BlackBerry Z10 vs. iPhone 5 – Hardware Comparison

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BlackBerry is at a point now where Apple was when Steve Jobs came back and launched the iMac for the first time. The Z10 is BlackBerry’s iMac. It’s its last chance to show that it has what it takes to compete in the smartphone world. You may have noticed that the company has released very few new anythings over the past couple of the years. Under the leadership of Thorsten Heins, it’s had to take stock, go back to the drawing board and build a new platform from the ground up. The result of this hard work and bravery is the Z10. An all touch screen device running the brand new BB10 operating system. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s the most important device for the Canadian tech company in its history. It’ll either go down as the phone that saved it, or the one which failed to.

When it comes to smartphones, there’s no doubting that the iPhone 5 is the king (at least in terms of sales). Plenty would argue it doesn’t deserve to be the top selling phone, but there are some very good reasons why it is. But, the question is: does the BlackBerry Z10 match the iPhone? We know it virtually does on paper, but what about day to day use?

Form Factor/Design

You might say that the iPhone 5 and Z10 look fairly similar. And they do, on first glance. The rounded rectangle front panel with all but the top and bottom covered by a large square glass panel. It’s reminiscent of the iPhone’s two-tone backside. But’s that’s where the similarity ends for me. Unlike the iPhone’s glass and aluminum body, the Z10 is plastic and has a grippy material on the battery door. All-in-all, it feels solid, well made and very comfortable in hand.

What is slightly baffling about the BlackBerry’s design, is the bezel. It’s huge. Considering the size of the display, you’d think BBerry’s design team could shave a few millimeters off the edges, but for whatever reason they didn’t. It gives the impression of a picture with a frame that’s so big, it almost swamps it. It’s not enough to make it horrible to use, but just enough to make it appear a little block-like. To look at, the iPhone 5 clearly trumps the Z10 with its elegant design.

Which ever way you look at the Z10, it’s bigger. It’s 6.2mm taller, 7mm wider and 1.4mm thicker. Not to mention, a full 25.5 grams (0.88 oz) heavier than Apple’s 6th iPhone. And it is noticeable, when you look at them next to each other and when you hold them. The iPhone’s trim and sleek design is admirable, and shows that when it comes to engineering, Apple is still ahead of the curve.

That’s not to say I don’t like the Z10. It’s easily the best looking BlackBerry ever launched, and it’s not awkward to use. I really love the grippy back door, it feels like it belongs in my hand. It just doesn’t “wow”. That said, I don’t feel like I have to protect it like a precious item of jewelry, unlike the iPhone with its easy-scratch aluminum back plate. It lives up to the tradition of being well built and hard to break.

IMG_0504When it comes to all the ports and buttons, BlackBerry’s smartphone is as different as it can be from the iPhone. The only similarity here is the lock/power button which is almost identical to the iPhone’s oblong key. It’s just placed – awkwardly – in the center of the top edge. Next to it you’ll find the 3.5mm headset jack, and a small microphone hole. Unlike the iPhone’s volume buttons, the Z10 has them on the right hand edge, and they’re about as different in shape to Apple’s round buttons as you could imagine. There are three buttons in total on the Z10: volume up, down and the middle function key which activates Voice Control: BlackBerry’s attempt at taking on Siri. On the left edge, the Z10 has two ports: Micro USB and Mini HDMI. On the bottom edge: nothing.

The biggest and most obvious omission is any form of button on the front. Whereas the iPhone has the iconic home button, the Z10 has nothing and is controlled using touch screen gestures only. It did take me a little while to get used to not having anything physical to press, but I did prefer it eventually. It’s one of the things I really liked about the Pre 3 when I owned one, and it works well with BB10.

All in all, comparing these two is like chalk and cheese. It’s almost like they’ve been designed with two different mindsets. The iPhone is a precision piece of elegant engineering, made to be gawped at and touched with a sense of awe. The BlackBerry is designed to be used. A lot. I like them both, but it’s hard not to come away thinking BlackBerry’s design team could have spent more time on the form factor, and made the device a little less bulky.

