The scoop: Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Z10, by Verizon Wireless and BlackBerry, about $200 (with two-year agreement and data service costs).
What is it? A BlackBerry smartphone with its new BlackBerry 10 operating system that also runs on Verizon Wireless' 4G LTE network. The Z10 model is also available through other phone carriers, although the Verizon model has the unique white frame and backing.
What's new about the Z10, in addition to the new OS, is that it has no physical keyboard, the stalwart feature on BlackBerry devices for years. Instead, the phone falls more in line with competitors' smartphones, such as the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III (and soon-to-come Galaxy S 4). This means colorful icons on the touchscreen, swipe gestures to move between menus or in and out of apps, and two-finger zoom functionality.
[ FIRST LOOK: BlackBerry 10 smartphones
BACKGROUUND: How BlackBerry recreated the mobile user experience with Z10 ]
On the hardware side, the Z10 features an 8-megapixel rear camera/camcorder with 5x digital zoom and LED flash, a 2-megapixel front camera with 3x digital zoom (although I couldn't locate any webchat app), a 4.2-inch LCD screen, 1.5GHz dual-core processor from Qualcomm (the Snapdragon platform) and 2GB of RAM.
Why it's cool: The hardware features make it comparable to other smartphones on the market, and the swipe gestures and icons make this more enjoyable than previous BlackBerry devices I've used. But as a longtime Android and iPhone user, I'm used to several of these functions. It might be more appealing to longtime BlackBerry fans who haven't experienced these yet, although I also wonder whether they're waiting for the Q10 model, which will feature a physical keyboard instead of the on-screen one.
On the software side, I was impressed with some of BlackBerry's video apps (Story Maker, for example) and the camera feature (Time Shift) that takes multiple photos of a person in order to line up the perfect shot. This is perfect for taking group photos (especially with two or more children in them), helping to prevent shots where one person is blinking.
Some caveats: A smaller number of apps in the BlackBerry World app store (at least compared with Google Play or the Apple App Store) limits the flexibility of the device. For example, I couldn't find a good Internet speed test app for the Z10 in order to test the speed of the 4G LTE network -- any speed test apps available were poorly reviewed or didn't work when I tried them. It doesn't feel like there's enough to make Android or iPhone users want to switch their phones to the Z10, and again, BlackBerry fans who want to stay within the family may prefer to switch to the Q10 with its physical keyboard.
Some of the device's other unique features, such as BlackBerry Hub (all your messages and social media updates in one place) or BlackBerry Balance (keep work and personal data separate) didn't jump out as appealing to me.
Bottom line: If you're a BlackBerry diehard who is willing to move to the onscreen keyboard, the Z10 can become your new device without too much of a difficult transition. Other smartphone users are likely to stay with their preferred choice, especially as newer models (Galaxy S 4, next iPhone) come out later this year.
Grade: 3.5 stars (out of five).
Shaw can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.
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