BlackBerry, Reviews

BlackBerry Z30 review: flagship down

Blackberry Z30_02 WM

For a while now, I’ve been struggling to enjoy BlackBerry’s latest smartphone, the 5-inch Z30, its “phablet” version of the Z10 (a phone I loved). Where the Z10 excelled, the Z30 fails. With a lackluster display that ruins gesture control and an endless list of bugs, the Z30 trails behind similar Android and iOS offerings. Worst of all is the price: aimed squarely at the high-end market, the Z30 would be a poor choice to make over the comparatively priced iPhone 5c or our phone of the year, the LG G2. It’s not all doom and gloom. There are a few positive features of the Z30 but in most aspects, the bad outweighs the good.

All touch (the good)

The Z30 looks great. It’s thick, but heavy and trendy enough to make the grade. BlackBerry’s created a rather solid phone (170 grams heavy), with no physical keys save for a power button on the top and media controls on the right edge. On the left-hand side there’s the HDMI out which works fantastically and a micro-USB port for charging or syncing data. An issue here is that the silver bar that runs around the Z30 doesn’t quite line up near the input ports and this smacks of shoddy design. But you can also look at it like this: that the haphazard build quality lends a sense of messy fun to the design.

The Z30 is a hell of a sturdy phone and you can feel it the moment you pick it up. The rubberised back not only sports an optical illusion BlackBerry logo, but is also good and grippy. As with the best feature phones, the Z30 always feels secure in hand.

I also loved the new in-notification reply option. With BB OS 10.2 , BlackBerry gives us new pop-up notifications that can be replied to in-line, just by tapping on the new “reply” icon attached to some messages. I hope this feature migrates to other mobile OS’. This is enhanced by the eye-bursting notification light, which fiercely blinks, buzzes and bleeps into life when a new message appears. You take notice, instantly. My advice is to turn down the notification sound, as the default setting literally screams a notification noise at you.

BB-Z30

Yet the Z30′s saving grace and perhaps its best feature is the battery life. BlackBerry says that battery life can hit the 25 hour mark, a decent estimation. This makes the Z30 an excellent browsing device. Quick story: I took the Z30 with me on holiday and during the lulls between drinking wine and flopping around in the pool, I’d sit there endlessly scrolling sites on the Z30. The large screen made sites like Imgur and 9GAG an absolute pleasure to use. With the 2880mAh battery, I spent hours on end laughing at cat memes without fear of battery drain. YouTube is also a blast on the Z30, with some of the best sound I’ve ever heard blasting from the stereo speakers. It’s not as good as the HTC One’s best-in-breed speakers, but it’s very close.

Before I complain about the lack of apps on BlackBerry World (it’s a joke), I’m happy with the ones that are present. Especially BlackBerry Maps which may not be as visually interesting as Apple or Google’s mapping apps, but is as powerful and useful. Other cool apps include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, FlipBoard, Weather, YouTube and the native calendar app. Just try not to visit the app store too often — you’ll be left wanting more, and rightly so.

What also surprises me is that despite the phone having such a solid battery and big, bright display, it rarely overheated. With some iPhones and Androids, I’d literally feel them, all toasty and snug as they burned a hole in my pocket. Especially the iPhone 5s — it radiates heat like a small oven. BlackBerry has done what no other mobile phone maker could, and has made a well ventilated phone.

Before I get to the bad, I just want to say that BlackBerry has tried its best with the Z30 and at first glance it is an exceptional phone. But after spending the better part of my vacation with it, and many more weeks after that, cracks started to show.

The end of an era (the bad)

There are two issues with the Z30 that destroy it. The screen, and BB OS 10.2 (ver. 10.2.0.429 on my Z30).  Let’s deal with the messy OS first.

The Z30 is not an intuitive device. Despite BlackBerry correcting many issues its users faced with OS 10, 10.2 does little to rectify the myriad bugs and crashes that are now present. Major bugs like a reliable internet connection were the worst. At home, with my brand new router and speedy DSL internet, the Z30 would constantly switch from WiFi to 3G. Often, notifications would come in one big push after the phone woke up and realized that WiFi is preferable to me wasting 3G data. I’d turn the WiFi on and off, but it wouldn’t detect my router. The answer? I had to reset the phone, which takes a full minute or more to do. That’s even longer than the Z10, despite the Z30 having slightly beefier internals.

