Take away the apparently bigger size, silver-coated bezel and base finish, and the Blackberry Z30 could easily pass for another  Z10 device.  I’m not sure if the Z30 was intended to be an all-out improvement on the Z10 – Blackberry don’t seem convincing enough – but aside the fact that it ships with the latest Blackberry OS version 10.2 (an advantage, albeit temporary), it doesn’t look like the Z30 has that much going for it besides better hardware and premium appeal.

I’ve had the Z30 for a week now and I’m quite impressed. This is coming from someone who’s never been big on BlackberrysBankole already did the unboxing and first impressions. I’ll try my best not to repeat the things he’s pointed out, except to buttress or chip in my opinions.

I will also avoid going into much detail about any features that are already available on earlier Blackberry 10 devices, except where I need to make a point.

For perspective, you can check out an awesomely detailed review of the Blackberry Z10, if you can spare the time. Make sure you also checkout Bankole’s first impressions of the Blackberry Z30, if you haven’t already.

So without any further ado, let’s get on with this (not so) complete review of the Blackberry Z30.

Take me to…

What’s new? Z30 – Z10 specs comparison

Display

5 inch amoled blackberry z30

Favouring a 5-inch ‘Super’ AMOLED HD screen over the Z10’s 4.2-inch LCD, the Z30 should naturally trump the former in the display department. I tested the Z30 with full-sized 720p and 1080p resolution videos and they played quite well.

Worthy of note is the Z30’s lower pixel density rating (approximately 294 ppi) against the Z10’s 335 ppi. This shouldn’t be a disadvantage for the Z30 in comparison with the Z10 – pixelation effect declines with increasing screen size – but when you compare with other recent flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (386 ppi), HTC One (469 ppi) and the iPhone 5S (326 ppi with a far smaller screen), that’s really disappointing. It comes as no surprise that the Z30 has very average viewing angles under direct sunlight.

Other than that, the Z30 display is brilliant.

Body

The Z30’s silver bezel finish and faux leather back cover give it a very premium HTC One-esque look and feel. At 9.4 mm (vs 9 mm) in thickness, the Z30 is actually thicker and heavier (170 g vs 137.5 g) than the Z10, and most other high-end devices. Regardless, the Z30 feels comfortable and easy to handle. I had my reservations about its size initially; I have never used a phone so huge.  But its overall form factor and that well-grooved back covering,  for a comfortable grip, soon had me forgetting its humongous size within hours. It’s all in the ergonomics

Blackberry-z30-back-speakers-and-camera

I can’t really say I like the positioning of media control buttons. I feel like they should have been placed a little higher up. Maybe it’s my average-sized hands, or the way I hold the device, my fingers were always finding their way to those buttons on their own. It could be a different experience for you.

Bankole already told us how the the media controls work. Those holes to the side of the media controls he was wondering about? They’re most likely for the microphone.

Blackberry z30 side and volume rocker

He forgot to mention that pressing both volume controls simultaneously for about 2 seconds will take a screenshot of the active screen.

A long press of the middle button will  activate Blackberry Voice Control. Poor choice in my opinion. I’d rather there was no physical shortcut to Voice Control, or at least there might have been a dedicated button, because on dozens of occasions I found myself activating it without meaning to. It’s really annoying, not only because the silly Voice Control thing doesn’t work, but it’s also very buggy, as I will describe latter in the “It’s a bug’s life” section.

I noticed that the screen unlocks itself automatically whenever you pull the device out from its leather pouch. Pretty slick, or annoying, depending on your mood.

Blackberry-z30-leather-pouch

Processing power

The Z30 packs a 1.7 GHz  Pro Snapdragon processor versus the Z10’s 1.5 GHz Snapdragon (non-pro). What that basically means is that the Z30’s got an Adreno 320 Graphics Processing Unit which is miles ahead of the Z10’s Adreno 225 GPU.  How much of a difference does a faster CPU and better GPU make? If the Geekbench 2 scores are anything to go by – 2387 for the Z30 ( I ran it myself ) and 1470 for the Z10 – quite a lot. Of course, this is just theoretical and except in very CPU and graphic-intensive conditions, an ordinary user might not notice the difference in everyday use.

Benchmarks?

How does the Z30 compare with other recent flagship devices? There was a challenge with running fair benchmarks.  Geekbench 3, my tool of choice, isn’t available for Blackberry 10. And Geekbench 2, which is available for Blackberry 10 (and Windows Phone), has a different scoring scale. But Geekbench 2 is no longer available for iOS and Android devices,  so comparing benchmark tests was a big no-no as it wouldn’t be fair. But a manual inspection of specs on GSM Arena will confirm that the Z30 is up there on the specs pyramid. Maybe not top 5 up there, but definitely up there.

