BlackBerry Q10 Review
(Thanks to BBOS teamsters @johnsreid @mikelcal @TwistMyMind for their contributions to this review)
It's the moment that many BlackBerry users have been waiting for in 2013. The BlackBerry Q10 smartphone is now officially available for consumers! Well, not exactly everyone. Having just launched a week ago, it's currently only available to purchase via the UK and Canada. The U.S. won't see the device in stores till the end of May. The BlackBerry Q10 is the first BlackBerry 10 smartphone with a QWERTY keyboard, and the second BlackBerry 10 device to date. The first BlackBerry 10 device to launch was the full touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 (read our review here) back in January. The Q10 is also the first BlackBerry 10 device to officially run OS 10.1. Version 10.1 brings some nice additions to the OS, but we'll get into that later.
The BlackBerry Q10 smartphone I'm reviewing sells for $249 on contract, and the OS installed during this review is version 10.1.0.1483.
Hardware / Design -
At first glance, youíd think the BlackBerry Q10 was the BlackBerry Bold 9900ís big brother. BlackBerry has taken the iconic Bold form-factor, and found ways to improve its ergonomics feel and usability. The Q10 comes with a 3.1-inch AMOLED 720 x 720 touchscreen display, with a 330 PPI (for comparison sake, iPhone 5 is 326 PPI). Letís take a quick look at the phoneís dimensions:
The device internals include 2GB of RAM, 16GB of memory, a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor & a microSD slot than can be expanded to up to 64GB. This device is a powerhouse, packing a 2100 mAh battery, which is a full 300 mAh more than what the Z10 came with. Youíll also find a 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with auto-focus, and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera.
If you feel that your connectivity requirement will be lacking, donít worry! The Q10 follows in the Z10 footsteps by bringing 4G LTE mobile connectivity, WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0!
On the top of the device, youíll find a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a power/standby key. We were also surprised to see that BlackBerry also included two noise cancelling microphone openings on the top of the phone, which will certainly help in giving a truly HD sound quality when speaking to your loved ones on the phone.
When looking at the right side of the phone, youíll find a volume control similar to the one found on Z10. I was slightly disappointed to see a lack convenience key on the side of the phone, but BlackBerry has implemented so many key shortcuts within the Q10 that this key has become unneeded.
Flipping the phone to its left side, youíll find a microUSB port for charging/data transfer and a microHDMI port for displaying your Q10ís content on your High Def television or other media medium.
When you flip over the Q10, youíll find a glass-weaved backing which makes the device such a breathtaking piece of technology. The glass weave we are told is stronger than carbon fiber. This gives the back cover of the Q10 not only super strength, but also makes it much lighter. Which is needed with that larger 2100 mAh battery adding weight to the device. Now keep in mind, this isn't like piece of glass that can shatter if dropped on the floor. The material feels very much like a very lightweight plastic and is bendable. We are talking more like a fiberglass structure here.
The physical QWERTY keyboard is what mainly distinguishes the Q10 from it's cousin, the full touchscreen Z10. This has be the deciding factor for many users about which BlackBerry 10 device is right for them. However, the Z10 and Q10 have similarities in the keyboard design as well. The main similarity being the frets that run between each layer of keys. This allows for plenty of room to press each key with accuracy. It allows your fingers to move faster without having to be so careful to bump other keys and making mistakes.
Overall I've found myself still being able to type faster on the glass Z10 keyboard. But I've been a full touch user since the first touchscreen BlackBerry Storm smartphone. However, in the little amount of time I have spent with the Q10, I've been able to become quite proficient with it's keyboard layout. With the physical keys, I don't have to watch my fingers when typing to make sure I'm hitting the correct keys. So typing while walking, or moving around, is easier. Being able to lightly place my fingers on the keyboard without accidentally pushing buttons gives me a stronger sense of control as well. The 35 key keyboard is also backlit, making for no issues when typing in the dark.
Even though there is a predictive text mode you can enable on the Q10, I found myself missing BlackBerry 10's predictive text feature on the Z10's virtual keyboard. Having that ability to flick words upward onto the screen to form sentences was very nice for single hand texting. Single hand texting on the Q10 keyboard can be rather challenging, especially when trying to select a number or symbol. The virtual keyboard also has the ability to delete full words with a simple swipe from right to left.
Keep in mind though, having shortcut keys on the Q10's keyboard makes up for it's lack of touchscreen functionality. Here are a few shortcut commands that have made my experience browsing emails and notifications in the BlackBerry Hub much easier:
p - moves to previous message
n - moves to next message
t - navigates to top
b - navigates to bottom
space - scroll down
backspace - delete messages/notifications
Battery Life -
One of the most challenging aspects of the data rich smartphone design is being able to juggle performance with battery life. While battery life is getting better, it's still one of the most sought after qualities for users. Those interested in the Q10 will be glad to know that it packs a nice punch. With a 2100 mAh battery and only a 3.1" screen you'll be happier knowing you can go throughout your busy day without frequent charging. In comparison to the Z10, the Q10's battery is 300 mAh larger.
