The long-awaited new BlackBerry 10 operating system is here and with it, the first smartphone, the BlackBerry Z10. It's crucial that this does well for BlackBerry, but it puts enormous pressure on the Z10 to surpass every expectation, as well as offer exclusive features you can't get anywhere else.
We've reviewed the Z10, and like it a lot, but it's fair to say the competition is extremely tough. Walk into Carphone Warehouse and - for a similar monthly price - you could take home an iPhone 5, Galaxy S3 or a Nokia Lumia 920. Here we'll compare the Z10 with its biggest rival: the iPhone 5. See also Group test: What's the best smartphone?
BlackBerry Z10 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review: design and build
The iPhone 5 is possibly the finest smartphone in production today. Apple demands manufacturing tolerances smaller than any other phone maker, and the results speak for themselves. Fit and finish are exceptional, with the glass inserts on the rear panel automatically selected from 725 subtly different shapes for the best fit into the aluminium shell.
Pick up an iPhone 5 and it feels impossibly light, yet also rock solid with reassuringly sturdy buttons. The tall, narrow shape is ideal for one-handed operation.
The more corporate-looking Z10 also feels light and its rubberised removable back cover makes it easier to grip the phone. The front looks uncannily like the iPhone 5's back, with no buttons. On top is a microphone, headphone socket and power button (which you don't need to turn the phone on - a simple swipe of the screen unlocks it).
A trio of buttons on the right-hand side control volume and launch the Voice Control service. On the left, you'll find standard micro USB (for charging and sync) and a handy micro HDMI output.
Overall, we've no real complaints about the Z10's design or build, but the plastic rear cover cheapens things somewhat, and the iPhone 5 easily wins the battle, despite its proprietary Lightning connector.
BlackBerry Z10: 130 x 65.6 x 9 mm, 137.5g
Apple iPhone 5: 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm, 112g
BlackBerry Z10 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review: screen
With very similar size screens, there's really not a huge difference between the Z10 and iPhone 5 when it comes to displays. Both use IPS panels for wide viewing angles, and they're both bright and have good contrast.
Technically, the Z10 wins this fight by having a higher pixel density, but in reality, we'd be happy with either of these screens. Even small text is easily readable on the Z10, and the BlackBerry 10 operating system looks pin-sharp and clean.
Both screens are as good for watching videos and playing games as they are for browsing the web and composing emails.
BlackBerry Z10 display: 355 ppi, 4.2 inches, 768 x 1280 pixels
Apple iPhone 5 display: 326 ppi, 4.0 inches, 640 x 1136 pixels
BlackBerry Z10 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review: performance
Both the BlackBerry Z10 and iPhone 5 have dual-core processors, but the BlackBerry has an impressive 2GB RAM (the iPhone has 1GB).
Those results don't mean much, though, as the Z10 has a zippy browser and doesn't feel any slower than the iPhone 5 in practice. The Z10 also supports Flash, so those sites which still insist on using it will display properly.
In our brief gaming tests, we can say that casual games such as Angry Birds play smoothly on the Z10. Other smartphones with the same processor have done well in GLBenchmark 2.1, but we can't guess at what sort of framerate the Z10 would score.
Chances are the iPhone 5 has the faster graphics chip and should give you more frames per second in demanding 3D games.
BlackBerry Z10 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review: software
We could dedicate this entire article to a software comparison, but we'll instead stick to the salient points.
The BlackBerry Z10 runs BlackBerry10 which is - in many ways - like the BlackBerry PlayBook OS. If you've used a PlayBook, you'll be right at home with a Z10.
As we've said in our BlackBerry Z10 review, it's an intuitive system which uses a lot of swiping rather than button presses. Navigating around the OS is quick and easy, and it feels slick.
It feels more cohesive than iOS at times, as you can quickly switch between running apps, close them down, swipe right to your email or the BlackBerry Hub, or swipe left to see all your installed apps.
In iOS, you have to master the art of the Home button double-press to show running apps, then tap and hold to switch to 'wiggle mode' where you can close apps. It's one area where Apple's system simply isn't as good.
BlackBerry 10 comes with an decent array of pre-installed apps, including office software (Docs to Go), an automatic video editor (Story Maker), BBM, and Maps (which is also a satnav). In the camera, the Time Shift feature allows you to choose the best shot from several taken in quick succession.
There's also Balance, which separates your home and work life, so you can keep work emails separate from personal messages, for example.
The iPhone 5 lacks any similar feature, and you'll have to pay for apps such as Pages and iMovie for editing documents.
However, the quality of the iPhone's apps are generally higher, and most people don't separate their work and home life, so Balance is as much an inconvenience as a benefit.
Both operating systems are good, but it doesn't really matter, since the battleground these days is content, not the OS.
