In a smartphone world saturated with huge full HD screens, quad-core power and fancy camera tech, you’d be forgiven for missing the entrance of the QWERTY keyboard-toting BlackBerry Q10. But for all the bells and whistles that phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are packing, we still see plenty of BlackBerry loyalists clinging onto their Bolds and their Curves, thumbs tapping away with instinctual ease, waiting for their new messaging messiah.
While the Z10 impressed us with its fresh-faced BlackBerry 10 OS, the Q10 in many ways feels like the true BlackBerry flagship. But is its old-world charm, coupled with the new BB10 OS, enough to ensure its survival among the hulking smartphone giants? Let’s find out.
Design and Build
The Q10 is instantly recognisable as a BlackBerry handset and resembles the company’s traditional Bold handsets from years gone by, with a solid build quality that matches that of the Z10. Take a closer look however, and you’ll notice a few changes.The business side of the Q10 is dominated by a 3.1in display that rests on top of the iconic BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. It’s BlackBerry’s largest keyboard to date, thanks to a straight design made possible by the removal of the trackpad, whose services are no longer required thanks to BlackBerry 10 OS’ excellent gestures.
The BlackBerry Q10 isn’t the slimmest phone around, measuring in at just over a centimetre. Coupled with its 139g weight, though, the Q10 is a well-balanced phone that sits comfortably in the hand. Its short build also means that one-handed use should pose no problems for even tiny-handed users.The rear of the Q10 is slathered in a very attractive patterned ‘glass weave’ material that’s smooth yet grippy to the touch and resembles the Kevlar back of the Motorola Razr HD. Glass weave is said to be thinner, lighter and stronger than plastic and our Q10 has already survived a couple of accidental drops.
The metal fret beneath the camera is a nice little touch, designed to raise the lens off the table to avoid scratches.Sliding off the back cover reveals a replaceable 2100mAh battery, micro SIM and micro SD card slot, offering plenty of flexibility for power users and media junkies alike. Micro USB and HDMI ports grace the left-hand side, while the volume, power and play/pause buttons grace the usual top and righthand side.
Tiny. Miniscule. Petite. Dinky. However you phrase it, the BlackBerry Q10’s 3.1in screen is a postage stamp compared to the likes of its 4.3in Z10 sibling, the 4.7in HTC One and the 5in Samsung Galaxy S4. Then again, it’s still larger than the BlackBerry Bold 9900’s 2.8in screen, so there’s a little more space for loyal BlackBerry users to play around with.
The Q10’s screen is also BlackBerry’s first AMOLED display, and it offers the same punchy, vibrant colours we’ve come to expect from OLED screens. Its 720x720 resolution serves up an iPhone 5-beating 330ppi and it easily bests the BlackBerry Z10 in the brightness and outdoor visibility department. You’ll still find yourself having to zoom in to read text in the excellent browser, but it’s easily crisp enough to read without straining your peepers, especially with the handy reader mode, which strips away images and lets you resize text any way you see fit.
Size aside, the BlackBerry Q10’s 1:1 ratio square screen means that you won’t be happy using the Q10 as your main video consumption or gaming device. Rectangular videos on a square screen simply do not work, and there’s no landscape orientation to save you. You’ll definitely want a companion tablet for long commutes to take advantage of a larger screen and wider aspect ratio.
The BlackBerry Q10 packs the same 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM as its Z10 brother, which means you’re never left wanting for any extra grunt. Menu transitions and slick gestures are a consistently fluid experience and application lag and stuttering simply doesn’t exist in the Q10’s world. General use is therefore a pleasure, and offers in some ways a slicker experience than the Samsung Galaxy S4, which we found to be a bit laggy at times. Games offer a similar experience, with Need for Speed Undercover and Stick Tennis posing no problems.
Need for Speed showcased a benefit of having a physical keyboard as certain controls like braking and boosting could be activated by the keypad, saving us from prodding at the screen. We couldn’t test spec-hungry games like Real Racing 3 on the Q10 however, as it’s currently absent from BlackBerry World (more on that later).
The Q10’s camera is quick to start up and we’re fans of being able to use the space key or volume keys as a shutter button. Shots with the Q10’s 8MP camera provide plenty of detail, though not quite as much as photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy S3, whose photos also have more vibrant colours.
The Q10’s BlackBerry OS 10.1 also has a useful HDR function built into the camera that offers very noticeable improvements and extra detail in photos with varying levels of contrast. The handy Z10’s TimeShift feature is just as fun to use as before, allowing you to rewind or fast forward people’s faces to create perfect (or goofy) shots, depending on your mood.
The plethora of different options and settings available on Android handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are missing however, and the Q10 can’t compete with the HTC One’s Ultrapixel sensor in lowlight conditions. You can shoot video and snap photos at a square aspect ratio, though we’re not sure why you’d want to.
