Hands on with the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z30

B240128 615x461 Hands on with the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z30The BlackBerry Z30 is here and brings a lot of what was desired from the original Z10 device, now in a sexier package. Sporting a 5” AMOLED screen and an extended battery that is sure to keep you productive for hours to come. In short, the BlackBerry Z30 is sure to please. The BlackBerry Empire team was fortunate enough to get our hands on a US version of the Z30 – STA100-3 – on Verizon Wireless. Read on for my thoughts on this beautiful piece of technology.

Unboxing

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The BlackBerry Z30 comes in a premium package, much like the Z10, except this one is much larger to account for the larger size of the device. Nestled safely within the box, the Z30 is perched above a BlackBerry branded premium leather pouch, wall charger with USB cable, the new BlackBerry in-earPremium Stereo Headset, the BlackBerry branded mobile power charger, and, of course, your new 4G SIM card.

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The package is assembled quite nicely and makes me think back to those days when I could unbox my legacy devices and hope for some premium headphones and accessories. This box screams high-end and adds up to being a bundle of absolute power accessories totaling close to an MSRP of $150 in stuff just given to you to accompany your new Z30 smartphone.

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I am a huge fan of the headphones and recommend them to anyone who can get their hands on them. As of now, the Shop BlackBerry website is sold out of them, so keep a close eye to see when they are back in stock. The mobile power charger is a life saver for those moments when you are trying to power up during a meeting or whatnot and shouldn’t be on your device. Using it while using your Z30 isn’t that easy, but it can be done; it’s quite awkward though. It should be used for those moments when your device is dying and you can really go without using it.

Z30 Specs

As I mentioned, the Z30 sports a lovely 5″ Super AMOLED screen and can hold it’s own against the Z10 specs:

Length 5.53 in
Width 2.83 in
Thickness 0.37 in
Weight 5.99 oz
5” Super AMOLED Display
1280 x 720 Resolution
295 PPI – 16:9 Aspect Ratio
1.7 GHz Dual Core Qualcomm MSM8960T Pro Processor
Adreno 320 Graphics Processor
2GB RAM
2880mAh Battery
OS 10.2
I won’t go into any more specifics as they are on the BlackBerry site, so if you’d like you can view them here

 

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*Note I do have a TechArmor 4-Way Privacy Screen protector on the Z10*

Compared to the Z10, the Z30 adds a bit of heft with minor – but appreciated – improvements in hardware and software.

The Z10 clocks in at…
Length 5.12 in
Width 2.58 in
Thickness 0.35 in
Weight 4.8 oz
4.2” Display
1280 x 768 Resolution
356 PPI – 15:9 Aspect Ratio
1.5GHz Dual Core Snapdragon Processor
Adreno 225 Graphics Processor
2GB RAM
1800mAh Battery
OS 10.1
Over all, the Z30 provides a nice upgrade to the Z10, and a very close competitor to the Samsung Galaxy S4 in terms of specs and size. It’s certainly got a lot of real estate and is simple, elegant, easy on the eyes, and feels good in the hand. Comparatively speaking, the Z30 is an incremental step up and a step in the right direction. Simply comparing specs on paper certainly doesn’t do it justice.

Look & Feel

As a power user that has been using BlackBerry phones since 2005, I know how to make a phone work for the user, instead of the user working for the phone. If you can make it past my convoluted statement, I simply appreciate a phone that can get things done. What I liked most about the Z10 was the one-hand approach; I could get things done with one hand and not have to sit there and be a slave to the two-handed, hunched over my phone approach – like most smartphone users.B240123 615x461 Hands on with the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z30

While slightly larger in length than the Z10, the Z30 still maintains that comfortable one hand usability; it certainly does not disappoint here. The feel of the phone in your hand imparts a bit of comfort and reliability to the point where you can still use the phone with one hand, and get away with using two for the more complex tasks without having to feel like you’re losing out on the experience.

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Now since the Z30 boasts a 5” screen, you’d think there would be a huge difference in the feel of the device compared to the Z10. The only thing they did different here was to use the space wisely. They didn’t bother with the top bezel the Z10 maintains, nor did BlackBerry bother with assigning a border to the device; it is all screen, baby. The beauty of the Z30 is that it feels like a premium device – one where you could pay a good chunk of change for and not think twice about it.

Cut with a touch of elegance, the Z30 shines with a simple yet elegant aluminum trim and bottom bezel, breaking to the edge of the screen at the base of the device and stretching to the rear battery cover. This is the only invasive portion of the device that is not used for screen real estate.

