BlackBerry Z30 vs. My iPhone: The Grudge Match

A few years ago, I completed part I of a BlackBerry review. I really liked it at first, but then as time wore on, I invoked the mercy rule and skipped part II. Let's just say that until "Let It Go" came along, there was nothing I associated more with the word Frozen than the BlackBerry Bold 9900.

I went from a BB Army loyalist to a hater. And that's when the iPhone that I got through work filled that void perfectly. Life went on, BlackBerry was behind me. Then this happened:

Blackberry_Z30.jpeg

Disclosure: this BlackBerry Z30 didn't just show up at my door with a challenge match in mind. It was sent to me by one of my favorite PR people whom I haven't heard from in forever, and it seemed like a fitting way to end the BlackBerry saga once and for all, so I took the challenge (i.e. hey, free phone for my kid after i'm done with it!). There was much catching up involved, but no payment, and no promises. Just a fair shot at redemption. I'm all about a good fight. 

As you know, if you've read my blog, I am not a reviewer. I'm not a tech writer. If you landed here because I skillfully SEO'd BlackBerry Z30, click the back button and refine your search to "CNET BlackBerry Z30" for a more educational result.

This is a down and dirty review based upon things that are important to ME. I like to eat bugs and wear shock collars from time to time. Just managing expectations here.

DOES IT FREEZE?

No! No it doesn't!! I dragged this post out more than two months, which gave me ample time to catch it freezing up on me. It never even froze once. My iPhone also doesn't freeze, so we'll call this a draw. It is a very satisfying, redeeming, meaningful draw, however, given my history with BlackBerry.

TYPING

The reason I have always liked the BlackBerry was because of the real keyboard. I still prefer this over any touch system. That's why I was really sad when I saw that the new line dropped the real keyboard. However, BlackBerry has incorporated a very impressive predictive text system that I think has massive potential. As you type, the keyboard displays words that it thinks you might be trying to type. In addition, these words are displayed above the next letter that you are likely to type, so you don't have to look for them. When you see the right word, you swipe it upward to accept. Here's an example. 

I wanted to see if this innovation would translate into actual time savings on the keyboard so I typed a blurb from a Baken-Ets pork rind bag because that was sitting next to my computer, and I just injured my back yesterday so I cannot move to go find something else to transcribe, and no, your name doesn't have to be Bubba to love pork rinds, and aren't you glad I'm not eating bugs?

So... given all that, I timed myself typing out a paragraph from the back of the bag, using my iPhone and my Z30 predictive text. As it turns out, my time with the iPhone was 1 min, 30 seconds in trial #1 and 1:28 in trial #2. With the Z30, the times were 2:38 and 2:02 respectively.

While this might seem like clear victory for the iPhone, there are a couple factors involved: 

  • I'm very used to my iPhone keyboard.
  • Z30 has autocorrect like iPhone does and during these two months I've been largely ignoring the predictive text and typing iPhone style because I am a creature of habit, so this was my first attempt at consciously relying on predictive text.
  • There was more than an immediate 30-second improvement from trial #1 to trial #2, which says to me getting used to predictive text isn't that hard. 

So the jury is still out on which system is in fact, better. Too many outside considerations that are not the Z30's fault. I can say, however, that they are both better than the Droid swype system. Man, I hated that when I had a Droid. In fact, I hated everything about the Droid. 

EMAILS AND NOTIFICATIONS

Z30 wins hands-down on this one. Some of my favorite features of the Z30 include the following things that my iPhone cannot do:

  • Message hub: while the iPhone can display your emails from various accounts together in one stream, the Z30 can display that plus your texts, call notifications, BBM messenger messages (I miss BBM - and it's sad I had no one to test BBM with during these two months), social media notifications (which you can set on or off) in one place. I think the Droid platform can also do this, but I hate Droids, so who cares.
  • Priority hub: this is a brilliant feature. This is a view that shows only your most important messages, as deemed by an algorithm at first (people with your last name, people you reply to, etc) but over time can be configured by you (you can manually designate any sender as priority, or un-prioritize them, when you are reading their email/text). 
  • Attachment view: you can hit a button and view a list of all attachments that have been sent to you. No need to find that email, open it, and download the attachment. 

