Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Blackberry Z10, the story so far.

Blackberry Playbook and Blackberry Z10

I have been using the Z10 for a couple of days now and and really starting to get to grips with it, and see how it behaves. Having put some thought into it all and started to see whats present and whats missing in comparison to the outgoing Bold 9900. I have also had time to cycle the battery fully once now, so although its not a great indicator of overall battery life, its a first impression for sure.

On the first day, and in the subsequent review, I complained about the lack of accessories in the retail box. From speaking to friends, I am far from the only one that thinks the contents were a little sparse to say the least. I have never been gentle or kind to my phones, and never will be, its an accessory, not a prized possession, and is treated accordingly, so battle scars are inevitable. But the gesture of a small pouch, even similar material to the Playbook cover would have been nice.. Blackberry, are you listening?

So, in the real world, being used as a primary devices, how does it fair. First up, battery. Having used Blackberry's since the 8320, I am used to a certain level of battery life. Given that the devices are small with small screens, its never been an issue. When the 9900 came about, suddenly Blackberry users around the world started to understand the woes of touchscreen users, and started to experience the all too common problem. So thats about 19 hours including 7 hours of non use. This is using the phones default settings for everything from brightness to screen timeout. 2 hours 45 mins to get a full charge back in the handset after this. In general any handset I have gets plugged in while at work anyway, so battery isnt an issue on an average working day, but out in the wild for a day might be. Time will tell.

Back to actually using the device, and things get a little better. Buttery smooth is the only way I can describe it, just as seen on the demo videos, apps can take a couple of seconds to open if they are particularly big or complex ones, like higher res games etc, but thats more than acceptable given the smoothness they then play with. Im not a heavy gamer, so its not fair for me to critique this area of the device much more, but games such as Run In Crowd perform beautifully. As does streaming media.

The biggest surprise for me so far is the browser. Now the S2 browser loads pretty quickly on 3G and quite a bit faster on WiFi, but the Z10 BB10 browser is all new as we have all heard, so how would it fair. Well I thought the best way to test them would be to get them on the wifi and search the web for a few sites at the same time, as most do on their video demo's.
The first thing I noticed when doing this was that the Samsung, where one was available, would connect to and load the mobile site, where the Z10 would load the full site. When testing on Sky News for example, the S2 loaded the mobile site, smoothly and quickly, and the Z10 went for the full site, with all its flash content. Before loading the site a pop up appeared advising it was a data rich site with a large amount of Flash content, and asking if I wanted to proceed, which I did. One OK'ed, it loaded the site very quickly and the content was great on the eye and well displayed. As I ran through the various sites, the S2 would again and again go for the mobile site. When one wasnt available, it would load the full site, still very quickly, but noticably slower than the Z10.Then it was time to test against the iPod Touch 5th Gen, running iOS6. Again it was a very close matched affair, but the iPod would like the S2 choose to load mobile sites first.
It is fair to say that loading the mobile site isnt a bad thing at all, less data, and quicker loading, but it didnt give a very accurate comparison.
The summary then is simple. All 3 devices are very capable at displaying feature rich content on their browsers, on the sites I tested with, the Z10 was marginally quicker over wifi than the other 2, but very little in it at all. So if nothing else, BB10's browser is 'on par' with the others, if not a little quicker. Personally I would say the Z10 came out on top, by a hair.

While testing though, one thing I did notice was the differences in screens of all 3, and how they display colours and fonts. I have to openly concede that the screen of the iPod seems very sharp in comparison, and whilst both screens are perfectly readable with small fonts, the sharpness of the smallest lettering on the iPod seems just that little bit clearer. And for the record I have just had my eyes tested and had a perfect result, so no, im not blind. That said, all 3 give nice easy to read displays with the smallest of fonts. The differences are more to do with how the browsers work, and choose to display the websites, with each using a slightly different layout to enhance certain parts of the website. Again their behaviour differs completely when tapped to zoom.

