(Note: We received the BlackBerry Q10 just a day and a half before the NDA expired and were thus not able to test it as extensively. Expect an update to this article which will convert it into an in-depth review)
Releasing your flagship phone at the same time as the new Samsung Galaxy could either be looked at as a mighty courageous or a rather foolish move. But that is exactly what BlackBerry has done – the BlackBerry Q10 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 landed in my office on the same afternoon. I’m not going to comment on the state of BlackBerry in other parts of the world but here in the UAE, the BlackBerry is still extremely popular and by that, I mean the older devices. Possibly one of the biggest reasons why so many folks have not moved to an iPhone or an Android based phone is because of the keyboard, and the Q10 brings BlackBerry’s latest BB10 OS to this form factor along with a few updates to the OS itself.
Picking up the BlackBerry Q10 instantly took me to two years back when the Bold 9900 was released. And it felt good. You can tell that BlackBerry has put in all the expertise and experience into building the Q10. The finish feels premium and the device sits beautifully in your hands. Measuring 119.6 x 66.8 x 10.35mm and weighing 139 grams, the Q10 is a bit thinner and lighter than the Bold 9900 but with similar rounded corners and a large keyboard, it can be mistaken for a Bold 9900. As far as ports are concerned, you have the USB and mini HDMI ports on the left and the volume keys along with the pause on the right while the headphone plugs on the top next to the power/lock button. The back side of the Q10 is made of plastic but has a very high quality finish with a 3D printed design that looks and feels quite awesome.
The Q10 runs on the latest version of the BB10 OS from BlackBerry which is 10.1 With a dual core 1.5GHz CPU and 2GB RAM, everything flows smoothly on Q10. Navigating between the Hub and apps is generally an effortless process for the device, although I did run into the occasional “did-my-tap-register” scenari. For storage, the Q10 has 16GB of built-in flash and supports a 32GB microSD card. On the radio side, you have support for LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 with NFC and GPS.
Where the high-end specs take a bit of a turn is with the screen size. At 3.1” (but with an impressive 720×720 resolution that gives it a PPI of 330), the Q10’s screen feels very small. While this will be less noticeable to users of current BlackBerry QWERTY devices, you just can’t help but notice that a bigger screen has somewhat become essential for a modern day smartphone. Being able to see just four tweets or five messages at a glance is just not enough, while watching videos is a lot less fun on a square aspect with black bars all over. Also worth mentioning is that app developers will need to update their apps for the square screen- for example WhatsApp did not show up in BlackBerry World at the time of this article.
The overall navigation is very much swipe-based just like the Z10, however with a smaller sized screen, it becomes a bit harder to use. For example, an issue I kept running into was with scrolling – many times I just wanted to scroll a list or a web page but considering the smaller size of the screen, the Q10 would register my swipe as one to bring up the active frames screen. Also, if you are upgrading from a QWERTY based BlackBerry, you’ll soon learn that old habits die hard and a lot of the functionality that made the older QWERTY based BlackBerry devices so efficient for me is not present on the Q10 in the same way. There are some shortcuts that work such as pressing space for scrolling to the next page ‘t’ to get back on top but not much beyond that.
Even after a full day of day of use, my thumb would just naturally search for the optical pad or the back key that is present on older BlackBerry phones. Keyboard shortcuts such as quickly changing between silent and normal profiles by holding the Q key, or speed dialing a contact by pressing a certain key don’t work on the Q10 either. And that is frustrating as you suddenly need to re-learn everything on a device that looks so incredibly familiar. Instead, you need to learn he new “Type and Go” feature of the Q10 which only works on the apps drawer or the active frames screens and lets you type commands such as “Email Sam” or “BBM Faisal”.
Speaking of the keyboard, it’s pretty much the best keyboard on a phone. While the keys and presses feel very much like the ones on the Bold 9900, BlackBerry has kept the key layout straight instead of the curved one found on the 9900. I prefer the older curved version but I can understand the need to keep it straight as it gives you more space for your screen. As far as the argument of typing faster on a touch screen goes, yes, I will completely agree with that. But for me, the BlackBerry wins on the feel/pleasure of typing on a real keyboard vs tapping on a piece of glass.
Coming to the camera, although cameras have never been a primary selling point for BlackBerry, they’ve generally been functional and acceptable. Over time BlackBerry has constantly improved in both the software and optics they’ve used on their devices and the Z10 is certainly capable of taking some good shots. The Q10 continues to improve by offering HDR capabilities on the camera as well as a 1:1 square aspect capture which can come in handy. Here are some quick shots of my garage comparing the Z10 to the Q10 with and without HDR.
Finally, the BlackBerry Q10 comes with the highest capacity battery that BlackBerry has ever used. When you add that with a smaller AMOLED screen with a black theme, you would expect the battery life from each charge to be noticeably better than competing phones. Unfortunately, I did not get much time to test the battery life of the Q10. As I mentioned, I literally received the phone a day and a half before this article went live which is definitely not enough time to test the battery properly.
The BlackBerry Q10 is exactly the device that QWERTY owners have been waiting for and it should succeed in bringing die-hard keyboard fans to the updated BB10 platform. But once they get there, they will probably realize that a bigger sized screen has somewhat become a necessity for a modern day smartphone. Thus, the responsibility for advancing the BlackBerry platform forward falls on devices like the Z10. I doubt BlackBerry will stop making a keyboard device in the near future, but the fact that the Z10 was released before the Q10 shows that BlackBerry knows where the future is headed.