Wednesday, 5 June 2013

RiViculous’ Take on the BlackBerry Q10

Some things inspire me to blog. It may not happen often, but, when it does it’s hard to stop. Some of you know me as a pretty avid tech geek, particularly in mobile tech. I've been a BlackBerry user for many years but that hasn't stopped me from experimenting with other platforms. At heart, I'm a tech enthusiast and I refuse to be a sheep to any one logo.

Yes, I've used them all. BlackBerry OS 4, 5, 6, and 7. Android Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. Apple iOS 1.x through 6.x and Windows Phone 7, 7.5, and 8. Heck, I still use WebOS from time to time. Yet there's no platform I currently prefer more than BlackBerry 10.

This is not a decision I came to easily, as I use many of these platforms on a daily basis. I try to stay objective even though people tend to categorize me as a “BlackBerry guy”. Many don’t know that I may actually have more Android devices than BlackBerry! (I would have to do an inventory tally to be sure though). What's more shocking is, if I was forced to only use one phone, which happily isn't the case, it would be the BlackBerry Q10. This really is saying a lot considering all the fantastic options out there.

While I could talk about mobile for hours, it's not something I normally blog about. However, the good folks at Virgin Mobile Canada have given me a reason to by including me on their VM Tester Team for the BlackBerry Q10.

Since January I have been using the BlackBerry Z10 as my primary personal phone. I did get a Q10 at launch but it was during a very busy time for me and I was not able to use it to its full potential. Now, thanks to Virgin Mobile, I have a unit with the motivation to put it through some RiViculous testing.

Fit, Feel, and Finish

The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the Q10 is the solid build and quality materials used. Besides the HTC One (and maybe iPhone 5), I can't think of a better built device. The difference being that the HTC One and iPhone feel like they should to be protected and kept wrapped in silk linen while the Q10 feels like it’s ready to take on the harsh environments of everyday life. The woven glass battery door feels really nice on your fingers and there are no plasticky feeling materials like those found on Samsung phones.

The size of the Q10 is perfect for me. I've been pretty concerned with the trend of larger devices and the advent of phablets. I can't comfortably fit a HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4 in my jean pockets. It's not like I wear skinny jeans either. Heck, even the Z10 took a lot of getting used to and it's significantly smaller than those flagship Android devices.  The Q10 is roughly the same width as the Z10 but shorter. It measures 119.6mm x 66.8mm x 10.35mm and weighs 139 grams. Obviously, screen real estate is sacrificed for the keyboard and shorter dimensions but I generally don't mind the 3.1" display. Sure, Web browsing and video playback is better on larger displays but I don't do either of those enough to desire a larger screen. The keyboard takes up a significant amount of space and that is fine with me because the keyboard is the essence of a BlackBerry. Display colours are vivid and text shows crisply on the 720 x 720 resolution screen with a 330PPI pixel density.  It’s also worth noting that the Q10 has a super AMOLED screen as opposed to the LCD found on the Z10.

That Glorious Keyboard

Oh the keyboard! The staple of the BlackBerry portfolio. The Q10 is the most glorious rendition of BlackBerry keyboard yet. It slightly bests that of the previous Bold 9900/9930. The keys are larger than before and the tactile feel is superb. It is truly a joy to type on. (So much so that this whole review was typed on the Q10!!)  Never have I ever considered typing 2000+ words on a smartphone until I set my hands on the Q10.

I'm impressed with how easy it is to operate the Q10 with one hand. One-hand usage is key to me as it allows me to get things done on the go. The Z10 proved to be a bit more difficult for one-hand usage as my thumb had to stretch to reach the top of the screen. The ability to swipe up words from the keyboard is a nice touch on the Z10 but I still prefer hitting the actual physical keys on the Q10. There's something gratifying about hitting the keys with so much confidence and not having to on autocorrect. The Q10 does offer a word prediction option that is turned off by default. This word prediction is similar to that on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet where suggested words appear on the screen just above the keyboard that you can tap to select. Honestly, I tried it and found myself preferring to type out the words rather than select it from the suggestion bar.

Battery Life

Another highlight is the Q10 battery life. Simply put, the Q10 has superb battery life for a modern smartphone. I managed 49 hours of light-moderate usage on a single charge. I'm sure you can kill the battery much more quickly by enabling mobile hotspot and with excessive video streaming on LTE but that's expected. This sort of battery life is quite uncommon on modern smartphones. The Q10 sports a 2100mah removable battery. Note that this is larger than the 1800mah battery found in the Z10. The impressive battery life can also be attributed to the smaller screen and black theme, which saves power on the AMOLED screen. Extremely heavy users and travelers should consider the handy Battery Charger Bundle for the Q10.  It’s my favourite accessory.