Display

Getting down to the basics of specifications, the iPhone features a 4-inch, 640×1136 resolution display boasting an impressive pixel density of 326ppi. The Z10 has a 4.2-inch panel with a resolution of 768×1280 pixels, giving it a density of 355ppi. Both are impressively sharp, and – although the Z10 has the higher pixel count and density, the difference isn’t easy to detect with the human eye. If at all.

One thing I did notice (but only when the iPhone and Z10 were side by side) was that the BlackBerry handset had a faint yellow tint. It did affect color reproduction, more so the whites and blues. Contrast levels are good on both, but blacks appear darker on the BlackBerry. Colors are a little more vivid on the iPhone, and the screen in general is brighter and seems sharper. Even with the iPhone at 75% and the Z10 at 100% the Apple handset was noticeably brighter and clearer.

Yet again, it’s a situation where the BlackBerry’s display is obviously better than anything by that manufacturer before. But, compared to the iPhone – despite matching its resolution – it seems a little washed out and unclear. It’s not fuzzy at all, but it does need to be brighter and whiter. That said, if I wasn’t looking at it right next to the iPhone, I more than likely wouldn’t notice it that much at all. So, don’t let that put you off, it’s not like looking at content through a stained glass window. It’s barely noticeable. But it’s there nonetheless.

Speed/Performance

Here’s where the comparison gets interesting. The BB10-loaded handset is powered by a 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor and has 2GB RAM. The iPhone has its own custom A6 processor, 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM. Obviously, operating systems account for a lot of how it looks and feels and both are adequately designed to make the most of the hardware. Thanks to both companies adopting an in-house approach of designing both the handsets and software, they can be sure to optimize firmware and hardware for each other. And it shows.

The iPhone 5 handles its OS with consummate ease, as does the Z10. The BlackBerry’s transitions from Hub, to multitasking to apps are buttery smooth and as fluid as anything I’ve used before. In fact, no app launching felt at all laggy, and I’ve yet to experience any crashes. Browsing the web on both is a pleasure, and having tried a good selection of web pages on both in day to day use, I didn’t once get frustrated by slow loading times or the dreaded “checker-boarding” when zooming in and/or out.

In fact, if anything, in some occasions the Z10 outperforms the i5. One issue I – and a few other users – have had since the iPhone 5 launched is that the screen doesn’t always detect anything. It generally only happens on the Lock Screen when trying to unlock, but it happens at least once every 2 days. So far, I’ve not had any such issue with the Canadian-designed handset. It just seems to approach every task effortlessly. Again showing that it’s a handset designed to be used heavily, and switch between various functions and tasks at a moment’s notice.

Camera/Video Capture

Cameras

Sadly, I was disappointed by the Z10’s camera. Despite having the same megapixel count and similar sensor technology to the iPhone, picture quality was noticeably poorer. Especially in low light situations. That said, I love the user interface on the Z10. Focussing manually is a joy, and being able to touch anywhere on the screen to grab an image makes it a lot easier to grab a shameless selfie. It doesn’t quite make up for the end result though. Darker, or shaded areas even in a relatively well lit room still come out a little too noisy for my liking.

That’s not to say the iPhone’s camera is perfect. Pictures are sharp and colors are well balanced, but images still have a tendency to lack some depth and come out flat. And compared to the Lumia 920, low light photos aren’t fantastic. If a great camera is something that’s really important to you on a phone, the iPhone is the winner here, but the BlackBerry – again – offers better images than any of its predecessors could even dream of. Not bad, but not terribly good either.

I will be posting a more in-depth camera comparison another time, with a ton of examples. Stay tuned for that. I posted one of the comparisons above just so you could get an idea. The Z10′s sharpness and image quality is good in well lit situations. But, it does have a tendency to get the white balance a little wrong. The iPhone’s shot shows the actual color of my wall, the Z10 thinks that’s white and skews the coloring slightly to compensate. All in all, it’s not that the Z10 camera is awful. It isn’t. It’s just not one I would use if the subject of my photograph wasn’t well lit.

