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Thread: Worth the wait: Our review of the Blackberry Z10

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    Worth the wait: Our review of the Blackberry Z10

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    It’s been a tough 2 years for Blackberry users. Around 3 years ago, Android and iOS were really starting to eat into Blackberry’s market share. 2 years ago, Blackberry (then known as RIM) promised to deliver their next generation OS. Since then, the shipping date was postponed multiple times while Blackberry's market share plummeted.

    Heck, things got so bad that there was a point when I figured we’d never see the new version of Blackberry. Either RIM would get carved up and sold, or they’d go out of business, or maybe they’d even adapt another operating system.

    So, I’m really pleased to present to you my Blackberry Z10 review. The first phone running the new Blackberry 10 operating system.

    Body:

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    While its body isn't made of aluminum like the iPhone 5, or even the glass enclosure of a LG Optimus G, the BlackBerry Z10 feels nice and solid. It does not flex or creak when you squeeze it. The textured back has a nice rubberized feel, providing a more secure grip with less slip.

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    I like how the Z10 has a removable battery. The battery cover has numerous snaps on it similar to the Samsung Galaxy S III. Unlike some previous BlackBerry’s the Z10’s cover probably won’t get loose over its life.

    It has an understated look to it. It’s not excessively glossy-looking like the Galaxy S III. That said, with the exception of the back, the finishes could look a little richer.

    I find that the gap between the screen and the rest of the phone looks a little dated. Then again, it may be part of BlackBerry’s signature designs.

    Speaking of signature designs, many previous BlackBerry’s had a ‘slope’ on the forehead of the phone. This is missing from the Z10. The Z10’s speaker hole is shaped like the 9900’s. I like how the 9900 has some distance between the flash and the camera sensor. They’re side-by-side on the Z10 - this can result in more red-eye. Actually, aside from the button layout (3 on the side, one on top) the Z10 doesn’t pay much homage to previous BlackBerry models.

    The screen measures 4.2” with a resolution of 1280x720, which yields a pixel density of 356ppi. Indeed, it’s a very sharp screen. While the pixel density is higher than the iPhone’s (326ppi) having used both screens side-by-side there isn’t a noticeable difference in sharpness.

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    4.2” screen doesn’t sound that much bigger than the iPhone 5’s 4” screen, but side-by-side there’s a big difference. Side-by-side, both are much smaller than the Galaxy S III. BlackBerry was trying to maximize screen size while making the phone easy to use with one hand.

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    As far as thinness goes the iPhone 5 wins here but as far as I'm concerned, they're all thin enough.

    I was trying to compare the Z10’s maximum brightness with my iPhone 5, but I discovered that even though the Z10 lacks an ‘auto brightness’ setting it does have this feature. You just can’t turn it off.

    Still, my observation is that the iPhone 5 is substantially brighter than the Z10.

    Colour-wise, the Z10 is a bit warmer (red) than the iPhone 5. The Galaxy S III is much cooler (blue).

    Viewing angles are excellent. While the brightness changes a tiny bit, there’s almost no colour shift.

    I didn’t try it outdoors myself, but friends who have tried the same unit say it works well in bright sunlight.

    Overall, besides the sharpness and viewing angle; the Z10 has an adequate display.

    Tour:

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    volume, power, microphone

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    volume buttons + voice command button

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    microHDMI, microUSB

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    speaker

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    camera, flash

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    1800mAh battery, microSD, microSIM

    Chevy fans notice that the Z10 is powered by a LS1!

    I’m a little surprised that Blackberry included a microHDMI port. While the Playbook includes one, pretty much everyone else is using a MHL connector these days. Then again, it’s a good thing since you probably save a few bucks using a microHDMI instead of a MHL cable.

    I tried a 64GB Sandisk Mobile Ultra MicroXD card in the Z10. Previous I had used in many Android phones (GS3, Note 2, RAZR, RAZR 2 HD LTE, Huawei phones, etc, pretty much any Android phone running 4.0 or newer supports it) The Z10 didn’t recognize it at first but once I formatted it I was able see the card. It knew how much space was on it plus I copied 60GB worth of videos to it. I randomly selected a couple to watch and they worked fine. After I formatted it in the Z10, my Galaxy S III was able to read it just fine.

