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Hands on: BlackBerry’s Z10 is solid, but is it a savior?

Check out our full review of the BlackBerry Z10 phone.

For pictures make sure check out our BlackBerry Z10 gallery.

There’s a lot riding on the new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone. It’s the first device to launch with the Blackberry 10 operating system and will be the standard-bearer for the revival of the brand. It must stand out in a sea of similar-looking Android phones and convince people that it’s modern enough to compete. And its parents probably want it to go to Harvard and become a doctor someday.

If you project too many expectations on any device it can fall flat. But from our first impressions, the BlackBerry Z10 may be able to stand up to the pressure and fulfill some of the hopes pinned on it. This phone has a solid design, speedy performance, and runs a slick, well-organized OS. Will it be able to stem the tide of BlackBerry defectors and maybe entice new users? Keep reading to find out.

The BlackBerry Z10’s design is reminiscent of the iPhone 5, mostly because it’s about the same size. It feels good in the hand thanks to the gentle curve of the edges on the back and the overall narrowness of the body. The 4.2-inch display extends to the right and left edges, giving the front of the phone an uncluttered, zen-like look. The whole design is like this, from the subtly textured back to the minimal buttons on the edges. The focus is, as it should be, on the display itself.

We’re impressed by the 4.2-inch display’s bright colors and crispness. The pixel dense 1280 x 768 pixel HD resolution also helps. It’s a good canvas for the BlackBerry 10 interface. In the demos, the touchscreen proved sensitive and responsive; however, we did note that the screens got smudgy pretty fast and that impacted performing gestures.

The entire interface is gesture based and can take some getting used to. The gestures themselves are simple and easy to understand and remember, so the learning curve won’t be too steep. Overall, the OS looks like it’s designed to make navigation faster and get users where they want to go efficiently. This is a big plus.

Best example of this? The BlackBerry Hub. BlackBerry has always appealed to messaging fiends most. For those users, the Hub will not disappoint. We like that it can pull messages together from multiple sources – email and BBM to LinkedIn and Facebook – but doesn’t look messy or disorganized or overwhelming. Same goes for contacts and calendar. Messages, appointments, and your connections flow together in a way that makes it easy to parse the tons of data thrown at you everyday.

Another way the Z10 helps calm the chaos is by dividing work and personal stuff with BlackBerry Balance. We’ve seen separate profiles before and like the idea in general. The difference here is that there’s a firewall between the work and personal halves of the phone. Even if you’re assigned the Z10 by your IT department, your boss still won’t be able to peek at what’s going on over on the Personal side. And the Work side is protected by a password and other security measures.

The Blackberry faithful didn’t react well to the last touchscreen-only device from RIM in paert because so many still love the physical keyboard. There will be a phone for those people soon enough (the BlackBerry Q10), but don’t write off the Z10 just because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Our first impression of the new keyboard is very positive thanks to the predictive text, the ability to flick words, and other gestures that make typing easier and faster. It won’t offer the same tactile sensation as a physical keyboard, though accuracy is less of an issue than on other touchscreen devices. That’s the key here.

Setting aside all the baggage of the past and the hopes for the future, our first impression of the BlackBerry Z10 is very positive. The interface is everything you’d expect from a modern smartphone, it’s backed by a ton of apps, the design is light, comfortable, and attractive. Oh, and the screen is beautiful. It’s well worth checking out when it finally comes to U.S. carriers in March.