The Z30's announcement was delivered with possibly the worst possible timing, being unveiled mere days before news broke that BlackBerry was to be bought by Fairfax Financial Holdings.
While BlackBerry maintains it will continue releasing new smartphones, at least until the end of 2014, the news has sparked rumours within the industry that the Z30 could be the last ever BB10 smartphone. This fact alone is adequate reason for IT managers to be wary of rolling out the device to their employees, which is slightly sad as having had a brief hands-on with the Z30, our first impressions of it are quite positive.
Design and build
Visually the Z30 is very different to BlackBerry's first BB10 smartphone, the Z10. The Z30 has more rounded edges than the slightly boxy Z10 and features a much more robust textured removable backplate that wraps around, rather than simply clipping onto the device's sides. It also features a metal-coloured lining around its sides and bottom edge. This makes the Z30 look a little like a cross between a Samsung Galaxy S4 and Motorola Razr HD.
The Z30 is also noticeably bigger and heavier than its predecessor, measuring in at 141x 72x9.4 mm and weighing 170g compared with 130x66x9mm and 137g for the Z10. As a result, while the Z30 is similar in size to most current top-end Android handsets, it's significantly heavier. This meant we initially found the Z30 slightly unwieldy, but we did get used to the extra weight after a short while using the phone.
Aside from its weight, we were impressed with the Z30's sturdy feel. Where the Z10 felt a tad flimsy and its backplate had an annoying tendency to pop off, the Z30 feels tough as nails. This is because the backplate is significantly thicker and much more solidly attached to the phone – to the point we actually struggled to pull it off and get access to the SIM and micro SD slots.
The Z30 comes equipped with a sizable 5in Super Amoled capacitive touchscreen, boasting 16 million colours with resolution of 720x1280 pixels at 294ppi. This means despite being in the same £600-plus price bracket as top-end Android or Apple smartphones, it is outclassed by the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone 5S, which feature 5in full HD super Amoled 1920x1080, 441ppi and 4in Retina 1136x640, 326ppi displays respectively.
However, while not nearly as crisp as the S4 we had in our pocket, the Z30's screen was still more than decent. Icons appeared crisp, colours remained vibrant and brightness levels were consistently good on the Z30. It was only when we started trying to read small text on webpages or view the screen at an angle that we noticed a serious disparity in performance.
The Z30 comes with BlackBerry's latest BB10.2 operating system preinstalled. The OS update adds a host of new features to BlackBerry's already impressive business-focused productivity and security offerings, notably the BlackBerry Priority Hub and BBM Now.
BlackBerry Priority Hub builds adds a "learning" algorithm to the message collation service's core features. The algorithm is designed to let the phone learn what conversations and what people you deal with the most and organise your inbox and notifications accordingly.
BBM Now pushes a preview of any incoming message to the top of the user interface (UI) as it arrives. This means you can dismiss or reply to any BBM message without having to exit the app you're in. We haven't had a chance to test either of the new services during our hands on, but we'll be sure to do so in our full review.
The Z30 is powered by a dual-core 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro and boasts a solid 2GB of RAM. There aren't really any great benchmarking tools on BB10 so we didn't have a chance to see how well the phone's parts are optimised, but using the Z30 for basic tasks we found it is fairly nippy. The Z30 switched between menus hassle free, responded to commands instantly, and opened applications and web pages in seconds. We didn't notice any serious performance issues during our quick hands on.
The Z30 boasts an 8MP, 3264x2448 rear camera and 2MP front camera. Briefly testing the rear camera, we found that while it does not seem to be on a par with top end camera-phones such as the Lumia 1020, or Sony Xperia Z1, the Z30 was capable of taking fairly decent photos in regular light. We didn't get to test the camera in more adverse lighting conditions, including low light, meaning we can't accurately say whether it's an improvement on the similarly specified snapper seen on the Z10.
Battery and storage
The BlackBerry Z30 comes with 16GB of in-built storage, though on our review unit only 10.7GB was actually usable. Luckily the storage space can be upgraded via the phone's micro SD slot.
The Z10's battery life was a key issue, with the first BB10 smartphone sometimes struggling to last more than four hours with heavy use. So BlackBerry has equipped the Z30 with a 2,880mAh lithium ion battery it claims will last "more than a day" with regular use. We'll test this out properly in our full review.
Putting aside the behind-the-scenes storm clouds brewing in BlackBerry's offices, our opening impressions of the Z30 are positive. While the Z30 doesn't feel as streamlined as many more consumer-focused phones such as the iPhone 5S or Galaxy S4, it feels robustly built and offers a host of improved specifications when compared with its predecessor, the Z10.
However, with BlackBerry's long-term future still in question and many businesses yet to upgrade their systems to BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES10) we're still not sure if these tech upgrades will be enough to persuade business users to shell out £600 for the handset, and we will need more time with the device before offering our final ruling.
Check back with V3 later this month for a full review of the BlackBerry Z30.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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