When it comes to customization, you can change the aspect ratio of the Z10′s image between 4:3 and 16:9 depending on whether you’re a traditionalist or not. You can also change scene modes between Auto, Action, Whiteboard, Night and Beach or Snow. Choosing each setting adjusts exposure, white balance and shutter speed accordingly. The iPhone has no such flexibility unless you download a third party app. You can also choose to snap shots with image stabilization or in burst mode (takes a series of images in one go) with the BlackBerry.

One thing I was impressed with, again with the Z10, was the video capture. Focussing manually during shooting is so simple, and fast. Auto-focus works equally as quickly and footage is smooth and sharp. Very surprised.

Considering that BlackBerry is well renowned for forgetting about the camera, and sticking in any old crappy lens, the Z10 is impressive. And, although the user interface and customization options are better on the Z10, Apple’s iPhone – I feel – gives a better end product, especially in low light scenes. But, I don’t think the difference is enough to sway you one way or the other. You will not be that disappointed with the BlackBerry.

Loudspeaker/Call Quality/Sound Quality

In my experience using 40+ different handsets, there’s one thing that BlackBerry has excelled at over its competition: loudspeaker clarity, volume and call quality. Out of all the smartphones, nothing was better at being a phone. In fact, I can’t remember ever missing a call with any of the 4 BlackBerries I had previously. The same is true of the Z10, and it’s nice to see that Heins’ men haven’t neglected what they’ve always been good at in order to chase super-powered specs, gigantic screens and brand partnerships with celebrity owned audio companies. This phone is loud and clear, even when it’s trying not to be. It’s fantastic, and I find it refreshing.

That said, I would never go as far as to say that the iPhone’s or the Z10’s loudspeaker could ever make an adequate personal audio system, but for a mobile phone they do well. In fact, all in all, I much prefer the Z10’s audio quality. Call quality is among the best I’ve used too, and is at the very least equal to the iPhone. If not better. The Z10 is a clear winner here.

Battery/Network Reception

I’ve read plenty of reviews digging at the BlackBerry’s supposedly poor battery life. Chiefly, TheVerge’s reviewer who stated that he could barely get through a day on a full charge. Granted, he more than likely uses his phone a lot more than I, but I get similar life out of both phones.

The Z10 has the 1,800mAh cell, whereas the iPhone has 1,440mAh. With the Z10, I took it off charge at 9am on Sunday morning, and didn’t have to plug it in again until 10pm on Monday. Even then, it still had 10% left and could easily have gone another couple of hours at least before dying. On the iPhone, I frequently get around 8 hours usage plus a day and a half of standby, making them very similar. When you consider that the BlackBerry has a larger display, a more power hungry OS and processor, it evens it out. Either way, I don’t think the end user is going to be as disappointed with it as reviewers would like to make out.

The Z10 once again proves that it is primarily a phone when it comes to network reception. I’ve not dropped below 4 out of 5 bars of 3G/HSPA+ coverage in my office since I opened the handset. My iPhone is usually between 2-4 bars in the same place. That being said, if you are a frequent traveller and you need access to a wider range of networks, Apple’s iPhone is the better “world phone”. While the Z10 only has HSPA+, EV-DO and LTE, the iPhone supports those plus CDMA and DC-HSPA.

Usability

I will be covering software in depth in a separate article, but I can’t do a phone comparison without at least touching on the user interface. It’s half of what makes a smartphone a smartphone, and one could not exist without the other.

Ignoring the fact that the Z10 has got a long way to go to catch up with the likes of Apple’s App Store, the new gesture based control system is fantastic. Everything is a single digit swipe away. Swipe down: I get system settings toggles. Swipe right: and I get the Hub which contains all my notifications. Swipe left: apps and folders. When I’m on the recent apps screen I can scroll up and down and easily close any apps I no longer need.

Although the iPhone has always been regarded as being easy to use, BlackBerry has trumped it with BB10. There’s no back button, or home button. It’s all done with a simple gesture. While it did take me a little time to get accustomed to the new way of doing things, I soon find myself trying to dismiss apps on my iPhone in the same way. In essence: BlackBerry has done the impossible, and made iOS seem complicated. So much so, that I’ve often been picking the Z10 up in before the iPhone to achieve tasks like checking email, Facebook and Twitter. It just feels more natural.

