Blackberry returns to its roots with a keyboard enabled smartphone. In 2013, is a keyboard enough?
Blackberry Q10: On the plus side
Ask anyone to picture a Blackberry smartphone, and they’re going to picture something that looks rather like the Q10. This is no bad thing.
Blackberry, back when it was RIM tended to stick to a solid and professional looking design, and in many ways the Q10 is the logical extension of that design philosophy.
It’s a gorgeous handset in many respects. The keyboard stands out, but beyond that it fits well in the hand, has well rounded and built corners and just feels solid, sturdy and reliable. This is Blackbery in very familiar design territory, so it’s something that they should be good at.
Unlike the ‘berries of yore, the Q10 isn’t running on older Blackberry operating systems, but instead on BB10, the same as the touchscreen-only Z10 smartphone released earlier this year. I’ve already written extensively on Blackberry 10 as an operating system, but it bears repeating here that while other operating systems are more, perhaps, entertainment-centric, the core focus in BB10 is quick access to vital data via the Blackberry Hub. Blackberry knows its knitting, and it’s pitching solidly at the business crowd.
With the Q10, it’s pitching at the business crowd who loves a physical keyboard, because this is the single best — and realistically, given the existence of the Z10, just about the only — reason to buy the Q10. Every time I pick it up, I’m reminded of Lefty, the letter sales guy on Sesame Street. This guy:
Why? Because Blackberry’s basically pitching to those who need to do lots of data entry on a phone. It turns out that (shock! horror!) that’s what having a keyboard on a smartphone is good for. The Q10 doesn’t disappoint in this regard, with excellent keyboard response. If you want a keyboard-enabled smartphone, buy the Q10. Frankly, you’re not exactly aweigh with lots of cutting edge smartphone choices when it comes to keyboards. There’s the Q10, and then there’s absolutely sod all else.
The Q10’s other solid feature is battery life. It’s 4G LTE enabled, which is often the kiss of death for battery optimisation. In my tests it sailed easily through two days worth of testing in and out of 4G zones. The screen size arguably helps there, but if you’re a keyboard junkie with serious travel needs, it puts the Q10 ahead of much of the 4G pack.
Blackberry Q10: On the minus side
The inclusion of a keyboard on the Q10 hasn’t come without some costs, and the most obvious of these is in the screen display.
The Z10 features a solid 4.2″ 120×768 pixel display, but the crunched up 3.1″ display on the Q10 is only 720×720 pixels. It’s not so much the grain of the screen that bothers me as much as its ability to display the very information that BB10 is so eager for me to slurp up. Expect to do a lot of scrolling and if my experiences are any guide, a lot of re-tapping as well.
The Q10’s display screen just doesn’t feel as responsive as the Z10’s display, which led to numerous points where I’d be checking a page, clicking a link and thinking the connection had fallen over, only to realise it was actually because the Q10 hadn’t registered my tap. Blackberry built BB10 around a touch experience, but when you’ve got less space to touch, it’s harder to do.
The smaller screen size also affects photo shooting, simply because you frame differently when you’ve got less screen space to play with. The Q10’s camera is, like the Z10’s adequate without being genuinely exciting, which is probably ideal for this target market. Sample shots were generally a little underexposed on automatic settings, but again, I’m not entirely sure that crisp photography is a key requirement of the business-centric Blackberry crowd.
Blackberry Q10: Pricing
The Blackberry Q10’s hitting Optus first on July 1st, but at the time of writing, Optus was yet to release its pricing info. Telstra (where it’ll be available from July 2nd) has indicated pricing on a $60 plan (1GB/data, $600 “worth” of calls, minimum 24 month plan cost $1704) or for $744 outright. Mobicity sells an imported version of the Q10 for (at the time of writing) $699.95 outright.
Blackberry Q10: Alex’s verdict
There’s no doubting that the Q10 is a play to the Blackberry faithful, and within that particular set, it’s undeniably the best thing going in a keyboard phone.
That’s partly a concession to the fact that there really aren’t any other keyboard enabled smartphones running modern operating systems, though. As a tool for Blackberry to contest for third place with Microsoft (let alone taking on the iOS/Android duopoly) I can’t see the Q10 gathering too many new adherents if only due to the screen size, but if you’ve been hanging out for a replacement for your dusty old Bold, it’s a great choice.