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    Included with my Z10 is a red felt pouch. It's well made and should be easy to spot in the dark. I wish it covered up more of the Z10 but I guess then it would be hard to see the status light. There's a space to hold a card in the back.

    Camera:

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    In the past, BlackBerry’s have always had lackluster cameras. From a fixed focus camera in the Bold 9900 to the 2MP camera in the Pearl. The point of the camera is that there is one. So, honestly I wasn’t expecting much from the Z10’s camera.

    You take pictures by tapping anywhere on the screen. You can set the focus point by tapping and dragging it around. Focusing is fast.

    Shot-to-shot speeds are about 1 picture per second unless you enable burst mode at which point the frame rate jumps to around 4 to 5 frames per second. What’s really impressive is that it can keep up this frame rate indefinitely - well I’m sure at some point it will slow down but I shot 100 frames before I decided to give up.

    There is a neat feature where the Z10 snaps 10 pictures, 5 before you press the shutter and 5 after. I took a picture of a stopwatch and the pictures are spaced slightly more than 0.1 second apart, so the first picture is about 0.6 seconds before I pressed the shutter and the last about 0.6 seconds after. Once it’s done this, it can find people’s faces so that you can zoom in to pick which picture you want to keep. The LG Optimus G has this feature too but the Z10’s takes more pictures, is smoother, easier to use and just and overall better.

    Image quality is decent.

    Video quality is actually very clear and sharp.

    Watch out, if you have the auto-rotation turned off, the camera will record video in whatever orientation you have it locked to. What this means is that if you have the phone locked in portrait mode (like I normally do) it will record video in portrait mode - even if you hold it in landscape. This actually makes sense when you think about it, but my iPhone and Galaxy S III don’t do this, so I find it very confusing.

    There’s an optional image stabilization feature which is far too aggressive. In an effort to remove shakes the stabilization blurs everything. I remember that the last crop of BlackBerry’s (9900, 9810, 9850) had this too. I suggest you just shoot video with stabilization off. Watch out! since there’s no stabilization at all, video can be quite jumpy, so concentrate and hold the phone with 2 hands.

    Captured audio is good

    It has a resolution of 8MP which right now, is what you’d expect. However, the industry is beginning to shift to 13MP. Still, the number of pixels is only part of the image quality equation. More is not necessarily better. It can capture 1080P video, which is pretty much standard now on higher end phones.

    I did notice a bug in the camera app. Sometimes the options would disappear. Closing the camera app and re-opening it fixes this.

    BlackBerry 10:

    I have a Blackberry 9850 (the last touch-screen one) and the keyboard on it is pretty good. So I was expecting a lot from the Z10’s and it didn’t disappoint. After all, one of Blackberry’s signatures is the typing experience. Back when carriers were trying to get us to learn T9, BlackBerry users were zipping along with their QWERTY keyboards.

    These days, everyone has a good on-screen keyboard. If I was to rate them, I'd say Android 4.2's is the worst (say it's 8/10), Windows Phone is a 8.5 while the iPhone gets a 8.6. With that in mind, the Blackberry's is 9+ easy.

    Whether you use the 'brute force' method like me where you type as fast as you can and let the auto-correct sort it out or if you type slowly the BlackBerry keyboard works really well.

    If you’re a brute force typist; the key spacing and prediction are top notch. I really like how they include an extra row at the top for numbers. They even make the keyboard look like a traditional BlackBerry keyboard.

    If you’re a slow typist; you will benefit from the Z10’s keyboard. Someone called 911 the other day and I was taken to the hospital (back problems or kidney stones - I’ll live). I’m right handed but couldn’t really use my right hand so I was using the Z10 with only my left. I rarely use a phone with only my left so I was very clumsy at typing.

