The candy bar QWERTY has been one of my favourite form factors since I first laid my hands on the Nokia E71. It helped that the E71 was super slim, solid and had amazing battery life, but the tactile keyboard held me back from switching for quite some time.
Since those days a glass slab has been my device of choice, be it iPhone or more recently Android. It’s easy to see why, considering the ratio of consumption over creation they are typically used for. Intelligent keyboards like the brilliant SwiftKey for Android further bolster the argument that the hardware keyboard is best left to history when it comes to smartphone devices.
But there are plenty of people who don’t agree, and none could be more vocal than the online community of Blackberry faithfuls. It’s surprising just how little time has passed since the Blackberry was the go-to device for the businessperson who needed to stay connected and communicate on the run, whether it’s sitting in a cab or a waiting room.
The term “Crackberry” is quite apt, considering how true die-hards loved their Blackberry’s, in large part to that smiley QWERTY keyboard that made RIM a star.
Those days are gone, replaced with the afore-mentioned black slabs of almost a single description: a glass front dominated by display and little else.
Attempting to stem the loss of customers to the iPhone’s and Galaxy’s of the world, Blackberry 10, RIM’s excruciatingly long-awaited mobile OS for the present day, launched on a black slab called the Blackberry Z10.
Much to the disappointment of the thumboard faithful, the Z10 relied on a capacitive touchscreen and Blackberry-designed software keyboard, with a few neat features to speed tactless typing. While it’s a nice piece of hardware, with a compact design and nice display, it wasn’t the Blackberry people were waiting for.
That honour was bestowed upon the Blackberry Q10.
The BlackBerry Q10 is one of the nicest devices to hold in recent memory. It has a solid, quality feel that is lacking in many similarly priced devices (the Galaxy S 4 being the notable offender).
The Blackberry Q10 would like right at home in the old Blackberry 7 line-up. An understated black finish (though white is available as well), a square display and frets separating the rows of keys make this distinctly a Blackberry.
The rear of the BlackBerry Q10 has a soft touch, rubberised texture that makes it exceptionally grippy in hand. The carbon fibre weave design is reasonably attractive, with a BlackBerry logo the only label to be found.
Above another fret are an 8-megapixel camera with auto focus, and an LED flash.
Along the left side are the microUSB and microHDMI connectors. Personally I prefer connectors like this to be at the bottom, but at least they are high enough that they don’t get in the way when using the Q10 while charging.
To support the vast number of 3G, 4G, GSM and CDMA networks around the world, the BlackBerry Q10 comes in five different models depending.
Under the hood of my SQN100-3 version is a dual-core 1.5Ghz processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage. The microSD slot will happily take a 64GB card to push storage up to 80GB. As usual Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and NFC all make an appearance, though wireless charging does not.
While mobile hotspot functionality has been baked into devices for several years, wireless file sharing still tends to require a 3rd-party app. BlackBerry has included it in the operating system, quite a handy addition.
This model sports quad-band 3G HSPA+ on the 850/900/1900/2100 bands, along with 4G LTE on the 800/850/900/1800/2600 bands.My testing was done on the Telstra network here in Australia, which has decent 4G LTE coverage where I spend most of my time, and exceptional 3G HSPA+ elsewhere.
Compared to the latest and greatest Android crowd, the BlackBerry Q10 is pretty squat at only 12cm tall (down 1.7cm on the HTC One for example).
Unlike the Bold 9900 that preceded it, the display is square rather than 4×3 landscape. Where the Bold 9900 combined a touchscreen display with BlackBerry’s the usual four keys plus a touchpad, the display on the BlackBerry Q10 extends all the way to the keyboard.
In exchange we get a bump in resolution up to 720×720. As a Super AMOLED panel, contrast is excellent with deep blacks, but the brightness is rather lacking. Sitting next to the superbright HTC One, it’s downright dim.
At this resolution and display size the pentile matrix isn’t fully obscured. You have to head to 1080p on a Galaxy S 4 to make that happen.
While the Q10’s screen may have a reasonable density, it is significantly smaller than most smartphone displays. Even entry-level or “mini” versions of flagship phones have hit 4-inches. While I think it can be adapted to, as you’ll read below, software shortcomings are ultimately the problem.
