Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
BlackBerry Q10 smartphone
This businessman’s 'Berry is very well built, but the software isn’t there just yet
- The best phone keyboard around
- Great battery life and call quality
- Excellent build quality
- Screen aspect ratio is odd for Web browsing
- App library has major holes
- No trackball or scroll wheel
BlackBerry’s classic smartphone -- and the Q10 is classic in its design, features, and limitations -- is revitalised with a more accessible interface, an app store, and a few new tricks. The Q10 is a perfectly usable phone, especially for business purposes, but it’s hamstrung by an app store that feels empty.
Price$ 698.00 (AUD)
BlackBerry has had a rough couple of years. The company was caught off guard by the runaway success of Apple’s iPhone, and the swathe of Android phones of all shapes and sizes, that have swept up nearly all market share of mobile sales worldwide.
Years in the making, the BlackBerry Z10 is the company’s attempt at making an entirely touchscreen smartphone, with BlackBerry’s proprietary operating system, to compete with the iPhone and the best of Android. The Q10, though, is its best guess at a compromise between its app-driven, touch-powered competitors and the BlackBerries that its loyal customers love.
BlackBerry Q10: Design and features
The BlackBerry Q10 is a very well designed and constructed phone. That’s no real surprise — the idea behind the mobile-phone-with-QWERTY-keyboard has been around since 1999, so the Q10 is the result of 13 years of evolution, trial and error.
More than half of the face of the Q10 is devoted to the phone’s 3.1-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen, which is square — with a resolution of 720x720 pixels. It’s an excellent screen, with high maximum brightness, a relatively smart auto-brightness setting, and good contrast courtesy of the OLED technology. The high pixel density means that text is smooth, and legible at small sizes — crucial for a phone that’s probably going to be used to read a lot of Web pages and send a lot of emails.
Below the screen is the Q10’s physical, push-button, QWERTY keyboard. It’s been quite a while since we used a phone with real keys, and the sensation is a nice surprise. The Q10’s keyboard is great. The buttons have a solid click when pressed, the scalloped design of each key means they’re easy to find, and the layout is simple and intuitive. If we had a complaint it would be that the keys are smaller than the on-screen keyboard of any Android phone with a screen of 5 inches or above — and even the iPhone’s keys are slightly taller, if skinnier. The physical presence means you don’t need to look at what you’re typing, though, as long as you’ve had a little practice.
The Q10 is a business-y smartphone, and it’s got the ports and buttons to suit. The microUSB charging and sync port is half-way up the left side, near a microHDMI that might come in handy for impromptu video presentations or slideshows. The left side has a three-way volume/camera/contextual button layout, which also kick-starts the voice control function. Up top, there’s a headphone jack and the power/lock button.
Voice control works well for calling your contacts, but doesn’t seem to have a deep level of integration with apps — say ‘Maps’, for example, and the Q10 will ask if you’d like to “search the Internet for ‘maps’”, rather than taking you to the Maps app.
The carbon-fiber-look cover on the rear of the Q10 is removable, letting you access the smartphone’s microSIM and microSD slots, as well as remove the 2100mAh battery. Although we found the battery life entirely acceptable in the Q10, the option to switch out the battery half-way through a busy workday might come in handy for some.
The only other feature on the rear of the Q10 is the phone’s 8-megapixel camera. It’s not going to have the same quality as the cameras on the top Nokia Lumia, the latest Samsung Galaxy, or HTC’s UltraPixel snapper on the One, but it takes reasonably clear, quite vibrant photos as long as you’re in bright or moderately bright conditions.
Interestingly enough, our test Q10 was set up to capture photos in the 1:1 square format at 2448x2448 pixels, rather than the maximum 4:3 3264x2448 pixels the camera is capable of. There’s an HDR mode as well as burst and high-speed settings, a few scene settings if the Auto mode doesn’t cut it, and a LED flash near the lens. There’s also a 2-megapixel. 720p-capable front-facing camera that should be more than capable of clear and detailed Skype or BBM video chat calls.
BlackBerry Q10: Software, apps, specs, and performance
The BlackBerry Q10 has specs that place it in line with the best smartphones we’ve seen so far in 2013. It’s powered by a quad-core, 1.5GHz processor, has 2GB of RAM, and has 16GB of internal memory with the option to add another 64GB via microSD. As you’d expect, this is a 4G LTE-capable phone with Wi-Fi and NFC, and it’ll work on all the major networks, but the phone will be offered for sale through Telstra, Optus, JB Hi-Fi, and Harvey Norman.
The Q10’s 2100mAh battery handles the demands of 4G, Wi-Fi, and the phone’s OLED touchscreen well. We clocked a full day of use with the Q10, switching between Wi-Fi and mobile data, answering push emails and Twitter conversations, and from a 9AM to 5PM run we saw the battery fall from 100 per cent to around 45 per cent. This represents the kind of performance you should expect from the Q10 — we don’t think it’s a multi-day battery, but it’ll last from sunrise to midnight as long as you’re not constantly using the phone.
The BlackBerry Q10 is built around the company’s BlackBerry 10 operating system. Like Apple iOS and Google Android, it’s predominantly touch-driven — but bears a striking similarity to HP’s webOS (which we loved!) in that it’s largely based on swiping up, down, left and right to move around in and between apps. The interface is clean, very slightly cartoony, and the grid layout of apps is easy to swipe through with a thumb. Everything has been appropriately downsized to suit the screen’s square format, but we can’t get around the fact that the Web browser has a habit of loading pages with the text hidden out of view — a phone with a portrait-orientation widescreen display doesn’t have this problem.
The Hub, accessed by swiping continuously right, is your go-to place to see all your notifications for emails, Tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn notifications and so on. It’s a convenient catch-all, but the inability to select multiple accounts or multiple items simultaneously (to mark them as read or archive them) means it’s slow to operate.
After the Hub, there’s an Active Frames screen that shows your currently-running apps — a maximum of eight at once. This is a smart way of both showing what you’re running, and letting you quickly switch between them, with the upward flick all that’s needed to return to the current app screen.
BB10 on the Q10 runs smoothly, and has the standard suite of apps that any modern smartphone should come with. It’s easy to learn, and easy to use — on the surface it’s a great operating system, in the same way as webOS, but it suffers from the same problem that ultimately killed off HP’s pioneering tablet and smartphone operating system — there’s just not enough going on.
The BlackBerry World app store is... not bad. It’s easy to navigate, and has a wide range of categories, but it feels empty. There’s no Instagram, no Google Maps (even though BlackBerry Maps is alright), no Spotify or Rdio, no Foxtel, no Viber.
Missing out on each one of these apps individually wouldn’t be a problem, and there are alternatives for most, but the lack of multiple apps, especially social ones, makes it jarring to switch to BlackBerry from iOS or Android. Apps that are on the BlackBerry Z10 also have to be re-formatted to fit the Q10’s square screen, further thinning the field.
This is the one major flaw with the BlackBerry Q10. It’s a better attempt at being a strong competitor to iOS and Android than webOS, but it falls behind its main rival, Windows Phone, in that it seems to not have the same momentum in keeping up with the Big Two. Business users are well catered for, but there’s not enough here to make the Q10 an easy choice to be your single smartphone.
BlackBerry Q10: Conclusion
As it stands, the BlackBerry Q10 makes a fantastic business smartphone, or secondary smartphone alongside an iPhone or Android phone. It’s very well built, has more than enough power and battery life, has a decent camera, and a wonderful keyboard. We just wish there were more apps to pass the time when you’re not answering emails or reading Web pages.
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