Blackberry Z30_03 WM

Once the WiFi is in control, everything goes back to hunky-dory, until BlackBerry’s message Hub decides to hang. It kills me when this happens: I swipe up from the Blackberry logo and to the left and the Hub just becomes a black screen. Let’s reset the phone shall we. Later on, I’ll tap a WhatsApp notification in the Hub and watch in dismay as the screen just freezes there, forcing me to go to the actual WhatsApp app. Why bother having the Hub if it can’t even handle simple messaging? I never had this issue with my Z10, which leads me to believe that OS 10.2 is far from ready.

The browser is also prone to crashing and this is an enormous pity, as it’s a very solid browser and one of the few mobile ones that can play embedded flash. It was such a relief to read an article on the giant screen and simply tap the embedded video (if there was one) to play it. But embedded Flash, weirdly, would stutter and pause about a minute or less into the video. Oddly enough, the same video would play fine through the YouTube app, which is really just a link to the YouTube mobile site — which plays through the browser. Huh? BlackBerry, if you’re going to offer a cool feature, then bloody well follow through on it.

This user-unfriendliness extends to perhaps one of the most infuriating email experiences of all time. When you reply to an email, you have to then tap again (very carefully) to start writing said email. When I hit reply, I expect to start typing right away. It may sound petty, but when you’re in the thick of it, sending emails to and fro, having to tap again to start writing is a major annoyance. BlackBerry’s screen is just not precise enough to register these taps, and often you’ll have to tap two or three times to get the email reply started. What the actual hell? For a phone that lives and dies thanks to its stellar messaging, the Z30 disappoints. If only there was an app to replace the native email. If only there was an app…

Blackberry Z30_01 WM

In turn, this leads to a much bigger issue with old BlackBerry. Namely that there are few decent apps. One respite – everything you need comes with the phone: Facebook, Twitter, BBM, Maps and WhatsApp is only a download away if it’s not already preloaded. Sadly, BlackBerry World looks as devoid of quality apps as it did the last time I was forced to use it six months ago. There are five, maybe ten, average games to install and again, I doubt that anything new or exciting will be made for the BB OS 10 platform. There’s no reason for developers to create quirky, cool and outright fun games because hey, that’s what iOS and Android are for. And it’s a damn shame because the Z30 is a very solid, heavy phone and gaming on it is quite fun, thanks to the extensive battery life. But the app store is a sad joke, devoid of apps that make other phones so useful and exciting. The app store’s also slow as hell to load. The answer to that of course, is to sideload converted Android apps onto the Z30 but these apps are buggy, and not made for the Z30′s button-less screen.

So if the software is mostly a disappointment, how’s the hardware? In a word, a let-down. The 5″ Super AMOLED screen is too big and because of this, gestures don’t work that well, and for a screen of this calibre, you’d think that HD content would pop. It doesn’t — it looks washed out. This is because of low PPI (only 295). Other 5″ screens are 441 and more (like the Samsung Galaxy S4, which almost costs the same price). The screen works well for general browsing, reading content and navigating the menus, but the litmus test is HD video and after coming off the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S4, I can’t see anyone being happy with how the Z30 presents itself. Again, for the price, I want a screen crisper than a freshly washed head of lettuce. What I get instead is a kind of fuzzy display that will have you going, “why?” in the weeks to come with the phone. Also, no Netflix app. The Z30, when it plays nice with my WiFi streams YouTube like a dream, but without a native TV and film app, I’m left wanting more. For a 5″ display, I’m not impressed. Points to BlackBerry for creating a “soft touch” screen though. This is one of the nicest screens I’ve ever felt.

Gestures are the heart and soul of the BB OS 10.2 experience. This is a button free phone and to access any part of the Z30, finger-swiping is needed. But where the Z10 excelled, the Z30 flounders. To access BlackBerry Hub, it’s a swipe up and to the left. Most of the time it works, yet only if you take it slow. Don’t get me wrong, gestures work well 95% of the time, but no-one buys a flagship phone for a 95% success rate. It’ll happen at the worst times as well, when you’re under pressure and praying that the Z30 does what you want it to do.

Multitasking, especially, is a sad joke. There’s the multitask screen, but apps in use sometimes sink to the bottom and vanish. What’s the point of having the screen if it doesn’t reflect the apps in use? The browser is especially happy to just disappear into the void. It’s insanely frustrating to swipe out of an app (a gesture that is prone to misfiring in landscape mode), and when said app vanishes from the multitask screen, it’s a pain. I eventually got so used to my browser closing itself down that when it remained open after I swiped it away, I was genuinely pleased. It’s as if the Z30 wants to win me over with mediocrity.

