So here I am one week later with the Z-10.
First, the question that I'm sure everyone is curious about: Have you grabbed your Samsung and stuck the SIM from the Z-10 in it, using the adapter you said you had, due to something you wanted to do not being easy -- or even possible -- with the Z-10? And have you returned your Zed and gone back to the 'Droid?
Better answer: You would have to pry this phone out of my cold, dead fingers.
I like it a lot, a week into my time with it.
First, battery life. Remember when I said I didn't believe it? I still don't. My usual weekday morning starts at about 5:30 AM sharp. For the week I have studiously avoided plugging the phone in during the day with one exception, and that is when traveling in the car using the GPS. Typically, I get to noon and the battery shows 80% with light to moderate use. Saturday I got up around 8:00, unplugged it, stuffed it in my pocket and carried it around all day, checking email and text messages once in a while, and at 5:17 PM it showed 82% battery remaining. That's stunning.
Note that I have taken exactly no measures to conserve power; I have nearfield, bluetooth and wifi on all the time. The usual "stretch the battery" game is to shut off whatever you're not using which is why programs like "Juice Defender" are popular on Android phones. Wifi in particular is a power pig even when the phone is in standby and it's quite the feat to get idle power consumption under control with wifi enabled. Blackberry has done what others have not.
To put a comparison on this my pattern with the Samsungs (and indeed all previous Android devices) was to plug in on my desk whenever I'm at my desk. In fact I don't plug in on the USB port either; I have a high-amp (2A) AC adapter plugged in and the cord right under my monitors. That "topping off" is what has let me grab the phone and go for a few hours without fear of running into a flat battery. I also replace batteries about every six months, which works out to around 200 cycles or thereabouts. This has been a requirement with every Android device I've owned, from HTC, Motorola and Samsung, since Froyo first showed up. All the manufacturers of Android devices have claimed improvements in battery life over the years along with crazy standby times (typically 300 hours or so.) Those numbers might be defensible with everything but cell shut off and nothing running but in the real world they're all full of crap, especially if you have "push" things running like email -- and I do.
I've yet to run out of power on the Z-10 or even get critically close; typically around 11:00 PM I have 30% or so left. That's a big difference. I will probably start topping it off from time to time but I don't feel a need to.
Next, I discovered quite-by-accident that the BlackBerry "link" software, once loaded and if told in the preferences to remain running on your PC, automatically mounts the phone's file structure whenever it comes into range of Wifi if it and the computer can "see" each other. The convenience factor inherent in this is immense; moving pictures, music and files is now just a drag-and-drop operation -- either direction. If you don't want to load the Blackberry "link" software it happens that the phone has a built-in SMB (Windows-compatible) server in its settings menu -- turn that on, set the workgroup along with a login name and password, and you can then "browse" the phone's filestructure exactly as you would a file server in your home or office without loading anything. I thought leaving the former ("link") enabled would do hideous things to the battery life. It turns out it has a modest but not terrible impact unless you're actively using it but it does pop up notifications from time to time on your PC telling you that it attached and detached -- apparently there is some timeout mechanism in the firmware when inactive.
The contact sync at first freaked me out; it will grab your Facebook "friends" (of which I have a lot) and if any of them have visible phone numbers suddenly you have 500+ entries in your phone book! That can be turned off if you want in the Contacts preferences, thankfully. Sync with Google for contracts, incidentally, is 2-way and instantaneous.
Calendar sync with Google is timed (not Push) and you can set the timing, with the minimum being 15 minutes. Notifications pass through properly. It appears that Blackberry properly implemented the open standards CardDAV and CalDAV. Well what do you know!
There is a nasty to be aware of -- Outlook, in typical Microsoft fashion, doesn't support CalDAV, which is the open standard for calendar sync. In a corporate environment with Exchange you don't care but if you're an individual user you probably do. There is a little applet you can load on a PC that will perform syncing to Google, but it's not officially supported. It can be found here and it works; I've been using it for a couple of years now. Just don't expect help if it breaks. Some day in the future Microsoft will think standards are important, but that day won't be today and it certainly hasn't been in the past. Don't even get me started on Microsoft botching IMAP email in Outlook, which has never worked right -- it's just bad enough to really***** you off.
The camera insists on a fast MicroSD card if you want to record 1080p movies. Mine wasn't fast enough for the high-bitrate stuff so I bought a faster card. Both the still and video modes support image stabilization as an option, and it works. Why reviewers aren't noting this is puzzling; it makes a huge difference hand-holding the camera in avoiding camera-motion induced blur, especially in lower-light conditions -- since basically all cellphone camera shots are handheld and cellphones are not really shaped in a way that's conducive to holding them steadily for picture-taking it can make a big difference. (Note that image stabilization does not stop subject motion; it is only effective in reducing camera shake.) The camera's ergonomics are different than you're probably used to -- it tries to figure out what you want to focus on and shows you with a green box what it's focusing on. Focus is automatic and real-time at any time the camera is active. Touching the screen both locks focus where you touch AND takes the picture, unlike Android phones that typically focus on a touch but have the shutter button on the bottom. One touch is faster than two. If you want to move the focal point manually you touch and hold the box, dragging it wherever you want on the screen; when released the camera focuses and confirms by turning the box green; you then touch outside the box to take the picture.
The camera also has a "burst" mode that is quite interesting. If you put the camera in burst mode instead of taking a picture it continues to snap as long as you hold your finger on the screen. The "take rate" looks to be about 5fps and I didn't detect a buffering limit in reasonable testing, which strongly implies that the camera has a fairly significant amount of on-board processing capability separate from the CPU. Nice. On the downside there is no manual control available in the camera menus (e.g. ISO selection, etc.)
In terms of quality of images captured the camera is quite good. The shutter is fast when you tell it to shoot. It's not a dSLR in quality but I didn't expect it to be. I find it to have a modest degree of chromatic aberration (roughly equal to most other high-end cellphones), good low-light performance (helped by its relatively-wide maximum aperture and better than most in that regard) but some luminence noise in low light conditions. It does have issues with white balance when using the flash as a fill, but that's easily corrected. Side-by-side against other current-model cellphone cameras it's very comparable to them and superior in some respects, entirely serviceable and far ahead of the last generation's stuff. If I have a complaint it's that I'd like more manual setting options -- but I'm a photographer at heart when it comes to pictures, and way outside the mainstream. There's also a built-in photo editing tool and while much of it is the usually kitchy nonsense you see there are also useful tools to correct white balance, reduce luminance noise and adjust sharpening along with the expected cropping capability. Photoshop or Lightroom it isn't, but having it in the phone is nice if you take a shot, don't like the white balance the camera selected and want to fix it up a bit before posting to Facebook or similar. The camera you have is better than the one in the bag, in short, and the camera in this phone acquits itself well.
The "nightstand" mode needs further explanation. Contrary to some people's assertion this is not just the light sensor auto-controlling screen brightness, which all modern smartphones do. This is a second-level dim that on an Android device is not possible without loading an app -- Kaloer Clock on Android can be set up to do it and was what I previously used. If you don't understand what I'm talking about go download that from the Play Store, set it up for VERY low intensity on its display and color saturation and you'll "get it." I don't like my eyeballs being blasted out of my head in a dark room at night and this is typically not possible with using a phone as your "night stand" clock out of the box. Blackberry got this right, the others do not. Period. When you plug the Z-10 into AC power if it's in screenlock it will "offer" you this mode automatically via a pull-down on the lock-screen. That's nice. About the only thing I'd like to see added is support for multiple alarms, which doesn't appear to be there.
If the phone is locked you can take a picture but can't break out to look at the images or otherwise manipulate anything. That might come in handy some time, and is a thoughtful touch. The cops probably won't like it if you use it to document them beating someone though, especially if your device is encrypted. Oh well.
Speaking of which the phone offers encryption of both the device and media card. If you do either, don't lose the password. There's also a built-in "protection" system that can be turned on; once enabled if you go to "http://protect.blackberry.com" you can have the system find your phone (via network and/or GPS), play a loud tone, display a message, lock it (if it's not), change the lock password and finally, perform a secure erase. The latter is a one-way road -- if you do that you can't track it any more as it really does wipe everything. The track command is quick, accurate, sticks a pin in a map showing you exactly where it is and is invisible to a person with the device in their hand. Yes, I know Android devices have a number of third-party apps that will do this, but all suffer from the fact that they're apps and thus are potentially subject to being wiped or unloaded, where this is native in the OS. Beyond the obvious use if you lose or have your phone stolen, I ask the following: Got kids?