User Interface

I'm only going to spend a short time writing about the BlackBerry Hub because it's nothing new to BlackBerry 10. The Hub aggregates messages from your email accounts, BBM, text messages, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. into one location. You can customize what can be viewed in your hub. It is really easy to use when you're acquainted with it but there is a slight learning curve for BB10 virgins.

The swipe gestures are second nature for me since I have been using the PlayBook and Z10 for a long time now. Users new to the platform may require a few days to acclimate to swiping instead of pressing home or back buttons but, when adjusted, they may find themselves trying to swipe anything and everything. That includes calculators and microwaves in my case.

Camera

As a multimedia device, the Q10 pulls its weight. I'm very picky and particular when it comes to cameras and audio players. I have yet to find a phone good enough to completely replace standalone cameras and music players. That’s still the case. That's fine though. Still, the modern smartphone has essentially decimated the low-end compact camera segment. In many cases, smartphone cameras are good enough for everyday scenarios. The Q10 is no different with its 8MP BSI camera and 5-Element F2.2 lens. The Time Shift option is neat but I never use it. I would find a feature like optical image stabilization a lot more useful.  It's a good enough camera for most people, most of the time. Maybe it isn't as good as, say, the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One cameras, but those still fall under the "good enough" camera category. The Q10 camera is at least comparable. One thing’s for sure, you won't find professional photographers shooting weddings with smartphone cameras any time soon. Like I said, that's totally okay. There's no real easy way to get around the physical limitations behind the optics and sensor size within the constraints of a smartphone. I’d love to ramble on about photography gear but I’ll save that for another blog post.  Smartphone cameras have come a long way. The Q10 is a prime example. Just don’t expect miracles because having a camera on a phone is for convenience more than anything. But like they say, the best camera is the one you have on you. And who doesn’t always have their smartphone on them? For sample photos taken with the Q10 click here.

Multimedia

The built-in media player, again, is comparable to its class. I enjoyed the fact that it supports FLAC music files. The audio quality through headphones is respectable. It sounds like it uses the same Qualcomm WCD9310 DAC as the Z10. This is also the DAC used in the Samsung Galaxy S4. I will choose not to nitpick here as most people are content with using smartphones as MP3 players. The Q10 is a very capable video player, supporting a wide variety of formats.  Of course the Q10’s smaller screen size may be an issue for those who frequently view videos on their phone, though, I never watch long videos on smartphones so this does not bother me.

This leads me to one of my favourite features, the HDMI-output. I thoroughly enjoy the HDMI-out capability on the Q10. This feature has become essential for me as I often output to televisions or projectors. I use my PlayBook to stream video to my TV as I don't have cable. I could do the same with the Q10. DLNA support in BlackBerry 10 is another bonus for those who have a DLNA enabled TV.

It’s Still a Phone

As a phone, it operates as one would expect. BlackBerry is known for their great call quality and cellular reception. The Q10 is no different. Voice conversations are crisp and clear and the speaker phone is loud and clear. (On a side note, I find it amusing how brief the “phone” portion of a smartphone review is these days).  Signal and reconnect times are good. Actually, I find it superior to the Z10 in this regard. I commute on the subway system in Toronto so I often go underground and lose signal. I find that the Q10 reconnects slightly faster from loss of signal than the Z10. Still, I find legacy BlackBerry devices, like the Bold 9780, the champions of acquisition of signal and connect times.

The BlackBerry 10 operating system is absolutely solid. If you used older BlackBerry OSes, you may be familiar with the "spinning wheel" and resorting to battery-pulls. Those are the days of the past as BlackBerry 10 is more stable than any mobile platform I've used. You can thank the QNX micro-architecture for that. The Q10 features a 1.5Ghz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 2GB of RAM, which is not cutting edge but it's no slouch either.  BlackBerry has never been about the specs race. BlackBerry 10 runs flawlessly on this hardware and I am not left longing for beefier specs.

Oh SnApps!

