The BlackBerry Q10 is a premium-segment smartphone with a physical keyboard. It is based on the all new BlackBerry 10 OS and has competitive hardware spec to boot. You don’t see a lot of QWERTY handsets these days, in fact in the premium segment the Q10 is at the moment the lone ranger, trying to grab the attention of those who still wish to type on actual buttons. Staying relevant with today’s times, it does have a touchscreen above that keyboard. So, who is this product for? Read on to find out…
A quick glance at the Q10 will let you know that this smartphone is not a run-of-the-mill product. It exudes a personality that matches its price tag. Although aluminium is the preferred choice of material to indicate a phone’s stature these days, the build quality of the Q10 will not leave you unsatisfied. The glass weave texture at the back may not assist in gripping the device better, but it gives the Q10 a unique look which is easily recognisable. Although, I do miss the brushed metal frame running along the sides of its predecessor, the Bold 9900 Touch.
At almost 140 grams, the Q10 is clearly not winning any contests for the lightest handset, nor is it the slimmest. But then that could be because of the shorter height as compared to all touchscreen handsets, which have more vertical surface area to spread its internals across. It is as wide as handsets having a 4.7-inch screen. It is a little too wide for my taste, but looking at how people are adopting huge-screened phones with a seemingly unreal ease, maybe it won’t bother you much.
Fortunately, you won’t be stretching your thumb too much while navigating the touchscreen, as the square-shaped display measures just 3.1-inches diagonally. It’s got a 720 x 720 pixel resolution, translating to 328 PPI, and making it the crispiest display on a BlackBerry QWERTY phone to date. The touch sensitivity is as good as any good-quality capacitive panel. It is of the Super AMOLED variety, as a result of which, the screen has great contrast. The overall dark colour scheme of the interface also complements this type of display. But what you probably lose is the colour accuracy; white elements end up looking a bit dull. The screen isn’t in-your-face bright even at the highest setting, and owing to the rainy season in Mumbai at the moment, I can’t comment on its sunlight legibility. There’s the all-too-familiar blinking LED light above the display. Lastly, being square and relatively smaller than all touch-screen phones, watching videos isn’t a good experience because the contents appear way too small; now that most of the videos we come across are in a wide 16:9 aspect.
The QWERTY keyboard underneath is wide so that your two thumbs won’t keep hitting each other while typing. The keys are laid out in a straight line, unlike the slight curve that the Bold 9900 had between its rows. Coming from the stable of the phone maker who knows how to make good QWERTY phones, there’s no question that the Q10’s keyboard is among the best. The tactility is great and I’d absolutely drool over it if I didn’t have such a hard time typing on it in the first place.
That’s the thing about hardware QWERTY keyboards; after being used to the non-tactile, hammering-fingers-on-glass touchscreen keyboard, it is quite the effort to press buttons again. And thanks to fantastic auto-correcting mechanisms, the need to press the right key to type what you want is optional. Sure, the autocorrect is pretty good in the Q10 too, but its existence cannot compensate for the effort of having to press a button to type out a character. At a point of time I swore by hardware QWERTY boards, but today I am unable match the pace at which I can glide on a touchscreen QWERTY, on a physical one. But then if you use a QWERTY phone and still aren’t convinced by touchscreens, then the Q10’s will be a delight.
The button in between the volume rockers is convenient. It allows for muting calls with one click and even initiate voice commands. On the other side, there’s a microUSB port and a microHDMI port clubbed together. We wonder when industry standards like MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) exist to connect an HDTV to a phone using the microUSB port itself, putting out a separate micro HDMI port seems a bit redundant. Since the phone isn’t very tall, reaching the power button positioned to the top-center is easy.
In the box, you get the charger, USB cable and a headset. The earphones have a rubber gripping that make them fit nicely in the ear. But their audio quality is just about average, so don’t expect them to blow your mind.
BlackBerry Q10 runs the most-recent BlackBerry 10 OS. This is a complete overhaul from the previous version 7.0 OS that powered the Bold 9900. It shares many philosophies from QNX that we first saw in the BlackBerry Playbook tablet. One of those is the highly gesture-based user interactions required to move around. The first reaction that I got from people who used the Q10 was, “How do I go back from this menu?”. The gestures to move around the interface may not be the most intuitive to all. And in case you’re wondering, to go back from any menu to the home screen requires a swipe-up from the bottom of the screen. This gesture gave me a bit of a problem while using it on the smaller Q10 touchscreen, as time and again I’d accidentally end up going to the homescreen when I’m scrolling down.