    The Z10 has a nifty auto complete feature. As you’re typing it shows a word you can use to autocomplete over the next key. To autocomplete you just swipe up on the next key. So if you want to type in ‘hospital’ you’d type in ‘hosp’ then you can flick up on space to type in ‘hosptial’. ‘i’ will spell ‘hospitals’, ‘t’ will give you host, etc. You’d never see this if you’re going nuts on the keyboard but if you take your time this is can be a real time saver. I was able to type much faster with just my left hand, using this method.

    Menu keys anchor of the experience of Android, iOS, Windows Phone and heck, even previous versions of the Blackberry OS. Hence the lack of menu soft keys (and on-screen softkeys) can be a bit confusing at first.

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    Just look at the evolution of Blackberries over the years (note I wasn’t able to find my 950 so it’s MIA). First Blackberries had their jog wheel, then their menu buttons lasted for about 6 years or so.

    While I’m sure I WILL get used to the lack of a menu button, I still haven’t. Don’t let this scare you though.

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    You move around BB10 using gestures. Swiping from bottom to the middle of the screen brings up thumbnails of currently running programs. You can switch between them by swiping up or down. Only the last 8 programs are shown.

    You can close programs by pressing the ‘x’ in the program listing.

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    From that screen, you can swipe to the right to bring up your list of programs (like pressing the home button on iOS or the app button on Android). If you swipe left, it brings up the Hub (more on that shortly).

    For programs with a menu you can swipe from the top of the screen to the middle to bring it up. Perform this gesture from the main menu to access settings.

    I like how you can change certain settings from the settings pull down (just like on TouchWiz and Android 4.2). This includes the very important, orientation setting.

    If you’re in the main menu, swiping from the middle of the screen to the bottom allows you to switch between work and personal via BlackBerry Balance. Note that I couldn’t get this feature working. Guess that’s the Z10’s way of telling me to work more.

    You can take screen shots by pressing and holding both volume buttons.

    I really like how they've taken BlackBerry's signature (the messaging) and made it one of the cornerstones of the experience without making it feel like they're forcing it down your throat. Actually, the messaging (email, text, Facebook including group chat, Twitter, LinkedIn, BBM) is bundled in with your calendar, and phonebook into a feature called 'Hub'. To access the Hub you swipe up and then without letting go, swipe to the right. It's an interesting idea that's intuitive to use.

    Even better is that the Hub has hooks for programmers. That way they can integrate their apps into the Hub. I was looking around the App store and noticed that there's a GTalk app from BlackBerry which presumably hooks up with hub.

    I did notice that the Hub was slightly buggy. A lot of my Facebook group messages wouldn’t show up in a timely manner. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon. Sending a group message will cause previous messages to show up.

    If you’re used to how BlackBerry used to handle things and prefer to access your texts, BBM’s and email via separate app icons, the icons still exist in the program list.

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    The lock screen could use a little more functionality. You can launch the camera app from it, but to do that you have to press and hold it. You should be able to swipe it so that it launches faster. It would be nice if you could also go straight to the Hub to read your new messages.

    The Maps program has voice guided navigation with traffic support. I’m disappointed there’s no support for public transit. I haven’t had a chance to use the maps program outside of the house so I don’t have anything else to say about it.

    After you’ve taken a picture there are built in photo and video editors. Multimedia apps like Photo & Video editors are included. You also get Docs ToGo to open up documents, spreadsheets and presentations. I’m very disappointed that Docs ToGo doesn't support any cloud services like Google Drive, etc.

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    One feature I like is the Z10's share feature. Yes, the same one you find on Android. BlackBerry even took the share icon! Anyways, it allows you share files and media with other devices using email, BBM, BBM group, text messages, Facebook, Bluetooth, even via NFC.

    I tried sharing a photo with my Galaxy S III using NFC and it didn’t work so the NFC share feature might be for BlackBerry to BlackBerry only.