There is still an "app-gap" compared to Android and iOS but this gap is closing at a steady pace. To be completely honest, the apparent lack of apps never really bothered me. The apps I use the most are available on BlackBerry 10. I most frequently use email, Twitter (native and Blaq), BBM, the Toronto FC App, Maps, and various news and weather apps. As you can tell, I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to Apps. I have no time to throw birds into space to make pigs explode. Skype works well enough but I must say BBM video works so much better. Personally, the only app that I am still waiting for is the Sirius-XM Radio app.  Two notable apps that are still missing on BlackBerry 10 (at least officially as of this post) are Instagram and Netflix. You can easily sideload Instagram onto BlackBerry 10 though. I did, but I can't be bothered to use it. I wanted to mention one built-in feature that I find more useful than any third party app. It's called Instant Action and it is exclusive to all BlackBerry 10 QWERTY keyboard devices. (In other words, the Q10 and soon to be Q5). Instant Action allows you to start typing anywhere on the home screen and it will start performing that action without having to open a specific app. For example, you can type "email Vic" and it will begin composing an email to Vic. Another super useful one is typing "tweet" followed by the text you want to Tweet and you can send that Tweet directly from the home screen.

Wrapping Up

The Q10 is a productivity and communications tool first and foremost. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be a BlackBerry. I can't wholeheartedly say it is the device for everyone, because it's not. Some people want more screen real estate. Some want to get lost in endless libraries of apps. Some want what their friends have. I want something that will allow me to get things done the way I want. I have plenty of toys in my toy chest. I don't foresee my Q10 collecting dust anytime soon.

So where do I go from here? Have I found the device that I will settle down with? Well, yes and no. If I were limited to one device this would be the one I choose. Hands down. When my workplace deploys BES 10.1 I can finally use BlackBerry Balance to separate my work and personal data on my phone. The freedom of carrying around just one phone can be a luxury at times. On the flip side, I'm RiViculous and gadgets make me giddy.  Being able experience innovation as it unfolds is a joy.  The Q10 won’t be the last smartphone I own. It probably won’t stop me from carrying around multiple devices either. It will, however, define the benchmark of what a modern QWERTY physical keyboard smartphone should be. Do I recommend the Q10? Absolutely, but it’s not for everyone. For “BlackBerry People” who value the best typing experience and need to get things done efficiently, this is the device to get. It does many things well. Users who switched away from BlackBerry but miss the keyboard may have reason to return because of the BlackBerry 10 platform. Users who prefer the full-touch screen smartphone experience likely wouldn’t consider the Q10 anyway no matter what rationale you may provide.  In short, there’s a place in the market for the Q10. It may not cater to the largest demographic but it is in no way insignificant.

Feel free to leave a comment.
Follow me on Twitter @isRiViculous
More photos of the Q10 can be found on my Flickr page
A special shout out to Virgin Mobile Canada. Follow them on Twitter @virginmobilecan

Monday, 18 June 2012

Vic’s Take on the Much Music Video Awards 2012


Where do I begin with this one?  Every so often I tune in to see what’s going on in pop culture. Every time I do, I question how people let pop culture become what it is today.  This year’s MMVAs was hosted by LMFAO.  How can anyone take this ‘awards show’ seriously if the co-hosts are some of the most talentless artists alive?  I guess you’re not supposed to …unless you’re a 12 year old girl.
LMFAO is just plain odd to watch, especially when they are prancing around stage in their underwear. I’m still trying to figure out what they do as artists.  If shouting obscure phrases about partying in a microphone while dancing in ridiculous wardrobes can make you millions, the performers of Busker Fest should have all the motivation they need.

Do you know what gets really old?  Asking the crowd to scream…especially after the person who presented an award before you asked the crowd to do the same. They really should try to get the crowd to do something else for a change.  For example, “On the count of three, throw your keys high up in the air!!!!” Or, they could shout “FIRE!!!! Run!!!”  That would get the crowd nice and riled-up.

