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BlackBerry Q10 expert review

The BlackBerry® Q10 is the first mobile phone to pair the new BlackBerry 10 software, debuted with the touch-screen Z10, with the QWERTY keyboard that has been BlackBerry's most recognisable feature since it launched its first device over a decade ago. It's the presence of that familiar keyboard that should make the Q10 a much more attractive device to stalwart BlackBerry users who may not quite be ready to make the jump to a full touch-screen just yet.

The Q10 will take the place of the Bold at the top end of BlackBerry's range, but given the differences between operating systems it's not wholly fair to compare the two directly; indeed the Z10 and Q10 really deserve to be judged as brand new devices.

BlackBerry Q10 Review Quick Search

1. Design - Size, weight and screen

2. Hardware - Processor, battery, connectivity, audio and camera

3. Software - BlackBerry OS 10.1 new features

4. Who is this phone for?

5. Verdict

The BlackBerry Q10 in use
Return to form - BlackBerry's new Q10 handset looks more familiar than the Z10 that debuted in Feb this year

Pros

• QWERTY keyboard
• Powerful hardware
• Instant Action is a unique, standout feature

Cons

• Expensive
• Small screen due to keyboard
• Limited app availability

Design

BlackBerry Q10 design
BlackBerry's QWERTY handsets have always had a distinctive design

Touch screens and BlackBerry handsets have had a turbulent history with earlier devices like the Storm and Torch meeting with varying degrees of success. The biggest problem that the earlier devices had was the software itself; it was never designed with a touch interface in mind. As a result it felt something of an afterthought – the OS still didn't really do anything that required a touch-screen. This has changed with the introduction of BlackBerry 10 and the Q10 is fully gesture controlled like the Z10 with multi-touch functionality.

Finally having a fully-featured touch-screen OS means the Q10 has been able to do away with the section of the keyboard that included the track pad, menu and escape buttons. Less space required for the keyboard means that there's more space for the screen, and it's no surprise that the Q10 sports the largest screen yet seen on a QWERTY BlackBerry at 3.1 inches. Whilst it's still going to look small next to a full touch-screen device, that's a significant increase over the Bold's 2.8 inch screen, even before you take into account the extra vertical space.

The device itself feels sturdy and has a nice weight to it, the faux carbon fibre effect on the casing is quite a stylish touch although as with any smartphone a case would be a wise investment, both for protection and also for a little extra grip. Overall I'd say it's easily the smartest looking traditional BlackBerry yet.

Size

Comparing the size of the BlackBerry Q10 and the Samsung galaxy S4
The Galaxy S3 and the BlackBerry Q10 - very different devices for very different purposes

As you can see from the pictures it's noticeably smaller than the Galaxy S3 and it felt fractionally heavier, despite the smaller screen. It's also around 20% thicker than the S3 which actually gives the Q10 a chunkier look that we actually liked a lot. The phone feels solid in its construction due to this level of thickness and extra weight. None of the creaks and groans that the S3 casing tends to offer were present here when sending out emails. All-in-all, the ergonomics of the device seem spot on and BlackBerry have put together a well thought-out handset here that sits well in the palm.

Hardware

Processor and memory

Navigating the BlackBerry Q10
The Q10's high-end internals make for a very smooth experience

At its heart the Q10 is powered by a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 backed up with a healthy 16 GB of on-board storage. That means even without a memory card you've got a decent amount of room for photos, apps and media, however if you need more space the Q10 will take up to a 64GB microSD card. The most noteworthy feature for me was the 2GB of RAM memory, as a common complaint on older BlackBerrys was that they slowed down over time, a problem that was often compounded if you installed a few third-party apps. Now that the Q10 has the same amount of memory as competing handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, that particular gripe should be resolved.

In use it's speedy and responsive, perhaps not really noticeably quicker than the Bold but it’s a much more complex OS, and that extra RAM should make a world of difference once you've let yourself loose on BlackBerry World. However it's difficult to really compare it to anything outside the BlackBerry family as despite many attempts nobody's ever really managed to produce a credible competitor to its keyboard devices.

