Before we talk about the BlackBerry I’d like to momentarily digress you, the reader, to a time back in the year 2000 when a company known as 3COM unveiled their new trade name under Palm Inc. It was, henceforth the company that brought memorable palm pilot devices such as the m515, the Zire, Tungsten, Lifedrive and of course, the Treo series which arguably became the basis of the modern day smartphone. Five years later, the company renamed itself into palmOne, and then after a number of months reverted back to the original name, Palm. In 2009, we all said goodbye to the iconic ecosystem, which was in turn replaced by webOS (which was then bought and then sold once more by HP).
In a similar fashion, a OEM known as HTC responsible for the O2 XDA renamed itself to Dopod and then back to HTC branding its own line of commercial smartphones, moving forward from making phones for other brands. In corollary fashion, Glofish, a European nav tech brand was acquired by ACER and Compaq was absorbed by HP. Most, if not all of these changes in semantics were made to best describe an ever-changing IT industry (in the case of Palm being split into palmOne and PalmSource) and to strengthen the brand identity at a time when today’s new players were still emerging at a time when Apple stunned the world with the iPhone.
The same can be said about BlackBerry, a company renamed. Gone is Research in Motion (in my opinion one of the sexiest names for an IT company) and in its nomenclature revision, replaced by the name of its actual flagship product – BlackBerry. This is supposed to symbolize focus. But does a change in name serve as a formality or is there true change inherent that brings this smartphone company back to life?
For this review, I had asked the help of both the local reps of BlackBerry as well as the telco side for a loaner unit. Luckily, SMART was able to provide a unit (SIM included!) for this review. As soon as I had posted photos of the new BlackBerry Z10 on Facebook and Instagram, a number of enquiries were already in queue asking for feedback about the operating system, the general feel of the phone, and the keypad. When I posted an update saying it was Android-compatible (with Instagram installed), this brought a chorus of virtual applause. And yes, it’s confirmed. BlackBerry is no longer a zombie. It’s more like a company that experienced a long holy week hiatus and has finally risen from the dead.
My verdict: the Z10 isn’t just a phone. It represents the future of BlackBerry as a company. Though it still has some flaws, I am excited for near-future iterations of OS10. Since that teaser won’t satisfy you, let’s get into the details.
After holding the phone in my left hand it immediately felt attuned to the lovely backplate texture. It sure wasn’t like the Bold 9900 but the rubber-like back is more than welcome in an age of cheap plastic back covers. Practically, it’s inspired minimalism, like most (if not all) of the touch enabled smartphones to date. The top of the device contains the power / sleep button and the 3.5mm jack. The right side contains 3 buttons for volume and mute and the left houses the mini HDMI and micro USB charging cable slots. There are no buttons or slots at the bottom of the device.
Compatibility with Android
The secret has been out for a while. BlackBerry OS10 is Android-compatible. To an extent. Nope, it doesn’t run an iteration of Android. Rather, OS10 can run an emulation of Android within its own operating system in the same way that a Macintosh can run Windows using Parallels. A huge number of Android apps are compatible with the Z10 and this is done through a method known as “side loading” the apps into the phone. To side load means to install applications from a USB cable from the computer as opposed to “OTA” or “over the air” which is the typical way we download apps from the Android Play Store or the iTunes Store. CrackBerry has a detailed guide if you are interested (for Mac and PC).
Mind you though, the process of side loading is not as easy as it looks. See, once you plug in the BlackBerry using the typical micro USB cable (a boon that it uses a generic charging and data transfer method), OS10 loads the installation software for both Mac and PC. That means you won’t need to download an external PC (or Mac) suite and that’s hella convenient.
Running emulated apps is fine. Compared to the native versions of Facebook and Twitter for BB10, Android apps like Instagram runs with just a wee bit of lag, but barely noticeable if you aren’t very meticulous.
Is it still BlackBerry?
The biggest question deserves a direct answer: insofar as the software goes, yes. The presence of BlackBerry Hub is the Z10’s biggest differentiator from other smartphones treating Twitter DM’s like SMS, having Facebook, Foursquare, BBM and LinkedIn notifications march single file into a single hub. The shortcut gestures will take some time to get used to however as although multitasking is a boon, moving from one window to the next did confuse me for all of 1 minute.
The keyboard is amazing. Yes it is. With word complete suggestions and bigger real estate for letters, the Z10 delivers one of the best virtual keyboards in recent phone history. Coming from an iPhone, I still made some error simply because I was used to such sparse space.
I’ve already said my verdict midway through this article but I will say it once more: the BlackBerry Z10 has a long way to go in catching up, but it outlies a lot of what’s happening in the tech scene by offering Android compatibility and upgrading it’s hardware and usability into current-gen specs. No it isn’t revolutionary, there’s just less excuse to buying one. I am excited to see further developments down the road because this is a new life breathed into the beloved BlackBerry.
The Blackberry Z10 is now available in the Philippines. Get it for free from Smart Communications at Unlidata 2000. If all you want is the unit, the Z10 sells for PHP 29,990.00
The Z10 is also available under SMART Infinity
New subscribers can choose from:
o Aspire Plan 3500 (Cash out 7,000)
o Prestige Plan 5000 (FREE)
o Premium Plan 8000 (FREE)
Interested subscribers will need to contact SMART Infinity
o Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
o Visit: www.smart.com.ph/infinity
– A BlackBerry you would not be ashamed to carry
– Compatible with Android
– uses a generic micro USB charger
– HDMI compatible
– nice keyboard
– gesture control may take a while to get used to
– lack of native apps compared to other smartphone ecosystems