BlackBerry hasn't just stopped at the larger battery size to get you though the day. They have also implemented dark themes throughout the Q10's OS that allows for up to 25% more savings on battery consumption. BlackBerry Messenger, BB World, and Calendar apps are great examples of these dark themes. The darker screen colors create less work for the processor to render on the superAMOLED screen. But you'll get no complaints from me. I happen to love the darker themes! I'm glad BlackBerry stuck to their roots.
Here are a few battery statistics out of the box:
Talk Time: Up to 13.5 hours on 3G
Standby Time: up to 354 hours on 3G, up to 349 hours on 2G
Audio Playback: up to 61 hours
Video Playback: up to 9 hours
Keep in mind that many factors affect the life of your battery.
Software / User Experience -
The BlackBerry Q10 comes installed with OS 10.1, a nice jump up from version 10.0 that the Z10 is currently running. The Z10 won't see the 10.1 update till later this month. While there isn't any major changes from 10.0 to 10.1, there are some notable improvements that we should mention.
The Q10 feels like it's made for BlackBerry 10 OS. Not that the Z10 doesn't do well, it's just that moving around on the Q10 is much easier. This is partly due to the smaller screen size. I'm talking specifically about peeking at notifications and moving into the Hub. Swiping up from the bottom bezel to peek takes but little movement. As someone who is constantly checking for notifications, I peek very often. This applies to unlocking the device as well. With the Z10, on occasion I found myself having to swipe up from the bottom bezel a few times in order to unveil the lock screen. With the smaller Q10 screen size, this is not an issue.
Here is the list of new additions found in the OS 10.1 update:
- HDR option for taking photos
- PIN to PIN messaging now available and present in the BlackBerry Hub
- APN editing is now enabled
- "Highlights" for text such as word correction on the keyboard are now green, instead of blue
- "Text Picker" has been improved, now allows for easily moving left and right between letters
- New help demos and walkthroughs after initial boot
- "Select All" for broadcast messages is now available
- Ability to turn off alerts for specific applications
- Easier to check for updates in BlackBerry World
- Phone can be fully unlocked at lock screen now with the power button
- BlackBerry World now has options for coupon redemption
- Pasting of phone numbers directly into dialpad
- Installed apps can be opened from with BlackBerry World (No longer shows 'installed' now shows 'open')
- "Type and Go" feature allows you to create an action by simply starting to type on the keyboard (email, text, ect.)
Type and Go
I consider the new "Type and Go" feature the most useful change in the new 10.1 OS update, so I'd like to expand on that a bit more. Essentially, Type and Go allows you to quickly create an instant action that enables you to type something out like "text John" to send a text message to John. This will probably be the most used feature of 10.1, as it makes using the device so much faster. BlackBerry really hit the nail on the head with this feature. You can also use Type and Go to BBM, email, call, ect.
OS 10.1 is definitely a testament that BlackBerry is on the right path with refining the BlackBerry 10 OS. It's going to be exciting to see what other improvements/additions that will be coming to us in the near future. Updates have been pretty frequent, so we know that they are working full steam ahead. OS 10.1 is a great software update for an entirely new BlackBerry 10 platform.
Native Apps -
With the Z10 already being around for some time now, we've seen the BlackBerry 10 apps before. But let's revisit them and see what changes BlackBerry has made to these apps for a square aspect ratio, and with the tweaks found in BlackBerry OS 10.1.
The most impressive update has been the browser. It's nice and zippy, just like the current Z10 browser. In fact, it's probably a little faster due to the smaller screen size. What really makes the browser so compelling though, is the shortcut keys are back! It is now so simple to jump to the top and bottom of a web page again as well as zoom in and out or move forward and back through the history with just the touch of a button. After missing this for just a few months - it's amazing how welcome these shortcuts are to this seasoned BlackBerry users. As well as history and favorites, Reader Mode is also just a keypress away - making the need for menus almost completely redundant.
The HTML5 score remains the same as the Z10, and all the options stand the same. The browser remains one of the key points on the Q10 and delivers the experience well.
The Camera app has had some tweaking to make it Q10 friendly. As well as the standard screen ratios 4:3 and 16:9, the Q10 now boasts an aspect ratio of 1:1. Great for those that love Instagram-esque photos. However, for maximum quality you'll probably want to keep the camera set to 4:3 as this boasts the highest resolution of picture.
Another welcome addition is the inclusion of HDR photos. This essentially takes 3 photos at almost the exact same moment, but with different camera exposure. This allows for some vibrant and rich colors without over-saturating the image as other phones tend to do. The benefit of this is that you now have the option of using the standard camera, or, if you would like to see a subtle but real boost in color, the the option is there.
The following photos show a normal photo, and then an HDR photo. If you look closely, you can see the dark areas of the photo have more detail and color in the HDR version. The effect is subtle, but in some scenarios it can make a huge difference.