    I copied some 720p MKV’s to the Z10 and noticed that it’s able to play them! I didn’t have the same luck with 480p DIVX files. Still, assuming you have 720p MKV’s there’s no need to convert them via Handbrake, like on Windows Phone or iOS! There is (what I assume is) a bug where the video player's maximum volume is very low. Hopefully they'll fix that soon.

    If you’re using the Z10 for music, then the speaker is nice and loud. It’s maximum volume is similar to the iPhone 5’s though the iPhone’s is slightly meatier-sounding.

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    Another feature I like is the ‘Access using WiFi’ feature. This one lets you access your Z10 via SAMBA (Windows file sharing). You can copy files to the Z10 wirelessly. You choose a password, username and you’re good to go. Not only is this feature convenient, it doesn't seem to use too much power so you can leave it on.

    Since out-of-the-box, you can easily copy files to and from the Z10 via SMB (SAMBA) it would be cool if the Z10 had NFC charging. Then you could do away with all the connectors (use Bluetooth or A2DP for audio) and make it waterproof. Just a thought...

    These days, everyone has a nice operating system. BlackBerry 10 is no different. Where the war is being fought is over the software ecosystem - The number of apps and more importantly, the quality of the apps.

    Since BB10 is still being rolled out, its ecosystem is immature. To help things along, Blackberry has been recruiting developers to port their programs to BB10. Hence, for an immature ecosystem, the app selection isn’t as bad as you’d think it would be.

    Must-have programs like Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, etc are already present on BB10. To me the only omission (and it’s a big one) is Netflix.

    I did notice the Blackberry World (where you download apps) can be a bit buggy. I downloaded around 10 apps to my Z10 and noticed that they wouldn't always install. The program would show up in my menu but the icon would be blank. I'd have to uninstall the program and then go back to Blackberry World to download it again. I might be missing something but I also noticed that there's no way to view previously purchased apps.

    Game selection is a tad thin but it looks promising.

    Actually, Android apps which were ported to the Playbook (like the HowardForums Android App) work on the Z10. I can’t really say how fast they run but they no longer run inside that silly Android player. They just look like regular apps.

    So the ecosystem is off to a promising start. It’s certainly better than when they launched the Playbook and there was nothing for it.

    Performance:

    It’s always hard to gauge a closed platform’s performance. My seat-of-the-pants feel is that the Z10 feels powerful enough that it doesn’t leave me wanting. Then again, I’d argue that any recent high-end phone feels like this.

    Most of the time it’s smooth - programs usually launch quickly, that sort of thing. Since it’s a new ecosystem the only benchmarks I can think to run are SunSpider and Peacekeeper. Both these benchmarks run inside a browser which allows us to compare performance across platforms.

    SunSpider (lower is better):

    Apple iPhone 5: 911.7
    Samsung Galaxy Note 2: 1017.5
    Samsung Galaxy S III: 1799.2
    Blackberry Z10: 1767.0

    Peacekeeper (higher is better):

    Apple iPhone 5: 807
    Samsung Galaxy Note 2: 749
    Samsung Galaxy S III: 476
    Blackberry Z10: 307

    Based on the benchmarks the Z10 is a step or 2 behind the Note 2 and iPhone 5. The problem is that even though SunSpider and Peacekeeper run inside a browser, we’re comparing different browsers. For example, while the iPhone 5 scores very well in SunSpider, its score isn’t so good if you run it using Chrome for iOS.

    So I wouldn’t read too much into the numbers. Really I put them there because people expect benchmarks in a review. You should never read too much into them.

    Anyways, the Z10 feels adequate performance-wise. It does lag occasionally but so does my iPhone 5. It's slower but it's not slow.

    As a Phone:

    Since I’ve been stuck at home most of the time I’ve had the Z10 (because of my back) I wasn't able to use it outdoors and test RF. Sound quality is average, maximum earpiece volume and speakerphone volume are both good - similar to the iPhone 5.

    Battery life is phenomenal. Part of the reason for this is because BlackBerry doesn't allow the screen to get insanely bright (like on the iPhone 5), the other is because the screen has auto-brightness which you can't turn off. Even some heavy users will be able to use it an entire day.

