More than features, specs and USPs, what was trending just after the BlackBerry Z10 launch in India earlier this year was the price tag— at Rs 43,490. The Z10 was squarely in iPhone 5 territory and BlackBerry India drew more flak than a Luftwaffe bomber flying over London during World War 2 for its pricing strategy.
Cut to today, and the Z10 is now available as part of what BlackBerry India claims is a limited period festival offer for Rs 29,990. The Z10 is no longer the flagship BlackBerry — that title now belongs to the BlackBerry Z30, a new phablet form-factor smartphone that should come to India soon.
It's no secret that the Z10 didn't set any sales charts afire. And this is a steep price cut around seven months from launch. So, even as you may have expressed the desire to buy the Z10 but tripped over the price tag earlier this year, is it worth considering the Z10 now, or should you give it a wide berth?
First, let's deal with the negatives:
The Battle of the Specs
If mere specs are all that you consider when considering a smartphone, you should avoid the Z10, because when compared by mere specs, the Z10 is perhaps obsolete. But hey, some could claim the same about the iPhone 5s on the specs front.
The Z10's dual core 1.5 GHz processor is no match to the quad-core processors that are available at well under the Rs 25000 mark today on Android smartphones, and I'm not just talking about smartphones made by budget players like Micromax. While the Z10 holds its own with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB internal memory and support for 64 GB microSD cards, it also falls short on display size and camera specs.
For instance, you will find HD displays which are much larger than the Z10's 4.2-inch available at lower price points and even some 13 megapixel shooters as compared to the Z10's 8 megapixel camera.
However, having said all of this, and while you're welcome to compare based only on specs, in my opinion, tightly integrated solutions like BlackBerry and the Apple iPhone — where hardware and software is made by the same manufacturer — shouldn't be compared by specs. If the user interface is smooth and speedy and CPU-intensive apps such as games don't lag and tighter integration provides improved battery life, a dual-core heart may appear a poorer deal than a quad-core, but in reality may deliver better performance. And performance is what matters.
When looked at from the performance prism, the Z10 has a smooth and quick user interface that doesn't lag. The display size may be smaller but is gorgeously vivid, and as iPhone sales show, many prefer smaller screens. Let's be clear— I'm not saying you should prefer a smaller screen; I do, but that's a personal choice and also thanks to my smaller hands and the fact that the size of the Z10 is perfect for single-handed use. If you want a 5-incher and feel that's best for your needs, avoid the Z10.
And while the Z10 doesn't have a 13 megapixel shooter, the 8 megapixel one it has is a competent one with multiple modes and comes with good photo editing software. Plus, the Z10 also has the Time Shift mode, which captures multiple images in a burst and then detects faces in the picture and allows you to choose the best profile shot of each person in the picture with a simple zoom and toggle option. This way, you can ensure no one’s blinking or looking away and you get that perfect group shot you wanted. I find this especially useful when taking a picture of kids who can't stay still.
The Z10 also has a micro-HDMI port, which is quite useful when you want to connect it to an HDMI port on a TV/monitor or a projector, and not common on many other smartphones.
Million App Challenge
Another issue with the BlackBerry 10 platform is the lack of apps as compared to Android, which has crossed the million app mark and iOS, which is not far behind at around 950000 apps. In my opinion, Apple has the better app store because of strict quality control as compared to the chaos of Google Play, where fake and even malicious apps constantly sneak in. Since Android has over 90 percent of the smartphone market in India, and chances are you are comparing the Z10 to an Android smartphone, you must know that there are over a million Android-based questionable and malicious applications in the wild, according to reputed security firm, Trend Micro. [Disclosure: I use Android too. My secondary smartphone is a Google Nexus 4].
However, the point is that when compared to either, there are only around 132000 apps for BlackBerry 10. Big names like Google Maps, Instagram and popular, trending games like Temple Run or Candy Crush are missing on the official app store BlackBerry World.
That's definitely a downer and though I have all the four apps mentioned above on my Z10 and they all work well, because the fact is most Android apps can be easily sideloaded through the Google Chrome browser and many perform nearly as well as on Android, that's not something the common smartphone user will be inclined to do, however easy the sideloading process.
On the maps front, to make up for the lack of Google Maps that's not available officially through BlackBerry World, BlackBerry India offers the MapmyIndia suite for free, which is a professional, paid maps solution otherwise. BlackBerry execs have also said that BlackBerry Maps which has never worked in India, will also be coming to India in a few months, though I would still prefer the MapmyIndia suite for its accuracy.
All things said, while BlackBerry execs will point to research that most users only use around 15-20 apps, it's a fact that BlackBerry 10 has a big, big problem on the apps front. But if you're not one of those concerned with having the latest app that everyone is raving about, and care more about other functions of a smartphone, such as e-mail capabilities, social networking and overall productivity, besides security, the software powering the BlackBerry Z10 has much to offer you.
