When I reviewed the BlackBerry Q5 a couple of months ago, I said it felt cheap and would have a hard time competing in today's marketplace. If you are a diehard BlackBerry fan and you've been waiting for a premium smartphone that can hold its own against the big boys, the flagship BlackBerry Z30 is a far surer bet... but is it enough?
The Bigger and Bolder BlackBerry Z30
You can think of the BlackBerry Z30 as the more premium, higher-end followup to the BlackBerry Z10. It is a full touchscreen device, but this is the first time that BlackBerry has gone this big. Nudging right up next to the likes of larger Android devices like the Galaxy S4 and Nexus 5, the BlackBerry Z30 boasts a 5.0-inch Super AMOLED display. While it is only 720p, and thus won't have the same kind of pixel density as its 1080p competitors, it still looks pretty great and offers plenty of contrast-y goodness.
The rest of the spec sheet is equally impressive, but it looks to be on par more with the flagship devices of 2012 rather than 2013. It "only" has a dual-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon Pro chip, for example, but there is 2GB of RAM under the hood. The full suite of wireless connectivity is there, including LTE, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0. You also get 16GB of storage, microSD expansion, 8MP camera, 2MP front shooter, and a large 2880mAh battery.
A Premium Design for a Premium Device
BlackBerry has made it abundantly clear that the Z30 is being positioned as a range-topping device and rightfully so. The phone feels very solidly built when you hold it. The brushed metal accents are great, and the soft touch back, with its carbon fiber look, gives you an assured grip when in use. It is relatively large, but it's just as pocketable as other 5-inch smartphones.
Going with this kind of build and these kinds of materials comes with something of a tradeoff. Even though the outward dimensions of the Z30 aren't terribly different from something like the LG G2, this BlackBerry is far heavier at 170 grams. The majority of 5-inch Android phones are closer to the 130 gram range and even the more metal build of the HTC One tips the scales at 143 grams.
The Upgraded BB10 Experience
The BlackBerry Z30 comes with BlackBerry 10.2, the newest version of the BlackBerry 10 platform. The changes from previous iterations are mostly subtle, so most people likely won't be able to tell much of a difference. I do like the inclusion of the Priority Hub feature, which expands on the BlackBerry Hub that we had seen previously.
Priority Hub, as you can imagine, sifts through your BlackBerry Hub to find messages that it has determined are the most important. These would be messages from contacts that you have selected as priority, messages where you had previously replied already and so on. The rest of the UI, including the Peek gesture and app drawer layout, is mostly the same. If you liked it before, you'll still like it here. If you didn't like it, the tweaks and bug fixes probably aren't enough to change your mind.
Camera and Sample Photos
While there are several notable upgrades on the Z30 compared to its predecessors, the camera is not one of them. You get the same 8MP shooter that we have already experienced on the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. What this means is that the camera performance is pretty much the same old hat too.
As a whole, I found the camera to be perfectly adequate if not overly impressive. The pictures can be a little dim and the details can be a little soft, but as far as smartphone cameras go, the one on the Z30 does get the job done. It doesn't really impress nor does it overly disappoint.
Daily Use and Abuse
Performance is admirable. Mobile games were smooth and the the browser was able to handle just about anything I threw at it. The multitasking pane works as you'd expect it and "peeking" into the Hub is a great way to check a message without having to actually check a message.
Purely from a hardware perspective, the BlackBerry Z30 is the best BlackBerry in recent memory. This is about as solid as it gets, but the added weight can get on your nerves after a while. The larger display, though, makes for a far more comfortable QWERTY typing experience than the decidedly smaller Z10. Network performance wasn't where I had hoped -- about 7.2Mbps down and 1.6Mbps up, as benchmarked by (Lite) Network Speed Test--but that could be partly due to the Bell network rather than the Z30 itself.
MEGATechie Return of the King or MEGATechie This Is the End?
If you're a huge BlackBerry fan and you really want to be loyal to the Waterloo, Ontario-based company, the best device you can get at the moment is quite clearly the BlackBerry Z30. It looks and feels the part when it comes to being a serious, premium smartphone.
The spec sheet does fall short of other late 2013 flagships, but you'd never know it from a subjective performance perspective. Where it continues to struggle, however, is in the app selection. You're going to missing a lot of apps that you've taken for granted on Apple's and Google's respective platforms. How much that matters to you is completely up to you.
BlackBerry 10 isn't bad and neither is this phone, but it's hard to choose the Z30 when some of the alternatives just seem more appealing. The BlackBerry Z30 is available in Canada now through a number of carriers. The US launch, exclusively through Verizon, is tomorrow on November 14.