The lockscreen, other than the usual time and date show icons of apps that have new notifications. The BlackBerry Hub is a collection of notifications shown chronologically in one single place. It puts together your emails, replies to you via Twitter, activity on Facebook, BBM etc. and can be accessed from anywhere by swiping up and right. Again, like we said before, there may be a need to read the user manual to understand these gestures. The interesting thing they’ve done with the ‘homescreen’ is that it is also the multitasking menu, showing you a list of open apps with a tiny close button to kill them from memory. Swipe rightward, and you’ll see the app drawer. Pull down from the top and you’ll get toggles to items that frequently need toggling, like Bluetooth, WiFi etc.
BB10 does look beautiful and a notch above the previous iterations of the OS. The fonts are nice and big, the design of certain elements like the alarm clock app are nicely done. Maybe it is also because of the highly pixel-dense display that’s doing the magic.
Then there are the features that have been dear to the IT department. Stuff like BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) that allows for total management of the device remotely. Then there’s BlackBerry Balance — a system that allows the implementation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to the workplace. It has an interesting way of working; you can switch between Work and Personal profiles instantly, which is a better deal than having to carry a work phone and a separate personal one.
Browsing the Internet may not be as great an experience because of the smaller screen, but thankfully the Browser app packs in a ‘Reader’ mode to capture and show you just the relevant text. The calendaring features are high-tech. The ‘People’ app neatly integrates contacts from the various social and professional networks. Not just that, it even shows you your prior activity with that person in recent times; or even a news feed relative to his workplace.
Having a physical QWERTY keyboard underneath a touchscreen does have some advantages. You can press shortcut keys to perform an action within the app like press ‘R’ to reload a page in the browser. But the coolest thing about the keyboard is that you can just start typing to perform an action — e.g., typing “WhatsApp Rohan” or “Email Annkur” will open up respective applications with those contacts as recipients.
The Voice commands feature is pretty basic — a far cry from the things Siri or Google Now can do; but at least it was able to recognise my accent fairly well.
The UI is spiffy in operation most of the times; we did notice some lag here and there, but reasonable for the most part.
Now that iOS and Android have a lion’s share of apps, it is an uphill task for platforms like BlackBerry 10 or Windows Phone 8 to match up. BlackBerry’s got the basic apps preinstalled; Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc. Certain services may not have dedicated apps but are integrated into BlackBerry’s stock apps. For e.g. there’s a “Connect to Dropbox” which shows your files on the cloud right into the File manager. Or the Remember app which pulls notes from Evernote. And yes, WhatsApp, which wasn’t available initially for BB10, is now there to be used on the Q10.
The variety of apps on the store seemed mediocre at this point. A good number of popular apps people tend to use today aren’t still available for the platform. To cite a few examples — Flipboard, Instagram, Google Maps, Pocket and IMDB. To counter the lack of some of these apps, BlackBerry has provided certain countermeasures. For instance, while the default BlackBerry Maps app doesn’t yet support the Indian terrain, they’re giving out MapMyIndia maps with offline turn-by-turn navigation at no cost.
It’s good to know that Indian app developers have taken an interest in the platform — its good to see Cleartrip, Zomato, Gaana among others there. The selection of games on the BlackBerry World is decent; it has graphics-intensive games that make good use of the modern-day chipset in the Q10.
Camera performance on the Q10, like the Z10 is pretty good, as we suspect both the handsets share the same 8 megapixel sensor. The phone was able to focus on the subject pretty quick, but unfortunately takes a picture right after focusing, leaving you with no option to refocus before clicking a shutter button. The results turned out to be good enough; at par with what we’ve come to expect from high-end smartphones today. The front-facing camera is also pretty clear for conducting video calls; a first-time affair for previous BlackBerry owners. BBM, the popular instant messaging app, also supports video calling now to other BB10 users. Skype at the time of writing also had a preview version of the app on the BlackBerry World that supported video calling.
The Battery Life on the Q10 is reasonable. In our usage, the phone lived a little over a day with moderate usage. Existing BlackBerry users may feel the pinch if they’re used to not having to charge their phones for a couple of days. But then that’s what we get in return for powerful internals and high-resolution touchscreen displays.
The BlackBerry Q10 today sells for Rs. 43,000. It has been said enough and we echo too in revolt of the steep pricing. Having said that, the Q10 interestingly remains to be the only premium phone today with a hardware QWERTY keyboard. So, there can be two target audiences to this product — people who’re wanting to go back to using QWERTYs for some reason, or the high-end BlackBerry users looking to upgrade. Both these type of people, as of today, have only the Q10 to choose from.
For those people, the Q10 is a pretty decent device. It, for all practical purposes is, the best QWERTY phone available today. But then the fact of the matter remains — are you that person? And if you are, would you go the distance and pay Rs. 43,000 for it?