Ecoystem is still in its infancy, and it shows. There is a huge lack of apps here. I hardly found any of my daily drivers: no Ebay, PayPal, Audience, Flickr, Instagram, Temple Run, FIFA 13, the list truly goes on. BlackBerry App World is nothing on iTunes quite yet. That said, I have noticed new, quality apps and games appear over the past few days. And, with music, video and books all being available, the company has got the foundations laid to create a truly great alternative to Apple’s ecosystem.

Final Thoughts

The Z10′s strength is clearly within its user interface. The company formerly known as RIM has nailed it, and with a few tweaks to make it a little less buggy, it could be even better. Specifically: getting apps to talk with Hub better so that when I check on messages and mentions on Twitter and/or Facebook, they get dismissed within the Hub too. It can get a little frustrating having to keep going in to the Hub to mark everything as “read”.

The BlackBerry Z10 has some real positives. But on the hardware side, nothing that would make me want to switch from my iPhone. Then again, that’s expected. While the iPhone has a better camera, better design and a better display, the Z10 has an air of usability about it. And, it’s not forgotten its roots. It’s a brilliant phone. Is it enough right now to compete with the likes of iOS and Android? No. But it’s a very good starting point and I can’t wait to see how future generations play out.

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  • http://smartphoneforme.wordpress.com/ ybichu

    Awesome comparison.. Very well written,..
    I am planning to shift from iPhone 4s to either BB Z10 or iPhone 5.. 
    Though I was a big BB fan earlier, lack of apps and overall experience made me shift to iPhone..
    My only worry is the battery life.. 
    This is perhaps the only review wherein its mentioned that the battery life is similar…
    Just wanted to know if it makes sense to buy an iPhone 5(with the same IOS 6 that I am currently using) or trying something new i.e. BB Z10 of course..
    Thanks.. :)

  • Jasper

    I’m actually happy that this is a generally unbiased review. Hopefully BB can finally get back in the market again.

  • MaximeLacroix

    @ybichu the lack of apps won’t be a problem on six months, that’s not a big deal… Imo, i would switch from my current iphone 5 to this Z10, but I signed up 5 months ago… Don’t Forget the battery is easily replacable on bb, while you havé to pay a technician to change or with Apple! Much better with bb and intelligent keyboard is a must. Could write on many languages with autocorrect, contrary to iphone that is completely frustrating…

  • mapsonburt

    Nice review.  There does seem to be an easy “fix” for the Z10′s low light issue.  It appears that the Z10′s exposure algorithm is biased towards “spot”.  If you move the focus to something less exposed it brightens things up considerably and the pictures “pop”.  For sure, it should do this out of the box but it does show that the problem is a software issue easily resolved in a fix update which BB10 does over the air.  I’m surprised you didn’t mention the timeshifting feature where you can rewind individual faces in the picture by a few seconds to take out blinks by one or all of the subjects.  If you’ve ever tried to get more than two people not to blink at the same time you’ll really appreciate that feature.  
     
    Also surprised you didn’t talk about the multi-lingual predictive keyboard.  Apple has always had an awesome virtual keyboard but the Z10′s has left it in the dust.  It figures out what you are going to say based upon your history and which language you are using (supports three at a time) and puts the prediction over the next letter you are going to type.  If you like it, you simply flick it up to the text and start spelling the next word (chances are that word will be predicted too).  
     
    I think you are right about the apps.  Apple has tons more but as a developer I can safely say that the BB10 environment is much easier to develop for and that will change. They’ve made it dead easy to port iOS and even easier to port Android apps (most of which can run on the z10). 
    Other than those minor points a fair and balanced review.  Nice to see.

  • Gary

    The up and bottom bezel are designed for gaming in landscape.  There’s function built in and thought of in all areas of the device.

