BlackBerry Z3: First Impressions

At work we are trialing BlackBerry Z3 devices. This is my first BlackBerry 10 device so here are some first impressions.

  • The device is huge. It’s a phablet form factor. Some people will like it; the rest – like me – will find it a handful. It is not impossible to use the device with one hand, but is not too convenient either. I think I have medium size hands and I like using devices one hand and I manage to do that more or less with this device. After a period of heavy one handed use I’ve noticed my palm hurts a bit but that’s probably just a learning curve.
  • The keyboard sucks. I just hate it. I am not a stranger to touch keyboards – been a long time iPhone/ iPod Touch user and have also played with Android phones. None of their keyboards were as crappy as this. I regularly make typos with the Z3 keyboard. When composing an email or message etc the device slowly learns your habits and I’ve noticed it gets better at predicting what I meant to type, but that magic doesn’t apply in apps such as the browser for instance. In the latter I have to keep going back and correct typos.
  • When typing if you long press the text a ring appears. Initially I wasn’t sure what to do with this. Then I realized the ring has markings on both sides, I can touch that and move the ring to move around the typed text. Useful for going back and fro.
  • There are no physical buttons except for four buttons on the left side – Power, Up & Down volume, and a Camera click. There are no soft-buttons either, like in Android phones for instance. This took a while to get used to. I thought I would never get used to it, but after 2-3 days of use I don’t mind it any more. Instead of the home button what you have to do with this device is swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen. This takes you to a application switcher sort of view from where you can (a) close applications, (b) swipe right to view your emails, or (c) swipe left to see your home screen.IMG_20140912_010802
  • Emails, messages, LinkedIn, WhatsApp etc are first-class citizens here. Always just a swipe away. From the home screen swipe right to see your ‘Hub’ which contains a unified view of all these – or swipe once more to go into the view you want. Similarly, from the application switcher swipe right to go to the same view. And when in this view swipe left to go back to application switcher or home screen – wherever you came from. I find that convenient.
  • Each app has its own Settings menu, like in Android. Unlike in Android though it’s not accessible from the bottom part of the screen. You have to swipe up from the top edge of the screen to get this. So this definitely requires two hands. I don’t like that much. Thankfully this isn’t frequently accessed.
  • The camera is fine. Nothing great, but not a total waste either. Got confused initially that just tapping the screen clicks a pic. Unlike in the iPhone where tapping lets you focus on an object.
  • These new BlackBerry devices have the concept of a workspace and personal space. Confusing at first, but it has its uses I think. The workspace is what your employer has control. They can choose the apps there etc. The personal space is your area. The two don’t meet either so you end up in situations such as say you get a pic in your work email, save it to the photos app, go to BlackBerry Messenger to attach and send, and you won’t be able to find it! That’s because the BlackBerry Messenger has access only to the personal space whereas your picture is in the workspace. This is one device with two sides.
  • The home screen has three soft buttons. Phone, Search, and Camera. That’s convenient. Phone and Camera are two things would would frequently like access to from the home screen. And search is useful to quickly search anything on the phone. You can search for contacts, emails, settings, installed apps, and can even type shortcut words like “task” followed by some text to add the text as a task in the “Remember” app. There are many such shortcuts. Useful. I tried the “task” shortcut and it didn’t add to my work tasks though, it only added to the BlackBerry tasks section. Have to explore on how I can get it to save in the work tasks and also ask for more details like a Reminder or Due Date.
  • Screenshots can be taken by pressing the Up & Down volume keys together. The picture is saved in your ‘Pictures’ app and is limited to the space you were in when taking the screenshot.
  • The Z3 runs BlackBerry OS 10.2 and this can run Android apps if you have the APK file. Nice!
  • The battery life is nothing to rave about. Seems to require charging every night.
  • There are some features like Wi-Fi direct, sharing media to your TV, etc that I didn’t explore further. Must do later.
  • I connected the phone to my LinkedIn account and now it shows photo for my contacts that are in LinkedIn. Even for my work contacts if they are in LinkedIn. Nice touch.
  • You are able to add your work email account of course, but can also add other email account as well as CardDAV and CalDAV. The latter is useful as all my phone contacts are in Gmail and synced via CardDAV amongst my various phones. Since the Z3 supports CardDAV I can add this account and now all my contacts are available on the Z3 too and changes get synced.
  • When on the email screen I can pinch to show only unread emails (this can be customized to show drafts or other type of emails). Useful. There’s also a priority hub which shows messages which your device think are of higher priority. You can modify what contacts/ conversations are considered priority.
  • Long press the power button to manually lock the device or even restart (useful!). Also, if you long press by mistake it won’t shutdown unless you keep long pressing for 4-5 seconds.
  • The lock screen can be configured to show notifications. By default it shows icons for emails, calendar etc. Swipe right on an icon and it expands to show more details. Nice!
  • Not a biggie for me – the device doesn’t have 4G. It is meant for the Asian market. Specifically, it was introduced for Indonesia (hence the Z3’s code name is ‘Jakarta’) and is now being released in other countries. I couldn’t get it in Oman so had to get from our Dubai office. It is not available in the UK yet either.
  • The keyboard has a “funny” feature in that while you are typing suggested words appear all over the place. If you want to use one of those words you are supposed to flick it on to the text. This can be configured to show suggested words only on the top row. And the most obvious selection is shown on the space key so pressing that will easily insert that followed by a space. Convenient! The flick gesture wasn’t so obvious and I am yet to get used to it.
  • There’s a very brief tutorial and a more extensive help application. The latter is useful for discovering how to do what you want.
  • The Z3 takes a micro SIM and has a slot for microSD.

All said and done, except for the keyboard – and to an extent the large size – I don’t mind the device much. Of course I won’t be replacing my iPhone with this any time (mainly coz I love the iPhone, its camera is awesome, there are tons of apps, I prefer the smaller size, etc etc) but it’s a good device well worth your consideration. It is not very pricey either, and doesn’t feel cheap for the low price. If you don’t have any previous phone hangups you might love the device too!