With BBM now on Android and iOS, it’s time for another major announcement from BlackBerry. After launching two premium (albeit overpriced) handsets, it’s time to make it a trio with the new BlackBerry Z30. The company’s latest flagship was just announced today and lucky for you, we have an in depth review on the new slab and of course, BB 10.2. We’ll be taking a look at both simultaneously and see just how BB 10 has evolved. Coming back to the phone, the Z30’s primary focus is communications, messaging and productivity, just like their earlier offerings. But does it have a lighter side as well or is it still all work and no play?
Design and Build
The Z30 moves away from the busy design of the Z10 for a simpler look. The protective glass now overflows around the edges much like the HTC One X. The phone is only slightly thicker than the Z10 at 9.4mm but it’s considerably heavier at 170g. This is mainly due to the larger display and battery.
Solidly built but not very striking
The microHDMI and microUSB ports are on the left while the volume rocker, voice command and two microphones sit on the right. The Z30 has two more microphones totalling up to four, for better noise cancellation and better audio during BBM video calls. The placement of the power button on the top is not the most ideal as it’s difficult to reach it at times. This can easily be circumvented by simply swiping from below to unlock the screen.
The rear cover offers very good grip
The back of the Z30 is very grippy which feels great to hold. This also helps keep the phone in place when placed on any surface so it won’t slide about your food tray on a plane. New to the Z30 are stereo speakers which are placed at the top and bottom. The handset also gets a new Paratek antenna for better signal reception. The back cover is removable and is where you’ll find the slots for the SIM and mciroSD card slot.
The ports under the hood
Overall, the Z30 is a well-crafted handset. It doesn’t have much going for it in terms of aesthetics, some would call a bit bland even, but I guess that works for the enterprise sector. Ergonomics are good as well however, the Z30 is heavy and single handed operations are not always a cake walk.
The biggest feature of the Z30 is the OS itself. This is the first phone to launch with BB 10.2 and this update will be seeded to the Z10, Q10 and Q5 as well. The two new features that you will use the most are the new lock screen preview and priority hub. The first one gives you a peek into your unread alert and this works for any app that’s present in the hub, including Whatsapp. Right now, these aren’t actionable so you can’t reply to an email without unlocking the phone but we hear that’s in the works. The next is priority hub. This secondary hub gathers all alerts that are marked as important. The system automatically picks up contacts or conversations that are most often used and assigns them priority. You can also manually mark a contact or conversation as priority and vice versa with a simple gesture. The rest of the new features include attachments, new sharing options, priority calling and BBM previews. This is all best demonstrated so do watch the following video (coming up shortly) for a better look.
The Z30 feels really quick and fluid and this is partly due to improvements in the new OS as well as the slightly faster Qualcomm chipset onboard. The dual-core Snapdragon MSM8960T (or S4 Pro) runs at 1.7GHz on the clock and features faster Adreno 320 graphics. There’s also 2GB of RAM to complement this.
Priority hub is a nifty addition
We did notice some lag intermittently when trying to compose a new mail or switching between apps but overall, you’re in for a smooth ride.
Media functionality remains pretty much unchanged from the previous models and there isn’t anything really new software wise as well. The stereo speakers are really good however and are almost as good as HTC’s BoomSound. It is a bit treble heavy but alerts are really loud even at half volume and music and videos sound really good. Audio quality is pretty good through the headphones as well so no complaints here. The media player could use some audio enhancements and better format support however. There’s 16GB of onboard storage which is expandable to 64GB.
Media playback hasn't improved much
You’ll still need Blackberry Link before you can start dragging and dropping files in your phone. We hope they get rid of this somewhere down the line. Full HD video playback is smooth and the stock player even reads MKV files.
The Z30 supports LTE, quad-band 3G and GSM networks. While the LTE bit might not work in India, you’ll be able to use this with other carriers around the globe. Apart from the Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v4.0 and NFC, the Z30 also packs in Wi-Fi Direct, which was missing in the earlier handsets. We didn’t have any issue with dropped calls or alerts thanks to the really loud speakers. For navigation, we have GPS and GLONASS but BlackBerry Maps is not yet available in India. Thankfully, side loading Google Maps works just fine.
The Z30 also debuts BlackBerry’s Natural Sound in conjunction with 10.2. We had a chance to get a demo of the difference in audio fidelity with and without Natural Sound and the results are quite amazing. Sadly, this feature is restricted to only BBM video and will only work with two Z30s since it requires 10.2 and the four microphones to work.
Maps are yet to arrive for BB devices
BlackBerry has updated the keyboard in 10.2 and you can now have up to 3 languages simultaneously. This is similar to what Swype offers but it’s nice to see it integrated into the stock keyboard. Thanks to the larger screen, typing is a breeze and the word prediction works very well.
The camera on the Z30 is an 8MP sensor with an f/2.2 aperture, similar to what we had on the Z10. The options are still pretty limited as compared to the different camera features we see in smartphones today. You can choose between stills, video or Time Shift. Touch-to-focus is sorely missed so you can’t shift focus when framing a shot without having to move your hand. Continuous auto-focus is present but it’s not very quick, which leads to blurry shots for quick captures. Burst mode works well if the subject is moving slowly which sort of defeats the whole purpose. The Z30 does manage good macros however given good ambient light. Indoor shots with low-ambient light are still strictly average.
A little over exposed but otherwise good macro shots
Indoors is strictly average
There’s a new preview mode in 10.2, which lets you view your previously captured image by dragging in into the viewfinder. Video recording tops off at 1080p and the quality is pretty good. The front facing 2MP camera supports 720p video for video calls.
The Z30 prides itself with really good battery life thanks to the massive 2880mAh battery. After having successfully completed our loop tests, the Z30 had about 46 per cent battery to spare which is very good. Going by these numbers, the Z30 should easily last you a day and a half or even two with moderate usage.
Verdict and Price in India
After spending a good week with the Z30, we find that it’s nothing more than an iterative update to the Z10, with a larger display. There are some welcome hardware additions like better sound, Wi-Fi Direct and bigger battery but most of the changes are software based so the asking price of Rs 39,990 seems a lot. With the Z10 now selling at a more sensible price, we fail to see why one would spend such a premium on the Z30, also considering one can get the G2 or the S4 in the same price range. Both flagships have a vastly bigger feature set, are more powerful and have access to a better app ecosystem. The Z30 makes a good buy if the price drops to about Rs 30,000 but for now, it’s too expensive, even for enterprise users.
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