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Communication has been BlackBerry's bread and butter for years, and the BlackBerry Z10 comes through on almost all fronts. For starters, the keyboard is fantastic. Fantastic. The 4.2-inch screen is home to a virtual keyboard with large keys, progressively improving word prediction, and autocomplete triggered by touching a letter and swiping up. The keyboard empowers fast typists and will probably ease the transition for BlackBerry enthusiasts accustom to QWERTY keys. Should someone tire of typing, there's the inclusion of video-calling and live screen-sharing between BB10 devices.
Speed is also the cornerstone of the Hub, BlackBerry's unified notification center. The Hub shows notifications from social media apps, texts, BBM, email, and calls. Users can access the notification center from anywhere by swiping up and to the right, so they can quickly check on incoming notifications to know if it's worth leaving their current activity. The Hub also enables actions like responding to messages directly or filtering between specific types of notification. There are times when the Hub can actually feel like information overload and it gets away from its intended purpose of speeding up the communication process, but the integrated center is typically a great asset.
Call quality and data were difficult to gauge because the BlackBerry Z10 has yet to debut officially in the U.S. I used an AT&T SIM and managed to get fast 4G LTE and clear call quality, but experiences will vary by region and carrier. The final retail versions that are tailored for AT&T and Verizon later this spring may yield better results, but I don't foresee any issues related to the quality of data speeds or phone calls.
Battery life was average on the BlackBerry Z10, which made it through most of the workday before a charger became necessary. The 1,800 mAh battery will deplete sooner with LTE enabled or using power-hungry features like video calling. The Z10 won't last a full day for a power user, but the slim battery is replaceable and easy to store, so it's feasible to keep a spare battery to swap in when necessary.
People typically don't look to BlackBerry for superior smartphone photography, and the BlackBerry Z10 does nothing to change that perception. The 8 megapixel rear camera produces good photos when there's a lot of light nearby, but it does a poor job in low or moderate conditions. Photos are dark, noisy, and often out of focus, which can be frustrating because there are no manual controls in the camera software.
The only hope is to tap to take a picture in good conditions and hope for the best. The camera does an okay job, but it could stand to do better. One silver lining of the software is that it includes Time Shot, which takes multiple photos of someone's face in case the person blinks or looks away from the camera, so it can be easier to correct bad photos.
People have clamored for RIM to produce a smartphone worthy of comparison to the iPhone and the Android elite, and the company has mostly been able to meet that criteria. However, there are still some areas of concern with BlackBerry 10, so the BlackBerry Z10 suffers as a result. There are enough inconsistencies of BB10 navigation and app choices to make it difficult to choose the Z10 over other leading platforms, and the disappointing camera doesn't help provide additional convincing.
The saving grace of the Z10 is that even though the first edition of BB10 has some issues to address, the software debuts on hardware that is a joy to hold. The Z10 has a large screen without an obscenely large body, and it's thin profile and comfortable materials make this one of my favorite smartphones to carry. It also does enough things well - like communication and the browser - to make this a sensible purchase for business-minded individuals and BlackBerry loyalists. Others will see the Z10 as just another smartphone that doesn't quite do what they've already managed to do on their existing device. There's nothing about this that might make others abandon their smartphones, so BlackBerry can't yet convince most consumers that the Z10 makes more sense than more popular and mature options. The BlackBerry Z10 is a hero device, but it's no savior.
Pros: Large display, great keyboard, fast performance, replaceable battery, BlackBerry 10 offers some unique features and is overall a big leap forward for the platform.
Cons: Some inconsistencies navigating BB10, limited app catalog, poor low light camera performance.
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