What is the BlackBerry Q10?The BlackBerry Q10 is the Canadian manufacturer’s first QWERTY keyboard _phone_ since it launched the BB10 OS with the touchscreen only BlackBerry Z10. It’s something of a hybrid, combining the old and the new of the BlackBerry formula in an attempt to tackle the era of superphones while staying true to the brand’s roots.
With a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 3.1-inch touchscreen display and 8-megapixel rear-mounted camera, the Q10 is far from a direct Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One rival, however. It exists to delight business users with its messaging abilities, while offering just enough of the modern smartphone versatility and power.
Question is…as much as business users have been calling out for a _phone_ like the BlackBerry Q10, can it live up to its lofty £600 price tag?
BlackBerry Q10 Video ReviewNot yet made up your mind about the BlackBerry Q10? Watch our video review here.
BlackBerry Q10 DesignThe BlackBerry Q10 centres on the handset’s physical QWERTY keyboard, and rightly so.
An iconic selling point, the physical QWERTY is easier to use for anyone not keen on the flat, digital keyboards of modern phones. The reassuring feedback of the BlackBerry Q10 keyboard is a welcome step back in time.
It feels as if BlackBerry has refined the feel further over recent QWERTY phones, such as the BlackBerry Bold 9900. The keys feel well spaced, with the left and right hand side keys slightly angled outwards for improved access. Metal frets also separate each row to reduce accidental presses. Anyone who struggles with a touchscreen will love it, and you’ll struggle to find another phone like this now.
The BlackBerry Q10 is far more than just its keyboard, however. It looks and feels elegant, refined and professional. The Q10’s rounded edges and soft touch rubber rear make it sit comfortably in your hand. It’s a million miles from the palm-stretching HTC One or Sony Xperia Z.
The build quality is reassuring, too. It survived two weeks of use with no physical signs of wear and tear despite a couple of unplanned fumbles. It’s not the kind of phone you’ll instantly seek a case for.
It’s not without niggles, however. While the keyboard is top-notch, the Q10’s other physical buttons aren’t as pleasing. The metal nubbin that separates the up and down volume keys has unnecessarily sharp edges (an at times painful oversight that we experienced on more than one BlackBerry Q10 handset), and the lock/power button, located on the handset’s upper edge, feels cheap and hollow when compared to rest of the phone.
Although the Q10’s physical buttons and inbuilt speaker are positioned to avoid accidental presses or muffling, the camera’s location puts it in prime position to become smeared with fingerprints – a far from ideal design oversight when looking for grime-free snaps.
BlackBerry Q10 ScreenThe BlackBerry Q10’s screen is a notable step up from BlackBerry 7 phones of old.
It’s a 3.1-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen, albeit with a square 720 x 720 resolution rather than a widescreen aspect like a typical touchscreen phone. It’s a necessary trade-off to fit in the keyboard, but it does mean any video you watch is squashed and hard to view. A multimedia phone this isn’t.
On the plus side, with 328 pixels per inch (the iPhone 4S retina display is 330ppi) text is just as sharp and readable as on any rival device, and the touchscreen’s accuracy is faultless. AMOLED screens use less power than their LCD counterparts, too, which should improve battery life.
Like most Super AMOLED screens, blacks are intensely black but colours are a trifle over the top. Some websites look farcically oversaturated, but it’s not quite a deal breaker and the Q10 isn’t as bad as the notoriously extreme Samsung Galaxy S3.
Of greater concern is the brightness. Like the BlackBerry Z10, the Q10’s screen appears a little dim in bright sunlight – annoying if you’re trying to reply to an email on the move.
BlackBerry Q10 Interface and UsabilityThe BlackBerry Q10 is the first phone to land running the BlackBerry 10.1 operating system update. As a result, the Q10 is a joy to use, mostly.
The keyboard shortcuts introduced in BlackBerry 10.1 combine with the full physical QWERTY to negate the need to swipe, select and shuffle your way through multiple menus and app options.
