BlackBerry has fallen on tough times of late. After it announced that it had lost almost $1bn earlier this year, it received a buyout offer of $4.7bn, a vast drop from its $83bn worth only five years ago. Its launch of BlackBerry 10 on the Z10 was supposed to be its big re-entry into the smart phone world, but it wasn't well received by BlackBerry fans, resulting in poor sales.
Not wanting to fade into the background, BlackBerry has thrown a haymaker in the form of the Z30. Like the Z10 before it, it's an all-touch phone, ditching the physical keyboard that made BlackBerry popular among business types. It has a dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera and can be picked up for £500 SIM-free from Selfridges or free from £29 per month on a two-year contract.
It's not cheap, so does it offer enough to justify the money and give the Canadian company a much needed boost?
Should I buy the BlackBerry Z30?
If you've been looking on in envy at your mates with their big screened Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, but for some reason you absolutely must have a BlackBerry phone, then yes, the Z30 is the phone for you. It's got the biggest screen available on a BlackBerry, with plenty of room for movies and pictures.
As a phone it's not terrible either. The BlackBerry 10 interface has its quirks, but it's got some cool features and it's fairly easy to use. It's still let down by its awful app store though, which is missing a lot of important titles and gets little love from developers. If you like trying out the latest apps, services and games, BlackBerry isn't going to suit.
Instead, check out the range of similarly sized Android phones. The HTC One, Sony Xperia Z1 and Galaxy S4 all have superb Full HD displays, superbly powerful processors and have access to the hundreds of thousands of apps available in the Google Play store.
Design and build quality
With a 5-inch display shoved inside its frame, the Z30 is the biggest BlackBerry phone to date. It measures a sizeable 140mm long, 72mm wide and 9.4mm thick, making it a little longer than the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4, due to the additional space at the top and bottom of the Z30's screen.
The Z30 isn't going to appeal to those of you after a small phone to slide into your suit pocket without causing embarrassing bulges. If size is an issue then check out the Z10 -- its 4.2-inch screen makes it much more pocket-friendly. The Z30 isn't ridiculously huge though -- not compared to the 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 3 -- and it's quite comfortable to hold in one hand. If you're concerned about its size, try and get a hands on in a shop before you spend any money.
Size aside, it's not a bad looking phone. The rubberised back of the Z10 is gone, replaced instead with the same 'glass-weave', carbon-fibre lookalike seen on the Q10. BlackBerry reckons it's highly resistant to scratches and scuffs. It certainly put up well with some attacks from my keys, but how it looks after months of constant use remains to be seen.
The front of the phone is dominated almost entirely by glass, which curves attractively at the edges. There's a silver chin on the bottom too. It's inoffensive enough, but I don't really know what it's doing there. If BlackBerry could just snap it off, the body would be shorter and it wouldn't alter the screen size.
Around the edges you'll find the volume and power buttons, a micro-USB port for data transfer and charging and a mini-HDMI port for hooking it up to a bigger display or projector to go through Powerpoint presentations. There's also an odd section of the edging that looks like a flap covering a port -- it's not though, and I only found that out after peeling it away from the body, making it look messy and broken. BlackBerry may have planned to pop other ports underneath, but leaving it as it is just seems careless.
The 5-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 295 pixels per inch. That's a fair step down from Full HD displays seen on the HTC One or Galaxy S4, but in everyday use I doubt you'd notice much difference.
Even when you get up close, icons and text remain sharp, with little to no fuzziness around the edges. It has good colours too, with deep black levels for satisfying contrast. It'll cope well with playing back some YouTube clips when you're relaxing after your big presentation to the board members.
It's let down though by its brightness, which is far from impressive. Even with the screen ramped to the max, it still seemed a little dim, and holding it against other phones -- particularly the iPhone 5C -- it looked pretty disappointing. If you do a lot of work under harsh office lights or bright sunlight, it might be a nuisance.
BlackBerry 10 software
The Z30 runs the latest version of the BlackBerry 10 software, found on the Z10, Q10 and Q5 phones. If you've used any of those, it will be instantly familiar as the interface hasn't changed at all.