Email support is quick, painless, and works, including multiple folders if your server supports them. My only complaint -- no PGP support. I know, I know, it's an open standard and an old one, but I'd like it. As it stands I loaded K9 (on BlackBerry World) and APG (side-loaded, you can get it here at http://www.denninger.net/bar/APG_1.0.8.bar) for the times I need it. That's not often, incidentally, but this is something Blackberry should consider supporting, given that keyservers for PGP are free and available everywhere, and it's a very solid, time-proven and friendly means of encrypted email transport. Then again neither Android or Windows Mobile support PGP either, so it is what it it. Incidentally Android's stock email client has always been trouble, especially with push email. Gmail works great on Android (go figure); everything else, not so much. K9 has been my "go to" on Android for that reason; I no longer need it with the Z-10 although it does interoperate fine with the stock email client against the same email box if you're using IMAP.
Speaking of IMAP push email is effectively instantaneous and sending is quick as well. I have no complaints with email handling and, other than reading or sending encrypyted messages don't use K9mail at all. The Hub integration puts everything in one place and I like it a lot.
I've yet to run into any browser problems -- it "just works."
The built-in Nav works well and has yet to lead me down a dead-end road or otherwise get me lost. The search function in the Nav system is accurate and fast. Automatic re-routing works well also as does voice prompting. My big complaint is the same one I have for Google maps -- no speed display. C'mon guys, do you think people like getting speeding tickets? All GPS chips compute and have available SOG (speed over ground) and it's trivial to display on the screen all the time. Speedometers in cars are notoriously inaccurate and this is, in my view, an inexcusable exclusion from a navigation application. Those who are users of public transit, bikers or walkers will probably find the nav unsatisfying, but Google Maps does sideload and function properly if you wish to use it. I've yet to find a need but I do have it on the device -- "just in case."
Maybe ALK will port CoPilot over; that program has the advantage of being entirely-contained on the device and thus not needing data available to work. That would be nice for those times when you don't have, or want, to use data services. Finally, CoPilot can be told to display your current speed.
Voice dictation also works well; no complaints there. The newer Google stuff (4.0+) and Vlingo (either native or Samsung's rebadged version) have been reasonably good as well; between all of them they appear to be reasonable close in accuracy to one another.
Voice dictation is server-assisted (as are Siri, Vlingo and Google) so if there's no data it doesn't work -- that's the one downfall. I find voice dictation an important usability point, especially as more and more jurisdictions will hammer you (and justly so!) for keyboarding while driving, never mind that you might hammer someone (by ramming them!) if you text while driving. Being able to respond to a text by speaking "I'm running a bit late, will be there in 15 minutes" and have it actually send that and not some gibberish is nice.
The built-in compass detects interference (being too close to metal, etc) and warns you that it's got an unstable geomagnetic field. That seems like a gimmick but it might not be under certain circumstances. It also rotates the "card" for both vertical and horizontal and unlike most smartphone compasses is very well-damped and doesn't have a spaz when the phone is or near vertical. These days with GPS many people may not care about a well-damped and stable compass, but if you need or want it, it's there.
There's a very interesting thing called "Print To Go" on the phone. If you load the printer driver on your PC (free from Blackberry) you can then send what amounts to PDF files from your PC to your device and have them securely show up. I can get there from here using email and a PDF-to-file printer, but this makes it a one-click operation. Got a boarding pass, an electronic ticket or whatever on your PC and want it on your phone? "Print" it to your phone and it pops up there. I like it.
There is also "Docs To Go", which is basically a Microsoft document format reader (and for everything but PowerPoint, a creator and editor.) Ah, now I have a use for that HDMI port that actually makes sense. There are third-party apps (that occasionally have been bundled with various Android devices) for this in some other systems, but to have it included (and it works well) is a nice touch. Both of these, incidentally, are on the Playbook, as is the "Bridge" (that allows you to control a Playbook from your phone.) Bridge I find to be rather pointless unless you want to use the phone as the equivalent of a "clicker" for a Powerpoint presentation or something similar, in which case I guess it makes sense. The only "gotcha" is that it uses bluetooth for control and I wonder about the range; Bluetooth, even the modern versions, is a short-distance thing while my little Logitech pointer thingy that I use with my laptop is good for 300' or thereabouts.
Some Android apps do show material amounts of lag in screen interaction and scrolling. The app itself is ok but it appears the screen interaction has some sort of issue. It's definitely noticeable with certain apps (but not all) -- but doesn't impact any of the native apps. This is something Blackberry should definitely address and is probably where those who argue the phone can sometimes be "laggy" are coming from.