These gesture pains extend to phone calls. When the Z30 rings, you need to pull down to answer, or up to reject a call. But the screen is so large that very often I don’t pull the slider all the way down. So to me it looks like the call is answered, but I still need to pull the “answer call” slider down to activate it. After using the phone for hundreds of calls, this still happens to me. This works well on the 4″ Z10, but is a nightmare on the 5″ Z30. In short, BB OS 10.2 was never meant for screens this large. BlackBerry needs to patch this, somehow, with its next firmware update.

BlackBerry’s keyboard, with its unique take on predictive texting (suggested words hover over letters as you type and can be swiped into sentences) is an unholy mess on the Z30. Typing in particular is a major frustration in landscape or portrait mode. I just can’t type at the speed of light like I used to. BlackBerry inserts weird spelling if you type too quickly and even if you slow down to correct yourself, it’s a nightmare to move the cursor into the correct position. I tap furiously to get the cursor to where I want it to be by using that horrible magnifying glass but it takes a good few seconds to get this right. On Android and iOS, hopping into a sentence is breezy. On the Z30, it was easier to just delete up to the incorrect word and type again. Yeah, it’s that bad. What happened to the ultra-fast, responsive keyboard BlackBerry claims to have? It’s not here, that’s for sure. This issue began the moment I turned the phone on, and continues to this day. It ruins the entire experience for me.

As for the camera, not having a physical picture button is a major downside, chiefly because there is noticeable camera lag between touching the screen and taking a picture. Also the Z30 is too large and heavy (for a camera phone), which is not a bad aspect for some phones to have, but it makes taking pictures (especially selfies) a pain in the wrist. Also, there’s too few shooting options for such an expensive phone, plus there are no good (if any) camera apps. I searched for “Camera” on BlackBerry World, I got this:

Camera apps

“Camera – watch photos of cameras.” To quote Shakespeare, “LOL!”

The final nail in the coffin is the boot up time. Despite having a slightly faster CPU than the Z10 (1.7 compared to 1.5), the Z30 is slower to boot than the Z10. Over a minute or more to load is unacceptable, especially in comparison to Apple’s flagship the iPhone 5s. During my review of (the iPhone 5s), booting up was so quick it was almost unnoticeable.

One more thing

People talk of the iPhone being a walled environment, but BB OS 10 is more so. Never before have I felt so isolated from innovative apps. When my friends get a cool app, such as Haze for iPhone or Tiny Thief for Android, I’m out of luck. Outside of a few mediocre apps, the Z30 feels like a phone without much life to it. If this is the very best BlackBerry has to offer, then it’s no reason that the Lumia, iPhone and Android posse are the current market leaders. It’s just too late. BB’s time is over. Not to be mean, but there is no reason to buy this phone. If you placed an iPhone and Android next to the BB, they may share the same features, but iPhone and android are both better, more stable and in most instances, smack down the Z30 in every conceivable area.

Verdict: BlackBerry’s Z30 is an excellent feature phone for anyone stuck in the past. Two years, even a year ago, and the Z30 would have been a contender. But it’s 2014 now (the Z30 launched September 2013), and overpriced, buggy phones like this are unacceptable. While BlackBerry is capable of making some truly decent BB OS 10 phones like the Z10 and Q10, it isn’t going to resurrect its fortunes with this solidly-made, yet messy device.

Score: 4/10


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  • charlie2010

    What a surprise, another ‘expert’ trashing a bb10 phone while consumers continue rating bb10 phones the best at cnet.com …..what do those consuumers know anyways, just because they own and use the phone they certainly dont know whats best for them, they should trust the experts.

  • BackBerry User

    I actually chose my Z30 over the galaxy S4. I do agree on some points but the writer obviously has a bad unit as my phone does not have any of the stability issues he has written of. Oh, and anyone who actually uses BlackBerry 10 devices would know that pressing the up or down volume buttons will also take a picture, no sore wrist problems. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t use the front camera for a selfie though. I am also running a pre-release os which let’s me install android apps straight from Google play through an app called snap. Most apps work, some do not. All the ones I’ve tried do so the phone does everything I want and more. Plus it was votes the best phone to blog with by Wired by destroying it’s competition. This phone is solid, the screen is not “washed out” and is the best BlackBerry ever. This is a great phone and the os that BlackBerry is incredibly efficient at communication. Your review lacks intelligence and is biased. If you’d taken any time to learn about the phone which is obvious you didn’t do to your ignorance of the camera operation, maybe you would have realised that the phone isn’t from the past. Its a growing and evolving technology that still has some work to do but is evolving at a very rapid pace. BlackBerry is not for everybody but they make a great phone. Garbage reviews such as yours really reveal how ignorant of the technology most “tech” reviewers are.

