An up-close and personal review of the Blackberry Z10, the Canadian company’s first phone, featuring its new operating system BB10

Blackberry’s Z10 has arrived late to the party. There are no two ways about it. The smartphone world is seeing Samsung and Apple trade punches over who the innovative player is, and Microsoft has sneaked in with the Windows 8 phone as possibly the alternative to those who are bored with their iPhones and Androids.

Blackberry, in the meanwhile, has reinvented itself as a new brand and its first smartphone Z10 is a far cry from its previous generation of QWERTY-sporting handsets. The Blackberry faithfuls — mostly people who are a lot more business-minded than fun-seeking — have waited for long to see the Canadian handset-maker’s answer to the iPhones and the Samsung Galaxies of the world.

Having used the phone for a good three weeks before writing this review, I can say that its biggest triumph is the brave new user interface that Blackberry 10 offers. It is unlike any other experienced so far. The entire experience is swipe-based and it would take some getting used to. But once you are drawn into it, any other OS experience, be it iOS or Android Jelly Bean, will seem a little jaded.

A one-hand phone

Blackberry has promoted Z10 as a 'one-hand' phone — meaning you can operate all its functions, just holding it in one hand. The dimensions of the phone seemed just right — at 4.2 inches it is only slightly bigger than the iPhone 5 but considerably smaller than the Android phone flagships from HTC and Samsung. Also, it weighs 136 grams, which makes it neither the lightest nor the heaviest super smartphone. To put it in a nutshell: the build quality and general feel of the phone seem just right.

And then there are the core specifications: an 8 MP rear-facing camera, 16 GB internal storage, full HD resolution display at 356 ppi resolution, a dual-core 1.5 Ghz processor, 2 GB RAM, USB and micro-HDMI port, among other things. I won't dwell much on specifications because they invariably are not the differentiator these days in a clogged assembly line of similar-looking phones.

What really matters is how well the smartphone works. There are some key differentiators that the Blackberry 10 operating system allows, which seem to set this phone apart from the rest. The Blackberry Hub which allows users to set up all their accounts — the BBM, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and even Evernote — in one place is a welcome feature. Although a similar functionality is present in Windows 8 mobile too, Blackberry 10 seems to do a better job.

The notification centre in Blackberry 10 is also considerably different and more useful compared to other handsets. The ‘peek’ function that allows users to check out the notifications they have — missed calls, text messages, emails and social networks notifications — is another useful function that allows users to not get lost while playing games or running any other Apps.

The most refreshing feature of the phone is the predictive keyboard featured in Blackberry 10. It is not the standard autocorrect software found in other platforms, but it predicts words based on user patterns. This makes text input on Z10 a notch quicker.

Despite the robust hardware, highly intuitive user interface, and a refreshing re-look at mobile computing, Z10 does have its pitfalls. The biggest disadvantage is the relatively new Apps ecosystem in the rebranded Blackberry World market place. When compared to the iOS or the Google Play ecosystems, Blackberry World has very little to offer. Especially considering the MRP in excess of Rs.43,000, this can be a bit underwhelming.

The battery life of the Z10 too suffers from similar effects that all large touchscreen smartphones face. While the company promises up to 11 hours of talk time on 3G on a full charge of the 1,800 mAh battery pack, power users will have to take their chargers to office for a quick post-lunch plug in. The legendary battery backup of the previous generation of Blackberry phones surely does not hold good here.

With Z10, Blackberry seems to have scripted a bold re-entry into the smartphone race with a user interface that puts competition to shame. But for the party to really begin, the App developers from around the world will have to bet on the Blackberry 10 ecosystem. That might still be some months away.