Video recording still allows for 720p and 1080p. Have a look at our example below of a nice outside park scene recorded at 1080p:
The phone app has seen some nice tweaks. It seems to load a little quicker, however I'm not sure if that's just because it doesn't have my full call log. As well as this, you now have the ability to paste a phone number into the call screen. This was a little oversight in the original BlackBerry 10 release that has thankfully been rectified now.
Fans of the keypress speed-dial will be delighted to hear that the option to assign letters to a contact is back. However, I had trouble adding a contact to the list with the version that I reviewed and as such it was no use. The fact that the option is there suggests that it will be working shortly.
The calendar is one of the apps to utilize the dark theme. I'm guessing that BlackBerry expect apps like this to be open often, and opt to use the battery-saving scheme.
The calendar now has the navigation pane buttons shunted into the pane menu. To avoid the loss of the double-tap functionality to return to today's date, a new button has been added to bring back that behavior.
Another very welcome addition to the calendar app is that it now supports multiple calendars from Google right out of the box. As soon as you have synchronized your account - the calendars will automatically appear and can be managed from the settings menu simply by checking and unchecking the tick boxes.
One of the sweetest features in the File Manager is the ability to not just access Box and Dropbox, but also access files on your computer. That's right! If you have BlackBerry Link installed on your computers and you are signed in with the same BlackBerry ID, then you can go into the BlackBerry settings and enable BlackBerry Link. Now, when you go into the file manager, your computer will appear in the same list as your Q10, media card and cloud services. The true integration of computer file access is a welcome addition, despite its dependency on BlackBerry Link needing to be open and running on your computer.
The calculator has taken an interesting design twist, as it no longer requires the swipe down gesture to switch between types. Instead, a navigation tab appears at the top allowing you to switch between them. The buttons can also be swiped along to reveal more functionality.
We've lost the animation of the paper tearing away, but that brings focus to the app and functionality itself.
The Story Maker has seen a small face-lift Instead of the options being down the side, they are now in a row along the top to work better with the screen aspect.
Native Apps Summary
The native apps haven't changed massively from the Z10 release, and that's to be expected as it's only been a few months since the official launch of the Z10. It is encouraging to see that the new screen aspect isn't having a negative effect on the core apps. As the calculator shows, it has refocused where the attention is for the better. It's also very encouraging to see new features being snuck in, such as the computer access with file manager. Considering that 10.1 is not a major update in terms of news, it is definitely showing us that BlackBerry will continue to work on the apps we have as they are needed.
BlackBerry World / Apps -
Up from 70K when the Z10 first launched, there are now over 100K apps available in BlackBerry World for BlackBerry 10. However, currently there are just a handful of apps that have been optimized to run on the Q10. Fear not. Most apps built natively, and even some android ported apps will automatically re-size to fit the 1:1 square form factor. The good news is that developers have been on their toes and have been steadily pushing updates for their apps to support the Q10. So far we've heard mostly from content consumption apps, such as NY Times, Flixster, Whatsapp, ect. However, BlackBerry 10 isn't all work. Angry Birds Star Wars has also seen an update to support the square screen size, as well as a handful of other major games from both Gameloft, 10 Tons, Electronic Arts, ect.
Although some may say that the screen is too small to play games or watch movies, I found that the screen size is sufficient enough to enjoy movies and games comfortably. The fact that the Q10 has an quality AMOLED screen makes up for the fact that it is less than half of the screen found on the Z10. Colors on it are sharp, crisp and over all more vibrant. An added benefit is also being able to output content to a larger screen via the micro HDMI port, which makes gaming or watching media all the more fun.
There is also a very nice addition to BlackBerry World with OS 10.1. That's the ability to redeem coupons. Yep, this will not only be a big help for developers looking to promote their apps, it will also be welcome to the consumer looking to get a chance to own the app at no charge. We'll be sure to bring you some awesome app/game giveaways on BlackBerryOS.com with this new coupon feature!
BlackBerry 10 has also gotten the big four apps now. Skype, Instagram, Netflix, and WhatsApp. Yes, Instagram and Netflix need to be sideloaded for now, but they can still be installed and enjoyed. Hopefully that will put a cork in all the haters out there that were constantly complaining about those apps not being on the platform. Going forward, we'll continue to see more major players joining BlackBerry by bringing their apps to the platform. I expect we'll see more great Android ports coming to BlackBerry World this year as well when the BlackBerry 10 platform get's the Jelly Bean 4.0 Android Runtime update.
Let's get down to brass. The BlackBerry Q10 smartphone is going to outsell the Z10. Not because it's a better device. Because it's what the majority of BlackBerry business users and consumers want. And with Team BlackBerry consisting of over 70 million users, BlackBerry's CEO Thorsten Heins has said that they expect to sell "tens of millions" of BlackBerry Q10 smartphones. The Q10 carries that sexy Bold series design that appeals to so many. Sure, the screen is smaller in size. But that doesn't take away from that great multi-tasking and efficient experience that the BlackBerry 10 OS brings to the device. Although I've always preferred full touch devices, the Q10 has definitely won me over.
If you'd like to revisit what I've discussed in this review in the form of a video, watch below: