Feature Article

November 04, 2013

BlackBerry Z30 vs. iPhone 5s: Rethinking What We Want in a Smartphone

As I was going through the features of the new BlackBerry Z30 it hit me that the phone’s problem is that it doesn’t give us what Apple says we should want, it gives us what we actually should want. Somehow the years of brilliant Apple marketing have convinced us that, in a phone, what we want are things a phone really isn’t good for, or at best should be secondary to phone function.  The rolling joke from day one, which I’m finding less funny at the moment because it’s a joke on me, was that the iPhone is great at everything but being a phone. But instead laughing it off the Island Samsung and others have emulated it which means we have a ton of Smartphones which do amazing things but kind of suck at, well, being a phone.   

Granted the Z30 comes out at a time when BlackBerry is under a cloud. As I write this, it appears the firm’s ability to find a buyer or an investor who will take the company private has floundered, but with millions of customers it is still doubtful the firm will fail.  But I think its success will be predicated based on its ability to get us to rethink what we want in a smartphone, switching to what really is important from where we are now.  Let’s discuss this in the context of the Z30 and ask if Apple made us stupid. 


I spent years benchmarking products and there are two parts of a benchmarking exercise that is often forgotten. One is start with a set of requirements, not start with an existing product, and the second is to apply weightings to those requirements because each will have a different importance.   For instance if you were benchmarking cars and you had kids, having adequate safety for your kids would generally rate higher than having a pretty blue display on the stereo system.   You might want the latter but your requirement for the firmer would likely be absolute. This allows you to rank products based on your specific needs.   

Image via Shutterstock

Why a Z30 is Better than an iPhone 5s

On a list of priorities for something with the name “phone” in it should include battery life, wireless range (fewer dropped calls), and for something that is in the Smartphone class, the screen size does matter. Let’s touch on each.

Battery Life: It doesn’t matter if a phone has a pretty screen, tons of apps, or can connect to iTunes if the fricken battery is dead.   Seriously, a decade ago we measured phones on battery life and that was one of the most important aspects of the phone and that battery life was measured in days; and not single digit hours. The Z30 has a massive battery that should again give days of battery life.   

Connectivity: The number of apps and how thin the device is pale against the need to be connected. Having an important call dropped or being unable to connect in the first place. The Z30 has two antennas, not one, and each can be dynamically adjusted to work together to significantly increase range.   This slowed the phone to market because the FCC hadn’t seen this technology used in a phone before and thus increased the review time for the product.

Screen Size: While the BlackBerry Z30 is hardly unique with a 5-inch screen their use of more efficient AMOLED makes it one of the most power frugal contributing to battery life. But in a Smartphone smaller isn’t better, bigger is better because you get more screen real estate to work with.  The market share shift from phones in the iPhones class to ones that have larger screens suggest this, the size of the screen, is a feature people value highly.  

Industry Standard Plugs

In Europe they actually made this a requirement (one that Apple is currently choosing not to comply with) but when you use industry standard plugs you can borrow chargers, share chargers with other products from different vendors, and more easily connect to things like projectors (though, on this last, this is rarely done with Smartphones today.   Having the combination of longer battery life and more power access should be a significant advantage.

Storage Expandability

Also not unique to the Z30 is an SD slot but you won’t find one in an iPhone. If you do want to put movies and music on the device you choice in a phone without an SD slot it to either scrap it for an newer more expensive phone or not do it in the first place. For the cost of an SD card you can add the storage you’ll need to a BlackBerry Z30.


With word that the NSA limitations on spying now consist of dead people, animals, and insects (for now) the idea of a secure phone has suddenly become far more attractive.   It is somewhat ironic that this is what the US President, who is a big Apple fan, uses a BlackBerry himself to keep other governments from spying on him. Security should be a top tier requirement but for most it just isn’t which is why I’ve ended with it.

Wrapping Up: BlackBerry’s Goal

To be successful with the Z30 BlackBerry has to get us to care about what we should be caring about in the first place. Battery life, connectivity, screen size, standard plugs, expandability, and security all of which the Z30 stands out as leading with. It lags on apps but are they really more important than all of this other stuff?  Shouldn’t they be?  I wonder if we should be pissed that Apple made us all stupid. Something to think about this week.   

Edited by Alisen Downey

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