High-end design, superb QWERTY keyboard, good battery life
Weak touchscreen, expensive, lack of apps
When BlackBerry launched the Z10 earlier this year, it’s fair to say we were underwhelmed. The combination of business looks and ‘fun’ features didn’t quite mesh, and there was too much iOS and Android in the mix, stopping the Z10 from feeling like a true BlackBerry.
That’ll all be different, we told ourselves, when the Q10 is released. It has a BB shape and buttons and everything.
In reality, the Q10 is more of a ‘true’ BlackBerry, and it’s certainly a better phone, but is everything we hoped for?
With the Q10, BlackBerry has opted for a more traditional-looking device. Short, wide and solid, it feels like a phone that can take care of business with the minimum of fuss.
It’s got a bit of heft, too, weighing in at 139g but that lends credence to the notion that this is a phone that will handle all your business for you.
Although the 3.1-inch screen is significantly smaller than those on most other smartphones, it still looks large and spacious on the front of the Q10 and the display is pin-sharp. The hard plastic rear of the phone has a mottled effect, as if pricked by thousands of pins, and makes the clear expanse look slightly more interesting. Unfortunately, though, it offers zero grip and as a result this phone is one of the slippiest we have used in some time. Use it lying in bed, and if you’re not careful, you’re going to end up with a Q10-shaped bruise on your forehead.
The back plate clicks off easily to reveal the removable battery (thank you, BlackBerry) and slots for SIM and microSD cards. While the back of the Z10 always felt a bit unsecure, the Q10 has no such problem, and once the back plate is in place, it’s not going anywhere
In fact, build and design overall is excellent. The speaker sits right at the bottom of the handset, but what seems to be a strange decision begins to make sense when you realise that no matter how you hold the phone, it is very unlikely that space will ever be covered by your hand. It doesn’t blast sound straight at your face, like the HTC One, but it’s a far more sensible position than that adopted by the Galaxy S 4. Like the Z10, the power button sits on top, dead centre so is easily accessible to left and right-handed users.
Of course, the Q10 runs on the much-delayed BB10 operating system and it behaves in much the same way as it did on the Z10, including the lack of a traditional home screen. The ‘home screen’ is instead a grid of your recent apps, which is useful if you use the same few apps over and over, but less so if you’re a more varied user. This lack of a home is perhaps the biggest problem
The BlackBerry Hub is still excellent, however. Swipe to the right and you are presented with all your updates in one place; be it email, text, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s a quick and easy way to stay on top of communications, especially if you’re like us and have different friends and contacts spread across different services.
Internal search is also excellent. No matter where in the OS you are, start typing in a word and the phone begins looking internally for relevant apps and messages. It’s incredibly fast and we found ourselves using it to find almost everything, rather than dealing with BB10’s weird homescreen-free system.
Despite not being massively intuitive, BB10 as a whole runs so smoothly it’s a joy to behold. If this sounds over the top, consider whether your phone is truly lag and shudder-free. The 1.5GHz processor and 2GB of RAM do a fantastic job of keeping the phone flowing, even when playing games that cause problems for phones with similar specifications. It’s rare we come across a device that is such a tightly-knit combination of hardware and software.
The pleasant surprises don’t stop there. The Q10’s battery lasted longer than we expected, giving almost two full days of moderate use and more than seven hours of streaming HD video with the screen at full brightness. Sometimes it pays off to have a smaller screen.
However, it never pays off to have a smaller app store, and BlackBerry suffers from the same kind of problems as Windows Phone devices. The depth of choice just isn’t there, and while occasionally the store will spring a surprise and present an A-list app, for the most part, it’s sparse and this greatly damages the usefulness of BlackBerry to a modern smartphone user who wants to replace as much as possible in their life with their handset.
Top for typing
And so we come to the traditional benefit of having a BlackBerry – the keyboard – and it pleases us to say that the Q10’s buttons are as good as we hoped. Each key has a curved ridge, to help stop fingers straying onto other keys, and within minutes we were bashing out lengthy emails. The one drawback we encountered came when making corrections. Due to the lack of a trackball, trackpad or arrow keys, making changes means going from the keyboard to the lacklustre touchscreen.
While it’s generally very responsive when moving about the phone and navigating webpages, the touchscreen performs poorly when it comes to precision, and tapping small links or trying to highlight one part of one sentence becomes a frustration and a chore.
Like a girlfriend following an argument at a picnic, sometimes the Q10 refused to acknowledge our touch at all.
At £550, the BlackBerry Q10 is a very expensive handset that is excellent for writing and staying in touch with, but not much else. If this wasn’t a world dominated by smartphones that can tend to almost any need, that would be enough, but it is not. The solid build and good looks make it desirable, but what you’re paying for here is the keyboard, and we’re not sure that’s really justification enough for the pricetag.