Multi-tasking

BlackBerry Q10
The handset didn't miss a beat when running multiple apps

Like the Z10 the Q10 excels at multitasking, to the extent that you don't really realise it's happening. The hardware is more than capable of coping with multiple apps and the innovative BlackBerry Flow interface means that any open apps are just a flick of your finger away. Any time you want to see what's open you just sweep up from the bottom of the screen which also adds the currently open app to the list.

Battery Life

I only had the unit for about a day, but was handed it with a full charge, and with moderate usage over a Wi-Fi connection I still hadn't run the battery down when I handed it back. However, we're getting used to the idea of charging our phone's daily these days so as long as it can manage that I can't see battery life being a major concern. There’s also the fact that the screen is half the size of most smartphones, which should help in that respect.

Charging is via mains or USB and since it still has a removable battery you can always do the old fashioned thing and carry a spare if you think you're going to be stuck without an opportunity to plug the phone in.

Connectivity

Connectivity-wise it would probably have been easier to list what the Q10 doesn't have; it's a veritable Swiss army knife! 4G compatibility is pretty much a must-have feature in a top-end smartphone these days and the Q10 duly obliges. In addition to the expected Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth there's also NFC support and a micro HDMI output which should prove particularly useful given the Q10's square screen which isn't ideally suited to video playback when most files will be in 16:9.

Camera

Taking pictures with the BlackBerry Q10
The camera was adequate for a quick snap but won't be the photographer's choice

The 8 MP camera is quick to respond and includes the much publicised Time Shift feature. This allows you to cycle through people’s faces at different points to ensure you get the perfect shot.

You can record full HD video at 30 fps and BlackBerry has also included its Story Maker video editing software so you can tweak your videos on the handset itself without having to download them to your PC first. Whilst it may not perform quite as well as the camera on something like a Samsung Galaxy S3, its a marked improvement on anything BlackBerry has previously given us and certainly usable.

Screen

The screen really is a step up from the Bold, with a bright, vibrant Super AMOLED display. At 3.1 inches it's wider than its predecessor but also much taller with a 720x720 display with a pixel density of 328 ppi ensuring pin sharp images and text. A square screen is a bit of an oddity and isn't the natural choice given that most of our media is in a widescreen format these days, although the physical keyboard means that some compromises have to be made, and the square screen makes the most sense.

Even so it still feels a little cramped for multi-touch operations like pinching and zooming, but less screen height would have made things much worse especially when you take into account the importance of gesture controls on the Q10.

Software

Operating System

This is the first device to launch with version 10.1 of the new OS, which sees some improvements and tweaks to the version we saw in the Z10. It's the same gesture driven interface, however in my opinion the presence of a physical keyboard has allowed BlackBerry to implement what I think is the Q10's “killer app” - Instant Action. If you're a long-time BlackBerry user you're probably used to navigating around using the keyboard shortcuts to quickly jump between apps or navigate around them. Now things have changed slightly with the Q10, and whilst I didn't have the opportunity to test every single one, most of the application specific shortcuts seem to work just as they did on older models, such as R to Reply to a message or C to Compose a message.

Using the QWERTY keyboard on the BlackBerry Q10
Quick searching from the homescreen of the device is a great feature on the Q10

Head to the home screen and it's all changed though - typing on the keyboard now triggers an instant search of the device, searching through your applications from the first letter you type. Instant Action will also recognise commands so you can quickly access certain functions on the handset. It's an incredibly powerful tool and an impressive feature that took me by surprise as I stumbled across it when testing the old shortcuts. The concept itself isn’t exactly new but those kind of search functions still need to be triggered by a swipe or a tap on other phones. The ability to access it directly from the keyboard gives a sense of immediacy that simply isn’t possible on other devices, to the extent that it feels like the most natural way to use the device. It certainly shows that BlackBerry has put a lot of thought into the Q10 and it's not just “a Z10 with a keyboard”.

The gestures for opening and closing apps are easy to use and arguably better suited to the smaller screen as it's easy to trigger them with just your thumb when using the device one handed, something that can be a little tricky on the larger Z10. However the smaller screen also has a downside as I found when scrolling through something like my Facebook news feed I kept inadvertently triggering the gesture to minimise the application. I'd imagine that's something that would become less of an issue once you get used to the device though. I did find the OS a bit “sticky” at times too, it sometimes seemed to get confused as to whether or not I wanted to scroll the screen or select the thing I'd just touched. This was a pre-release device though, and those are the kind of niggles that you would expect to be addressed by launch, or at worst in a software update.

