Review: BlackBerry Z10

The new Z10 could save BlackBerry.

It won’t dethrone Android or put a major dent in Apple’s iPhone dominance. But it will make current BlackBerry users happy enough to lay down some cash. They’ve been waiting for a good shot in the arm for too long, and with its modern operating system and rich app platform, this is a very capable device that will exceed their expectations. It’s a phone that’s meant to do much more than just send secure e-mail. For the beleaguered Canadian company that’s catching up to the rest of the smartphone market, that’s the good news. But even with a whole new operating system running on some great hardware, the Z10 will not inspire a grand exodus from the two leading mobile ecosystems.

No matter how much it looks like an iPhone 5, as soon as you pick it up, you know it’s a BlackBerry. The user interface is totally redesigned, but there’s nothing groundbreaking about it, even if the higher-ups BlackBerry would have you believe the opposite is true — since the device was first unveiled, the marketing suits have been eagerly showing off the awesomeness of the new software as they repeatedly mention the fact that 100,000 apps will be available by the time the phone goes on sale in the United States this weekend.

Let’s take a look at the UI. The crowning glory of the new BlackBerry is the Hub. A repository for all your incoming messages, the Hub is meant to be a one-stop shop for notifications. The entire experience is smartly built to be controlled with one thumb, so you can tap around while holding the phone in one hand. You can access it with one thumb, too. Swiping up and to the right from anywhere in the phone will open this notification supercenter.

I added my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and e-mail accounts to the Hub, and it did exactly what it should do: place all of my various notifications into a single, easy-to-navigate area. “Good job, BlackBerry,” I thought — until I wanted to fine-tune those notifications. It throws everything in there no matter what. Get 50 replies to a Tweet? They all end up in there, burying any other notifications.

With a few flicks, you can go directly to any account. But, for the Hub to be truly a useful catch-all notification center, it needs an account-by-account granular setting to cut down on clutter. You can remove accounts from the Hub without removing access to those items in the Hub area, but such an all-or-nothing solution isn’t ideal. This information overload is something truly connected users battle everyday.

The insides — a dual-core 1.5GHz ARM processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage that can be expanded via microSDXC — are about what you’d expect on a $200 phone. You’ll need the extra storage if you plan on adding any media, as 16GB is a pretty paltry baseline.

So what’s the bottom line on the new BlackBerry? Good hardware, nice features and a growing, but flawed, ecosystem. The Z10 is a great phone, but not an amazing phone, and that’s what it would need to be if I were to recommend buying one over an iPhone or a flagship Android handset. At this point, I’d only suggest that long-time BlackBerry users check one out. They will likely find it reason to stick with the platform, even if the company appears to still be treading to stay afloat instead of swimming forward.

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