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“Really, that’s a BlackBerry?” asked someone when I showed them the Z3 I’ve been reviewing. That’s been the standard reaction. With its generous 5-inch screen, the BlackBerry Z3 is designed with a single purpose: to appeal to the selfie generation.

It’s a smart move from the beleaguered manufacturer, who has been tripped up one time too many by taking its time bringing its answer to the iPhones and Galaxys to market. While the technology is solid, by the time BlackBerry brings out its flagship smartphone it’s usually outdated.

This time BlackBerry moved lightning-fast with this mid-level device (retailing at R2 999): the Z3 took a mere five month to get on shelves, and South Africa is only the second country to get it. This is a nimble side to BlackBerry I’m glad we’re seeing.

The question is: does the Z3 pack a punch for its mid-level pricing?

Design and build

The Z3 is all business. It has a practical, easy-grip back and is 9.2mm thick. To the left are the power, volume up and volume down, and mute buttons. There’s a headset jack on top, as well as a tiny notification LED. To the right are the SIM and SD card slots.

Display

Make no mistake, the display is everything with the Z3. It lures you in, and the 5-inch CoverGlass touchscreen gives the impression that inside this smartphone is some pretty premium hardware. Given the Z3’s price, the resolution is fairly good at 540 x 960 qHD resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio. 

Software and interface

The Z3 runs on BlackBerry 10 and is not bundled with BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service). Despite not having used a BlackBerry in close on two years, there wasn’t much of a learning curve. Within hours I was swooping through the menus like a pro.

Listen up, because this next bit is important: the Z3 is Android app compatible. BlackBerry has partnered with Amazon to offer more than 200 000 Android apps to BB10 users. Even though BlackBerry has warned that they can’t guarantee all Android apps will run smoothly, I got Instagram working with no issues.

The BlackBerry Hub is a central point where you can see all updates (and messages sent) across all your connected platforms. I had Gmail, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and text message all connected. It’s slick and useful, reminding you what it is that BlackBerry is famous for – communicating.

Camera

Now, with that 5-inch screen, you’re probably expecting a kick-ass camera. The 5MP rear-facing cam on the Z3 is the same as the rest of the specs: mid-level. It takes perfectly adequate photos, has 5 x digital zoom and there are a few editing tools available too, including filters and frames, and 1080p HD video recording. The 1.1MP front-facing camera takes ‘okay’ selfies and has
 720p HD video recording. Neither camera works well in low lighting.

Performance and battery life

The dual-core 1.2 GHz chip powering the Z3, coupled with 1.5GB RAM and 8GB internal storage, makes this smartphone responsive enough for business use, even though that’s not its target market. I was most impressed with the battery, which lasts all day and then some.

Verdict

I love the good looks of the BlackBerry Z3, the BlackBerry Hub, the battery life and the fact that it is Android app compatible. There are one or two phones out there with the same specs that are slightly cheaper, but the Z3 marks an exciting change in the BlackBerry brand. BBM fans will rejoice!

The BlackBerry Z3 is available from the Vodacom Online shop.

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