So the night definitely belonged to Carly Rae Jepsen who picked up 3 MMVAs. Oddly enough, the first time I heard her hit “Call me Maybe” was the night before when my future sister-in-law played her music video at my Family Bash.  At this point a lot of you are expecting me to drop a load on Carly but the truth is I can’t say anything profoundly negative about her.  She has one hit with a catchy chorus.  It seems to be enough for the masses to declare it a summer anthem.  Amazing how a new one-song-sensation can score so big at the MMVAs.  I don’t blame Carly for doing what she does.  It’s the 12 year old girls who are responsible for this.  Who knows though, maybe Carly Rae Jepsen will impress me with subsequent releases of quality music.  Stranger things have happened.  On a side note, Carly Rae Jepsen reminds me quite a bit of Alexz Johnson, the girl who played Jude in the Canadian TV show Instant Star.  But why did Carly’s career take off while Alexz’s is still waiting to launch?  From what I’ve seen, they have similar characteristics and talents.  The difference?  Justin Bieber mentioned Carly’s name on a Much Music program.  That’s what it takes to make it big.  Another thing about Carly: she’s 26 but acts like she’s 17.  I suspect it’s what you have to do to win over the 12 year olds…

I don’t get why Much Music decides to separate award categories for International Artists and Canadians.  This isn’t the Junos.  There are Canadian artists big enough to fill the international spotlight. There is no need to make separate categories for Canadian artists to make them feel better if they lose out to an international counterpart.  Categories like “International Video of the Year By a Canadian” confuse me.  That’s like saying ‘Hey Avril, you’re never going to make it has big as Katy Perry so here’s a consolation prize’.  Again, totally unnecessary.  Much Music, if you want your awards to be as big as the MTV Awards, stop treating the show like a B-Side track with your stupid categories.  Then again, I take these awards as seriously as I do of people wearing ear stretchers.

Okay next on the list.  Why do Simple Plan, Hedley, Marianas Trench, and Down with Webster always get nominated for something, year after year?  Actually I know why. It’s those damn Canadian specific categories for the MMVAs again.  If one of the before mentioned bands makes a video it becomes an automatic nomination because those are the only Canadian bands making pop-rock videos that are played on Much Music.

The live performances during the 2012 MMVAs were mediocre at best.  In a nutshell, LMFAO danced around in their underwear. Flo Rida was wearing a gauntlet of sorts. Carly Rae Jepson said ‘Call Me Maybe’. Nelly Furtado likes ‘em big. Katy Perry turned into a butterfly in a skin coloured dress.  Bieber looked like a rapper.  Hedley was…there.  So was Kelly Clarkson.  Honestly, the best performance of the night was by Ed Sheeran. No dancing around. Just singing and playing guitar.
That pretty much sums it up. 

Follow me on Twitter: @130hp
Vic Out.

Monday, 11 June 2012

A Dearly Beloved Fever

I took a sick day last week because I had a crazy fever. During this time I had some of the most intense lucid fever dreams that I’ve ever experienced.  I’m not sure if you’ve experienced fever dreams before but they are certainly odd and confusing.  While I can’t exactly put into words what I dreamt about, it felt like I was tasked with impossible feats that could never be accomplished no matter how hard I tried.  These were no ordinary tasks.  I’m trying recall some of them but I have a hard time remembering my subconscious.  There was part of one dream where I was trying to hang towels or linens over rusty pipes but they wouldn’t stay up. Yeah, can you see why I hate being sick?

Now that I’m feeling much better I figure I should accomplish something more productive and tangible than hanging towels and linens.  I’ve been meaning to do a few more music reviews amongst other things.  One album on my to-do list is Hawk vs. Pigeon by Toronto’s own Dearly Beloved. 

Upon listening to the album the first couple of times, what immediately stood out were the shared vocals between Rob Higgins and Niva Chow.  At times Niva would accompany Rob at the end of verses in a rap-like fashion.  At other times there are back and for vocal exchanges, making a very balanced album. Tracks like “Aimed Right At Me” and “World Series of Fedoras” remind me of Band of Skulls, which is a complement because I think they do raw Male/Female vocals well.  The track “To Better Days” features label mate Care Failure of Die Mannequin.  It’s a track full of energy, actually one I think would fit nicely in a Die Mannequin album.  There is a distinct bass presence throughout the album that is immediately apparent in songs such as “She” which I’d say is the best song on the album.   Hawk vs. Pigeon ends properly with the slow instrumental jam “Doves Above the Door”.

