Ivor SoansJun 07, 2013 13:30:10 IST
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the physical QWERTY keyboard smartphone was the only smartphone. But today, a few short years later, none of the top smartphones in the market are ones with physical QWERTY keyboards. Touchscreens reign. However, there remain users who use touchscreen smartphones but wish typing on a screen was easier.
It's another matter that most of these folks who complain about touchscreens are in their thirties and forties and prefer keyboards because they started out with physical keyboards and they know from experience that there's just no way a touchscreen keyboard will ever be as accurate as a physical keyboard. Please note, I say: 'as accurate,' not 'as fast.'
And for those folks, many of them in senior echelons of the corporate or business world, comes BlackBerry's long awaited Q10, BlackBerry's premium smartphone with a physical QWERTY keyboard.
The Q10 is classic BlackBerry and perhaps even more business-like than its predecessors, the iconic Bold 9000 and the Bold 9900. While the frame is metal, it's coated in matt black and the only chrome peeking through is from the frets on the keyboards and the side and top buttons.
Buttons that double up as volume control and camera buttons in camera mode are on the top right, with a mute button in between that doubles up as a pause button and to initiate voice control. On the top is the power/lock button and a 3.5 mm audio out, and on the left towards the top half are placed the microHDMI and microUSB ports. As a Z10 user I found the latter quite helpful since on the Z10 they are placed towards the left bottom and typing while charging can be a pain. A rear chrome fret raises the Q10 slightly, and makes sure the camera and LED don't get scratched.
There's an 8 megapixel 1080p HD camera with an LED at the back and a 2 megapixel 720p HD front camera. A LED indicator is at the top of the front display next to the 2 megapixel camera.
Build quality is top notch, no cheap plastic here. The rounded rear panel has a light-but-tough glass weave with a matt finish. One BlackBerry product manager I met claimed that the glass weave is as unique as a fingerprint for each device and that the paint technology used is the same as the one used by luxury watchmakers like Rolex. Every unit has been carved from a unibody block of cold forged stainless steel and each chassis takes 20 mins to build. No screwed together parts on the Q10 chassis. This is definitely the best BlackBerry ever built from a build quality perspective.
And it's got a good feel in the hands too and won't slip out easily too, weighing in at 139 gms and with dimensions of 119.6 x 66.8 x 10.4 mm.
The crowning glory of the Q10 is the physical QWERTY keyboard and what a keyboard it is. No one makes smartphone keyboards better than BlackBerry and Q10 actually improves upon the incredible keyboard of the Bold 9900 with keys that are 30 percent larger and where each key is of the same size. But what's missing are the traditional BlackBerry touchpad and the navigation keys and the only navigation possible is through screen gestures, something that users very set in the BlackBerry way of navigation will have to unlearn. And which may be a bit of a pain for them.
The arced surface of the keys makes typing very comfortable and much better than on any touchscreen. There's even that raised dot on the D/5 key which helps you in finding number keys easily by touch alone. Small feature, but shows just how well BlackBerry understands keyboards.
Just as on the Z10, word prediction is there though not set on by default and the cool feature where suggested words appear on the frets is not possible here. Suggestions appear at the bottom of the screen and are useful, though nowhere as useful as on the Z10.
But what sets the Q10 apart thanks to its keyboard is the Instant Action feature. This starts universal search whenever you start typing and allows you to find apps and features, search, etc, and all you then do is tap the app or feature that appears. Instant Action allows you to perform tasks far more quickly than tapping around on the touchscreen to find what you need. So, if I want to send a BBM message to Sushmita, I just type "BBM Sushmita" and the Q10 shows me an option where I can compose a BBM to Sushmita instantly as opposed to clicking on the BBM icon, then user, then compose. It saves time because rather than go to the BBM app, I can start composing a BBM message from anywhere.
With the keyboard come the traditional BlackBerry keyboard shortcuts that I missed on the Z10, such as 'T' for going instantly to the top of the screen, 'B' for the bottom, 'F' for forward, etc. There are over 200 such shortcuts for the power user. Then the keys can be used to set far more folks on speed dial than on the Z10.
One thing that must be said is that though I found typing on the Q10's keyboard more accurate as compared to the Z10 (and that I realised was largely because typing symbols and special characters is easier on the Q10), I'd still give the speed crown to the Z10.
A physical keyboard means you have to sacrifice screen real estate and while physical keyboard lovers may feel the 3.1-inch, 720 x 720 resolution at 330 pixels-per-inch Super AMOLED screen is great given the circumstances, many would disagree. Whichever camp you are in, it once again underscores the importance of the physical keyboard on the Q10-it's biggest USP.