One thing I have learned from these comparisons, is that accurate comparisons are simply not possible. Even with the browsers, some will claim to be fully loaded, but still sneekily be loading more content like links, roll over images, and other banner images, so a loaded site is not always as it appears.
So right now it is not really possible to say one is better than the other. All 3 are great devices for browsing with, and once you get familiar with their actions, you can have a great browsing experience on any of them.
Over all though, as far as the Blackberry experience goes, even compared to the Playbook, the BB10 Z10 has an amazing browser, and one most BB users have been waiting a LONG time for.

Its still early days, and only one complete cycle has been done, as I said in the intro. But I will be sure to keep a close eye on things over the coming days and let me opinions be known, honestly.
Today for example, since the phone came off charge yesterday evening, it has had a fair bit of use, and as I write now, at 12.15pm, its down at 35%, which is certainly no triumph. Lets hope things are going to improve a bit after a few cycles of the battery. At this stage, I would certainly be considering a spare battery if things are staying like this. Just for days when im out in the wild so to speak. One advantage over close back handsets for sure.

General use
As I have previously said, this is not a simple change from one Blackberry to another, its not just a slightly different keyboard or OS to get used to, its starting over. New behaviours, interfaces, inputs, the whole nine yards. I am however happy to say that once you get using the Z10 it becomes second nature, the gestures just happen, comfort and security is found in the keyboard, and the worry of not being able to swap over passes. One thing I will say though, and I was thinking about this while walking the dogs last night, this isnt for everyone. I really dont think the die hard qwerty users will transition over without a fight, and the Q10 is still going to be their saviour. Just a shame its 2 months away yet. Some of my friends are far from impressed by this gap in release dates. I have to agree, now knowing how far apart they are going to be, even the markets have reacted badly. The early indications were that the Q10 would follow shortly,but this 'shortly' is like missing a bus and waiting another day for it. Its NOT a short wait.
I do however look forwards to getting to grips with the Q10 when it launches, and seeing how the 2 months have changed my perspective on using a touchscreen.
I can say with confidence that while doing the browser test, I remembered why I dislike touchscreens so much, or have done up until now.

As I say above, the keyboard, for me anyway, is a real breakthrough. Having used the Galaxy S2, the iPod Touch and the Z10 all within second of each other, I can categorically say my preference is the Z10 without a second thought. Next being the S2, which just seems more compatible with my thumbs, and its behaviour somehow seems to know which letter I was going for when its too close to call. The iPod however is a nightmare for me, constant typo's, even when I go back to correct. On the S2 I use Adaptxt for a keyboard, which has a pretty good predictive text dictionary, so the occasional typo is forgiven. On the Blackberry however the BB10 keyboard is truly brilliant in many ways.
First, using the whole area of the bottom of the screen helps with larger fingers for sure. Rather than the other 2 devices which choose to narrow and have smaller keys because of this.
Secondly there is how the keyboard and device behave when typing. There are of course the predictive word assists, which appear on the frets between the rows of keys, which can be flicked to the message above. For a while you find yourself looking for the right words to appear, and this slows you down, but after some time has passed you just type messages the same way you would on a qwerty, and when you see the long word appear you are able to flick it up. This quickly becomes second nature.
Then it is only fair to say, that BB10 seems to have probably the most adaptive and powerful correction service out there at the moment. Watching the message appear can sometimes look like you are typing perfectly, and most of the time you are, but from time to time you will hit dptn instead of from, and somehow from this BB10 realises you mean FROM, and will replace it. Occasionally I look at the word I am currently typing, and realise its totally wrong, but when I look at the space bar, there is the word I was meaning to type, all ready to jump into its place when I hit the space.
Of course, this can be annoying early days when typing fast without noticing the word substitutions, and like all other devices, can lead to some very interesting messages being sent. Although fair to say, less than those of the iPhone which has a site dedicated to it.
All that said, I DO still think that the Z10 and its fantastic keyboard is still a step too far for some out of their comfort zones. However its fair to say that if a Z10 keyboard is not good enough for them to ditch their 9900 or 9700, no other touchscreen device out there is going to cut the mustard either.

