BlackBerry, the company formerly known as Research in Motion, had a rebrand around one year ago. It dropped the RIM name, so now the company is named after its handsets, starting with the long-awaited BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen phone. This also introduced the new operating system and interface, BlackBerry 10, an OS that like Apple's iOS is based on UNIX. See also: 15 best smartphones: The best phone you can buy in 2013.
The BlackBerry Z30 stands as the Canadian company's new flagship smartphone. It's a large and chunky design, based on a 5.0-inch OLED touchscreen and entirely devoid of any buttons on the front. Instead all control is made through the capacitive display, along with a sleep/power button on top and volume up/down keys on the right.
The OLED panel nearly has Retina resolution, at 294 ppi, although we found it nowhere near as sharp when reading small text, for example. And BlackBerry has chosen a black theme for most of the OS interface, we'd guess to conserve battery in conjunction with this display technology.
The topmost button is centred on top and you should be able to just reach this with the index finger of the holding hand. Slightly wobbly volume keys also fall easily to the thumb, while another button in between calls up BlackBerry's voice-recognition assistant. The feedback voice, north American and female, may prove even more annoying than various gender incarnations of Siri but in our tests usually recognised our commands and responded correctly.
Powering the Z30 is an ARM dual-core processor from Qualcomm, clocked at 1.7 GHz and backed with a generous 2 GB of memory. For storage, card fans will be cheerful to hear of a microSDXC slot to complement the 16 GB flash that's built-in.
There are few other surprises in the general hardware make-up of the Z30. An 8 Mp rear camera takes pictures exceptionally quickly, and quite competently. Colour balance was quite neutral, and low-light shots were not the noisy mess we see on budget phones. We'd rank the Z30's camera about as good as an iPhone 5, which is to say pretty good.
Build quality of this hefty phone is good but not outstanding. It feels good and solid in the hand, and we've no arguments with a heavier phone if it means strength and long battery life. The clip-on rear panel has a carbon-fibre effect and is non-slip to the touch. Getting around the huge display is another question, and while it's lovely to have a big window into the device it will inevitably mean you'll need two hands to get around most of the time. See also: BlackBerry 10 review - BlackBerry 10 features, performance and gripes.
BlackBerry Z30: using BlackBerry 10
Controlling and navigating a BlackBerry is quite a novel experience now too. Without any Home or Return buttons up front, all interaction is through gestures. From the darkened screen, you can swipe upward to wake the phone. That's tricky with such a huge screen but just possible one-handed if you have larger mitts.
Then you just need to know the basics of moving around this QNX-based OS: swipe up to the left to show a grid of loaded apps, iPhone layout. Swipe down from the top to get quick access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Settings, Alarm, Rotation Lock and Notifications. And swiping from the left brings up BlackBerry Hub, from where you can amalgamate various messaging services – telephone, email, text, social network updates (read only), and of course BBM.
We found the new BlackBerry system relatively easy to master, and certainly more wieldy than Windows Phone and even various flavours of Android. We did experience various gotchas, like confusion between browser tabs open in the background and just those pages recently visited, but not currently loaded.
A journey through the Settings shows that this phone is highly configurable in many ways, and security features are baked-in throughout, showing the company's business pedigree.
Battery life was at the better end of the jumbo smartphone spectrum. Through sporadic use for web browsing and trying various apps it would last around three days. We'd expect between one and two days for more concentrated use. See all BlackBerry phone reviews.