BlackBerry is in a comeback mode with a new and refocused gameplan to get back to their roots along with the next generation of BlackBerry 10 devices planned for this year. The first of these devices is the BlackBerry Z3, a low-cost BlackBerry 10 phone aimed at emerging markets for the budget-conscious buyer. Today we find out if the BlackBerry Z3 is a solid performer or one that makes too many compromises to keep its costs down.
Despite rocking a 5-inch display like the higher-end Z30, the Z3 is slightly lighter at 164g (versus Z30’s 170g) and smaller in dimensions at 140 x 72.8 x 9.3 mm (versus Z30’s 140.7 x 72 x 9.4 mm.) This is mainly due to a smaller bezel and an edge to edge display with much less wasted space. But unlike the glass weave finish found on the Z30, the Z3 sports a textured back similar to the Z10 which doesn’t quite feel as premium but is far better than the plastic found on similarly priced devices.
The corners are sharper compared to the rounded edges found on other BlackBerry 10 devices which makes it similar to a Sony Xperia device in looks. The Micro-USB port has been wisely moved to the bottom of the phone as opposed to the left on previous BlackBerry 10 phones which leads to a less disruptive experience of typing while charging or trying to plug in the charger in the dark. The micro-SD and SIM-card slots are covered with a relatively flimsy flap on the right side, while the power button now sits on the left instead of the top which can take some time getting used to. Overall, BlackBerry has done a good job making the Z3 feel more premium than it really is.
Coming to the specifications, the BlackBerry Z3 rocks a 1.2GHz Qualcomm processor with 8GB of (expandable) storage and 1.5GB of RAM. Compared to a similarly priced device like Moto G, the Z3 has more RAM but a less powerful processor. The 5-inch display has a somewhat low resolution of 540 x 960 pixels with 220 ppi, while a 5 megapixel rear camera and 1.1 megapixel front camera do the job. There’s a very impressive non-removable 2500 mAh battery under the hood that comfortably lasted me throughout the day under moderate use. Rounding off, you also have a built-in FM Radio, Wi-Fi Direct and Miracast giving the BlackBerry Z3 a lot of value added features for its price.
This is the first BlackBerry 10 device to feature anything below a 1280 x 768 resolution display, which coupled with the larger 5-inch display could have posed to be a problem. Thankfully, the screen performs just as well with vivid colors and a bright display that delivers on everyday usage as well as media consumption. Because of the low PPI, the pixels are visible on the menu screen text as well as zoomed out webpages but it doesn’t detract much from the experience. The speakers present on the Z30 are strong and deliver quality sound, but obviously are no match to the extremely impressive and loud speakers found on the Z30.
BlackBerry Z3 ships with OS 10.2.1 which is the latest update to the BlackBerry 10 OS. It’s an understatement to say that the updated OS is a vastly different experience than the BlackBerry 10 from a year ago. Previous BlackBerry owners will cherish the new shortcuts and features that are brought back from BlackBerry 7 for power users, and newcomers to the platform will appreciate how smoothly everything flows within the OS for optimal multitasking. The BlackBerry Hub is as impressive as ever, serving as your one-stop hub for all your e-mail and notifications. Moving around Active Frames makes it a much smoother experience to multi-task effortlessly.
The virtual keyboard is still the best keyboard experience in the market, with features like swiping to finish the word and an always adapting dictionary proving to satisfy BlackBerry lovers. The drawback here is the lack of some of the big name apps that consumers are used to like Instagram and Candy Crush, but with the new BlackBerry 10 update, loading an Android app to the phone is a couple of clicks away (and the upcoming 10.3 brings the entire Amazon store to BB10). The native apps that are present in BlackBerry World run smoothly, and a host of productivity apps come pre-installed with the device like Docs To Go and Evernote. BBM is heavily integrated into the OS, so fans of texting will have a great time with the new features that BBM has to offer. Other additions like Instant Previews add more value to the software experience.
BlackBerry has never had the camera as one of their strengths and even the optics on their flagship devices such as Z10 and Z30 are easily outclassed by competitors. The Z3 has a 5 megapixel camera and expectedly, it’s a sub-par experience.
While the camera works well in the daylight, the moment you decide to take a picture with limited lighting is when it results in a noisy images that are devoid of sharpness and detail. Amazing photos are never something you expect in devices of this range, but both the front and back camera here fails to impress.
Despite reduced specifications compared to BlackBerry 10 flagships, BlackBerry uses the advantage of their closed OS to optimize the experience for the Z3 to fascinating effect. The experience is as fluid as my current Z30 in almost every regard, with slight lag only occurring when minimizing apps in Active Frames which is probably because of the reduced RAM. There’s no LTE on the device either, but browsing speeds are good enough and coupled with the excellent battery life, you’ve got a phone that should last throughout an entire day.
Herein lies the biggest conundrum when looking at the Z3 – the AED 899/- price. While the price is very competitive for a phone of its price range, the problem is that the previous flagship Z10 has now been reduced to a similar amount and can be found for cheaper at certain stores. So the question arises – is the Z3 worth buying over the stronger specced Z10? Well, the Z3 has a much stronger battery life and a bigger screen which certainly sounds appealing, so it’s a question of how important those two things are for you. If they are, Z3 is fantastic value. If you value more RAM and a faster processor on a smaller screen, the Z10 is a steal at its current price. BlackBerry Z3 is a successful attempt at a budget BlackBerry 10 experience and one that’s recommended to anyone looking to make the jump.
+ Good Design
+ Excellent Battery Life
+ Decent Performance
- Subpar Camera
- You can get a Z10 for Lower Price
- Lack of Big Name Apps