Whenever a company launches its flagship product, it’s usually preceded and succeeded by a lot of enthusiasm and hype. In BlackBerry’s case, it turned out to be some amount of enthusiasm layered with apprehension, considering the chances of its acquisition being finalised soon. This happened right before the company went ahead and launched its current flagship, the BlackBerry Z30. Whether BlackBerry devices will remain in the market or not remains to be seen, but for now we have the BlackBerry Z30 in our hands and we’re here to tell you whether it’s a worthy flagship product.

For the longest time, BlackBerry, almost stubbornly, stuck to its type-only form factor. When it did switch to touchscreens, it was a case of trying to play catch-up. However, the most radical change was brought about by combining its touchscreen phones with the BlackBerry 10 OS. The BlackBerry Z30, with its 5-inch display – the largest blackberry screen ever, works with the latest version of the proprietary OS to try and make the most of both hardware and software.

To look at, the BlackBerry Z30, is a very sophisticated phone. It has a patterned matte back panel with physical buttons like the volume rocker almost flush with the side panels. The screen although not exactly stretched across the entire fascia (there’s some space dedicated to the BlackBerry logo and the bezel at the bottom of the display) is massive enough to satisfy all your multimedia needs and more.

The phone weighs in at about 170 grams, definitely not the most lightweight handset in the market, but that can be a good thing. During the couple of weeks that we used it, it felt nice and sturdy in our hands and we weren’t constantly worried about dropping or cracking it like we usually do with a Samsung flagship.

The display on the Z30 is an AOLED one, and although the pixel-per-inch count is lesser than its predecessor the BlackBerry Z10, the display makes up for it with amazingly bold, beautiful colour reproduction.

One similarity that the Z30 has with the Z10 is the camera. The BlackBerry Z30 features an 8-megapixel camera which does its job pretty well as a smartphone snapper. It also helps capture 1080p video recording with pretty satisfactory results. The native app itself hasn’t changed much – it still offers the TimeShift feature – something you’d really enjoy if you have kids or pets at home. It basically takes continuous shots and then lets you move forward or backward a few microseconds to choose the perfect frame.

While BB 10 was launched only at the beginning of this year, BlackBerry has brought about some pleasant changes with its BB 10.2 upgrade in the Z30.

For example, you can now sneak a peek at your notifications – mails, messages and so on – directly from the locked screen at the tap of an icon. While it has caught up with the trend of displaying new messages on top of whatever app you are already on, what’s refreshingly new is the fact that you can reply to a BBM message without having to open the app. Every new BBM displayed on top, while you’re on another app, will have a small ‘Reply’ icon next to it that enables this feature.

Another favourite is the Priority Hub which collates all your mails, messages and notifications from multiple accounts that you have configured on the smartphone. It also lets you independently sort through attachments and categorises all data according to dates so it becomes easier to know what your most recent correspondence has been.

As far as specs are concerned, BlackBerry Z30 is powered by a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, and 2GB of RAM, along with 16 GB of flash memory. Although it’s not the absolute best configuration currently available in the market, it’s more than sufficient to execute all the usual tasks that you’d want to do on a smartphone.

The Z30 is powered by a 2880 mAh battery and it was just about enough to keep us company through a working day with apps such as Facebook, twitter on and occasional calls and web browsing.

One interesting addition is that of a dedicated physical speech recognition button on the side panel. The commands you can execute through this are pretty similar to what you can with Google Voice Search and maybe Siri. You can say a contact’s name to automatically call them and check on your battery status or look up the weather in Tokyo and so on.

Another small niggle is that the keyboard layout always display alphabets of the letter in all caps. It’s unlike an Android keyboard which changes the case depending on whether you’re beginning a sentence or continuing with one. Although, I absolutely love the word prediction and swipe-typing experience on the virtual BlackBerry keyboard, which astonishingly remains as precise as its legendary physical counterpart. The virtual one wins itself even more brownie points owing to the fact that it leverages multi-touch gestures – you can swipe to the left with one finger to delete your last word, two fingers to delete two and so on.

While used and judged solely by its built and prowess as a new-age smartphone, the BlackBerry Z30 is a decent enough handset to enough, and if you can muster up the courage, even maybe boast about. However, the fact that the future of the company remains unclear at the moment will probably have potential buyers holding off till they hear something more concrete. Considering the fact that no one buys a phone just for its hardware but also its software and ecosystem – and apps are one aspect where BlackBerry has still not managed to convince users to switch to the BB 10 platform – chances are buyers will wait and watch for news – good or bad – to come before they make this purchase decision.

Rs 39,990

Love – Well-built, good OS upgrade

Hate – Mediocre app market

mahananda.bohidar@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 31, 2013)
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