BlackBerry says BlackBerry 10 is aimed at those who value productivity and going by that, there are two features on the Z10 where BlackBerry has walked the talk. The first is the BlackBerry Hub — a communications centre with you defining what goes into it. E-mail, text messages, to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GoogleTalk, Foursquare, calls, voicemail and more are all in the Hub. If you want to post to Facebook you needn't open the Facebook app but can do so directly from the Hub. And on BlackBerry 10.2 which is expected to come to the Z10 around mid-October, there's a Priority Hub which automatically takes the most important communication for even better productivity — again, besides automatic settings, you can also define what goes into the Priority Hub. I find the BlackBerry Hub incredibly simple and faster to use as compared to opening and closing apps on other smartphone OSes.
Then, there's the keyboard. It's no secret that the best physical keyboards are made by BlackBerry, but what's almost unknown in the negative energy that surrounds BlackBerry today is that the best touchscreen keyboard around is also made by BlackBerry. If you type with one finger, suggested auto-prediction words float on frets above the next letter in the word. To insert the word, all you do is swipe up from the key. If you're a two-finger user, you can simply ignore suggested words, though the auto-correct works almost magically. The Z10 has another software keyboard below the one you see that has a heat map. It learns as it observes you type and soon enough, when you make your usual mistake of wanting to key in F but actually hit G, the Z10 keyboard depending on the word context, will put in F though your finger hit G. And you can type in multiple languages in the same sentence and the keyboard auto-corrects. In 10.2, even Hinglish is supported, so a sentence that goes: "Kya yaar, up for a movie?" will be auto-corrected even as you make typing mistakes. Little touches like swipes to the left anywhere on the keyboard to delete letters and words (depending on speed and length of swipe) and downward swipe to toggle between alphabets and numbers/symbols are also very helpful.
Browsers were another bugbear in traditional BlackBerry smartphones, but with BlackBerry 10, another fact that's quite unknown is that BlackBerry now offers what is among the best browsers on the market today. The Webkits browser on the Z10 is fast, supports Flash and has little useful touches like the navigation bar at the bottom, which is actually so much easier to access.
Built tough—18 month warranty
I've used a Z10 since January-end and have dropped it many times, sometimes from over 5 feet onto hard, tiled surfaces. Each time that has happened, I've cringed and have expected to see a bad dent, but surprisingly, after months of use, the Z10 is as good as new. Simply put, the Z10 is built tough, not something you can claim about many popular Android smartphones. Even the flagship Google Nexus 4 that I use is a delicate darling and needs to be handled with lots of care. Perhaps that's also why BlackBerry offers an 18 month warranty on the Z10 as opposed to 12 months for most others. However, tough doesn't mean water-resistant, as on some Sony Xperia smartphones running Android.
BlackBerry 10.2 coming with Android 4.2 runtime
I've mentioned a few new features that BlackBerry 10.2, which is expected in mid-October will bring. One of the biggest advantages though is that BlackBerry 10.2 will support Android 4.2 runtime as opposed to Android 2.3 earlier. On a Z10 running a leaked 10.2 OS, I could sideload and run a plethora of newer versions of Android apps, ranging from Instagram 4.1 to Google Maps 7. And they all worked well, even though they were converted by me and not the original developer. Support for the latest versions of Android apps should also mean that some of the big name Android developers who’ve been holding back from porting to BlackBerry 10 to avoid the older Android 2.3 runtime might take the plunge now. Although, I should warn you that if you expect the application gap between BlackBerry and Android or iOS to narrow any time soon, thanks to this, that's a pipe dream. Even if BlackBerry starts doing well in the marketplace, narrowing the application gap will take a long time coming.
Previews have also been improved in 10.2. As opposed to earlier lock-screen previews that only provided information on the number of messages waiting for you (e.g. e-mail, text messages, LinkedIn messages, etc), on 10.2 clicking the icon when the screen is locked provides an useful instant preview that's really cool and innovative. Incoming message previews now come in at the top of whatever app of function you’re in and you can either tap the preview to access the complete message or dismiss the preview. In the case of BBM, you can reply to a message without leaving the app you’re using.
Is BlackBerry shutting down?
BlackBerry’s business woes are something most people know something about, but very few know everything there is to know. In the past few weeks I have personally heard some smartphone salemen scare customers interested in BlackBerry smartphones by telling them BlackBerry is shutting down. BlackBerry’s largest shareholder has proposed buying 90 percent of the other remaining shareholders and taking the company private to solve its business woes away from the unforgiving glare of the financial markets, and that’s a long way from BlackBerry being shut down. Here’s what Alec Saunders, VP of Developer Relations had to say recently when asked this question: "When I started with the company in August of 2011, we had just over a billion dollars in cash. Today, we're sitting at $2.7 billion in cash. Still debt-free.... Management is prudently managing the company from a fiscal point of view and as we go through this transition I think that's what's required. We're definitely not going away." So, while no one knows what tomorrow holds, and BlackBerry is in bad shape today, to say it is shutting down soon is not a fact.
So there you have it. The good and the bad you should know about the BlackBerry Z10. Is it now a good buy at the reduced price tag of Rs 29,990? Tell us what you think.