There’s no denying BlackBerry’s dissipating global market share over the past few years. Even the relaunch of the company as BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion), and the release of a few BlackBerry 10 OS smartphones, the pressure has continued to grow. Although there isn’t just one reason for the downfall, many tech specialists attributed the lack of traction of BB10 down to the absence of a truly cost-conscious solution for the market. Since many of the remaining markets for which BlackBerry still boast a significant footprint are 3rd world, emerging markets, it would only make sense to provide users what they want.
Enter the BlackBerry Z3. Originally, the Z3 was developed for the Indonesian market (BB Z3 Jakarta), a popular hotspot for BlackBerry. It is also a result of the Foxconn/BlackBerry partnership, and was designed and brought to market in a matter of months. We know, then, that the Z3 wasn’t manufactured to challenge the mainstream smartphone market in terms of hardware, but rather as a product developed for BlackBerry fans, in Indonesia, and, now, the rest of the globe. We find out whether the company achieves what it set out to do; bringing the BB10 communication optimisation to the masses (or more specifically, to BB fans).
Build and Design
Since the launch of the BB Z10, BlackBerry have launched a number of beautiful, solid looking smartphones, and the Z3 is no different. Upon opening the box and removing the Z3 unit, you’ll notice how very square it is. The right angled rectangle is only slightly curved on the edges to soften to touch (most likely to avoid injury). Be that as it may, the Z3 still fits the mould of the BB10 devices, and with its 5” display, is all the more appealing. The flying B logo still graces the rear, textured cover, but unlike many of its predecessors, the Z3 does not have a removable battery, or removal cover for that matter.
Just as with many of the other smartphones with non-removable covers, it creates a more flowing design. The microSIM and SD card slots are now positioned on the right hand side, protected by a flap that tucks away neatly. On the opposite, left side you’ll find the volume rocker, with the power button positioned directly above it. Although it makes it easier to depress with the index finger, is does make a little unorthodox, since most users will be used to the right-handed usage and depressing the power button with the thumb. The top houses the 3.5mm audio jack, and the bottom the microUSB port. Apart from the strange positioning of the power button, everything seems in order, and has a minimalistic feel to it. Unlike some of the other BB10 units, the Z3 does not include a microHDMI port, but, as mentioned previously, this is a low cost device.
Despite its minimalistic approach in design and plastic build, the result is pleasing on the eye. Having shown the device both around the office and amongst friends, there weren’t many, if any, who did not enjoy the look to some degree.
As with the previously released Z30, the Z3 has a 5” LCD screen. The big difference between the two, however, is that while the Z30 sports a 720x1280px resolution display at 294ppi, the Z3 has a 540x960px resolution display at 220ppi. In fact, while the resolution is a little less, BlackBerry has upscaled this to be equal to that of the Z30. For some, this may be a big turn off, but the end result isn’t very noticeable under normal usage. BlackBerry’s BB10 OS provides quite large icons and onscreen buttons, which doesn’t impact on pixel density as much.
The screen produced bright colours that are quite good to look under normal light environments. The only real trouble when viewing comes when using the screen outdoors, as the direct sunlight made visibility almost zero. Viewing images, watching movies, and playing games, all produce vibrant colours, without too much concern. Although the touchscreen is encompassed within a bezel, the glass screen actually runs from end to end, which actually has less physical bezel (on the touch).
Performance and Battery Life
As mentioned previously, the Z3 doesn’t sport the latest and greatest hardware, but does enough just to get by. This isn’t a bad thing in terms of overall performance, since the BB10 OS is very lightweight to run, and doesn’t have any noticeable lag or flickering with any of the onscreen animations and transitions. What lies beneath the beautiful exterior is a modest interior; starting with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 Dual-core 1.2 GHz Krait 200 CPU, coupled with an Adreno 305 GPU. This all screams hardware of yesteryear, but at the same time, you don’t by a BlackBerry for the best hardware to play games and such, but rather to communicate optimally (including mailing), along with a few business offerings thrown in. The rest of the internals include an 8GB internal memory, 1.5GB RAM, 2,500mAh battery, and 5MP camera.
Looking through that specs, you should notice the 2,500mAh battery. This is quite a significant amount for such a low-specced device, and that can only be good news to the buyer. To put it mildly, the battery has the potential to run for a few days between charges, something that was easily achieved during our review period. Although I had a few run-ins with low battery warnings, this is only as a result of lack of charging I had to do; a process I almost forgot about when using the Z3. I would have to point out that most of my time reviewing the unit did not include running many games as I frequently would on other devices, mainly because there’s no real inclination to.
The Z3 does sport a 5MP rear-facing camera, along with a rather less meaningful 1.1MP front-facing camera. As pointed out in a number of previous reviews, MegaPixels isn’t everything. In this case, however, it is. Not only does the Z3 suffer a lower-than-average pixel count, the image quality through the aperture and software combination is not great at all. Compared to other 5MP cameras, the difference in results are quite noticeable; the Z3 produces a darker, grainier image with little to no colour depth. For me, this isn’t a major issue, as camera quality is of little concern. But I can imagine that most smartphone users, more specifically for those being targeted, I would assume better image quality through the rear-facing camera would outweigh the need for the large battery size.
It’s refreshing to find a device on the market that doesn’t bother, in any form, to keep up with the latest trends in terms of hardware, but at the same time still produces a decent, if not really good, smartphone. Even better is the starting price of the Z3, which carries a RRP of just under R3,000. Browsing through many of the more budget options, even the Galaxy S3 Mini, S4 Mini, and S5 Mini can’t compete in terms of pricing, and do not offer the same overall experience (we haven’t yet reviewed the Galaxy S5 Mini).
Once again, we haven’t touched on BlackBerry’s BB10.2.1 OS update, which we promise to get through soon enough. There are loads of extras to explore, above just that of the Android APK support. At the end of the day, the Z3 packs a big punch for a “small” contender, and begs the question as to why it wasn’t one of the first BB10 devices to have been released. I enjoyed the Z3, and I can imagine many BlackBerry fan would as well. South Africa being one of the markets in which BlackBerry are still prevalent, I can see this device being well accepted by the market, although, the times as it is, I wouldn’t stake my house on it. A good device whichever way you look at it.
You can find the full specifications here.