The BlackBerry Z10 is the first smartphone to run the long-awaited BlackBerry 10 OS, rewritten from the ground up on QNX, the real-time operating system purchased in 2010. QNX runs various systems in hundreds of automobile models and also the BlackBerry Playbook, and its success on this next set of smartphones, from the touch-based Z10 to the hard keyboard Q10, could quickly determine the company's fate.
If that fate comes down simply to a phone, the Z10 will breathe new life into BlackBerry. It is a better mobile experience, practically from start to finish. It is (finally!) a modern-day smartphone, and BlackBerry has completely rethought the user experience, from the flow-full navigation, to its all-encompassing Hub, to its superior keyboard and more. For most of the common uses of a smartphone -- email, social media, Web browsing, a narrow set of apps -- the Z10 more than holds its own.
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The problem is, BlackBerry's fate won't come down to just the phone. BlackBerry 10 OS doesn't have nearly the application marketplace of other smartphone platforms (including, by the way, the legacy BlackBerry OS), despite recently surpassing the 100,000 app mark. It also doesn't have some of the gleaming new jewels of other devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S 4's eye tracking, or Nokia's Carl Zeiss camera technology, or Apple's Siri, or Google Now.
What it does have is a legacy of enterprise acceptance, backed by the company's world-class BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES), now extended in some particularly BYOD-friendly ways to the Z10, and even iOS and Android devices. BlackBerry also has a global footprint that cannot be underestimated. Those items alone could keep BlackBerry from fading into the night, but they aren't nearly enough to bring the company back to glory.
Just for comparison, the BlackBerry Z10 is slightly taller, slightly wider, slightly thicker and even slightly heavier than the iPhone 5. Its display, at 4.2 inches, is also bigger, its resolution (1280 pixels by 768 pixels) is higher (the iPhone's is 1136 pixels by 640 pixels), and its pixel density is better (356 pixels per inch vs. 326 PPI for the iPhone 5). Those aren't likely to be dealmakers, but it's safe to say the Z10 hardware is quite good, even if it's not nearly as thin or light, or with as big a display as the Samsung Galaxy S series.
The BlackBerry Z10 battery life was, in my testing, much better than that of the iPhone 4S, but that seems a bit like comparing the gas consumption of an everyday sedan to a Humvee. The iPhone is a battery guzzler. I tried to use both the Z10 and the iPhone similarly, and even attempted to drain the Z10 by running its map app constantly while driving, to no avail. The iPhone simply ran out of juice hours before the Z10.