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New BlackBerry Z30 boasts big 5-inch screen, beefed-up battery (hands-on)

Up close and personal, the BlackBerry Z30's big 5-inch screen, faster processor, better sound, and fresh software looks very compelling.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
4 min read
Editor's note: Read a full BlackBerry Z30 review on CNET UK now

In the flesh, BlackBerry's freshly announced flagship smartphone, the BlackBerry Z30, looks even more alluring than I thought it would. Billed by the company as its biggest, most capable handset ever, on paper the Z30 certainly has plenty of head-turning features such as a large 5-inch AMOLED screen, updated BlackBerry 10.2 software, and a high-capacity battery.

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When I spotted the BlackBerry Z30 at a recent press event in New York, a BlackBerry PR rep's personal unit, I couldn't resist checking it out up close. While the Z30 phone I toyed with briefly was an early model not meant for sale or even formal reviews, I was nonetheless impressed with what I saw. Frankly this is what the previous Z10 handset should have been.

If you were left underwhelmed by BlackBerry's first BlackBerry 10 smartphone, the BlackBerry Z10, you're not alone. Sales figures for the device apparently have been dismal and even the more traditional physical-keyboard touting Q10 didn't exactly fly off store shelves.

With the Z30, however, BlackBerry decided to make a larger splash. Most notable is the Z30's massive footprint and gargantuan 5-inch screen to match. Sure, compared with the latest Android monster devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, Motorola Droid Maxx, not to mention the Galaxy Megas and Xperia Z Ultras of the world, the Z30 isn't that huge.

Still, when stacked up against the BlackBerry Z10 with its smaller stature, and 4.2-inch LCD screen, the Z30 represents a significant departure. Its sizable display, which uses AMOLED technology, is a first for the company and does in fact offer image quality on par with competing superphones. Its 720p HD resolution matches what the Motorola Droid Maxx offers.

I can also confirm that the Z30's display produces vivid, saturated colors and has high contrast. Viewing angles were pretty wide as well, something I look for in big-screened phones since they tend to do double duty as mobile multimedia presenters (much like tablets).

BlackBerry Z30
The Z30 features enhanced stereo speakers. BlackBerry

Another interesting twist is the Z30's array of stereo speakers, which seem to be ripped right out of the HTC One's playbook. BlackBerry doesn't call it BoomSound, though, but instead refers to its audio solution as Natural Sound. And true to BlackBerry's business cred, the Z30's enhanced speakers are touted to not only pump up music and video but also video conferencing and spoken communication as well.

BlackBerry Z30
The Z30 isn't exactly trim using its flip cover accessory Brian Bennett/CNET

Physically the BlackBerry Z30 didn't strike me as overbearing despite its large display. Even using an optional flip cover case, the Z30 unit I handled was relatively lightweight. Perhaps because of its add-on cover, though, the phone wasn't what I would call thin. The BlackBerry representative confirmed, however, that the Z30's stock plastic back cover sits a little closer to its frame and has a textured finish much like the Z10.

Core components
Inside the Z30 is a 1.7GHz processor coupled with quad-core graphics. BlackBerry doesn't cough up more detail than that, but I can read between the lines. This sounds like the same 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU that Motorola's X8 chip is built around. The X8 also relies on quad-core Adreno graphics, which is awfully coincidental. Whatever silicon this is, it's a bump up from the Z10's 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 hardware.

When I grabbed the Z30 and pawed through its menus and applications, it certainly felt responsive. I didn't notice any delays or stutters as I flipped around its various screens.

Brainy messaging
Running the new BB 10.2 operating system, the Z30 has upgraded message handling. Called the Priority Hub, this is the same as the previous BlackBerry Hub found on the Z10 and Q10, only smarter, according to BlackBerry.

The Hub on those phones put all your messages across e-mail, social media, texts, voice mail, and so on in one handy spot. The Priority Hub is designed to take things one step further, intelligently analyzing who you chat with most often and placing higher-priority conversations up top where you'll see them.

Keyboard fanatics will be glad to learn that the Z30 will also feature the well-designed virtual text entry method first offered by the Z10.

BlackBerry Z30
The back of the Z30 sporting its flip cover case. Brian Bennett/CNET

One big battery
BlackBerry devices in my experience have always exhibited excellent battery life, at least compared with power-hungry Android hot rods. The Z30, though, perhaps to bolster its large display, comes equipped with a high-capacity 2,880mAh battery. That's even larger than the Q10's sizable 2,100mAh battery and a lot more robust than the Z10's 1,800mAh power source. More impressive is the claimed 25 hours of "mixed use" BlackBerry says you can squeeze out of the gadget.

Availability and outlook
BlackBerry hasn't announced pricing for the Z30 just yet, but it does expect the device to hit store shelves in the UK and the Middle East next week. It could also end up in "other regions" by the holiday season. I hope that means we'll see the Z30 globally soon, since I'd love to give this gizmo more than just a quick spin.