BlackBerry Z30: King of the Business Class?
BlackBerry’s latest handset, the Z30, takes the all-glass design first introduced on the smaller BlackBerry Z10 and expands on it with a bigger screen, bigger battery and heftier set of specs designed to appeal to the productivity-focused business user.
Whatever headlines are being written about BlackBerry the company at the moment, there’s no denying that the Z30, judged on its own merits, is a carefully engineered, well-balanced piece of hardware. Its five-inch display pits it squarely against other like-sized Android-powered offerings, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and HTC’s One. Its Super AMOLED screen is bright and well-saturated both indoors and out, with great side-to-side visibility when you’re sharing the view with others. And its 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960T processor and generous 2 Gb allotment of RAM – most other devices ship with between 512 Mb and 1 Gb – keep things flowing smoothly, with no stuttering or lag.
The 16 Gb of onboard memory – about middle-of-the-road these days, as most phones tend to have either 16 or 32 Gb – can be bolstered with a microSD card. The camera produces sharp, detailed pictures thanks to an 8-megapixel shooter with a shutterbug-friendly multi-element, f2.2 lens, built-in image stabilization and burst mode.
Specs are only part of the story
Spec hunters might find the Z30’s feature set a little less lofty than other devices. Its screen resolution – 1280 x 720, with a pixel count of 295ppi – is a little shy of the full-HD offerings on some other similarly-sized Android devices. Also, its processor sports a two-core design when the competition has mostly moved on to quad-core processors, and the battery isn’t removable.
So, in a side-by-side specs comparison, the Z30 is a good, though not best-in-class competitor. But here’s the thing: specs only tell part of the story. Day-to-day use goes beyond the features list and tells a more thorough story of whether a given phone can keep it together when the day gets crazy, deadlines loom and everything else seems to be going south.
That’s where the Z30 shines, and in doing so defies conventional wisdom that equates the features list with ultimate value. There’s far more to it than that.
First, the keyboard. If any device is going to convince keyboard-addicted diehards to break their addiction and go all-glass, the Z30 is it. Like the Z10, the Z30’s keyboard is both predictive and adaptive. As you type, it tries to guess what word you’re trying to write, and dynamically suggests a number of choices in the virtual frets between each row of keys. If that’s the word you want, simply flick your finger up and it finishes typing it for you. Over time, the device learns your typing style and begins incorporating additional words into its suggestion repertoire. For example, after a few days with the Z30, my family members’ names were front and centre in the suggestion list.
The keyboard also adapts to your finger placement: if you have a habit of mistakenly hitting the ‘s’ key instead of the immediately-adjacent ‘a’, for example, the Z30 over time adjusts the hit points for the virtual keys to increase your accuracy. My chunky fingers wholly appreciate the help, especially since like most business and prosumer users, I spend much of my mobile time mashing out emails, BBMs and text messages.
The BlackBerry 10-based keyboard technology combined with the Z30’s larger screen makes typing on glass a comfortable, efficient affair. After a few weeks with it, my typing speed is well beyond what I was able to muster on a Q10 or earlier-generation BlackBerry with an actual keyboard.
Voice quality is noticeably better than average thanks to improved built-in microphones and software algorithms that keep things sounding more natural and less cell-phone-like. I use it regularly for broadcast work as a result, as it lets me speak – and be heard – as if I’m in the same room. On the flip side, upgraded stereo speakers let you rock out in a hotel room.
And then there’s the battery. On paper, it’s a 2,880 milliamp-hour unit, which is pretty large by any standard (the Z10’s is 1,800 mAh). Engineering tweaks throughout the Z30 – from a Paratek antenna that dynamically adjusts itself to both maximize connectivity and minimize power draw to the energy-efficient screen to operating system design changes that reduce the load on system circuitry – give it marathon-like longevity. On a given day of heavy use, the Z30 keeps the lights on right through day’s end, meaning no more desperate late-afternoon searches for a wall outlet to juice up. On the occasional nights when I’ve forgotten to plug the Z30 in, I’ve woken up the next morning with enough residual capacity in the tank to get me through the morning as well. BlackBerry promised a 25-hour battery, and the company’s engineers have clearly delivered.
The bottom line
The Z30 may not match spec for spec with its iOS and Android competition, but as a corporate-focused productivity device it is a worthy alternative for anyone looking to get work done. And its battery life has saved me more times than I dare admit.
Perhaps it’s time to reset our expectations around what constitutes best-in-class, because in the trenches of everyday business the Z30 more than holds its own. I’ve made it my primary device, and suspect a lot of other like-minded road warriors may come to a similar conclusion.
What BlackBerry 10 device would you go for – the Z30 or something else? Let us know via the comments section below.
By Carmi Levy
The Bell Blog team