An example of such a shortcut is the ability to type “text dad” from the homescreen. Doing so will see the handset jump straight to the messaging features and input the desired contact details. This is a true timesaver.
The BlackBerry Q10 is by no means sluggish, but nor is it the most powerful device on the market. It's powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and features 2GB of RAM - not bleeding-edge but good enough for most people.
Jumping through menus and reverting back to the home screen is prompt and fuss free. Opening apps, however takes that fraction of a second longer than desired. It's a niggle rather than a major problem, but a noticeable one if you come from an iPhone or top-end Android phone like the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Allowing for this minor gripe, we must add that turning the BlackBerry Q10 on is a particularly laborious process. With boot times easily topping the one minute mark, this seemingly straightforward, basic function becomes an arduous task.
The BlackBerry Q10 isn't the perfect option for heavy-duty gaming, but that's not what it's designed to handle. Instead, the BlackBerry Q10 is attuned to business use with a smattering of entertainment, a balance it pulls off well.
The BlackBerry Hub further aides the Q10’s user experience. Collating all activities in one easy to reach location, the Hub brings together message alerts, emails, BBMs and social media notifications. The BlackBerry Hub quickly becomes a one stop shop for all communication needs.
BlackBerry Q10 – BBM, Call Quality and BrowserThe BlackBerry Q10, like its Bold, Curve and Torch siblings before it, has the company’s BBM messaging system at its core. And BBM on the Q10 is as strong as ever, interacting seamlessly with the BlackBerry Hub, so you can keep in touch, fee free, with those closest to you at all times. Moreover, while BBM is currently BlackBerry only, BlackBerry plans to launch iOS and Android BBM apps later this summer, so you won’t be all alone on there.
Call quality on the BlackBerry Q10 is strong, too. We suffered no dropped or phantom ‘unreceived’ calls, and the Q10 maintains a decent signal in places other phones struggle. Calls are loud and clear with no distortion, and the Q10 deals with background noise well.
The BlackBerry Q10 browser is a hit and miss affair that overcomes some shortcomings, namely the smaller screen. Pages load quickly over cellular or Wi-Fi means, and well laid out options and quick access to shortcuts make the Q10 browser is efficient and business like. The QWERTY keyboard makes inputting URL’s a breeze, with no pop-up digital display crowding out on-screen content.
However, a lack of text reflow is a slightly disappointing omission on such a small screen, one which means there is more swiping back and forth for than we’d like. Tabbed browsing is fussier than Android rivals, too, with more menu options to navigate than is strictly necessary.
BlackBerry Q10 CameraThe BlackBerry Q10 camera setup is a very familiar one – it’s the same as the BlackBerry Z10. That means an 8-megapixel camera ‘round back and a 2-megapixel one up front that, on paper at least, isn’t the most desirable on a current flagship phone.
In use, however, the integrated snappers are surprisingly strong performers that capture impressive stills in challenging lighting, blossoming in ideal shooting situations. The main camera captures pleasing amounts of detail and definition with good colour management. Bleak, grey skies often come out as a drab, lifeless blank slate, but it’s not an issue exclusive to the Q10.
Only focus and the built-in LED flash let the Q10 down. The focus isn’t as reliable as rival phones, while the flash lends dark indoor scenes an artificial tinge. The Q10’s abundant image editing options help a little here. The usual black and white, sepia and lomo effects are joined by brightness, white balance and sharpness, so you have a little more control, but they’re not miracle workers.
The Q10 adds an HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode that was missing from the Z10 but added in BB10.1. It aids shots in taken in low natural light, enhancing detail at the expense of some colour contrast.
Another BlackBerry Q10 camera feature of note is Time Shift. Introduced with BB10, Time Shift lets you capture an image burst, scrolling back through the timeline to select the optimal shot of your subject, such as a person’s face. It’s a useful feature that gives the Q10 something a little different.
