[REVIEWED] BlackBerry Z3, brilliant or broken?

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Once king of the smartphone manufacturers, BlackBerry has been hard hit by the combined efforts of Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and even Microsoft’s Windows Phone. The company has seen its once mighty cash reserves dwindle, along with its smartphone market share.

Under the guidance of newly appointed CEO John Chen, BlackBerry is experiencing a bit of a comeback with its last set of financial results starting to show the first glimmers of a turnaround in the company’s fortunes.

The BlackBerry Z3 is part of Chen’s plans to bring BlackBerry back into the black, and serves as the first ‘budget’ smartphone running its proprietary BlackBerry 10 OS. The question we have to ask is, now that a cheaper Android smartphone can be had for 20% of the Z3’s price, does this budget buy still have a place in the market?

BlackBerry Z3 Design

Design

The BlackBerry Z3 is the first phone to come from the collaboration with Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn (best known for assembling Apple’s iPhones) and the results are anything but inspiring.

At nearly a centimetre thick the Z3 is made of three easily distinguishable parts, a plastic frame in the middle that serves as the foundation, a rubbery textured back panel and the display unit in the front. The power button, volume rocker and a customisable convenience key sit in a row down the left hand side, with the headphone jack on top and the microUSB charging port at the bottom.

At 164g it’s not a light phone by any stretch of the imagination but most of that heft is concentrated in the lower part of the phone which seats it quite nicely in hand.

BlackBerry Z3 Hardware

Hardware

The BlackBerry Z3 is powered by a dual core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB of expandable storage. It’s more than enough to keep the Z3 chugging along nicely even with multiple applications open simultaneously.

The display will be considered large by many users at 5 inches but the display resolution of just 540×960 pixels and the subsequent 220ppi pixel density isn’t enough to trouble the record books but is strangely still rather crisp when you look at it.

Rounding out the hardware is a 5 megapixel camera at the back, a 1.1 megapixel unit up front and a 2 500mAh battery to power the lot.

BlackBerry Z3 Software

Software

The BlackBerry Z3 runs on the latest version of the Canadian company’s BlackBerry 10 operating system otherwise known as version 10.2.1, for those who like the numbers. It has the same fantastic software based keyboard as the rest of the touch-screen BlackBerry 10 range as well as the same fantastic BlackBerry Hub that keeps all of your messaging, no matter the service used together in one place.

The big news for BlackBerry users or potential BlackBerry users is that BlackBerry OS 10.2 allows you to install Android applications direction onto BlackBerry smartphones, theoretically doing away with the notion that there are no apps for the OS. In fact BlackBerry and Amazon penned a deal recently that will see the latter’s curated Android app store pre-installed on BlackBerry smartphones in the future.

In practice however the Android integration works just enough for you to get angry when it doesn’t. One of my staple daily apps is the Rdio streaming music app, which is not available for BlackBerry 10 but is available in the Amazon App Store. The only problem being that it doesn’t allow you to sign in before getting stuck in an eternal loop and crashing.

Other apps like Instagram work perfectly and, while it’s not as good as a natively coded app, is a big enough draw card for a budget phone that needs to compete with Android smartphones that also have access to the popular social network.

BlackBerry Z3 Display

Display

To say that we had very little expectation when it came to the quality of the display in the BlackBerry Z3 is an understatement. These days anything less than a 720p resolution on a 5 inch display sounds immediately sub-par.

The Z3’s 540×960 resolution display managed to pull a fast one on us by actually turning out to be rather fantastic. Obviously text and images were not as sharp as they would have been on a 720p or 1080p display but there was seldom a time when the extra resolution was necessary.

BlackBerry Z3 Camera

Camera

If you’re buying a BlackBerry Z3, don’t expect the best camera performance in the world. The BlackBerry 10 OS has never had the best imaging algorithms and even the flagship BlackBerry Z30 produced less than stellar images when we reviewed it.

If you manage to keep your expectations in check and can survive by adding filters to the images you take courtesy of something like Instagram, then you’ll more than likely be satisfied with the image quality produced by the Z3.

Expecting anything more than that is foolish because you just won’t get it.

BlackBerry Z3 Battery Life

Battery life

A low resolution display and a general lack of native apps to install to drain battery life from the BlackBerry Z3 means that the 2 500mAh battery is more than ample enough to get you through a day of use.

Most will find that it can even be extended into the middle of day two before succumbing to the allure of the included microUSB charger.

BlackBerry Z3 Conclusion

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Z3 is aimed squarely at the market that embraced the BlackBerry 8520 four years ago. While it may represent similar value to its spiritual predecessor times have changed enough to ensure that the Z3 has a significantly more difficult time of making their case.

With options like the LG G2 Mini and the Motorola Moto G from the Orange online store it makes it difficult to recommend the BlackBerry Z3 to all but those specifically looking for a BlackBerry.

It’s not to say that for the R2 999 price tag the BlackBerry Z3 is a bad device, in fact the opposite, if anything, is true of the phone. The problem is that there are some exceptional phones at the same price point that just offer more.

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Details

Price: R2 999
Display: 5 inch capacitive touch screen, 540×960 resolution at 220 ppi
Operating System: BlackBerry 10.2.1
Processor: dual core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
Memory: 1.5GB of RAM
Storage: 8GB (expandable by up to 32GB using microSD cards)
Battery: Non-removable 2 500mAh
Camera: 5 megapixel rear, 1.1 megapixel front-facing
Networking: 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions: 140×72.8×9.3mm
Weight: 164g
Other: FM Radio

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David Greenway

David Greenway

David is a technology enthusiast with an insatiable thirst for information. He tends to get excited over new hardware and will often be the one in the room going "Its got 17 cores, 64GB of RAM and a 5" 4K flexible OLED display, oh it makes phone calls too?" Currently uses: Too many phones. Wants: World peace... and more phones.

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