Matt Warman: The new BlackBerry Z10 is a phone buckling under the weight of expectation
THERE has never been more pressure on a single device than there is on the BlackBerry Z10.
This is the phone, along with its keyboard-wielding sibling, that must save BlackBerry, challenge Apple and stem the dominance of Google’s Android. It’s a phone that must surpass every expectation and achieve things that no user even contemplated a mobile phone could do. The chances of its success, on that basis at least, are zero. It can only disappoint.
So let’s start off by saying, trying to be objective, that the Z10 is a very good device. It is solidly built, with a slightly rubberised back and a 4.2” screen that is both sharp and detailed at 356DPI. Compare that to 326 for the iPhone. And the new features of this BlackBerry start in the very way you turn it on: where every other device demands that you press a button, the Z10 needs you just to swipe your finger up its screen.
There’s a lot of swiping in the new operating system, with BlackBerry implicitly saying that it’s no longer defined by a physical keyboard – as if to emphasise the size of the leap, BlackBerry has followed up the ‘BB7’ operating system with ‘BB10’.
Once the screen is on, swipe up to reveal a screen with tiles of active programmes you’re running, and then swipe right to reveal a peak at your ‘BlackBerry Hub’, a combined inbox that aggregates everything you’ve had from email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more.
This ‘Peek and flow’ idea is, once you’ve got used to it, a very useful addition. But it’s hard to see it is the revolution that BlackBerry needs to entice its already dwindling band of users to favour the Canadian brand over Samsung and Apple.
Similarly, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has been much enhanced, and now includes video so that you can see your friends, and adds the useful feature of being able to share your phone’s screen with the person that you are talking to. And another key feature of BlackBerry, the on-screen keyboard, is excellent at learning your habits so that when you consistently correct something it starts to do it automatically. You can swipe predicted words up onto the main screen with a satisfying, futuristic swoosh. But again, video calling isn’t new and there are plenty of phones with decent keyboards. Similarly, the 8MP camera is fine but not market leading, and its ‘TimeShift’ feature allowing you to select the best images of people’s faces is also not unique; the Z10 is also 4G-enabled, but so are plenty of other devices.
There’s one key addition that gives a clue to the future of BlackBerry, however, and it’s called Balance, in the sense of “work-life”. Swipe down and you can easily select between a ‘Work’ and ‘Personal’ persona; the colour of the screen changes, the inboxes and everything else are wholly separate. It’s neat, offering two phones in one. But it also introduces a division that is as much a benefit as an inconvenience. With more and more people totally combining their work and personal lives on a single device, it seems to be a step that only benefits the corporate IT department, who have to be running BlackBerry Enterprise Service to make it work anyway.
And it seems that that is where the Z10 will find favour – if you work for a company that isn’t terribly forward-thinking, you may soon find they’re offering you a new BlackBerry. But if you work for a firm that cares whether you get to work on time and thinks it might be useful that there’s a National Rail app with train times on your phone, you may not.
And it’s apps that are a problem for BB10 – it runs its own and many Android apps, with more than 19,000 ‘ported’ over a single weekend. But it lacks the strength and momentum on its own platform. The Facebook app, for instance, isn’t yet fully formed, never mind less popular software. There is no YouTube app, and while you can buy films, for instance, it is not possible to preview a trailer before you do. These details matter if you want to compete in the modern mobile age.
And that’s the challenge – in an era when Apple’s iPhone 5 was a slight disappointment because it was a little bit predictable, and when Samsung is packing phones so full of features it’s hard to always find a use for them, the Z10 is merely quite good. It will find its corporate niche, and ‘too little too late’ is too harsh. But it’s not quite enough, not quite soon enough.
- Matt Warman, Telegraph.co.uk