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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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