When the BlackBerry Z10 was launched in early 2013, interest was red hot, but the exorbitant price tag killed interest. BlackBerry was hardly a brand with the appeal of Apple so pricing the Z10 close to Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone was suicidal. Thanks to a well-publicised write down, the Z10 today has a price tag of Rs 17,999 in India, but retails for as low as Rs 15,000 and is reportedly selling reasonably well.
The point of bringing that up isn’t to rehash the Z10’s woes. Rather, because of the Z10’s price today, the point is to question where BlackBerry India will place the Z3, BlackBerry’s new kid on the block and supposedly BlackBerry’s smartphone for the masses. Because the Z3 now squarely competes with what should have been its far more premium predecessor – the Z10 – thanks to fairly close price tags.
Built by Foxconn and jointly designed by BlackBerry and Foxconn, with the Taiwanese ODM taking up supply chain risks, the BlackBerry Z3 may fall in the mid-range for Indian smartphone buyers but for BlackBerry, it’s at the low end of its BlackBerry 10 line of smartphones.
Design and Build
The Z3 is not your typical budget smartphone. For starters, it doesn’t feel cheap in any sense of the word. On the contrary, it wouldn’t be wrong in saying that it looks a shade better than the Z30. It even feels quite premium despite being made of plastic.
The 5-inch smartphone weighs 164g and measures about 9.3mm in depth. It’s not the slimmest or the lightest in the family but it is sturdy and durable. The screen resolution of 960x540 pixels is not a fan favourite but it’s pretty good. Colours are vibrant and punchy and pixellation around text is only really noticeable if you go really close.
All the buttons are placed along the left side since the right houses the ports for the micro-SIM and microSD card. The buttons are a bit of a stretch to use but thankfully you have gestures to wake the screen. The Z3 ditches the micro HDMI port seen on the Z10 in order to cut costs.
The battery is non-removable as well but thanks to the larger dimensions, BlackBerry has managed to squeeze in a 2500mAh battery. We have a nice textured pattern around the back along with the 5MP camera with flash. The mono speaker grill is placed at the bottom. The familiar BlackBerry LED indicator is on the front display and is quite useful to customise colours for different notifications using apps.
Overall, we’re impressed with the build an design of the Z3. It’s not the most comfortable for single-handed use (then again, which 5-inch phone is?) but for a budget phone, it feels anything but that. If we have to nitpick further we would say that the display could have used some oleophobic coating as it gets too messy very easily.
The Z3 comes with 10.2.1 out of the box and with it, you get all its features like direct APK installations, themes for icons and UI elements, the Priority Hub, actionable lock screen notifications and lots more. This update was available for all BlackBerry devices from this Jan onwards and the Z3 is also in line for the upcoming 10.3 update. We’ve already covered all the improvements in the new version of the OS here.
But that's not to say everything is roses and champagne. In fact, compared to Android and iOS, BlackBerry 10 is a lot buggier. It may be because it’s a newer, but bugs in features like contact management are really frustrating and have taken too long to be fixed. Often pictures on the speed dial contacts will randomly disappear and rarely, but yes, contacts too. Sync with Google is also quite terrible. While a change on an iPhone or an Android smartphone will reflect in Gmail contacts in a few minutes, on BlackBerry 10 it can take far longer, even if the sync duration is set for 5 minutes.
You’ll also be happy to know that BlackBerry Maps now works in India. While you can always install Google Maps, it’s nice to have the native app finally functional. The Z3 is pretty quick in pin-pointing your current location, however the maps themselves take a while to load. You have the option to toggle between traffic information but there isn’t any at the moment for India. Turn-by-turn navigation is also available. The experience is nowhere near as seamless as Google Maps but it’s a start.
The app store has all you covered with basic apps such as Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and even Whatsapp, all of which are native to the OS. There isn’t much in terms of games but there are some addictive titles such as Minion Rush, to pass time. In any case you can install APKs meant for Android and they should run just fine on the Z3.
The Z3 is powered by a dual-core Snapdragon 400 SoC which includes two Krait-200 cores running at 1.2GHz and an Adreno 305 GPU. We also have 1.5GB of RAM onboard. At any given time, you have about 500MB of free RAM available for apps. This is a decent amount as we didn’t face any issues when firing up multiple apps in quick succession. It’s also good to see BlackBerry include more RAM as compared to most smartphones in this price range.
Getting media to and from your Z3 is a lot simpler now. BlackBerry Link is optional as the phone shows up a portable media device in Windows. As long as you add your media in the respective folders, they are instantly recognised by the respective apps. The music player doesn’t have any equalizer settings but the audio quality is pretty good out-of-the-box.
The loud speaker lacks the depth of the Z30 or the Q10, but is good enough for alerts. Out of the 8GB of onboard storage, you get about 5.9GB that’s usable. You can however expand this to 32GB. We can also confirm that 64GB cards work just fine as well as we had no trouble with our SanDisk SDXC card. FM radio is part of the music player now.
The BlackBerry Z3 supports tri-band 3G and quad-band 2G. You also get Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v4.0, NFC and GPS. GLONASS and USB OTG features seem to be absent however. Having a large display is great for browsing the web. The stock browser does a good job at rendering heavy web pages and zooming in and out of content is pretty seamless.
The 5MP camera might not seem like much but under good lighting, it’s actually not too bad. Focus speed is not the best as it takes a while to get a sharp focus and keep it locked. The user interface is still pretty basic and you only have options to change the aspect and couple of shooting modes. Here are some samples from the Z3. TimeShift camera more is also present like we seen in the Z10 and other BB 10 devices in the past.
Battery life is one of the highlights of the phone. The 2500 mAh battery gives the Z3 a huge boost in terms of operational time. On 3G, we easily managed to get about a day and a half of usage consistently, and with two different usage patterns. Despite not being able to do our standard 8-hour test, we are quite confident that the Z3 has great battery life.
Verdict and Price in India
At a price tag of Rs 15,990 the price of the Z3 has far exceeded price expectations. Granted, most media brands didn’t exactly do in-depth research by simply converting the price in Indonesia into Indian rupees, without accounting for duties and taxes, but yet, we think a price tag of under Rs 14,000 would have been best, while around the Rs 13,000 mark would have been fantastic. However, there’s a twist in the tale and BlackBerry is offering a pre-order price of Rs 14,990, which is slightly more palatable.
Now for the elephant in the room, do you choose a Z10 or a Z3 considering they are priced so close? The Z3 would make a good buy in the Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 range but anything beyond that and you might as well pick the Z10. It’s more powerful, has double the onboard storage, slightly better camera, better display, GLONASS and a more compact form factor.
The two reasons we would recommend the Z3 over the Z10 is if you want a larger display and longer battery life. As an overall package, the Z3 is a very tempting proposition if it drops in price. Once that happens, the Z3 makes a very good alternative to say, the Nokia XL. The slightly better specifications will ensure Android apps run a lot smoother as compared to Microsoft’s offering.
With inputs from Ivor Soans
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