Below it is the famous BlackBerry QWERTY, who has a loyalty likely matched only by the ThinkPad.
This new device brings an update to the classic QWERTY design. Previous flagship BlackBerry’s have had a keyboard shaped like a smile, in line with the way your thumbs move across the keyboard when held with two hands.
The BlackBerry Q10 has straightened things out, with nary a kink in their alignment. It’s obvious this is due to the square display, as the previous keyboard wrapped around the four buttons plus touchpad that didn’t have to be straight.
In a way, it more resembles my old Nokia E71, which also had a straight keyboard.
While it may have given up something in ergonomics, it hasn’t lost any of its tactility. The keys have a solid action, with feedback only hard keys can provide.
Each key is slightly raised, providing a target for your thumbs to hit, and all but a few keys are multi-functional.
After a few hours of use getting reacquainted with this old-style method of input, typing speeds were good, with a surprising satisfaction that’s lacking from virtual counterparts.
Where the Q10 keyboard falters is with auto correction. My keyboard of choice on Android is Swift Key, largely due to its impressive predictive and auto correction abilities.
Often no more than one or two letters are necessary before the word I want appears as the first prediction, only requiring a press of the space bar to complete.
While the Q10 offers similar functionality, it’s not nearly as fast or easy to invoke. Auto correction will sort out the usual typos, but prediction required moving your finger off the keyboard and tapping on a suggestion above it. I found my typing speed dipped significantly when I was keeping an eye on these predictions, so it made more sense to ignore them (or disable them) and type full words.
The 8-megapixel camera takes decent photos, but it’s not particularly a highlight of the Q10. The interface is minimal to the extreme, with not even a shutter button on-screen.
Tapping the image will snap a picture, much to my initial confusion. Focus selection is accomplished by dragging the square to your desired point, rather than simply tapping like on other platforms.
It’s impossible to look at the Q10 without looking at the OS, since it’s the first QWERTY device running the still relatively new BlackBerry 10 OS.
Ironically, BlackBerry 10 relies on gestures rather that hardware keys for navigation around the OS. There is no home key, back key, scroll wheel or touch pad.
A swipe up from the base of the screen when the Q10 is off will bring up a sort of lock screen. If you swipe all the way up the Q10 will immediately unlock.
When the Q10 is on, a swipe up will bring you back to the task switcher. Running applications are arranged as a grid of cards, and can be closed by pressing the X on each card.
A swipe to the left displays the launcher, with all your installed applications. They can be rearranged and put into folders to make access faster.
A swipe up and to the right will bring up the BlackBerry Hub. A feature of BlackBerry’s forever, the Hub ties together all your communication sources into a single, scrollable list.
There are other swipes depending on the application you’re in. A left swipe in an app might reveal a side menu, same with a right swipe. In apps brought over from Android, swiping from the bottom right to the middle left invokes “back”
Swiping down from the status bar (when display) offers up toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Alarms, Notifications and a link to the Settings menu.
It takes some getting used to, and often a lot of trial and error is required to find all of the swipe actions available in any given app.
A lot of BlackBerry 7’s design can be spotted in the BlackBerry 10 OS. Similarly flat iconography in the Settings menu, colourful icons elsewhere, and smooth simple fonts.
Setting up messaging and social accounts is simple using the wizards, with the BlackBerry Q10 quickly configuring all my Gmail features (email, contacts and calendar) correctly with no fuss. Impressively, I didn’t have to jump through any hoops to have all 6 of my Google calendars show up.
The Q10 has received some tweaks to better take advantage of the AMOLED display, including black backgrounds on apps like Contacts and Calendar. Since AMOLED uses no power to make black, it supposed to reduce consumption.
The BlackBerry Hub is easily one of best features on offer. While Android users like myself are still waiting for Google to bring unified inbox to the Gmail app on their own platform, the BlackBerry Hub takes things so much further.
My main points of contact on my smartphone are SMS, several email accounts, Facebook and Skype. All of them are included in my Hub, in a scrollable time-ordered list.