Battery

When you compare the Z30’s 2880 mAh battery with the Z10’s smaller 1800 mAh, Blackberry’s claim of a 18 to 25-hour talk time for the Z30 might not seem far-fetched, and it does live up to its billing. I should probably point out that the Z30’s battery is non-removable. That might not be such a bad thing, depending on your preferences

Sound

Unlike the Z10, the  Z30’s got stereo speakers – one in front just beside the front-facing camera, and two at the back (top and bottom) – that have been optimised to integrate seamlessly with Blackberry’s new proprietary “natural sound” technology (for BBM voice and video). The multiple speakers combine to give that surround sound effect I’ve come to love (and miss). And they don’t sound muffled even when you play music with the device in your pocket. Quote me on this one, there aren’t many mobile phone speakers out there as good as the Z30’s.

Antenna

Blackberry claim the new Paratek Antenna Technology will give us better call quality, “even in low signal areas”. That remains to be seen. I made a couple of test calls, local and international, deliberately under poor conditions – just after it had rained – and I seriously couldn’t detect any difference. Calls dropped as usual and I and the call recipients often had to repeat ourselves. It’s just a couple of calls, nothing conclusive, but definitely a bad first impression for me.

The User Interface and BB OS 10.2

I’m really impressed with the Blackberry 10 OS. You need only spend a few days with it to get sucked in. I used the Z30 for just one week and even now that I’ve switched back to my Xperia Tipo running Android, I often catch myself swiping up from the bottom glass in an attempt to minimize a running app, or swiping left and right for recent apps and my notifications on Blackberry Hub.

There are still a few things I wish Blackberry 10 OS had though, like the almighty and ever resourceful back button on Android (if you’ve never used Android, you can’t relate). But hey, variety is the spice of life right?

There’s also the issue of shortage of apps but I think people exaggerate that a little. Yes, a couple of my must-have apps  are missing on Blackberry App World. And even when they are available, some of them aren’t native – just shabbily ported Android versions (thank goodness Evernote is now native). But really it’s not that bad – there are some native alternatives to the most popular apps (Remember vs Evernote anyone?). It really is all about personal preference. Mr Mo seems quite happy with his app selection.

My major issue with Blackberry OS 10.2 is that it is very buggy, and randomly so. I don’t even know which is more annoying, the ‘randomly frequent’ crashes or the annoying bug reporting system. I will highlight a few bugs I was able to reproduce (however randomly) later in the “It’s a bug’s life” section.

The lock and home screens

As Bankole already highlighted, you can now peek your notification without having to unlock your phone.

bb10 lock screen notifications

I also noticed the camera ‘quick’ access button is still at the bottom right of the lockscreen, though there’s nothing ‘quick’ about having to hold it down for 3 seconds before the camera is called up. Yes, I realize it’s safety against inadvertently starting the camera. Maybe a dedicated physical button might have been more appropriate? I mean, here’s plenty of space for that.

Press and hold. 3...2... yawn...

Press and hold. 3…2… yawn…

I’m not sure I like how you unlock the screen with an upward swipe. I think it’s too easy. I didn’t get to play around the settings that much but I’m hoping there’s an option to change how this behaves. Options are good.

There are basically 3 homescreen types – the apps screens, the running apps/multitasking screen and Blackberry Hub. They don’t behave any differently as on other Blackberry 10 devices – swipe up from bottom glass to minimize/switch apps, swipe from top for contextual settings and swipe left/right to change homescreens. Toggling between apps is smooth, no lag and apps seem to stay open forever until you close them (may not always be a good thing). And you can actually minimize YouTube videos and use other apps while videos stream in the background. I’m pretty sure Google will frown at that.

 Blackberry Hub and the new Priority Hub

There’s a new feature inside Blackberry Hub, called Priority Hub, that helps you bring some order into your notifications. This is very different from the regular accounts filter feature.  The Priority Hub is a preconfigured filter that will help you get to the really important notifications really quick – for those times when you couldn’t be bothered with random e-frolicking. You can set auto priorities for family, conversations you started and messages that the sender has flagged as highly important.

Regular notifications filter VS Priority Hub

Regular notifications filter VS Priority Hub

In case you’re wondering about the flexibility, you can also set priorities manually for those conversations and contacts that don’t fit easily into the above 3 categories. Just press and hold on any conversation, a menu pops up from the side and you can toggle the priority of the conversation or contact with the arrow icon

blackberry-z30-priority-hub-manual-set

To switch between the priority filter and regular hub at anytime, you can use the accounts menu at the bottom left of Blackberry Hub.

Battery Life

 The main battery

Blackberry promise us the Z30’s battery will go 18 to 25 hours under ideal conditions and normal usage. The actual figures may not be far off.  Mr Mo says the battery lasts 15 hours of intensive use, over mobile data.

I decided I’d try out the battery on Wi-Fi only. I used the phone normally as I would on an average day; some gaming, reading emails, tweeting, listening to music, Whatsapp and BBM chats, YouTube streaming etc. Of course there were lots of intervals in between; this was supposed to be normal day use. I had unplugged on full charge at 9:37 am on the first day and by 9:37 the next day, I still had 20% of battery life left. Impressive stuff.

The Z30 is truly an all day phone. What’s even more impressive is how long it takes that last 20% to drop to 10%: once, I streamed 2 full 20-minute episodes of Brothers With No Game and three 4.5-minute music videos, all from 20% battery level,  before I was alerted of below 10% battery level.

