Sizing up the BlackBerry Z10 (Review Roundup)

The Z10 and BlackBerry 10 operating system need to stand out in a world where the iPhone 5, Galaxy S III and Nexus exist. Apple and Google are formidable competitors. Ruthless, innovative. They're also far bigger.

NYT's David Pogue moments before he makes love to the BlackBerry Z10 in front of the fireplace.
NYT's David Pogue moments before he makes love to the BlackBerry Z10 in front of the fireplace.
NYT’s David Pogue moments before make-up sex with the BlackBerry Z10 in front of the fireplace.

BackBerry Z10 reviews are rolling in, and it’s hard to score this one.

Is it “a truly modern BlackBerry” as USA Today calls it in their review, or should you do as tech blog The Verge suggests and “be careful how you spend your money”? In an apology to BlackBerry, David Pogue of the New York Times writes glowingly about the new smartphone: “It’s lovely, fast and efficient, bristling with fresh, useful ideas.”

We’ve rounded up some of the best reviews in an effort to help you decide if the BlackBerry Z10 should be on your short list. Since the Z10 won’t land here in the U.S. for another month or so (Verizon for $199 in March), you at least have time to keep Googling for more.

My suspicion is it’s going to be tough to sway a would-be iPhone 5 or Nexus 4/Galaxy S III Android buyer. BlackBerry loyalists will dive right in, and I think be generally pleased.

The Z10 represents the best of BlackBerry. It’s pretty darn good. But is good, good enough?

This is for certain: If you absolutely can’t live without Instagram, Netflix, or Flipboard the Z10 (and Q10) aren’t for you, as those apps aren’t available on BlackBerry World – at least for now. Also, those who, like me, are deeply committed to Google’s apps (Google Voice, Maps, YouTube, etc.) and services (Google Now) will find the BlackBerry 10 platform limiting. Yes, it does support Gmail, but you’re not going to find any native Google apps. This may or not matter to you, but it’s food for thought if you’re considering making a two-year commitment to a new device.

The Verge

These guys are my go to review source for all things geek. Has any blog in recent memory transformed the genre as much as the crew at The Verge? Long-form articles, slick videos, a strong community. They have it all.

Joshua Topolsky’s review of the Z10 is no exception – it’s informative, thoughtful, and well written. He says:

“If you love RIM and the BlackBerry brand and really want to keep supporting them, buying a Z10 wouldn’t be a mistake. But I think there are better phones on the market, and I don’t yet see a compelling reason for most customers to choose this phone over those better ones. So why the Z10? Why now? Until BlackBerry can answer that question, I would be careful about how you spend your money.”

He rates the Z10 a 7 out of 10, which if you know Verge reviews, is not a terribly strong score – placing the Z10 within Windows Phone territory, but well below the Nexus 4 (8.3 out of 10), iPhone 5 (8.8), Samsung Galaxy S III (8.5) and even the underrated HTC Droid DNA (7.7).

ALSO: What BlackBerry is missing

NY Times

Pogue’s apologetic love letter is one of the oddest reviews yet – he simultaneously manages to wax poetic for the Z10 and reverse his doom prognostication for BlackBerry while at the same time (if you read later in his piece) severely criticize the phone’s many limitations and rough edges. It’s almost as if he woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and realized he was a new, softer tech guy – one that was tired of piling on poor old RIM. Ironically I see myself in his “on the other hand” style (but clearly w/o the writing chops and NYT mast head…). The Canadian in me always seems to rear its peace-loving head, and strive to see both sides of the story. Let’s be fair!

Key takeaway from David Pogue:

“These days, excellence in a smartphone isn’t enough. Microsoft’s phone is terrific, too, and hardly anyone will touch it.

So then, is the delightful BlackBerry Z10 enough to save its company?

Honestly? It could go either way. But this much is clear: BlackBerry is no longer an incompetent mess — and its doom is no longer assured.”

CNET

Calling it BlackBerry’s “only hope” Jessica Delcourt at CNET gives the Z10 a 3.5 out of 5 (very good). She seems overall impressed with the “classy handset” but notes several OS issues that otherwise hamper the phone.

“BlackBerry 10 wasn’t some rush job; RIM all but suspended production for years to work on the hardware and software to make the Z10. For a future that hinges on this first device, shouldn’t there be fewer missteps?”

The Big Picture

It’s important to note that most reviews are focused on the handset and apps.

For a device such as the Z10 and the BlackBerry 10 operating system to be successful – to thrive beyond the initial headlines and buzz – a myriad of things need to go right. Developers need to invest, and build stuff. If the platform doesn’t see Netflix, Instagram, Flipboard, and the  many other apps missing it could mean a non-buy for many consumers. Further, carriers need to market the Z10 aggressively – this remains to be seen, and the fact that phones aren’t hitting Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T stores anytime soon is a bit of a concern.

I remember when the then RIM PlayBook received glowing praise back at CES 2011. It was a stellar bit of kit, and was about to light the world on fire. After the buzz died down, and people realized you couldn’t run anything but BlackBerry mail on the tablet, sales tanked. No question, the Z10 is a different device, from a now different company. It doesn’t suffer from such a glaring omission. But in assessing the future of a company, this Z10 needs to stand out in a world where the iPhone 5, Galaxy S III and Nexus exist. Apple and Google are formidable competitors. Ruthless, innovative. They’re also far bigger. BlackBerry is attempting to make hardware and software. It’s a vertical integration play similar to Apple. The key difference is resources: with 72,000 employees, Apple is 6x bigger then BlackBerry. Will that matter long-term? Maybe. It’s no guarantee of success or failure, and the fact that BlackBerry “only” has 12,000 employees could mean it’s better positioned to focus on core products, and execute faster. We’ll see. For now, the Z10 represents the best of BlackBerry. It’s pretty darn good. But is good, good enough?

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