Mobiles & Tablets

BlackBerry Z3 – The last ray of hope for BB?

Anuj Srivas | Updated on July 02, 2014

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It is poised to be the company’s silver lining



When Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry announced that it would bring its low-cost, Foxconn-manufactured Z3 phone into India, CEO John Chen stressed that it would be attractive to come here with an “under $200-phone”.

“I know you can buy Android phones at less than $75, but given the features and security packed into our phone, we can be competitive below $200,” Chen said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

With the Z3 having launched with a ₹15,990 price tag, BlackBerry may have yet again promised too much while delivering too little. When the company came out with its flagship Z10 smartphone last year, we were promised no feints or half-steps. Nothing less than a serious contender would do.

While the Z10 may have failed spectacularly, partly due to its price tag and market positioning, we at Technophile take a deep look at the Z3 to see if it will be able to live up to the dreams and hopes that came with the Z10 and also woo new and old fans back to the struggling brand.

Design and Build

The Z3’s design will not look radical to any consumer and perhaps BlackBerry prefers it that way. There are no flashy, playful colour combinations or design twists that we’ve come to expect from Nokia, HTC or even the latest Chinese competition.

This is not to say that the phone’s build disappoints; it follows the traditional BlackBerry smartphone design with a safe and refined look-and-feel. Much like the mid-range Lumias, the Z3’s front is all smooth glass with very little bezel space around the screen.

The placement of the buttons—with the camera and flash on the top-left corner of the rear and the SIM and microSD card slots under a plastic flap on the right edge—are a mixture of old and new with the Foxconn touch being quite evident. While the Micro-USB port is at the bottom, the absence of a mini-HDMI port marks it as an entry-level device.

At 164 grams, the phone feels slightly hefty. But what sets the device apart is the soft-touch, textured material on the back. Much like the Z10, which came with a dimpled back, the Z3 is simply enjoyable to touch.

Tech and Performance

While the Z3 doesn’t have the newest or best hardware running inside, what it does have is enough to keep the BlackBerry 10 OS chugging along without too many pauses and jitters. Behind the 5-inch glass LCD screen lies a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm processor, a generous 1.5 GB of RAM and 8 GB of flash memory.

The big 2500 mAh battery, which is non-removable, doesn’t disappoint. Under normal usage— sporadic calls, messages, browsing, gaming— the phone pulled through for a full day and night. Playing HD content, however, results in the phone slightly heating up.

Most of the standard fare is bundled along with the Z3—Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth.

It is the device’s screen, however, where most of the inevitable compromise has been struck. While the responsiveness and brightness levels are certainly decent, the resolution, at 960x540 pixels, is a little low for its 5-inch size (notwithstanding the upscaling). This assumes greater significance when one takes into account the number of sub-₹15k phones that have high-resolution screens.

While there are momentary pauses and freezes while switching between tasks, the true problem lies in the fact that the BlackBerry 10 design doesn’t allow for a home button. Gestures, which form the core of the phone’s software, are suited for phones with more high-end, snappier specifications.

While most Android benchmarks aren’t available for the BlackBerry 10 platform, browser-based tests indicated performance that is on par with other entry, mid-level smartphones such as the Nokia Lumia 630.

Software and Camera

If this phone is indeed supposed to BlackBerry’s entry-level offering to the new convert, they will have to take to the BlackBerry 10 OS. While the Z3 ships with the newer 10.2.1 version—an improved update to the software that shipped with the Z10— the lack of navigation buttons and no persistent onscreen navigation doesn’t gel with the concept of an entry-level phone.

The occasional freezing and stuttering ensures that a user’s gestures will not always bounce back with a snappy response, which is something that doesn’t matter too often in an entry-level Android phone with physical buttons.

While the BlackBerry Hub, a unified inbox for all your notifications, was sloppily executed with the Z10, it is improved in the new version. A major plus is that a majority of the popular Android apps will work well with the help of third-party stores, including BlackBerry.

The camera—5MP rear, 1MP front— is certainly nothing to write home about, but it manages to get the job done. In low light, it will struggle with details and general focusing though the flash is powerful. A particular disadvantage is that the focus speed is below par; it takes a little extra time in order to get a sharp focus and keep it locked.

Though the front camera is the bare minimum, video-calling works without too much blurriness.

Verdict

The Z3, like its Z10 sibling, is a decent, sturdy offering that doesn’t necessarily manage to do anything better than its competition. It lacks the performance and refreshing design of phones such as the Moto G and the Nokia Lumia 630 and 720.

The price-tag isn’t sub-$200, and by a curious set of circumstances, the one-year-old but fully-stacked Z10 is only a little more expensive than the Z3.

For BlackBerry lovers who are dying to get their hands on an entry-level smartphone however, this isn’t an altogether bad choice. Our advice would be to wait for the inevitable price cut, which will see the Z3 ending up anywhere between ₹10-12k.

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Published on July 02, 2014
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