  • Nasirm12

    Cam, any photo professional would tell that the Z10 picture is of superior quality. It has better depth than the photo taken by Iphone5. You can see true colors of the ivory tuning keys as well as the shadow of the keys in the Z10 photo shot.

  • Nasirm12

    BTW, I just got my Z10 (in Qatar), yoohoo! Haven’t even opened the box yet.

  • Gary

    http://crackberry.com/blackberry-z10-hardware-explained  Here ya go bud…talks about the design of the hardware and why its designed that way including the part about the bezel for gaming (like a controller).   Interesting discussion.  Apple makes fantastic looking products but they aren’t designed for function really.

  • SusanAntony

    @ybichu – keep in mind that with the BlackBerry, you can switch to a different battery if you have two so you can double the life during the day and recharge both during the evening or night.

  • Smartphone watcher

    While the author concludes that the BB10 cannot yet compete with the iPhone and Android phones, I think he is missing the point of what is important to certain smartphone customers.  The “usability” factor, which the author says the BB 10 beats all of the others, hands down, is most important to business customers.  Also, as pointed in other comments, the author does not talk about many important features that the BB 10 has that other phones do not.  I don’t have time to go into them, but one of them is something called “Balance,” which allows users to switch from their corporate account to their personal account, eliminating the need to carry around a separate phone to handle each.  I don’t work for a corporation, so I personally don’t know how important that is, but I have read that this is a problem for many corporate smartphone users, which the BB 10 solves.

  • redscic

    Overall balanced review. Thanks very much, Cam Bunton!About the bezel -  BlackBerry 10 UI is based on gestures and bezel is there because there are sensors under the bezel. But the screen space you lose because of bezel is more than compensated by removing the “home” button. You get 4’2″ screen (opposed to 4′ screen) even with the bezel.
    Camera – good news is that ‘low light’ problem has been identified and fixed. It had to do something with exposure algorithm (whatever that means) so it was an easy software fix. Nothing wrong with the hardware or sensor. Once an official BB10 software update is released (probably in next few weeks), BB 10 camera should become at-par with iPhone, Galaxy etc under same settings.
     
    Agree, BB 10 UI makes other UI feel complicated. Takes couple of days of power-use to get used to it and then iPhone and Android start to feel “unnatural” and ‘inefficient’. The thing is, BlackBerry 10 makes it very easy to do routine task (email, messaging etc.) that you do many many times during the day. You save few seconds everytime and it adds-up and creates a superior experience.
     
    Apps – agree. Many apps are lacking/missing. But if BB10 sells well, app-makers will probably rush to port their apps.

  • bystander

    Hi Cam
    I read this review as a link form another site, while i think you did a  good job of not slanting the conversation too much i must say that some comments really came from a  place of Iphone love. Don’t get me wrong Cam, i admire when a brand lives up to and exceeds expectations enough to create loyal users, so it’s not a knock on you.
     
    In the review you subjectively reacted to the phones “bulky” design based on the design attributes you admire most, fair enough, however you ignored the biggest selling feature of the Z10. The keyboard , THE KEYBOARD is like nothing i have ever used before, how it remembers slang terms and brings them out in context is beyond my expectation. Once learned the productivity gained will be measurable in terms of time saved and work completed, a tad less subjective than the engineered corners.
     
    Not many people expect this device to outsell or convert iOS or Android fans, but the step forward is a strong one….and i dare say it is not a catch up, it’s a nice leap forward, for those that cherish phones for getting things accomplished.
     
    Nice review.

  • neilwick

    According to BlackBerry CEO Heins, the back cover (battery door) is not made of plastic, but rather a ”glass-weave” material that is “thinner, lighter, and stronger than plastic.” This material is exclusive to BlackBerry.

  • ChrisMiller6

    Something I feel that is very important, but has rarely been mentioned with regards to the software support: BB10, like the Playbook, CAN RUN ANDROID APPS. A great many of them, an emulator is built into the OS.

  • DerekMcCullough

    I have to give you credit, you are one of the few tech reviewers who is capable of giving a fair and honest comparison, I have a Z10 and I absolutely love it. Yes there is not as many apps available but the number is growing fast. they had 70 000 before they even sold a single unit, that is very impressive. and for me the day to day use is better then that of android and the iphone, and that out weighs the smaller app ecosystem.