Apple is the undisputed king of content and developers will continue to work on apps for iOS (and Android) before turning their attention to the rest of the pack.
Considering it's brand new, it's impressive that BlackBerry Word (the unified store for apps, games, music and video) has as many apps as it does. There's already an app which takes live National Rail data so you can see that you're going to be late for work (again), but quite a few big-name apps are missing - Skype for one.
BlackBerry has already said that a good number of developers are 'committed' to launching apps on BB10, but we wouldn't advise making any buying decisions on the basis of promises. You only have to look at Windows Phone 8 to see that you could end up waiting months (or forever) for apps to materialise.
It isn't only the big hitters which are important, of course. The benefit of buying an iPhone 5 is that you can be sure that, if an app for a service exists at all, it will be available in Apple's App store.
Take banking as a good example: you won't find an app for your bank on BlackBerry 10 right now, but just about all of them have an iOS app. It's smaller details like this that the difference between a smartphone that's truly useful and one that isn't.
BlackBerry Z10 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review: battery
Battery life is always a tricky subject, and it's even more so when you're trying to compare how long two smartphones last. Subjectively, the two are roughly equals. Both will get you through an entire day with moderate use, but neither can carry you through a second without needing a top-up.
Besides, battery life shouldn't be your top priority when choosing a smartphone. Indeed, there are plenty of USB batteries around which will give your handset some extra juice on the move (the PowerMonkey Discovery is just one example).
BlackBerry Z10 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review: storage
The iPhone 5 is available in 16, 32 and 64GB capacities, and you can't add more via a memory card. By contrast there's only a 16GB model of the Z10, but it has a microSD slot which will accept up to 64GB cards.
Arguably this makes the Z10 a better choice if storage happens to be your top priority, as the 64GB version of the iPhone is seriously expensive at £699. A 64GB microSD card will set you back around £40.
Unlike Android phones, both the iPhone 5 and Z10 require software to be installed before you can transfer files from your computer to your phone. With the Z10, it initially appears as a CD drive, from which you can install the BlackBerry Link software. Then, you can drag and drop files as with an Android device.
The iPhone 5, on the other hand, always needs iTunes to transfer files unless you just want to copy photos and videos, in which can you can browse it like a digital camera (you can't copy files to the iPhone, though).
BlackBerry Z10 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review: cameras
Unlike battery life, we'd say it's acceptable to make a phone's camera a reason to choose one model over another. After all, you'll be carrying it around everywhere and will likely take more photos and videos on it than a higher-quality dedicated camera.
We're not going to compare on-paper specifications here, as they're largely meaningless. Megapixels don't matter - it's the quality of the resulting photos and videos which count.
Here, the iPhone 5 is a stunner, and is capable of surprisingly respectable results. Of course, it's never going to trouble a 'proper' camera, but for quick snaps, it does a fine job. Like all phone cameras, it performs pretty poorly in very low light, but as long as there's daylight and you're not trying to capture ever-moving small children, you will get excellent shots.
Don't forget, too, that the iPhone 5 has a rear-mounted microphone which leads to noticeably better audio in videos - an often overlooked factor.
The Blackberry Z10 has similarly specified front and rear cameras, and a rear-mounted LED flash. We like the fact that the whole screen is used as a viewfinder; along with the bigger screen, it's easier to compose photos on the Z10 than the iPhone 5. There's also the option of shooting 16:9 or 4:3. The iPhone doesn't allow you to choose: it shoots in 4:3 only. To take a photo on the Z10 you can use one of the volume buttons or simply tap the screen anywhere.
The photos of St Pancras were both shot at the same time. They're not 100 percent crops, but you can see a large version by clicking on them:
The BlackBerry Z10 delivers a sharp, well-exposed image:
Here's the same photo from the iPhone 5: (click to enlarge)
Here are two 100 percent crops - you need to click on them to see the full-size image. First, the BlackBerry Z10
Now the iPhone 5:
Both cameras are better than average, and it's hard to separate the two for overall quality. On occasions, the iPhone 5 delivered a sharper photo, but the Z10 equally produced sharper results in other shots. By default, the Z10's images are more saturated than the iPhone's and it also appeared to have a better dynamic range. This means that skies were less likely to appear white, when focusing on a subject in the foreground.
For video, the iPhone 5 narrowly wins. It has better stabilisation and - in our view - is slightly sharper overall. In a reversal of the performance in still photos, the BlackBerry Z10's video is less saturated than the iPhone's and it doesn't lock onto moving subjects quite as well as the iPhone 5. The Z10's footage also suffers from a bit of video wobble, where the image appears to ripple as you move the camera around. Again, for cameras built into smartphones, both deliver respectable results.
See also: BlackBerry 10 Price in UK: Q10 & Z10