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BlackBerry Z30 deep-dive review: Upgraded software in a great 5-in. smartphone

Matt Hamblen | Nov. 12, 2013
The Z30 is new and improved for both enterprise and individual use -- but can BlackBerry stick around long enough to make it matter?

The 5-in. touchscreen BlackBerry Z30 smartphone may sadly become a modern-day fable, one in which pundits shake their heads over a great phone that just couldn't make it in the wider marketplace.

With a screen that's 38% larger than the 4.2-in. Z10 smartphone that shipped in late March in the U.S., the Z30 turns what was cramped touchscreen typing and navigation on the older model into a mobile user's dream device.

There are other physical improvements beyond the bumped-up size: four microphones instead of two, a beefy but non-removable 2880 mAh battery and a number of small-but-mighty productivity improvements within the new BlackBerry 10.2 operating system.

Sadly, the device could face slim sales, especially in the U.S. — even worse than the disappointing sales of the Z10 that led to a near $1 billion write-down at the company. Nearly everything that has gone wrong with BlackBerry has little to do with the virtues of its latest devices' hardware and software — and the same might someday be said for the Z30.

A company with problems
Buyers could be worried about what will happen to BlackBerry and its future support for the Z30, which could severely limit the phone's sales appeal. The Canadian company undertook a drastic reorganization in August that on Nov. 4 led to a $1 billion investment by several investors and the replacement of BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins with former Sybase chief John Chen as interim CEO.

BlackBerry Z30

As the corporate drama plays out,Verizon Wireless will be the exclusive seller of the Z30 in the U.S., offering it sometime this month for $200 and a two-year service plan, a price that's in line with other similar phones.

The problem, though, is that this single-carrier approach could produce even fewer sales than when all four major U.S. carriers offered the Z10.

BlackBerry's biggest problem with the Z10 was not getting it on sale soon enough. The company suffered through years of failing to compete with Android phones and the iPhone with a responsive touch-screen BlackBerry device that had a decent browser and good styling. And, oh, there was — and remains — the matter of a shortage of great apps for downloading, even in the productivity area for workers (BlackBerry's mainstay audience).

There are currently 130,000 applications for phones using the BlackBerry 10 OS (like the Z30) — a fraction of the 1 million or more in, say, Apple's App Store. BlackBerry has worked hard at adding apps, but there's a growing concern that app developers just won't stick with BlackBerry down the road.

BlackBerry has repeatedly assured its customers that they will get support for new phones going forward, both in an open letter in mid-October and in a statement issued after BlackBerry appointed its new interim CEO. Many analysts believe this support will continue and that Verizon is not likely to drop the ball. But before seriously considering a purchase of a new Z30, or a corporate purchase for multiple users, you may want to check the latest news about the company and grill your sales person about what happens to Z30 support if the sky truly falls at BlackBerry, whatever the reason.


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