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  • Fifa20

    What !! Do you call that a review ? I cannot stop laughing on your ignorance and I’m-maturity. Not sure what’s up with the so called reviewers, but absolutely no one has the guts to write a genuine review and praise the fine product that’s been churned out, which is much better than any of its competitors. Shame in you !

  • Fifa20

    Am sure this review is because blackberry did not send you a FREE review phone you asked them, isn’t it so ? :) yay !! Good job blackberry, don’t feed these ignorant parasites

  • Designer Devices

    3 Things:
    1) Any reviewer worth his salt would enquire as to whether they have the latest version of the software on their device, update it and if all else fails, inform the company that their device is defective. In the age of mass production, it happens. No person in their right mind would continue reviewing the device with such obvious flaws.
    2) Just because you don’t know how to do something on a device, does not mean the device cannot do it or that everyone will have the same “issue”. Any competent reviewer with and inch of self respect would do some reading up on all the functions of a device before publishing something that makes them look stupid. As you have done.
    3) As a Product Designer, I have learnt that the device that does what you do most, the best, is the device you will like most. So, as an example, I like using my mobile communications device for communication, and the Z30 is excellent at that, whether it be email, sms, whatsapp, BBM, voice calls, the list goes on. You obviously use your mobile communications device to download fleeting apps as to not be left out of your seemingly shallow social group. For you sir, the iPhone is perfect.

  • thisreviewsucks

    Hahaha this review.. Steven Norris please stop writing reviews! Z30 is the best phone ever!

  • http://www.twitter.com/smiledahling Victoria Villalobos

    This review is so, so out of whack that I actually question whether or not the reviewer used it for more than a day. Either that or got a bad software update which is less likely than a blogger winging it.

    I’ll try and provide a few examples where he’s right and where he is wrong.

    The OS is intuitive. I’m sure this guy is the type to have praised ios7 new gestures as intuitive but in BB10 he just somehow can’t figure out how to swipe left, right, up, and down. Disclaimer : I am a former iPhone user.

    Boot up time. He’s right here. It’s slow and it sucks but I’m willing to endure that because this phone because I have hardly ever had to restart my phone. The battery is a monster. If this was the iPhone dying twice a day then it might be a bigger issue.

    The camera does have a physical button – you can use a volume buttons to snap a photo. Same. Exact. Setup. As. The. IPhone. For selfies use the front facing camera. You know, like, the iPhone. I’m not sure what to say about the weight issue outside of eat more spinach and try not to praise the solid feel in one paragraph and then berate it the next.

    The screen size being too big or just right is, of course, a matter of personal preference. I am, however l, confused about the contradiction between Mr. Norris’ Z30 review and his review of the LG G2. For the G2 he states, “The battery life is amazing, the design is slick and the 5.2″ screen is the best I’ve ever seen.” I’m assuming he likes the 5.2 inch screen then! But the Z30 screen, at 5 inches is too big. Weird, right? Reading his G2 review did provide insight into his priorities for a cell phone though: he believes that a cell phone is more of a content delivery device. Gotcha. That’s probably why he didn’t explain how convenient the Hub is and instead is complaining about a fuzzy display. As for a hanging hub…I’ve had this phone for months and never experienced any lag anywhere on the phone, least of all in the Hub.

    “When you reply to an email, you have to then tap again (very carefully) to start writing said email.” Utter BS. I have no idea what he’s talking about. I just tested this and what he describes does not happen.

    App store. Meh, it could be better. It’s at about the same stage the Apple App store was in a year into their OS. Ditto for Android. With Snap I have access to most Android apps if I want to run them anyway. Again, a non-issue.

    Last two points:

    Wifi issue? Never experienced it. No idea what’s going on in your house.

    You don’t like the keyboard? I’m surprised but again personal preference. Considering it won the Wired blogging competition I think it’s proven itself as more than capable.

    That’s all, folks. I know I’ll be taking what Mr. Norris has to say with a grain of salt in the future.

  • Mecca EL

    With reviews like this, Gearburn.com will be 404 long before BlackBerry layoffs return. Your article reads like a high school mid-term. Why did it take you so long to get to the point, and even longer for you to wax nonsense about the “bad” Z30? The headline should have read “My Z30 just broke up with me!”, you virtually cried, like the loser boyfriend.