The portable USB charger, also known as the “powerbank”

blackberry z30 accessories

The powerbank takes roughly about 3 hours to charge fully from 0%. You can tell it’s full when its LED flashlight changes from yellow to green and stops blinking. I ran a couple of tests with the powerbank to determine its capacity. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Powerbank was charged to full. Plugged in 1500 mAh Xperia Tipo, charged from 30% to full.  Plugged in Z30 at 20%, charged to 27%, portable battery gave out.
  • Powerbank was charged to full. Plugged in the Z30 from 10%, charged up to 57%, portable battery gave out

It’s not clear if the powerbank will ship with the actual retail box but it seems like it was intended for quick, emergency charging only, as it doesn’t pack enough power to support the Z30’s 2880 mAh battery.

The Camera (sample captures)

As far as specs go, the Z30’s camera is not any different from the Z10’s. They can both record 720p videos at 30 frames per second and both have 2 MP front cameras and 8MP back cameras. But just for curiosity’s sake,  here are some amateur photos I took with the Z30.

This one was taken from the roof of the highest point in Ibadan, Bower’s Tower

blackberry-z30-bower-tower

This was taken at the same position with full zoom

blackberry-z30-bower-tower-full-zoom

And low light performance?

blackberry-z30-camera-low-light-shot

As for video recording capability, you can check out the 720p video recording I uploaded on YouTube. Unless you’re on Swift’s new 4G LTE, you might wanna force YouTube to stream at 720p quality,  as it is highly likely YouTube will downgrade to 360p to optimize buffering speed.

It’s a bug’s life

Like I pointed out earlier, Blackberry OS 10.2 is ladden with bugs and an even more annoying bug reporting system. From all indications, it seems like Blackberry already expected and planned against these. I think they went a little overboard with their bug reporting system though.  It is a serious pain in the rectum and I always choose to ignore it. I mean who has got the time to fill in these same details every 2-3 hours of the day?

Blackberry-z30-bug-reporting

I experienced random yet very consistent crashes on a daily basis. Some of them I was able to reproduce (however temporarily). Others were a one-off occurrence.

Voice Control bug

The first time it happened it wasn’t intentional.

Conditions:

  • Data is off
  • Music is playing in the background
  • (Possibly) a few other apps are running in the background

If you activate Voice Control using the pause media control, things get buggy. It won’t happen all the time but I was able to reproduce it enough times to take actual photo proof.  Because Voice Control requires an internet connection, it asked me to connect to the internet. As I it wasn’t my intention to use Voice Control in the first place, I elected to cancel and then tried to return to my music but got an error message. I tried opening and exiting Voice Controller from the homescreen, didn’t help. Tried exiting it from recent apps, no progress. The only solution was to restart the device.

Voice-control-bug

 Snapshot bug

I mentioned earlier that you can take screenshots by pressing both volume media controls simultaneously for about 2 seconds. It’s not always as easy as it sounds and I had dozens of failed screenshot attempts. Sometimes it went on for a very long stretch of time. I have video proof of the screenshot bug.

Other bugs

The lockscreen sometimes freezes, camera app randomly crashes and Blackberry Hub also freezes often, especially when you’re trying to reply twitter messages right from the hub. In fact, within my first few hours of handling the Z30, I had to restart the device at least thrice to fix Blackberry Hub. I don’t have photo or video proof for these so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I also had to do dozens of reruns for my benchmark tests as the OS kept crashing, obviously because the Z30’s CPU is easily overworked.

Final thoughts

Appeal

On its own, the Z30 is a wonderful and very attractive device. But it’s probably most suitable for Blackberry loyalists, who in an attempt to keep up with the times, want to upgrade their legacy devices, or those who are just looking to support the (lost?) cause.  Save for the amazing UI (very subjective), I don’t see any serious attraction for crossovers from other platforms, especially for the Nigerian market. While the hardware is heads-and-shoulders with the competition, data is no longer as cheap as it used to be on legacy Blackberry devices, the app selection is not competitive and it lacks variety and nativeness.

Pros

  • Battery life at par with, if not better than, most of the competition
  • Ships with Blackberry OS 10.2
  • Great sound quality for playing media
  • Premium look and feel
  • Excellent ergonomics
  • Top notch processing speed

Cons

  • Same image and video capture capability as the Z10
  • Display is good but not the best
  • Crashes everyday (could be a software-only issue)
  • Heavier and thicker than most of the competition
  • Heavier and thicker than the Z10
  • (Possibly) twice more expensive than the very similar Z10;
  • In short, essentially a bigger Z10

Conclusion

The Z30 is not yet official in Nigeria but if Konga’s price listing of N130,000 (as at time of drafting this) is anything to go by – more than double the price for a device that’s essentially just a bigger Z10 – one begins to wonder if the Z30 is really worth it. Especially when you start to look at it from the perspective of competing high-end devices

In the end, it really all boils down to personal preference; your wants and what you’re willing to trade-off in satisfying them. For me the deal breaker would be the price. The Z30 definitely betters the Z10, to some extent, but it’s nowhere near twice the upgrade. I realise that N130k pricing is highly susceptible to change. It would be interesting to observe how that turns out in the coming weeks.

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