    Conclusion:

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    I've been using a Z10 for a few days now. For most part, BlackBerry has done what they needed to do to make a compelling device. It's not perfect but they've differentiated it enough that it's an intriguing alternative to its competitors.

    They've also done a decent job with their app ecosystem. Yes, it's still starting out but it's not totally dead like the Playbook was when it first launched.

    On an open platform like Android, you absolutely should be getting the best hardware for your dollar. They all run the same OS, so the only way they can differentiate is by hardware and to a lesser extent, software. On a closed platform like iOS or BlackBerry you only have one company making the hardware so the hardware is less important since you can’t usually choose it. It’s more a question of whether the hardware is good enough or not.

    So in that sense, the Z10 doesn't disappoint. But at the same time, it's not absolutely cutting edge either. They've done enough in the hardware department that most people aren't going to complain about it unless they spend all their time looking at spec sheets and reading reviews rather than using it.


    I was very disappointed when BlackBerry (formerly known as RIM), kept missing their BB10 ship date. Usually, when things take this long they end up as vapourware.


    Not only did RIM (now known as Blackberry), deliver a finished product, frankly I’m shocked at how good it is. Mind you, anything less would not be enough but it’s still a pleasant surprise.


    If you’re coming from Android or iOS:

    If and use a lot of apps, you’ll notice that there are less on BB10. Assuming BB10 succeeds, it will take time to build up a catalogue of apps.

    You’ll probably like the Blackberry Hub. On my iPhone, I’m constantly bouncing between my Email, Messaging and Facebook Messenger Apps.

    If you own an iPhone 5, Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note 2 or HTC One X/X+/S you might miss your camera.

    If you’re using an older Blackberry device:

    Aside from the learning curve, there are certain Blackberry-isms that are present in the Z10 that you may find comforting. The Hub is new but the idea of it is similar to the inbox on older versions of Blackberry. If you message a lot most of your experience is going to hover around it. The lack of a menu button will probably give you fits at first but really, you don’t need it with BB10.

    If you’re worried about losing a physical keyboard I say now is the time to jump. The Z10’s keyboard is top notch, it’s better than a physical one.

    For the first time ever, the camera on a Blackberry doesn’t stink, you get a big HD screen with multimedia capabilities that your old ‘berry could only dream of.

    Final thoughts:

    Right now, Android and iOS are entrenched as the two top players in the Smartphone industry. This probably won't change any time soon. Where things get interesting is who gets third place.

    It's a fight between Windows Phone and Blackberry. Based on what I've seen with Blackberry 10 on the Z10 we have a real fight on our hands. I wouldn't be surprised if Blackberry supplants Windows Phone as the third player.

    HoFo - Pros:

    • Slick software
    • SAMBA Support
    • Strong battery life
    • Voice guided navigation included
    • Orientation lock is easy to access
    • Pouch not included


    Conversational Cons:

    • Not cutting edge
    • Bit of a learning curve
    • No public transit support
    • Low volume in videos app
    • Included Docs to Go has no cloud support
    Last edited by howard; 02-08-2013 at 05:45 PM.

  2. #2
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    Great review Howard. I hope you're recovering well at home. BTW, Happy Chinese New Year!
    I tried the Z10 and it felt uncomfortable to hold. I wish BlackBerry made the corners more rounded, like the S3. Even though the S3 is bigger, the S3 is more comfortable to hold. I'm going to wait for the Q10. But I am very impressed with the new OS. There is a bit of a learning curve. Like you said, there's no back button, so that's something to get used to. It's actually better because you can close the apps instantly afterwards. The on screen keyboard is by far the best in the industry. I know they licensed through Swiftkey but made it better. I l love Swiftkey, but love what BlackBerry did to their keyboard more. My friend has the Z10 and we did a BBM voice chat and I was blown away by the call quality. It's clearer than calls over 3G! This is my brother's first BlackBerry purchase and he loves it. He put his S3 on the side. While I'm sad it didn't work out for me, I am looking forward to getting the Q10. By then, there will be more apps and some of the bugs will be fixed by then. Plus, I already have 2 full touchscreen devices. I want a physical keyboard device. Plus the Q10 looks amazing!