SYNCHING 

The BlackBerry Z30 wins here too, simply because you don't have to use iTunes. iTunes is the devil. A really confusing, temperamental, arbitrary devil. iTunes is a necessary evil that you have to put up with to use Apple products. They design such good products at Apple, so why does iTunes have to suck so bad? Z30 wins by virtue of the fact that it's not iTunes. 

There's some really cool features that make it intuitive to synch files and share media over a wireless network, but honestly, all that is overshadowed by the feature I affectionately call "not #$*^%$ iTunes." 

PICTURES AND MEDIA

As a parent, this function is of utmost importance to me. I want to be able to take good pictures with my phone. So how does the BlackBerry Z30 fare here? Let me break it down:

Quality: when your subject holds still, the pictures come out great. Here's a picture of Lessi that I took:

That looks as good as any iPhone pic. However, I did have to take more pictures with the BlackBerry than I usually do with the iPhone to get this picture because the BlackBerry doesn't do well with motion. Pictures came out blurry a lot of the time. It also doesn't do well with low light conditions, something I know the iPhone is really great at. 

However, the BlackBerry Z30 comes with something that can help alleviate the need to take multiple pictures to get just the right one, and this is my number one WOW feature of the BlackBerry: Time Shift mode. Time shift mode is a function where the camera takes a bunch of consecutive pictures rather than just one when you press the shutter. You can then toggle each person's face separately along that timeline to find the right moment you want to immortalize on the picture. 

Wait. What? That made no sense. I know, I didn't get it either when I first read about it, so I filmed the process to better illustrate what I mean. This is worth watching because it's some sick innovation.

Right? Essentially, it lets you change history and create pictures that technically never existed. When your phone can violate the space time continuum so flippantly, you're got something quite powerful at your disposal. 

Another notable feature is the sound quality on the Z30. The speakers are way better than those of the iPhone. I say if you're going to annoy your family with your favorite Hall & Oates chart toppers, you might as well provide them with the highest quality audio for their suffering pleasure.

APPS

This has always been the weakness of BlackBerry, in my opinion. Even if the iPhone is technically inferior, and Droids are the saddest excuse for technology, they still have way more apps than the BlackBerry. While I am lucky in that the apps I use are either available for BlackBerry (Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Ubercab) or have 3rd party versions (iGrann for Instagram), I recognize that the average smartphone user might feel constrained when using a BlackBerry. 

What I can tell you though is that BlackBerry recently partnered with the Amazon App Store to bring 200,000+ apps to BlackBerry, including Netflix, Pinterest and Minecraft. That may even out the playing field a little more. Amazon is kind of a big deal.

For now, I have to give iPhone the edge on this, but the gap is closing. 

COMFORT FEATURES

I really missed a few things when I switched to the iPhone. One of them was the red blinking LED light whenever I got an email or notification on my BlackBerry. I have to say it was nice having that back. I also REALLY missed the back button. Things seemed to operate in a more linear fashion with BlackBerry because of the back button. You simply hit 'back' to go back to where you just were. With the iPhone, you have to hit home first, then open the app you were just on. It's annoying. The iPhone doesn't have any equivalent comfort features that other phones lack, except maybe the free Apple sticker. Status is comfort, right?

BATTERY LIFE

The Z30 never dies! It's incredible, the endurance that it has. I can't say the same for my iPhone. Z30 is the clear winner in this department. I carry an external battery with me all day and it just looks like an iColostomy bag when my iPhone is attached to it. 

SUMMARY

While I do love my iPhone and will continue to use it because it was issued to me from my work, I have to say that I am totally impressed with the BlackBerry Z30. Aside from its inability to take pictures of subjects in motion, I really had no gripes with it, and when going head-to-head against my iPhone, it actually came out on top for pretty much everything else. 

So the question remains, did BlackBerry win back my affections? I have to say YES, in a big way. 

And with that a new question arises. You think it can win YOU over? One of you lucky folks is going to find that out, actually. I am giving one BlackBerry Z30 away (or you can choose the Q10 if you are a hardcore keyboard loyalist). For a chance to win, all I ask you to do is tell me what phone you have now and what about it irks you. I'll give you one week to submit your comments and choose a winner randomly Sunday, August 17 at 9pm PST.