It's made up of an an iOS style grid of app icons across homescreens. There's no home button, so quitting an app requires you to swipe up, placing the app into a grid of four recently used apps. It's a fairly simple interface to explore and, while there are no live widgets like on Android, this does help keep things from looking cluttered.
Dive in and things become less enjoyable though. The multitasking panel is the default screen to return to every time you close an app. When you click on an app icon to open it, you're taken back to this screen before it loads -- a small animation, sure, but it's an extra delay that should be removed.
The Hub acts as a universal inbox for all your emails, texts and other notifications. It's handy to see everything in one spot and being able to 'peek' at it when in an app -- by basically shifting the app to the right to see beneath it -- is a neat feature. There's still no way of marking all items as read though and if you've dealt with notifications on a different device, they'll still show as new, unread items in the hub.
BlackBerry Messenger is of course baked right in, letting you text, call and video call using an Internet connection, rather than your precious network-allocated minutes. You can also share your screen with other BB10 users so they can see everything you're doing on your phone at the time.
The phone is powered by a dual-core 1.7GHz processor with 2GB of RAM. Those specs aren't going to get hardcore tech fans excited, but it's more than enough to give a very nippy experience.
One of the main issues with BlackBerry 10 is its app store, which remains rather poorly stocked. If you spend some time browsing its shelves you will find the odd decent title you recognise, but they're few and far between. The prices too are generally higher, which is salt in the wound, considering how difficult it is to find good apps in the first place.
You can find your essentials of Twitter, Facebook and Dropbox but there's no YouTube app -- the icon on the homescreen is just a link to the browser -- and Spotify, Netflix and Instagram are all missing. If you're keen to try out the latest new services as soon as your iPhone-toting friends do, BlackBerry really isn't going to suit.
It's important to note as well that the company's future is still very much uncertain as its continually falling profits have meant it's fallen on some seriously hard times. It's difficult to know exactly what this means just yet -- some reports have indicated a potential buyout of the company, while others indicate that the company will leave the consumer market behind, focussing on the business sector.
With so much uncertainty, if you're looking for a guarantee that your phone will be continually updated and that the app store will soon be brimming with titles thanks to support and enthusiasm from developers, I'd steer clear of Blackberry.
On the back of the phone is an 8-megapixel camera. A camera might not be crucial when you're in a meeting, but when it comes to capturing antics at the office christmas party, it'll be vital. I took it for a spin to see what it can do.
In general I found it to be pretty decent. In my indoor test shot, it was able to expose well for the scene, with little image noise in the shadowy areas. Colours are rich too, yet not unnatural and it's fairly sharp. I've seen better images from phones like the S4 and Sony Xperia Z1, but it's not bad at all.
It doesn't have the same amount of camera features as some Android phones, but it'll let you shoot in a continuous burst mode and its HDR function did a good job of rescuing otherwise blown-out highlights. You'll also find a 2-megapixel camera on the front for video calling using BBM or Skype.
BlackBerry has shoved a 2,880mAh battery into the Z30, which is a rather capacious cell, particularly given the undemanding dual-core processor. BlackBerry claims you can get around 18 hours of talk time or 25 hours of "mixed use" from the phone. Impressive figures and ones I'd say are fairly accurate too.
With moderately heavy use -- using YouTube, downloading apps, checking email and sending Tweets -- I found the phone would easily last the working day and have plenty of juice to get through the evening too. If you're very careful, you might not need to charge it overnight to have power left for the next morning.
Keep the screen brightness down and avoid doing anything too demanding and you will get a much better life out of it. If you keep Wi-Fi and GPS turned off too when they're not needed, that will help as well.
With its big, colourful screen, the BlackBerry Z30 should be your phone of choice if you absolutely crave a BlackBerry but want the same big-screen entertainment as your Android-packing mates.
If you're not tied to BlackBerry though, Google's vast selection of apps and services means that almost any other high-end Android phone will be a better choice.