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    Folks,

    I have taken a few snapshots outside this afternoon. And, I pick this two as quick comparison against a Samsung Galaxy S II GT-I9100. Both are set with the Snow / Beach scene mode for high contrast...

    BlackBerry Z10 (Click here for the original at 3264 x 1836, 5MP, 16:9)



    Samsung Galaxy S II (Click here for the original at 3264 x 2448, 8MP, 4:3)

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    I am NOT "the" HC, we are TWO different individuals!


    "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing!" - Jon Stewart, Comedian

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    Worth the wait: Our review of the Blackberry Z10

    Howard, thanks for the review.

    About the pictures above...why does the Blackberry photo look so washed out? There's almost no contrast in the snow and the shadows are almost non-existing.

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    mikeo007,

    Greetings.

    First, the Samsung Galaxy S II camera is able to grab more details than the BlackBerry Z10... perhaps the 8MP vs 5MP sensor. However, I would not write off the Z10 camera just yet. As I have mentioned, I have set both cameras to use the Snow / Beach scene mode. It seems to me that Samsung may have a relatively more aggressive algorithm to push the saturation higher (some may even find it over-saturated). So you and I may find the contrast with the Samsung one is more revealing (shown in the shadows) and the orange sled is more "pop" than with the BlackBerry one. But the green jacket and the blue tote are comparable with both.

    There maybe other contributing factors... perhaps the cloud was scattering the sunlight just around the time when I shot with the Z10 and clearing up when I shot with the Galaxy S II The monitor we use to display the photos may also have different calibrations, rendering characteristics. It is quite a personal preference... some like the more "contrasty" one and call the other "wash-out" while some like the more "natural" one and call the other "exaggerate".

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    Folks,

    Let me put up a few more photos.

    - 2 indoor snapshots taken by the Z10. Admittedly, I do not have a pair absolute steady hands when holding it...

    During the day by the window... (Click here for the original size)



    During the night... (Click here for the original size)



    - The neat packaging for the Z10...





    - The Z10 itself...




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    Jeez, get that man a nail clipper! Yikes!

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    Howard, nice review, very fair. Just wanted to point out that Balance will only work with BES. There is a definite learning curve with this phone but once you learn the gestures they're so intuitive that you try and use them on every other device you use!

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    Re: Worth the wait: Our review of the Blackberry Z10

    Samsung in general produce more eye pleasing colors. It depends what you want. Myself I like accurate colors in day to day photos. I can always apply filters later on.

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    Great review Howard!! Probably one of the best I have read. Very much my style of review.

    I am so disappointed to see that yet again, the charging port is on the side of the device. I have adjusted really well to the bottom port on my iPhone, so much so that I don't know that I could go back to a device with it on the side. Such a small thing to nit pick, but huge for some people. I will often times talk on the phone while it is on a charger. With it on the bottom, it is so easy to do. With it on the side, so annoying.

    Again, great review, and thanks for the in depth pictures.
    Current Device: Apple iPhone 5S
    Space Grey - 32GB

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by fonemaker View Post
    Jeez, get that man a nail clipper! Yikes!
    Lol you don't like my new hand?

    Actually, it's a friend's hand.

  12. #12
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    Thanks for the great review of the Z10 and BB10....has piqued my curiosity.

  13. #13
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    Re: Worth the wait: Our review of the Blackberry Z10

    Just received this oem ultra thin hardshell case. It has a lip to protect the front and it comes in red, white and black.
    Attached Images Attached Images        

  14. #14
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    V65E4710, A3LSMG925W8, PDNRM-975, IHDT56PG3, QMNRM-11, L6ARCV70UW, L6ARJE180LW
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    Re: Worth the wait: Our review of the Blackberry Z10

    derektoronto,

    That is a good design hardshell

  15. #15
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    BlackBerry always has this level of creativity in their cases and holsters.

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