Review: BlackBerry Q10

Wayne Rash is senior correspondent for eWEEK and a writer with 30 years of experience. His career includes IT work for the US Air Force.

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Can the keyboard-based BlackBerry Q10 offer the best of both worlds?

When BlackBerry launched its much anticipated BlackBerry Z10 smartphone, it broke with tradition by releasing a flagship smartphone that lacked the iconic BlackBerry physical keyboard.

For those millions of BlackBerry users who were used to that keyboard this was a rude awakening and not one that all BlackBerry users liked. While TechWeekEurope found the Z10’s touch-screen keyboard to be the best of its type, there were some users that really wanted the physical keyboard.

Now they’ll get it. The BlackBerry Q10, which the company originally announced in January when it rolled out the Z10, is finally about to be released in the UK. When it arrives, users will finally be able to have a BlackBerry 10 device with a traditional keyboard. But it’s worth noting that this is more than just a Z10 with a keyboard grafted on. The Q10 is designed specifically to be a keyboard-equipped device and there are differences in the way it works when compared to the Z10.

Keyboard optimisation

blackberry-q-10At the same time many of the core design features of the BlackBerry 10 OS are kept intact. The BlackBerry Hub is there to collect your email and messaging. It still has a touchscreen that features the ability to peek at the Hub and most of the other touchscreen features are available. The biggest difference is that the on-screen keyboard is gone since there’s a physical keyboard and the text prediction feature has now moved to words that appear on the bottom of the screen instead of in the lines between the keys as was the case with the Z10.

The Q10 is slightly larger than its predecessor the Bold 9900. The screen is much larger. This larger 3.1-inch AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic LED) is the reason for much of the larger size, although the keyboard lost one row of buttons and the touchpad as well. The result is a screen that’s very bright and very easy to read. Text and images are sharp due to the 330 PPI (pixels per inch) 720 x 720 resolution screen.

The change to an AMOLED screen has required some other changes that users are sure to notice. In an effort to reduce power requirements, many screens such as in the calendar have black backgrounds instead of white as was the case in the past. The black background for some apps is a function of the newly updated version of BlackBerry OS 10.1, which also supports some of the other functions of the Q10, such as keyboard shortcuts.

BlackBerry 10.1 update

The new 10.1 version, which for now is only available on the Q10, supports those familiar keystrokes such as pressing the “T” to move to the top of a document or “B” to move to the bottom. These features were missing in the original version of BlackBerry 10 and were handled by menu functions, something that was impractical on the Q10 because of the screen size.

The updated OS also restores the ability to perform PIN to PIN messaging, a feature that was removed when BlackBerry 10 was released, resulting in an uproar from BlackBerry users. This type of messaging allows BlackBerry users to send secure, encrypted messages to other BlackBerry users anywhere using only the device’s hardware identifier, but following a format similar to email rather than the chat format used by BlackBerry Messenger.

The Q10 follows the lead of most other smartphones with a pair of cameras. The front facing 2 megapixel camera is intended for video chats using software such as Skype, which is available for BlackBerry 10.1, and which was installed as beta software on the review device. The rear-facing camera is the full HD 8 megapixel camera that can record 1080p HD video. The front-facing camera can record 720p HD video.

All Q10 devices will support LTE in addition to 2G and 3G communications. The review device worked as expected using both HSPA+ and LTE networks. The device supports Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy and Near Field Communication (NFC), subject to carrier restrictions.

Best of both worlds

BlackBerry Q10 Side

BlackBerry claims that the Q10 will work in standby mode for up to 354 hours on 3G, which is longer than I was willing to wait. It is also supposed to handle up to 13.5 hours of talk time. I wasn’t able to talk that much, but the Q10 did show plenty of battery capacity, lasting well over 24 hours between charges in normal use with Wi-Fi, Mobile networking and Bluetooth turned on and the GPS in use most of the time.

Like the Z10, the Q10 is a very secure device, and it’s designed for use in a BYOD environment. To accomplish this, BlackBerry has created a feature called BlackBerry Balance which allows the phone to operate as a pair of independent devices.

The work side of the device is separate from the personal side, and the corporate IT department can control the use of the work side. This means that with BlackBerry Balance you can wipe the data from the works side of the BlackBerry without affecting the user’s personal information.

Overall, the Q10 appeals to existing BlackBerry users, while also giving the corporate IT staff a way to keep company information secure. The physical keyboard makes it easier to use the device for tasks such as email than with touch-screen alternatives.

Meanwhile, it also has the touchscreen features that users expect, just with a little less screen real estate. If you’re currently a BlackBerry user, this is probably just what you’re looking for. I found the device to be a pleasure to use.

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BlackBerry Q10

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BlackBerry Q10 Rear

Originally published on eWeek.

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