    I skimmed through the whining, and read the final thought…the part where you said, and I quote “…But it’s 2014 now (the Z30 launched September 2013)…” was meant to imply what? Mathematically, that’s roughly 3-4 months ago. How’s that too late? Is your version of time measured in dog years? You make it blatantly obvious that you lack tech prowess, and you’re just a standard user. For example, why would anyone need to download a camera app, or need a dedicated camera “button”, when the Z30′s camera icon is at the bottom right of the home screen. You did see that there, didn’t you? The native camera app has everything: facial recognition, multiple aspect ratios, HDR, stabilization, aperture settings, burst mode, and one feature that no phone on the market ships with…Time Shift. Google it. Keep in mind, that these features operate on both front and rear cameras. Not just the rear cam. You didn’t mention how the video recording feature has noise cancellation and pinch/zoom WHILE recording. Why would I need to download what was already there, out the box?

    Why didn’t you mention USBotg? Google it

    I need device reviews from people that actually know how to use one, not from some blogger that needs an app to do that.

  • Z30 user and Proud

    Wow! I think I list a few IQ points reading this sorry excuse for a review. I have owned multiple devices and the Z30 is by far the best I have ever used. As far as specs go, anyone with a brain knows that Android has higher specs for their devices because the OS is not optimized for the hardware on which it runs.
    BlackBerry 10 is optimized to run on the hardware it is on, therefore the higher specs are not needed. The OS is smooth and fluid, gestures work because they are natural.
    Do me a favor and next time you write a review, use the device for more than 5 minutes and actually point out features of the device, not what you feel is a downfall because you dnt understand the device

  • Jevin

    You are a douchebag! I have a Z30 and I’m not having any problems which u r mentioning, you either don’t know how to use it or u have one defective unit!

  • freddysrevng2

    You lost me at “speedy DSL internet”….that is an oxymoron.

    Some of you reviewers must be getting paid to lie. I have had a Z30 for a month and a half and have experienced none of the problems you have…

    Take a look at “real owners ratings” on Verizon and take the word of all of these “blog reviewers” with the grain of salt they merit….the Z30 has superior ratings and “percentage of owners who would recommend it to a friend” compared to the iPhone 5S and the Galaxy S4 on Verizon and Amazon…

    Check them out.

  • Darren

    This review is full of inaccuracies that make me question the reviewers credentials, don’t believe a word and go out and test drive the Z30 for yourself because you are the only reviewer that matters.

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  • blackberry and nexus user

    Ridiculous review. Some valid points, like other phones, Z30 certainly isnt perfect. However, I have never had most of those problems on the Z30, I’m fairly sure the software works virtually the same as the Z10. I was trying to give the reviewer benifit of the doubt, assuming they must have had a bad unit, until I got to the bizare too heavy to take pictures comment. Lately I have been using a nexus 5 and Z30, and both have their pros and cons, not sure which one I ultimately prefer, but in any case the Z30 is far better than that article indicates.

  • Designer Devices

    Agree completely with Victoria Villalobos. I just did not feel like doing this clown’s work for him.
    Truly ironic how the same guy gave the Q10 9/10… How is that for inconsistency? SAME OS!
    Ps. if you search for “Camera” in the Blackberry World App Store, there are over 300 results. If, you scroll down to games, and obscure the “Apps” results however, the options for “Games” are meagre. But it does say something about the biased nature of this “review”. SEE ATTACHED.

  • Charles

    How much does Samsung/Apple/NSA pay you to write this dross? I don’t believe that you even used the Z30. I’ve had mine for a couple days and it’s blowing my mind. When i search for “camera” in BlackBerry World, I’m presented with over 100 app choices (none of which interest me because the camera does everything I need out of the box). So either you’re lying or the apps are coming fast and furious since you wrote this “reviews.”

    Another full-of-sh!t review. What a surprise! Folks, think for yourselves, ditch that kiddie toy tracking device in your pocket, and try BlackBerry 10. You will not regret it.

  • Terry Tella

    Dude! I totally agree with everyone who has commented here. You should always try to post a review thats free from bias. I have an iPhone 5s, I’ve used an S4, and currently using a Samsung Note 3, and truthfully speaking, I appreciate and treat my Z30 which I’ve been using for over two months now with utmost care and respect. Reasons…The device beats my expectations by far. very Solid, rugged, better battery life, rich surfing and internet experience, very good camera and video quality, very cool display and graphics for gaming, nice intuitive gestures, all touch, and of course even better with 10.2.1 as I run android apps directly…Seems to me that the apps are even better and responsive on the Z30 than on my Note 3, so excuse me sir, my rating here is 8 or 9/10

  • Crudbuster

    Although heavily shilled, the device failed to garner interest in the marketplace.

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