When the Q10 pings and the large notification LED starts flashing, the Hub will have the message waiting. No more sifting through multiple applications, everything is collated into a single app.
Tapping a Facebook message doesn’t open the Facebook app, just a message window with the conversation and the ability to reply.
The same goes for emails and text messages, they all are just a swipe back to the Hub. The experience is smooth and useful, though a scroll wheel on the side would be a joy for navigation.
The Mobile Hotspot feature has a few extra features too, including data monitoring so you can see just how much of your allowance you’re using and an automatic timeout to save battery.
Multimedia is well taken care of, with generous support for video and audio formats in the simple-but-effective standard players.
Watching widescreen video on the Q10, however, is somewhat comical.
Unfortunately it’s the bulkiness of the interface itself that ultimately makes the Q10 something of a chore to use.
The issue is the size of the toolbars and on-screen buttons. In most cases they are quite large, and don’t disappear out of sight when consuming information.
Take email for example. Many emails these days are effectively web pages, with complex layouts, graphics, and blocks of text everywhere. When viewing an email, the content has to fight for screen real estate with the immovable status bar, email header and bottom toolbar, leaving perhaps two-thirds of an already small space.
The same goes for web browsing, where the address bar takes up valuable pixels unnecessarily. Heck, even on my 4.7-inch HTC One the address bar slides out of the way.
Facebook is a bit of a joke too, with two toolbars taking up space on the News Feed, even when scrolling.
It constantly felt like I was looking through the slot of a letterbox when trying to consume any sort of written content on the BlackBerry Q10.
Interface aside, the BlackBerry 10 OS is smooth, with a notable lack of lag, and a smooth fluidity to all animations.
The built-in applications make use of the unified approach too. The Contacts app, for example, will pair up your Facebook friends with their contact, displaying their latest profile picture and messages exchanged. Yet again cluttered screen syndrome rears its head, though the toolbar finally operates as it should and disappears when you scroll down.
The app “situation” is obviously the other sticking point for the Q10. Running a new OS, in a new form factor, no all of your favourite apps from iOS or Android are going to be running on BlackBerry 10 yet.
Pandora is one of my regularly used apps, and as yet it’s not available on BlackBerry 10. A converted version of the Android app (running on the that’s floating around was a failure on my Q10 too, locking up the audio hardware requiring a restart. The same goes for TuneIn Radio.
There aren’t any other web browsers that I could find either, so you’re stuck with the stock browser’s crowded interface for now.
There were some apps that worked great, though. The Google Talk app integrates nicely with the BlackBerry Hub, though it does open the Talk app to respond to messages.
Much to delight of many on the interwebs, Skype has been brought over, and works very nicely on the BlackBerry Q10.
Put simply, there is a lot to like about the BlackBerry Q10.
As a day-to-day communications device, the BlackBerry Q10 excels. Cramped screen aside, phone calls and messaging are strong points for the Q10. Calls were clear, with excellent noise cancellation and a loud speakerphone. Fortunately, the speaker is located the bottom, rather than the back of the Q10, so it doesn’t matter what it’s sitting on.
Battery life is another strong point. With a sizable 2100mAh battery powering modest hardware, the BlackBerry Q10 can quite easily go a few days on a charge, or over a day of heavy use. Should you need even more life, the battery can be swapped out for a fresh cell.
Will the BlackBerry Q10 continue as my daily device? In short, no.
For me, the biggest problem stems from the BlackBerry Q10’s poor use of what little screen resolution it offers. Menu bars that take up too much room and don’t disappear are largely to blame here, something that could easily be fixed in a software update.
More options for the predictive text could also improve typing performance, much as it has done for virtual keyboards. Having to move your fingers off the keys up to the display to complete words breaks the flow.
Fortunately these issues are all in the software, and could be rectified in an update. When that day comes, the BlackBerry Q10 will be a much better device.
The BlackBerry Q10 is available unlocked and on contract on carriers around the world.
MSRP: ~$620 unlocked, $199.99 with two-year contract from AT&T or Verizon
What I Like: Quality feel; excellent keyboard; excellent battery life
What Needs Improvement: Software design is too bulky for the small screen; word predication could use some tweaking
Source: Personal Purchase