BlackBerry 10 OS
The BlackBerry Q10 is running a slightly newer version of the BlackBerry 10 OS found on the Z10 and we’re just as smitten with its gestures as before. Flicking up to reach the homescreen, to the right for apps and to the left for the unified BlackBerry hub, is just as addictive as ever.
Coupled with the Q10’s excellent physical keyboard, the hub is an even more powerful all-in-one messaging centre, serving up all your messages, emails and social network inboxes onto one super-charged silver platter. Replying to texts, firing off emails and tweeting friends all blend into one whirlwind session of smooth productivity and Android, iOS or Windows Phones all seem clunky and slow in comparison. And at the heart of all this is, of course, the legendary BlackBerry keyboard, which makes up for its screen-hogging antics with genuinely useful keyboard shortcuts.
You can, for example, use a plethora of keyboard shortcuts within the messaging hub to delete, reply or forward emails. Even better is the ability to call, text, email, tweet (and more) right from the home screen. Typing ‘call Mike’ and hitting enter will have you ringing him up in an instant. Typing ‘tw’ and hitting space will instantly let you jet off a Twitter update into the ether. And those are just a few of many examples. Once you’ve mastered the many shortcuts that the keyboard offers, you will truly become a messaging god among touchscreen keyboard mortals. And as for the keyboard itself…
Initially, using the Q10’s QWERTY keyboard felt a little like riding a bike after years of absence. We were shaky at first but managed to wobble along without major incident, helped greatly by the excellent word prediction (which was oddly turned off by default).
After a few days however, we became addicted to the Q10’s physical keys and were churning out emails, text messages and even entire articles without a second thought. There’s something special about using a physical keyboard that our thumbs had forgotten and we found ourselves relishing in the fact that long email replies no longer had to be a chore.
In practice, we found that typing on the BlackBerry Q10’s keyboard was slightly slower than using the onscreen keyboard of the Z10 or SwiftKey on Android. Having said that, we found that we made far fewer mistakes with the Q10’s physical keyboard when using the onscreen predictions – a trade-off we were more than happy to make. We’re sure that veteran BlackBerry users will blitz our typing speed and will feel right at home on the Q10’s even larger keyboard, and we can confidently say that those who demand physical keyboards will be ecstatic with BlackBerry’s best offering to date.
BlackBerry World apps
BlackBerry World’s app selection has improved since our Z10 review, but it still can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the number of quality apps available on the Apple App Store or Google Play. Not only that, but we found that the Q10 actually had fewer apps available than the Z10 at launch, thanks to the extra tweaks required by developers to cater for its 1:1 ratio square screen. Within the first week of receiving the Q10 however, most of the apps that we used on the Z10 were available, much to our relief.
While big names like WhatsApp and Skype are now available in BlackBerry World, the list of absentees is hard to ignore. Spotify, Google Maps and tonnes of other big-name apps and games are noticeably absent and you’ll definitely feel the sting if you’re used to having 30+ apps on your handset.It’s worth noting that we managed to sideload an Android version of Google Maps onto the Q10. All it takes is a quick Google search and ten minutes with a windows PC, so if you’re constantly getting lost and don’t want to rely on BlackBerry 10’s sub-par Maps app, there is at least a work-around.
A large 2100mAh battery, small AMOLED screen and dual-core processor gave us high hopes for the BlackBerry Q10’s battery life, and it didn’t disappoint. It lasted much longer than the BlackBerry Z10 in day-to-day use, and powered through till bed time after a long commute and plenty of screen-on time throughout the day. With Wi-Fi and syncing on, it dropped 10 per cent overnight in 13 hours after a particularly long sleep, giving us confidence in a night away from a charger.
In some ways, it’s easy to call the BlackBerry Q10 dead on arrival. With a comparatively microscopic screen that makes videos an eye-squinting chore and an app store sorely lacking, it’s a wonder why anyone would want one. Especially when comparing its £530 price tag to that of the £280 Nexus 4, £580 Samsung Galaxy S4 and £510 HTC One.
But let’s put things into perspective. The Q10 is BlackBerry’s first QWERTY resurrection. It’s a true BlackBerry, for BlackBerry people. For those whose thumbs have expertly navigated the curves and bumps of its legendary keyboard over the years. For those who place communication, multitasking and efficiency above all else. For those who want to get stuff done as fast and possible, with the best smartphone keyboard ever made. Yes, the rest of us promiscuous downloaders will be flittering between 50 apps while enjoying larger videos, and extra-speedy GHz-packed processors, but those things, to true BlackBerry die-hards, mean nothing.
This is the phone the BlackBerry faithful have been waiting for, and it delivers in spades, earning a slot in our hallowed Top Ten list of the best smartphones money can buy.
Review by Esat Dedezade