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The rear cover itself touts a feat of modern design and engineering – a glass woven carbon fiber casing that is soft to the touch whilst providing a bit of grip to ensure no device slippage. At the base of the battery cover are two cutouts for the rear speaker angled up ever so slightly, providing the user with the perfect angle for funneling sound into the open space.

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The volume up/down and mute buttons are far superior to those of the Z10 as they are more easily accessed on the side of the device, located just above the two noise canceling microphones used to increase call quality and decrease background clutter. The buttons, in my opinion, are almost too easily accessible as I find myself pressing them while trying to “one hand” the device. The power button also feels a bit more robust at the top of the device to where I don’t feel like I’m trying too hard to push it in order to shutdown or reboot my device.

Even though the Z30 is slightly thicker than the Z10 – on paper – it feels a whole lot thinner and provides that comfortable in-hand feeling that I feel the Z10 lacks a bit at times partially due to the fact that it feels a bit narrow.

The only downside is that the hardware is only a hair better than its predecessor, and we all know that certainly leaves the justification for buying a new device a bit challenging. Rest assured, it’s worth every penny.

Battery

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Battery life on the Z30 out of the box is spectacular. The energy saving Super AMOLED screen and the mega 2880mAh non-removable battery make for a lethal 1-2 combo knock out. Touting more talk and video playback time than the Samsung Galaxy S4 almost by miles. Of course, this is all theoretical and the Z30 keeps a few core applications running in the background at all times (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc,.) in order to fulfill the HUB model so that is something you definitely need to take into consideration.

However, on one charge on average – the Z30 has lasted me an entire day and a half. That’s heavy use folks. At work I am continuously on my phone, cracking out dozens of emails at a time, sending texts, receiving and placing multiple phone calls, and of course BBMing my friends and fellow BlackBerry Empire colleagues and checking BBM Channels. There have been a few days, believe it or not, where I have made it through 75% of my work day and my battery remains at 85%. This is usually when I am at the office (no movement in between towers and usually under WiFi coverage) and placing several short phone calls.

Talk time certainly puts a dent in the battery life, but I find it manageable with the BlackBerry branded mobile power charger which can keep me going with a long-lasting charge from 20% to 90% in under 30 minutes.

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I’ve seen reviews state that the rear battery cover was a pain to take off. I haven’t experienced the difficulty in cracking it open with a fingernail, but I can say it isn’t easy. I like the more robust feeling of this cover versus the Z10 battery cover. My Z10 battery cover started to weaken after a few times of removal. Under the battery cover you will find the SD Card and SIM Card slots.

Screen

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The Z30 is the first of any BlackBerry smartphone to ever carry an AMOLED screen. Unfortunately, this came at a serious loss in pixel density – nearly 60 pixels less than that of the Z10’s LCD screen. All things considered, the large screen makes up for loss in pixel density with vibrant colors and eye catching appeal.

Every single one of my friends who has seen my phone had initially thought it was the S4. When I chimed in with “It’s a BlackBerry” or simply flipped my device to show off the sexy metallic logo embossed on the rear of the device, they couldn’t believe that BlackBerry could make such a good looking smartphone.

Now mind you, most all of my friends and colleagues have used a BlackBerry at one point in time, so this would come as a definite shock to them – since a lot of them haven’t used a BlackBerry since BBOS6 (we’re talking the trackball/trackpad days). They’d follow up by asking where they can get the phone. It’s simply a sexy device.

The screen is eye catching. Movies come to life, aided by the booming sound of the souped up rear speaker. Games feel more real and seem to be more enjoyable when views on the 5” Super AMOLED screen, and I can’t complain about having to type out longer emails or messages anymore like on my Z10 because it just feels so comfortable with the extra added keyboard space.

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A lot of users have complained about lack of brightness, but when compared side-by-side to a Samsung Galaxy S4 – you can clearly tell that the two devices are very similar in luminosity. No complaints here, however, do note that both devices will lose out on battery life if juiced on brightness. If at MAX brightness, the Z30 won’t make it past midday with heavy use…so be forewarned. I’m usually at 60-75% at the most.

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One thing that I find lacking on reviews is how beneficial the extra real estate added to the 5” screen can be. For a fully gesture based operating system, the big screen is a must. On my Z10 (and even messing around with a Q10 for a couple of days) I felt as if I was always over compensating to get my gestures recognized. With the Z30, all this is quickly resolved. Gestures flow as they were intended to flow. Movements are easily completed with one hand or two, and you can view the keyboard much more easily which allows for a better angle to flick words up instead of finishing the sentence yourself.

I feel a lot more productive on this device than the Z10 simply because it provides me with the bigger screen which allows me to really move across the device, from bezel to bezel, and access Peak & Flow features with absolute ease without feeling like I need to over emphasize my gestures.