A very different experience indeed, from email to BBM, adding attachments, and formatting etc has all changed. Thats not a bad thing, but is yet another thing to get used to. It took me a while to realise that the options to attach, send image, format text etc, are all at the bottom of the message compose page, which is accessible by a long press on the space bar to make the keyboard disappear, or in BBM, swiping down from the text entry window. A little annoying that 2 native applications have different behaviours for removing the keyboard from the screen. Composing the message from the hub is pretty simple though, with a single press of the compose button at the bottom, you are neatly presented with the options from which you can compose a message, BBM, Text, Email, Twitter, LinkedIn. The clever thing here is that whichever option you choose, it does not need to launch the app. So a Facebook status will be sent from the hub directly, without having to first open Facebook. Same with Twitter and so on. Sounds a bit petty, but its one less action, and by not opening the app, you will not automatically repopulate the news feed either. Pretty nifty if you ask me.
Handling multiple messages through the hub, if you have text, email and BBM, as well as other notifications coming through, is seemless. Flicking in and out of each message rather than switching from app to app constantly. Im sure in some way this will also save on data use and battery too, not having 4 apps all running at the same time. The Hub certainly gets the thumbs up from me, now that I can use it how it was intended. Takes a while to get used to, but learning is worth it for sure.

Screen and icons
Blackberry has come under heavy criticism for its decision on the look of the screen with the app icons looking somewhat dated. Coming from an Android device, which without a doubt has the most configurable, customisable and freshest look, the Z10 screens do without a doubt look a little lame and dated. Beta if nothing else. But that said, you dont want fancy fonts on the keyboard of your PC do you? The appearance of a qwerty physical keyboard is uniform and functional, and its functional that I think Blackberry have gone for here. Dont judge a book by its cover so to speak, its what lays behind the icon that matters at the end of the day. Had Blackberry chosen to follow the trend and have 'pretty' icons, im sure Apple would have found some sort of patent infringement there, and a long court case would ensue. Instead this is very unique, very original, and most of all practical. And indeed, what lays behind the icons is nothing short of beauty. Smooth apps, with great interaction, and for me, I could not ask for more.
That said, I am not a huge app lover. There may be millions available, but I am happy with just a small fistful of apps on my Blackberry.

Now speaking of apps, this is where things get a little itchy for me. At the launch Thornsten cleverly said apps like Skype, Whatsapp etc were 'committed' to Blackberry10. I can tell you now, at this point, as committed as they are, they are NOT yet available. Which is a little disappointing, its not like QNX and BB10 is a surprise or anything, so something tells me these were late decisions. However there are others too, which have not yet announced if they will be coming to BB10.
Spotify, EyeEm, Google Maps.. 3 examples of apps I do actually find helpful to have on my Blackberry, none of which are available, and some which may never be available. We have heard so much about how Android apps port over with ease to BB10, so why are these apps not there yet? I subscribe to Spotify, so am keen to know if I will get it back on my Blackberry or not. And Whatsapp is great for staying in touch with non BB users. Its not a great app, laggy to say the least, but its handy for the occasional hi message. For now, I will have to rely on my good old fashioned SMS messages, of which I have unlimited. Thats a relief.
One other app I NEED to have back is BeBuzz or similar. A flashing red LED just doesnt do it for me. I need my colours back. Someone please port over a decent app for this ASAP!

So now I am getting used to the Z10, everything is fitting into place. Happy with the camera, but will never be as instant to use as my trusty 9700 and 9900. Software is a delight, BB10 really is a change of direction and hopefully fortune for Blackberry. The Hub, simply brilliant concept which works well in the real world, once you get used to how it functions.
Its just seeing how this battery will pan out, and getting a few more mainstream non business focused apps out there for the end user, and asap.


Dear Blackberry, (and EE)
I am STILL not impressed by the lack of accessories with the Z10. For a new device on the market I was really hoping to get something to slip the handset into. For now I will have to use one of the funky socks for the iPod.
Once I get a chance I shall accessorize with some new headphones and a decent case. Although the battery cover flip case for the Galaxy range would be ace for the Z10 *wink wink

Right thats me done, thanks for reading, and I shall report back with more next time there is something to tell.

In the meantime be sure to check out the camera test blog. More camera tests will follow shortly with different subject matter and lighting conditions.

Z10 Camera test against Galaxy S2

First impressions of the Z10

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