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BlackBerry, Mobile Phones, Reviews
May 20, 2013 by Dan Nixon
The BlackBerry Q10 is the new flagship QWERTY smartphone from the Canadian manufacturer that combines a physical keyboard with the new BlackBerry 10 operating system.
Despite well publicised issues over the last few years, BlackBerry has continued to work hard in its attempts to pull itself back into the upper ranks of the mobile world. The recently released Z10 won many over with its innovative OS and beautiful design. Now, the company has added a QWERTY version to the mix with the new Q10. But can it reignite BlackBerry’s business credentials or has the boardroom moved on?
Design & Hardware
One look at the Q10 is enough to see that this is unmistakably a BlackBerry handset. From the gently curved corners to the familiar QWERTY keyboard, the family resemblance is obvious. The design comes across as a slightly updated take on the Bold 9900 so it’s nothing revolutionary but, like a well fitted suit, there is an undeniable charm to it.
Get hold of the Q10 and a real sense of premium build quality starts to shine through. The tactile rear panels feel great and the chunky but compact dimensions make one handed use incredibly easy. It is a heavy little beast though, weighing in at almost 140g. To put that into perspective, the Q10 is around 30g heavier than an iPhone 5. That’s not offensively obese, but you can really feel the bulk in your pocket.
Firing up the device reveals its completely square 3.1-inch display. It’s bigger than previous BB QWERTY handsets, but coming from something like the Samsung Galaxy S III this is going to be a real shock to the system. That said, the display runs at a 720 x 720 resolution which means decent quality sharpness for menus, images and even movies.
Sure, handsets like the Samsung Galaxy Note II and Sony Xperia Z aren’t going to lose any sleep over it, but for the QWERTY brigade this display is about as good as it gets.
In the engine room the Q10 has a solid 1.5GHz dual-core processor, ably supported by 2GB of RAM. It’s not going to win any awards for processing power but there’s next to no lag and everything flows very smoothly. Even when carrying out some pretty heavy multitasking, the hardware generally holds up very well.
The onboard 16GB of storage should be adequate for all but the most hardcore of content hoarders. But if you do need a bit more breathing space then an extra 64GB is available via microSD expansion. Although cloud storage is all the rage at the moment it is nonetheless refreshing to see that BlackBerry has at least given its users the options of some good old fashioned hardware storage on the Q10.
An area where the handset doesn’t fare quite so well is battery life. Whereas back in the day a BB handset meant days between plug socket visits, with the Q10 a daily charge is required under moderate usage conditions. Although that is still in line with pretty much every other top end smartphone in the business, it will still be an unpleasant surprise for anyone migrating from an older BB device.
Software & Multimedia
As well as making some key changes to the hardware side of things, BlackBerry has also given its software an overhaul in the shape of the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. Debuted on the full-touch BlackBerry Z10, the platform has been tweaked slightly for QWERTY use but keeps the vast majority of its features.
You can take an in-depth look at the BlackBerry 10 OS by heading over to our BlackBerry 10 walkthrough. But we’ll take a look at some of the headline stuff there too, of course.
The icon-filled menu screen looks not a million miles away from that seen on the BlackBerry Bold 9900, albeit spruced up slightly. However the familiar trackpad so synonymous with ‘Berrys of yore is no more, with navigation instead dominated by screen edge gestures. So, for example to see all of your open apps you can simply swipe up from the base of the screen.
Similarly, a swipe to the right from the menu screen takes you straight into the BlackBerry Hub which is essentially a one-stop shop for all your messaging, email and social network requirements. It might not sound like much on paper, but when used on a daily basis this kind of functionality really does feel incredibly intuitive. So much so, that when returning to non-BB10 devices you soon find yourself craving the simple swipe commands.
On the Z10 this lovely screen-based innovation also included some rather funky keyboard functionality such as predictive text that could be flicked up into a message, and the ability to delete entire words with a swipe.
Alas, that fancy digit-tech is stifled somewhat on the Q10, thanks to its physical QWERTY keyboard, although predictive text is still offered albeit in a rather clunky manner. While it has all the intelligence of the version seen on the Z10, the process of simply tapping suggested words from a list feels almost archaic in comparison.
BBM returns on the Q10, but the landmark messaging service has been beefed up for this latest operating system. Alongside the usual text-based communication, BBM now includes Video and Screen Share functionality. The Video mode is essentially an alternative to Skype and the rather smart Screen Share lets you share whatever is on your screen with a BBM chat friend.
Elsewhere the Q10 is thankfully free from the endless bloatware that seems to infect so many new smartphones. That said, it is quite odd that the company decided to have two competing cloud storage providers (Box and Dropbox) integrated into the device. Beyond that though, it is the standard fare of Foursquare, LinkedIn, Facebook and the like that dominate proceedings.
App availability has always been a bit of a sore point for BlackBerry devices and unfortunately that trend continues with the Q10. Great strides have clearly been made, with key stuff like WhatsApp and BBC iPlayer popping up in the BlackBerry World store, but the whole app experience is still lagging miles behind iOS and Android.
To keep the business-types happy BlackBerry Balance has also been given a spruce up for the new platform, letting users seamlessly move from work to personal mode on their device. While that might sound just a tad boring, the fact that the work side can be completely erased without touching your personal stuff if you should ever change jobs makes it a bit more interesting.
The camera tech built into BlackBerry QWERTY devices has always been somewhat short of the mark, but the Q10 really delivers with a very impressive 8 megapixel snapper. It offers really high quality images, with excellent detail and a level of sharpness never before seen in a phone primarily built for business.
A real highlight of the camera is its Time Shift functionality, which essentially allows you to rewind and fast forward over a small snippet of footage to find the perfect photo. Even better, the feature has face recognition meaning that you can scroll through to find that perfect smile.
While devices such as the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z probably won’t be too troubled by the Q10’s camera capabilities, it is nonetheless a really usable bit of kit and offers an unequalled level of quality in the QWERTY handset arena.
Performance & Verdict
So the Q10 certainly looks like a BlackBerry and it undoubtedly offers the usual business refinements that we have come to expect from the Canadian manufacturer. But it is so much more than that. The brilliant BlackBerry 10 OS is a joy to use once you have got used to it, the messaging integration within BlackBerry Hub is beautifully intuitive and it has even got a decent camera.
Admittedly, the disappointing app availability and limited battery life are less than ideal, but nonetheless this is a really usable phone. If you want a handset that allows you to increase your productivity on the go without sacrificing all the other stuff that goes with a top-end device then the Q10 really is worth a look.
While it might not be quite as innovative or aesthetically appealing as something like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the iPhone 5, the BlackBerry Q10 will not only bring a smile to QWERTY fans faces but also attract a few new users to the BlackBerry stable too.
While it can't really compete with the superphone brigade, the BlackBerry Q10 is nonetheless a very capable handset. If you want productivity on the go with a few bells and whistles, look no further...
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