is 16GB of internal memory that is reduced to 11GB after the OS and other pre-installed stuff is taken into account. You’ve got that microSD card slot for additional storage, though.

Stereo speakers help make for a reasonably rewarding audio experience with good enough – though not exceptionally loud volume – possible. There’s no FM radio, though, and that’s something many handsets offer as standard these days. The 8 megapixel main camera is nothing special, but it is fairly easy to control, and far from being a disaster.

The 2880mAh battery is a good performer too. It should be possible for most people to get through a day without rushing off to the mains. Though as ever, if you are a power hog with lots of music, media streaming or GPS prevalent in your daily usage, you may need to find mains power during the day.

The BlackBerry 10 OS has had an update and the Z30 comes with BlackBerry 10.2. This is a refinement of the first version, and there are some welcome new features. The Hub was easily cluttered with lots of info that could make it difficult to see what really mattered, so now it has been refined and there’s a “priority hub” which can show what – and who – really matters to you.

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You can opt to show conversations you’ve started, or messages with a high level of importance, or messages from people who share your last name, and you can add any individual to the priority hub, too. It’s a start, though the ability to add more personalised criteria would be nice.

What’s really useful is the ability to tap the message notification icons for your different services on the lock screen to view more about each message. If nothing is important, you don’t need to unlock the phone. There are other changes and additions in BlackBerry 10.2, and suffice it to say they all add richness to the overall experience.

The keyboard is good and the text entry system remains as great as ever. Guessed words are pushed into an SMS, email or other text by swiping a thumb over them when they appear. Once you get the hang of it, this really can make tapping out long screeds faster than other predictive systems.

Still, I can’t help feeling there’s a fair bit missing. I’m still not a fan of the way the user interface works – I have been laughed at for saying I’d like a simple home button to take me to the apps screen or the open apps screen, but I’ve not changed my mind on that. Apps, too, are an area that BlackBerry really needs to concentrate on. Getting messaging right is one thing, but without an apps service to rival Apple and Android, BlackBerry has a serious problem.

Verdict

For the most part, the BlackBerry Z30 is a really attractive handset. It’s well built and boasts good core specifications and tweaks to the operating system that add to its overall appeal. This is a phone that gives BlackBerry a boost rather than adding to its woes.

Still, there’s work to be done on the apps side yet. Also, given all the other stuff going on with BlackBerry the company at the moment, there’s a definite danger that the Z30 might not be the success it deserves to be.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

BlackBerry Z30

Network

GSM multi band; HSPA multi band; 4G LTE multi band

Processor

1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960T Pro

Ram

2GB

Memory

16GB

Memory expansion

microSD

Display

5in, 1,280 x 720 pixels

Main camera

8 megapixel

Front camera

2 megapixel

NFC

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

FM radio

No

Battery

2880mAh

Size

72 x 9.4 x 140.7mm (WxDxH)

Weight

170g

OS

BlackBerry 10.2 OS