Overall, I can’t say this is exactly the music I default to but I’m happy to have discovered another product of Toronto.  For those interested, Dearly Beloved will be performing at the Virgin Mod Club on June 15th with label mates Die Mannequin.  There’s a lot going on in the city this week with the kickoff of NXNE.  Expect some fun upcoming blog posts.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Review of Die Mannequin's EP Danceland


As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be writing more about music in the form of concert and album reviews. There are a couple reasons for this. One, I have a shitload of new audio gear I want to break in (that reminds me, I should write a post about all the toys I’ve acquired in the last month). Two, I want to get my blog going again.  Three, I’ve come across a bunch of new music. Other than my usual music sources such as XM Radio, exfm, and Slacker, I was fortunate enough to have music industry expert Eric Alper send me some new material (Follow him on Twitter at @ThatEricAlper). Now I don’t know Eric personally but one thing I do know is that he is a chain Tweeter.  He is so prolific that his Twitter account is like a constant live-stream of the music industry.
One band Eric sent my way was Die Mannequin with their soon-to-be released EP Danceland.  Die Mannequin is a Toronto band fronted by lead singer and guitarist Caroline Kawa, better known as Care Failure. [I know, awesome name isn’t it?]  Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a soft spot for bands fronted by women.  You can imagine how this was a no-brainer for me.  A Canadian band with a female lead vocalist that plays guitar is something right up my alley.
The record Danceland is about 28 minutes in length, definitely long for an EP. In fact, it’s as long as Weezer’s Green Album.   I was not expecting the EP to sound so ripe but after doing some research on the band I wasn’t surprised.  Die Mannequin had released a full Studio album called FINO + BLEED in 2009 as well as two other EPs.  Add that to the fact that some tracks on Danceland were recorded for Bruce McDonald’s film Hard Core Logo 2, featuring Care Failure and Die Mannequin, and you realize that this band has some experience under their belt.  Too bad I hadn’t discovered Die Mannequin earlier.  I’m not familiar with their earlier material but I will give it a listen as soon as I get my hands on it.  That’s a task I will add to my to-do list.
I listened to the Danceland EP about 10-15 times before putting my opinions down on paper. One of the first things I do when I listen to new music is try to find similarities to music I'm familiar with.  In this case I was immediately reminded of Coheed and Cambria.  Also, the semi-androgynous vocals remind me of those of Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a compliment.  Many people I know initially thought the lead singer of Silversun Pickups was a girl.  The similarity is apparent in the second track of Danceland, Candide, which happens to be my favourite song on the record.  Candide was on the FINO + BLEED album but I think they put it on the EP with the intention of turning it into a single.  Oh Yeah.  Do not think for a moment that Danceland is a dance album.  Danceland is actually the place where Hard Core Logo 2 was filmed.  Die Mannequin is definitely punk rock with elements of other popular rock genres.  The lyrics are aggressive and hold weight without being offensive. 
This is one hell of an energetic record.  The first 8 tracks are pure GO.  These aren’t songs you wind down to.  Instead, listen to them while you’re running from the cops and setting fire to the city.  This isn’t Jack’s Mannequin.  The tone is set from the start with the track The Other Tiffany.  If you like this track, the next 25 minutes will be a treat.  The last song on the EP called Just Go Away is the exception.  It’s a sombre acoustic track, the type I usually enjoy to conclude albums.  However, I couldn’t really warm up to this one.  Maybe Care should have done the vocals to make things fit together better as it felt too out of place, even for an EP.
My final thoughts.  I was a bit concerned that the record would be too aggressive for my tastes.  Admittedly, Die Mannequin is a bit edgier than the music I typically listen to but I felt that Danceland was a refreshing change.  The energy and passion in their music makes me look forward to their concert on June 15th at the Mod Club in Toronto.  I can almost feel the stage presence in their recorded EP so I can only imagine what they are capable of doing live.   
 
Candide By Die Mannequin

I realize this has been one of the more serious blog entries I’ve written in a while.  No I haven’t lost my cynical humour.  That will resurface at some point.  But for now, rock on and support local music.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Time to Dust Off the Keyboard


It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened since then.  April was a busy month.  My time was divided between work, settling into my new place, concerts, and random stuff that I can’t remember. 

Despite all the craziness going on, I will be regularly updating my blog starting this week.  The themes of my posts will remain random but I do plan on doing more music and concert related posts.

Speaking of concerts, I’ve been to a few interesting ones in April.  The Joy Formidable at Lee’s Palace was quite excellent.  The Ting Tings and the Phoenix was a good time despite feeling super bad about standing in front of shorter people near the front.  Of Monsters and Men was a treat. I love them. Icelandic women are gorgeous. The Cults concert would have been a lot better if I didn’t feel so uncomfortable watching some random dude get unnecessarily close to WP7.  I won’t get into too much detail this time but this random dude and his friend had the tendency to continuously move backwards into us while having plenty space in front of them.  It was very strange.
Fun stuff coming up. Stay tuned!