Bundled Apps

Using Facebook with the BlackBerry Q10
Social networking is no longer an afterthough on the lastest BlackBerry handsets

The Q10 comes pre-installed with apps for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as 5GB of free cloud storage with Box.net. In addition the new “inbox”, the BlackBerry Hub, allows you to access all your different accounts and messaging services from a single app.
Productivity-wise, Documents To Go is a welcome addition for anyone that needs Microsoft Office support and will be instantly familiar to existing BlackBerry users.

The BlackBerry Maps do seem to be lacking a little in detail, though it is worth noting that we did have a pre-launch evaluation device so this may well have improved when the device goes on sale.

One thing that proved a little disappointing was the BlackBerry World app store. BlackBerry has certainly improved on the old App World but there still seems to be a lack of apps available compared to the other smartphone platforms, and some of the apps are a little pricey. However the OS is still in its infancy and hopefully this will improve as the developers get more comfortable with the platform. There is also the issue of the screen, a square is an unusual shape. It’s possible that some apps may miss out as developers find they simply don’t really work that well on it.

Who is the blackberry Q10 for?

BlackBerry Q10 mobile phone side view
BlackBerry have done well in bringing their classic device into the new smartphone era

I think it's fair to say that this is the handset long-time BlackBerry users will have been waiting for. Whilst its has have a loyal customer base the old software has started to look tired and dated, whilst the hardware simply hasn't quite had the horsepower to deal with the demands of today's connected world. While the Z10 felt very much like BlackBerry's attempt to gain new customers in an already crowded market, it is very much on home ground with the Q10, and in my opinion it's a much stronger device because of that.

It's by far the most successful marriage of touch-screen and QWERTY yet, and possibly the only handset that actually manages to make it work. Finally the touch-screen isn't an afterthought, it's an integral part of how the device functions.

I set up a couple of social networking and mail accounts so I could get a feel for BlackBerry's much heralded Hub, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use. It's not really a ground-breaking feature in that we've seen similar interfaces on other platforms, but it still does a great job of keeping all your notifications and messages in one place, yet at the same time making it simple to filter out the ones you don't want to see.

Older BlackBerrys sometimes suffered with applications and the jump to 2GB RAM is most welcome in that respect. The new OS does mean that “power” BlackBerry users will have to go through a period of adjustment, but I think that once they've become accustomed to the differences they'll find the Q10 is a welcome improvement.

Verdict

I'll start by saying that although I've never really been a BlackBerry fan, I've always had a grudging respect for their impressive functionality and also for their part as a key player in defining the modern mobile world we live in. However, I was eager to see what they would come up with as a response to the fierce competition it now faces in a market sector it once dominated, and whilst the Z10 left me a little underwhelmed I was genuinely impressed by the Q10.

BlackBerry Q10 competition
The Q10 inbetween the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 but are they the real competition?

The Q10 is a bit of an enigma, in that there's not a lot to compare it with. If you want a touch-screen phone there's a wealth of choice, but if you want a physical keyboard then it’s pretty much a BlackBerry or nothing. However in the last couple of years it’s become evident that the physical keyboard alone wasn't going to be enough to ensure BlackBerry's market share as its users were tempted away by big touch-screens and swooshy interfaces. To its credit, BlackBerry has responded to that, and whilst the Z10 maybe struggles to truly stand out in a crowd, the Q10 pretty much has the stage all to itself. There's certainly no identity crisis here; it's a BlackBerry through and through and that self-assuredness will resonate strongly with existing users who had been patiently waiting for their next generation of handsets.

Historically, BlackBerry handsets have been renowned for being “serious” devices. They may not be the prettiest or the easiest to live with but they are veritable powerhouses when it comes to dealing with large volumes of communication and productivity tasks. The Q10 thankfully doesn't compromise on that functionality, but with it BlackBerry has finally produced a device that delivers it with the powerful hardware and sleek interface users have come to expect from a modern smartphone. Quite simply, if you’re a ‘power user’ that wants a keyboard, this is the only game in town.

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