The Q10 captures 720p HD video, too, that’s of a similar standard to rivals. Colours aren’t as refined as those in still photos, but unwanted noise and motion blur are kept to a minimum. The front-facing camera meanwhile is fine, though it struggles more than the rear camera in low light.
The BlackBerry Q10 camera shoots at a 1:1 aspect ratio as standard in order to fit the handset’s screen. This occurs for both video and stills photography. Although the square ratio can be an annoyance when transferring handset captured shots to a desktop device, this is an issue easily resolved in the settings.
While the Q10 can shoot in more traditional 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, doing so causes far from ideal playback options on the Q10 itself. Considerable black bars top and bottom detract from otherwise engaging images.
The Q10 gallery is not the most natural or intuitive to navigate either. If anything, it highlights some of the remaining niggles of the BB10 OS. Overall it creates a bitty and unnecessarily chunky user experience.
BlackBerry Q10 Multimedia and AppsThe BlackBerry Q10 is not the most multimedia friendly handset, but it’s competent enough. It can’t handle very intensive 3D games, but then the small, square screen makes such games pointless anyway. Casual games, Stick Tennis for instance, run just fine.
The Q10’s inbuilt speaker is better than expected, and its positioning on the base avoids accidental muffling for the most part. It’s not the most bass rich or detailed, but it serves its purpose. Calls on speakerphone sound clean and undistorted while music sounds good enough.
Where the Q10 falls down is the app selection. BlackBerry World claims to contain over 120,000 apps, but still lacks a number of the big players and, in truth, many of the 120,000 apps are little more than web redirects or questionable ports.
The BBC iPlayer app is a case in point. It hints at a native app, but it’s little more than a bookmark pushing you to the iPlayer website.
The Q10’s 16GB of internal storage will be acceptable for many but undersized for some. Fortunately, unlike the Google Nexus 4, microSD card expansion is available, with the Q10 taking storage boosters up to 64GB.
BlackBerry Q10 Battery LifeThe BlackBerry Q10 battery life is strong. But getting the maximum from the Q10 takes some tweaking of settings.
Off the bat the Q10 will easily survive the dreaded one-day hump. This is thanks to the handset’s 2100mAh Lithium-Ion battery. Careful management of push notifications and turning off NFC when not in use sees the Q10 battery provide the better part of two day’s without need for a recharge.
Keeping the essential mail clients active, stopping social media accounts from automatically pulling in updates has a positive effect on the Q10’s battery, too.
What’s more, the BlackBerry Q10 battery can be removed, unlike some of its high-end compatriots such as the iPhone 5, meaning those with higher usage demands always have the option to carry an additional power provider.
BlackBerry Q10 ConnectivityOn a connectivity front, the BlackBerry Q10 has everything you need now and in the near future. 4G and NFC join the standard 3G, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and Wi-Fi connectivity. There's GPS, too, of course.
While the former pair haven’t hit the mainstream within the UK, they’re welcome additions that will help future proof the Q10 against lengthy 24-month contracts. NFC capabilities worked well in practice, including the option to bump devices to share BBM details. We couldn’t test the 4G performance in time for this review, but we’ll update this review shortly once we can.
An integrated Micro HDMI connection means content is not limited to the BlackBerry Q10’s screen. You could conceivably use it to show a presentation in an emergency, even if it’s not the most practical solution.
Should I buy the BlackBerry Q10?If you desperately crave a physical QWERTY phone then look no further. There's nothing better with a QWERTY keyboard. However, at £600 Q10 expensive for what it is. iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4 owners will look down on the Q10 as a superphone wannabe, and understandably so. It lacks the apps and depth of features to compete with them, while its compromised screen makes it a so-so web browsing and multimedia phone.
Neither is it quite a no-brainer for those determined to buy a BlackBerry phone. The physical keyboard is great, but the BlackBerry Z10's innovative touchscreen keyboard is worth trying if you've tried other smartphones and left disappointed. There's also the upcoming BlackBerry Q5 to consider, which might present better value if you care about the keyboard and nothing else.