OS 10.2 Features

BlackBerry gave the Z30 yet another competitive edge by loading it with the newest software – BlackBerry 10.2. Along with 10.2 came several key improvements and additions to overall operating system ascetics.

Priority Hub

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The Priority Hub is a nice way to keep track of important conversations or even flag a particular contact and all your correspondence – through social media, BBM, email, text. This is really helpful to set a “flag” on those important matters in your HUB that tend to get lost amongst the dozens (or hundreds of thousands) of messages your receive every day.

Remembering that BlackBerry has established the HUB as your “one stop shop” for all your messing needs on your device, the Priority Hub enables you to keep track only of what you see fit. If you don’t think any contact or conversation takes precedent, then BlackBerry Priority Hub will decide for you based on the volume of items your receive from a particular contact a day, or if that message if flagged as important.
Email account color coding
This is a very overlooked feature, and one most people haven’t taken the time to find. When setting up your email accounts, at the very bottom you will see a drop down menu that will allow you to select a color for a particular account.

You are given enough variety to choose from and once you do, navigating back to your HUB will highlight the account from which that email is going or coming to with whatever color it was you chose.

This is a real handy way to assess your inbox visually, without having to guess which account that message was intended for.

Toast Notifications – Instant Message Previews

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Another really intuitive feature are the instant preview alerts that are now baked into OS 10.2. It’s a feature that just makes sense and allows one to stay on top of their HUB without actually having to leave the app they are in to answer a message. The instant preview feature has a reply capability that can shoot off a message on the fly without missing a beat. Whether you’re playing a game, watching a movie, or browsing the web – you can reply back or even view the message in part right from the instant preview pop up.

What’s also a cool capability of instant previews is to regulate what gets previewed and what doesn’t. You can decide by simply going into your email settings and turning the feature on or off for each individual account. For BBM, same thing. Head into BBM and select which contacts get to be instantly previewed and which do not. That is great if you don’t feel like being bothered by a particular account and want only the important stuff to filter through.

App Manager

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A legacy feature rollover that a lot of us have been waiting for would be the device monitor. Finally, we are able to see how the operating system works in it’s current environment. We are able to view processes and actually stop any process that ceases to respond or close out.
Not only this, but within App Manager, we now have the ability to assign a default application that is to handle each file that can be opened on your device. Simply touch and hold a file and tap “Open In” and select the app you would like to use as the default app to handle that particular file or content.

Miracast

Now baked into the OS is the ability to pair the Z30 (or any phone running OS 10.2+) with a WiFi enabled TV. I am waiting on a compatible Miracast enabled WiFi HDMI dongle in order to try this feature out and will post back on it as soon as I get that chance (if I can find one), but for now I will take it at face value. In theory, it sounds amazing. Especially with the launch of BlackBerry Express. Simply go into your Settings and select Display and scroll to the bottom to access Miracast features.

Maps

BlackBerry Maps now has the capability of sharing locations and it seems the search feature has improved a bit. It’s still a bit behind other generations of GPS Map applications, however, it’s good for what it’s worth if you haven’t side-loaded something more useful in the meantime.

Multi Alarm

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Finally, Multi Alarm baked into BlackBerry! No more annoying 3rd party apps…simple, easy to use. Love it in Bedside mode…love it even more now that it’s built into the clock application.

New text editing bar

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Something I personally love – the new text editing bar. It’s just great. Now you can select all (or some), cut, copy, paste, and even share from the location of the selected text. The bar that pops up gives you the option to do whatever it is you can do. And now when you have text copied to the clipboard, it will automatically pop up with the paste option as soon as you enter a new text field.
It’s simple, fast and not clunky or laggy like the comparable versions on Android or Apple devices. It’s there and it just works. Helloooo productivity. Goodbye side menus for auxiliary text editing functions. It’s so simple I don’t even need to talk much about it in order to get the point across, just check out the pictures.

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Several other improvements were made such as a new BlackBerry Calendar UI, improved attachment handling that allows you to easily attach anything to the most frequently contacted people in your contact list in mere seconds of hitting “attach”. They’ve also upgraded the look and functionality of the weather app, and browsing through pictures now gets a little tab you can select that allows you to jump from month to month instead of scrolling trying to find the next month. I believe this is only available through the main picture app and in “Date” mode.

