BlackBerry Z30

The BlackBerry Z30 lives up to the promise of a flagship phone, but it's too little, too late for all but the most committed BlackBerry users.


6.7
CNET Rating

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Unlike the actual BB10 debut product, the smaller Z10, the Z30 is without a doubt the company's biggest, boldest, most advanced gadget yet. Unfortunately, though, this fresh effort from the Canadian handset maker comes way too late. I fear all those who would have considered the Z30 over iPhones and Android handsets have long since moved to greener pastures. Despite boasting a large 5-inch touchscreen, handsome styling and a high-capacity battery, the device falls short compared with the competition.

Locally, the Z30 is available via Telstra on the AU$80/month contracts for both Business and Consumer customers. Telstra stores will also sell the handset outright for AU$672. Alternately, the Z30 can be purchased at Harvey Norman for AU$688.

Design

Shaped like your typical rectangular smartphone slab, at first glance I had trouble telling the BlackBerry Z30 apart from the sea of similar-looking Android devices now flooding the market. With its jet-black colour scheme, silver accents and rounded corners, the Z30 could've been crafted by any of today's top handset makers. As a matter of fact, the phone's soft-touch back and subtle striping bears a striking resemblance to the Motorola Droid Maxx.

On the left side you'll find ports for micro HDMI and micro USB.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Above the Z30's large 5-inch screen sits the earpiece, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and the iconic red BlackBerry notification light. The phone's left edge houses ports for micro-HDMI and micro-USB cables, while on the right, you'll find controls for play/pause and volume up and down. Rounding out the Z30's bevy of physical buttons is a power key on the top edge next to a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The right side holds controls for volume up and down plus play/pause.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

BlackBerry makes sure to tout the Z30's noise cancellation abilities and the fact that its flagship handset boasts not just two but an array of four microphones. The mics ring the phone, one on each of the Z30's four edges, and they complement the device's set of powerful stereo speakers (top and bottom).

The Z30 is BlackBerry's biggest-screened smartphone yet. It packs a large 5-inch 720p HD resolution display, which the company says has a pixel density of 295 pixels per inch. Of course, that's nowhere near as sharp as the displays on the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, whose Full HD screens offer 468ppi and 441ppi, respectively. I have to say, though, that the Z30's display isn't very bright.

The Z30's screen is big but not very bright.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

A bigger screen isn't the only improvement you'll find on the BlackBerry Z30. The phone's software has been updated as well. The Z30 runs the new BlackBerry 10.2 operating system, which has a few fresh tricks up its sleeve. Along with the familiar Peek gesture that lets you quickly see your messages and the BlackBerry Hub unified inbox, both of which first debuted with BlackBerry 10, there's a new Priority Hub feature.

Use the Peek gesture to check your inbox from any screen and Priority Calling to respond to incoming calls with canned messages.
(Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

It seems that every OS is catching notification fever, and BlackBerry 10.2 is no exception. Just like Apple's iOS 7, BB 10.2 now supplies previews of messages as they hit your phone. No matter which app you happen to be in or settings windows you have open, new notifications appear as thin headers across the top of the screen.

I know many true BlackBerry adherents out there will bemoan the Z30's lack of a physical keyboard. Even so, from someone who gave up tangible keys years ago for tapping out messages on glass panels, the Z30's software keyboard is one of the best I've used. Able to learn over time what words you're likely working toward, the phone also offers handy suggestions placed over the letter your finger (and eyes) would have to travel to.

The Z30's keyboard is both comfortable and fast.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Performance

Powering the Z30's software is a respectably zippy 1.7GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and quad-core Adreno graphics. It's the same thing Motorola packs into both the Droid Maxx and Moto X Android handsets. This CPU engine is backed up by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. As I mentioned before, the Z30 also comes equipped with a microSD card slot for extra storage.

If you're familiar with the cameras on the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10, the Z30 won't offer many surprises. That's because the Z30 uses the same 8-megapixel sensor and LED flash combo as its predecessors.

All in all, I found the Z30's new BB 10.2 software responsive enough without unpleasant delays when launching apps or flipping through settings menus. That said, the phone didn't feel quite as nimble as recent Android handsets I've reviewed. I attribute much of the Z30's lack of pep to BB10's animation-heavy interface.

In other ways, the Z30 proved fleet on its feet. The handset's browser fired up CNET's mobile site in a quick 4.6 seconds. The full desktop version of CNET.com, though, took a much longer 22.2 seconds. Likewise, the phone took its sweet time to boot up, over one minute, which is an achingly long time to wait considering that the Droid Maxx can do this in just 15 seconds.

One bright spot in the BlackBerry Z30's performance, along with call quality, is its lengthy run time. BlackBerry claims the Z30's 2880mAh battery provides 25 hours of mixed use. This includes voice calls plus audio and video playback. This jived with the longevity I experienced in anecdotal testing. With a full charge bright and early in the AM, the Z30 kept its charge through a full work day, then overnight and then again through the next day in the office before I had to charge it again in the afternoon.

Under the back cover is a big but not removable battery.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Conclusion

It's not rocket science that BlackBerry's days of making consumer mobile phones are numbered. Even so, I still got excited when the Z30 landed on my desk. Within the Z30, I see all the promise of what the BlackBerry platform could have been. If this phone had debuted two, maybe three years ago, today's smartphone landscape would be a very different place.

As it stands, though, even with its enhanced messaging and notification features, the Z30 can't surpass what modern smartphones have become.

Via CNET.com



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