Head-to-Head: BlackBerry Z10 vs. Apple iPhone 5

Can RIM Make a Comeback?

For those who've been wondering whether the new all-glass BlackBerry Z10 can help Research In Motion make a comeback, we can answer with a definitive no. Why? Because on Wednesday, the company announced that it had officially changed its name to BlackBerry. Kidding aside, it was a good move for brand recognition. But will it be enough to reverse fortunes of the company once dominant among the security-conscious and regain the market share now firmly in the clutches of iPhone and Android devices? Read on and decide for yourself.

CPU, GPU and Memory

With its dual-core TI OMAP 4470 system-on-chip, the Z10 starts out in a bit of a hole against iPhone 5's quad-core A6 custom SoC (but it's directly on par with the iPhone 4). Both devices use ARM Cortex A9 application processors; BlackBerry's run at 1.5GHz and Apple's at 1.3GHz. BlackBerry has the edge on system RAM. The BlackBerry 10 OS and its apps will have 2 GB of RAM in which to spread out and run, doubling that of iPhone 5's 1 GB. The BlackBerry comes with 16 GB of storage that's expandable by 64 GB via microSD; iPhone 5 comes with 16, 32 or 64 GB and isn't expandable once purchased. On the graphics front, there's relative parity between BlackBerry and iPhone. Both use multicore PowerVR GPUs from Imagination Technologies and both support 1,080p capture and playback at 30 fps. The BlackBerry's OMAP SoC has the SGX544 GPU with an IVA 3 multimedia accelerator. The A6 chip in iPhone 5 incorporates the PowerVR SGX 543MP3, which Apple claims that when combined with its ARM cores doubles application and graphics performance from the previous generation's A5X, the SoC in iPhone 4.


Until HTC's 8X came around, few major devices even came close to the iPhone 5 in terms of pixels per inch; Apple's Retina set the pixel-density bar high pretty high. But others have caught up, and iPhone 5 has nothing on the BlackBerry Z10 ppi-wise. The all-touch BlackBerry faces life with a 4.2-inch panel putting out 1,280 x 768, which calculates to an eye-popping 355 ppi (355.4, to be exact, which does not round to 356, as reported elsewhere). By comparison, the new 4-inch Retina display on the iPhone 5 puts out 1,136 x 640, or 326 ppi, and the 1,280 x 720 panel of the HTC 8X falls in between, at 342 ppi. All certainly good, but more pixels mean more resolution and less jaggies. Both use hardened glass. By the way, contrary to other media reports, the Z10 is not the first touch-sensitive BlackBerry. A model called the Torch came first, but it never got hot.


At a conference we attended recently, one of the speakers showed a picture of several smartphones on a table side by side -- their screens black -- and asked the audience to identify which was which. They couldn't of course, and that was the point. Without software, one phone looks like the next. Such is the case with BlackBerry Z10 and iPhone 5. Were it not for the brand name emblazoned in silver across its front, the BlackBerry might easily pass for any of a number of today's smartphones.

The latest devices from Apple and BlackBerry are quite similar physically. The Z10 measures 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.35 inches, and the iPhone 5 stretches 4.9 x 2.3 x 0.30 inches. The BlackBerry weighs 4.78 ounces to iPhone 5's 3.95 ounces. Both are encased in metal and covered on the front by glass from edge to edge and top to bottom. Both achieve superb thinness by combining protective glass and touch sensitivity on a single layer atop the LCD.

Cams, Coms And Batts

The iPhone 5 and Z10 both deliver 8-megapixel rear cameras and lots of whiz-bang software to make up for their smallish light-gathering capabilities. Thanks to beefy graphics processors, both can capture video as well as anything short of professional grade gear. To its iSight camera, Apple adds a five-layer lens and something called dynamic smart filtering, which it says is helpful in low-light situations. BlackBerry has TimeShift, which automatically shoots multiple pictures before and after people say cheese, and lets the shutterbug pick the best ones (some versions of Android do this too). Both devices capture 720p video with a 2-megapixel front camera.

Apple and BlackBerry both offer devices for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon carriers; BlackBerry supports T-Mobile too. Both devices include Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, dual-band Wi-Fi, GSM, HSPA, UMTS and LTE radios. BlackBerry adds NFC. BlackBerry is equipped with an 1,800 mAh user-replaceable battery. The iPhone 5 comes with a 1,440 mAh cell that's soldered in. BlackBerry rates 3G talk time at up to 10 hours; Apple claims eight hours.


A major part of the appeal of Apple's devices is Apple's software; it's intuitive, it's stable and if it doesn't do everything that's needed, there's always an app or two that can. To compete with iPhone, BlackBerry has to provide a device that's more than an iPhone clone, technically speaking. Based on the stable and mature QNX operating system, the BlackBerry 10 operating system must go beyond iOS 6. And in some ways it does. Take for example BlackBerry Balance, which provides separate on-device workspaces for personal and business personas. In a stroke, BlackBerry addresses the BYOD dilemma facing many of today's enterprise IT departments, in which employees seek to use their own devices to access corporate data. Other features, including Hub and Flow, are designed with today's multitasking corporate execs in mind. Messaging has been overhauled to include video chat and screen sharing with other BlackBerry users, and the UI has been optimized for one-handed use. Perhaps one day we'll see a camera that reminds users to keep their eyes on the road.

Bottom Line

The iPhone 5 has been selling since September with hundreds of thousands of available apps; the BlackBerry Z10 is set for wide availability in March, and will present about 70,000 apps for download in its BlackBerry World app store. Putting its research in motion, the company formerly known as RIM built a device that spec-for-spec is worthy of the competition it will face. What remains to be seen is whether its legions of loyal corporate followers remain or return to the platform, and whether BlackBerry software -- front end and back -- will be up to the task.