There has been commentary about the LED on the front being "red only." It's not -- it is in fact a multi-color LED. There's a little app from JaredCo called "WhoIsIt" (in beta but I have access to it) and there's also a similar app on BlackBerryWorld that does the same basic thing. The complaint is that it has to be left running as a tile; the Jared one compensates for this by displaying a detailed battery meter when tiled. Blackberry doesn't currently permit Z-10 apps to run in a "true background" mode (nothing visible.) This little app does, however, make instant differentiation between different notifications (text messages, emails, etc) trivial, which is missing from the base code (and something Blackberry should fix in the base code since the LED itself is in fact a multi-color one!) Interestingly enough the developer on this one is very responsive -- I emailed him about a bug and the next morning he had up a new version that fixed it. Not bad.
The internal, built-in OS-level Dropbox support is cool, however, I would really like a setting to monitor for new pictures and/or video files (either or both selectable please) and, if turned on, have them automatically sync'd to your Dropbox account in a designated folder. Pretty please with sugar on top?
I have gotten one unsolicited restart. It happened with the phone in my pocket and I didn't realize it had happened until I pulled it out later and discovered the tiles I had left running were gone. There are some reports of a memory leak in the firmware somewhere although I've not noticed anything off-color in that regard. This bears watching for obvious reasons; if that was a watchdog reset due to low memory it certainly beats a deadlock, but still, that's not supposed to happen.
Now let's talk about the bad. There are a few things.
First, let's assume the phone is in your pocket and you have a bluetooth headset on and are listening to music. You locked the phone with the button before putting it in your pocket. The phone rings. That unlocks the phone and if you answer you may start "dialing" as the dialer comes up. Meh. This, incidentally, is not restricted to the Z-10, it can happen (and does) on Android phones too. I'm not sure what the right answer to avoid this problem is in the firmware, but Blackberry should think about this and how to mitigate it. This may be a proximity sensor problem; it doesn't happen if you answer on the handset. Anyway, this is something for Blackberry to investigate as it's a bit annoying. Blackberry purists will tell you to get one of their holsters (which magnetically locks the phone when the phone is in it automatically) but not everyone wants to carry their phone external to their pants. I gave up on "holsters" after moving to Florida and watching my cellphone get hooked on a dockside ladder and plonk it into the saltwater. Never again.
There's another stupidity -- go into Text Messages and hit Compose. You can select contacts that have other than mobile numbers. This is stupid because you can't send a SMS to a landline. Blackberry got it right with email; you can't try to send to a contact that has no email address but you can try to SMS someone without a mobile phone number. Dumb. Fix that guys.
The other thing that would be nice would be if the dialer "auto-searched" based on contact names when you started dialing from the keypad and presented a list of matches you could choose from. That's just an intuitive thing, and while its omission isn't a big deal it would be easy to add -- and nice to have.
The next and most-serious problem I save for last and is not an annoyance, it's an all-on brain fart. Some bright software guy decided to disallow pasting into a password field for the built-in native applications. This just flat-out sucks, is stupid beyond words, and the person(s) responsible should be drawn, quartered, their stock options burned for fuel and their pieces fed to feral hogs.
"Best practices" these days is to use a mnemonic password for a password wallet of some sort -- a very long and strong password. You then generate random character passwords for the various services you use -- Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, etc. Now you have very, very good security and at least as important because you never use the same password in the two or more places if one of the services you use leaks data because they're stupid the damage doesn't propagate.
There's no possible way for you to remember a dozen or more high-quality mnemonic password (e.g. a 20-character monster) for each of the things you sign into. But you can remember one or two.
What Blackberry has done is break this model for those who use it, and that just plain sucks. This forces you to use remembered passwords or to manually copy them, which means writing them down or using a second device so you can see them at the same time while re-typing them. Both are flatly unacceptable.
This appears to be an option in the API somewhere, which means that at least app developers with a brain can probably turn this stupidity off. Specifically, Slacker (which appears to be a native app) allows paste into the password field. But none of the base social apps do -- Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or Linkedin, and neither do fields like the system-level entries for WPA passwords (Wifi, etc.) That's just plain dumb -- and inexcusable, even though you'll likely only set these up once.
This must be fixed Blackberry.
A week in, that's it. One serious complaint (disabled password paste), one potentially-annoying bug that urgently needs to be looked at (memory leaks) and a few little annoyances.
Against any of the other smartphones I've used that's a damn small "exception" list.
I still rate the Zed as the best, most-intuitive and productive smartphone I've ever used.
Disclosure: I am long BBRY stock but nobody has compensated me to write this article. In addition I bought the phone at full retail at the local T-Mobile store.
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