Camera

The Z30 sports a similar camera to the of the Z10. So in essence, there is no difference here. I’ve probably snapped a good hundred or so pictures on my various trips this past week with the device, and I can say I love it. My only gripe is that I feel it is a lot slower to focus than the Z10 was, but I may be able to attribute that to the operating system being a bit finicky. Overall, the camera is outstanding. Could use a bit more low-light processing power and maybe even a more robust front facing camera. This was discussed much with the release of the Z10 so I won’t focus too much on it aside from the fact that they really should have brought a better camera package along here.
Here are some sample shots:

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IMG 00001133 600x337 Hands on with the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z30Overcast Sample

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IMG 00001135 600x337 Hands on with the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z30Adequate Light + Clouds Sample

Call Quality

The Z30 has dual integrated stereo speakers to help deliver crystal clear sound to the user. Not only that, but it employs a total of 4 microphones to ensure crystal clear sound quality during phones. Most of this is not new as far as industry standards go, but to see it used on a BlackBerry is an indication of the quality of the device and the fact that they are finally stepping up their game.
Standard call quality of the Z30 is amazingly clear. I have spoken to several people while outside, or engulfed in high winds, and even on the side of the freeway with no mention of heavy background noise when I asked if they could hear it. The powerful sound canceling microphones located on the side of the device are surely doing a good job of keeping my calls background noise free.

My only gripe is that the call earpiece volume is very low compared to the Z10. I find myself having to push the phone very close to my ear, an uncomfortable close, in order to hear the other person when there is even minimal background noise. I have noticed it may have to do with the other person’s phone and such, but I have never had this issue with my Z10, so I am a bit surprised by this on the Z30 with the robust sound that it produces.

BBM Video Quality & Natural Sound

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This isn’t a function I use often, but when I do I love it. And I hated the fact that on my Z10 there was hardly any real estate to have my face and someone else’s face on the screen. The colors are much more vibrant on the Z30 and it gives plenty of space to see the other person – which is the entire point of video chat.
The Z30′s GPU gives it an edge over the Z10 as the calls look much sharper and less pixelated. There is a “Natural Sound” icon in the upper left hand corner that indicates that the Z30 is using the Natural Sound Technology built in to the device to enhance the call quality. It a cool feature used to showcase the complexity of the Z30. It gives the feel of surround sound – something you don’t really get from a unidimensional smartphone speaker. BlackBerry hasn’t been the best at labeling these features on their devices, so this is a welcome change in my book.

Conclusion

Overall the Z30 has what it takes to be the new face of the brand. As the new flagship phone for the BlackBerry 10 series of devices, the Z30 has what it takes to compete in the open market against the top dogs. Boasting the Super AMOLED screen, a 1.7 GHz Dual Core Qualcomm MSM8960T Pro Processor, an Adreno 320 GPU to rival the S4. Throw in a very comfortable form factor that allows one-handed use, superior sound and picture, improvements made with BlackBerry OS 10.2 that work with the incrementally better specs of the Z30 and you got a winner. Priced at $199.99 with a 2 year contract upgrade or $549.99 on Verizon’s Edge program (a monthly payment of $23.06 over two years).

With BlackBerry 10 we saw a transition into the advanced mobile space and a leap away from legacy devices. The devices are finally catching up with the rest of the industry and BlackBerry is starting to introduce some key features such as the BlackBerry Hub, Priority Hub, Peak, Flow, and Natural Sound Technology which should theoretically push them to the forefront of “mobile computing”. For BlackBerry, the Z30 is everything a phone needs to be and then some. It’s right at the point where it balances battery life, speed, and performance without sacrificing any of the key elements. The big screen is comfortable to view and makes swiping across the device to access menus, BlackBerry Hub, and all your applications a breeze. Unfortunately, the marketing and carrier support is not where it needs to be for this line of products to thrive.

But to truly understand this device, one must consider all the iterations BlackBerry has released in years past. Devices were seldom and operating system changes were sparse. In the present, BlackBerry has released a Z10, Q10, Q5, and Z30 and a year of BlackBerry 10 hasn’t even elapsed yet. We have seen BlackBerry 10.0, 10.1, and 10.2 *and even leaks of 10.2.1). Having seen these improvements, it’s easy to say they know what they are doing, now the marketing and carrier support needs to follow suit.

If BlackBerry continues to release these quality devices, it is just a matter of time before the public catches wind and discovers the power behind the BlackBerry platform in the wake of the company’s recent misfortunes.

 Hands on with the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z30
Grew up in San Francisco, now live in Los Angeles. I am an Executive Manager at a heavy duty parts and repair company. I love technology - mostly all things BlackBerry related - and I enjoy sharing my opinions with people and helping to spread the good work of BlackBerry. You can contact me at anthony (at) blackberryempire (dot) com, find me on twitter @the_ruined, or catch me on BBM, PIN: 333D7B6B
 Hands on with the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z30

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