  • DaedalusIcarusHelios

    @neilwick I believe that’s just the Q10 that has the “glass weave” back.  The Z10 has a rubberized plastic with divots.

  • http://papogp.com/ Diego Nei de Brito Santos

    Really glad to know that there are some iOS bloggers that aren’t biased and unwilling to take a BlackBerry for what it is.
     
    Great review! I may not agree with a few (really few) points (design and display) but you were spot on for the better part of it.
     
    Keep it up!

  • Unbiased

    Unbiased… Balanced… People, stop being so polite. This post is obviously slanted to the iPhone.
    Here are a few things to think of, Z10 has a micro SD slot so you can easily upgrade for little money. To upgrade your iPhone from 16 to 32gb you need 100$. Micro HDMI port, Micro USB port (these are called non-proprietary ports). The screen better. the camera… better. How could anyone love a device so much that they cannot see the obvious flaws.

  • heyheyz
  • TiP_Cam

    @heyheyz Thank you. I’d spotted traffic coming in from CrackBerry couldn’t figure out where it was from.

  • TiP_Cam

    Thanks. This was a hardware comparison, and since the keyboard is software based, I’ll be leaving that for the software comparison. I appreciate the comments.

  • TiP_Cam

    @Smartphone watcher I was comparing the hardware (clue’s in the title). I will be covering software/user interface etc in another post. You make valid points, I just couldn’t fit them all in to a hardware comparison, since none of it is hardware related.

  • JerJer

    Obviously the author does not understand how to use the BB10. To understand BB10′s gestures you have to have a bezel. Already I quit reading as I knew where this was going. Stupid pretending to be smart.

  • benwhiteee

    I want the wallpaper on the Blackberry for my iPhone!

  • digeratidude

    @TiP_Cam Nice balanced review,when you do the software comparison give the “play on” function a try when watching a video ,if you have anything dlna in the house that’s networked they should show up…it’s like apples airplay AFAIK. I don’t have a z10 but I’m curious how well it works compared to iphone.  I’m an ex iphone user using Android but am looking at bb10 when my contract ends later this year.

  • Mike_C_PT

    @redscic When I read the article and the Camera review I did notice that the Images are not better or worst, its just different Exposures! Now, most people that use Smartphone Camera’s obviously don’t, and there’s no reason they should… its a smartphone not a Canon or Nikon… What would be nice apart from ADJUSTING (I wouldn’t call it a fix) would be enabling users to adjust the level of exposure, even if by minimum levels, this would be a nice thing to be able to do at the time we take the picture…. but of course this can be done after with some basic edition…!

  • SusanAntony

    @TiP_Cam  @Smartphone watcher – please explain this phrase, from a hardware perspective – “…the Z10 has an air of usability about it….”

  • Anilu7

    Regarding the camera synopsis, I have to disagree with you there.  Having owned an iPhone 4, BlackBerry Bold 9900 and now the Z10, I have found the Z10 camera superior.  You can actually see it in your guitar picture above–the iPhone picture looks more pixillated and washed-out, where in the z10 picture the guitar has a “richer” look to it.  Also, the “multiple shots” feature is, as another poster pointed out, the Time Shift feature to the camera.  When activated by choosing the encircled face symbol, it takes multiple shots at once.  You can then use a slider on the entire picture as well as a circular slider on individual faces to make the picture turn out well.  I had an experience just last night where a waitress in a hurry took a group shot.  On first glance it was blurry.  However, I slid the slider left and right to find a non-blurry shot then adjusted the faces for the best smiles.  6 people now have a great picture to remember the night.  In the iPhone camera it would have not been captured nicely. @heyheyz @redscic blackberry

  • john6504

    @digeratidude @TiP_Cam

  • Greggore

    Excellent and fair review.

  • iEATu

    Very nice and fair review. I’ll be coming back to this site. :) I’ll check out your software comparison as well. Although I can’t find it :( I guess you haven’t come out with one yet?