A year with Canada's Volvo-esque smartphone – The BlackBerry Z30
It's a phone! It texts! It calls! It surfs the web. OK, it's rather nice
OK, so I more or less love it. What's changed in a year?
What's changed is the big step from the installed BlackBerry OS 10.2.1 to 10.3.1, which is due to be pushed out to handsets once the carriers are happy. It shows the operating system has finally matured into the platform its creator wanted it to be.
Battery life has been improved so that the Z30 comfortably provides a day and a half of use while it dealing with a hammering with push email in the background.
BB10 is based around a message aggregator, the Hub, and it's not going to win any prizes for glitz; it's brutally efficient. It offers greater control over messaging than any other platform out of the box.
Also new to the version 10.3 family is a much-improved Android runtime and with it, BlackBerry has bundled the Amazon app store so software can be directly installed more simply.
Since 10.2.1 you've been able to side-load from Google Play using a third-party BB OS 10 program called Snap, which has worked well but with some limitations. If you wanted a paid-for app, you had to purchase it first on an Android phone before it shows up in your Play apps list on your BlackBerry.
Google Services aren't supported, but in practice, very few apps didn't run well. Citymapper needs Google Services, and craps out, for example. There aren't too many more. (Some people have sideloaded the Google Play .apk application itself to get around this.)
Moving on, there's some much-needed fine control over power usage in 10.3.1: you can turn off services like GPS or data when the remaining charge drops below a particular threshold. Put the device face down and it goes into power saving mode automatically, which is nice.
I find the 10.2.1 Hub font much more solid and easier to read, because the new sans-serif font is too light, and the subject line of emails is a lot harder to discern. The new design in 10.3.x also lays a default action icon over the content, which can be annoying. And while BlackBerry boasts of its speed at "email triage" the design has its limitations. A "multi window Hub" would fix these.
There are many other minor tweaks too in 10.3 and 10.3.1 over the stock 10.2.1 system in your off-the-shelf Z30. The Quick Settings pull-down menu can be scrolled horizontally, so there's room to fit in every settings shortcut you'll need. And the gripes that dogged text selection have been banished in 10.3.x. Still, I really want a more legible font in my old age.
Performance-wise, it lacks the blistering speed of the Passport's MSM8974AA Snapdragon 801 2.26GHz quad-core processor, and extra 1GB of memory. On the Passport, Android apps open instantly; you can't really tell they're not native. But still, Android apps on the Z30 are noticeably snappier than on the Classic, which uses the MSM8960 Snapdragon – a dual-core 1.5Ghz part from 2012.
I find it staggering that BlackBerry hasn't confirmed that it will make any more all-touch devices; it's on the record as saying there will be more Passports, and will introduced another "innovative" (read: completely whacky) physical QWERTY design in 2015. But about all-touch, nada. If it can produce one with the solidity and durability of the Z30, then it shows BB OS 10 is very viable indeed as a dour but productive 'droid alternative.
Other steps backward (or sideways) in 10.3.1: simple search works better in 10.2, as it retains the search history (until told to delete it) and it fires up much quicker. I'll take that every day over the Siri-like AI BlackBerry has put into 10.3.1. Simpler suits me. And the 10.2.1 Calendar had a small, useful feature showing how busy your days were in "Month" view by increasing the size of the day font proportionately. It's rather duller in 10.3.1. ®
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