Having said that, it's also a fact that this edge-to-edge display of the Q10 is larger than the Bold 9900 display which was 2.8 inch and has better resolution. Being Super AMOLED, the display is sharp and does great with deep blacks and vivid colours. The darker themes make great use of this capability. Despite the small screen I found reading, even fine print easy on the eyes. At 330 pixels per inch it rates better than the iPhone 5 on this aspect. It's also rumoured to be Gorilla glass, and in my experience seemed fairly impervious to scratches though I carried it around in my pocket and sometimes with keys in the same pocket.
Thanks to the 1.5 GHz dual-core processor with 2 GB RAM, the Q10 works like clockwork with no lag except for brief flickers on some CPU-intensive games. If you're a Bold 9900 user looking to upgrade one thing you won't miss is the frustrating hourglass/clock. Powered by BlackBerry 10.1, which has improved on BlackBerry 10, performance is something you won't worry about. On the memory front, there's 16 GB of internal memory, which can be extended by a swappable microSD card of up to 64 GB capacity.
The BlackBerry Flow user interface is gesture based, designed for single handed use. No more of the old, open app, close app, click on home button business. A swipe upwards from the top of the keyboard gives you a Peek from any application. Peek allows you to see why the front LED light is blinking without closing the application. If it's important enough (say a work e-mail), then you swipe right into the Hub, which is continues to be the best iteration of a communications centre in any smartphone OS today. You can define what goes into the BlackBerry Hub and it's important to note that this is all about communication. Everything from BBM to text messages to e-mail to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GoogleTalk, Foursquare, calls, voicemail and more is in the Hub. Also with BlackBerry 10.1 there's the old PIN messaging too which the BlackBerry faithful wanted.
Swipe right and you come to the live application grid where up to eight applications can be open at any time, though you can't choose which stay open and which are closed when new apps are opened.
Swipe even further right and you come to the application deck that features snazzy deck transitions as you move between decks. However, the smaller screen often means an annoyingly large number of decks if you have a lot of apps. Swipe down from the top bezel and the settings menu will drop down. But Bold 9900 users or users from other OS 7 or earlier BlackBerry smartphones will notice that the granularity of settings available earlier is missing. BlackBerry has decided to keep things simple and wants app developers to develop apps for those power users who want granularity.
On the browsing front, though the Q10 packs in a great HTML5 browser that is highly rated, the smaller screen size is a bit of a letdown, though it does have the useful Reader mode, which strips the webpage of everything other than text and few pictures and is very useful for reading.
NFC's also part of the Q10 and while mobile wallets may be some time away in India, it's useful for sharing files and the Smart Tags app makes it even more useful.
While the 8 megapixel rear-facing camera is the same as on the Z10 and so is the 2 megapixel front camera, BlackBerry 10.1 has brought some much needed changes with the new HDR (High-dynamic-range) mode where the Q10 will click two pictures at different exposures and then average the two together. You can choose between the regular picture and the HDR-enhanced picture. Use this mode only when you need greater exposure, in other words, never in bright daylight. With Skype now available on BlackBerry 10, the front shooter is great for Skype, BBM Video (which will soon be available on iOS and Android) and for mobile self portraits.
Besides HDR, shooting modes include Normal, Stabilisation and Burst mode. Scenes gives you the choice between Auto, Action, Whiteboard, Night and Beach or Snow. In addition to the 4:3 and 16:9 aspect rations for photos on the Z10, the Q10 also has 1:1. The built-in photo editor app that has lots of nifty features for post-processing has some extras in BlackBerry 10.1.
Photo quality is decent with accurate colour reproduction, especially in good light. The camera is not a good friend of low light. To put it in a line, the Q10's cameras do the job-it is not at the top of the smartphone heap, but not at the bottom either.
Then there's the TimeShift camera which captures multiple images in a burst, detects faces in the picture and allows you to choose the best profile shot of each person in the picture with a simple zoom and toggle option. This way, you can be somewhat assured no one's blinking or looking away and you get that perfect group shot you wanted.
The BlackBerry Q10 comes with 2100 mAh battery; no Blackberry till date has had a battery capacity of this size (in comparison, the Bold 9900 had a 1230 mAh battery and that was perhaps the 9900's biggest failing). In actual use, the battery lasted through the day, a little longer than the Z10's 1800 mAh battery. I was usually on 3G networks with WiFi constantly on. Again, another smartphone problem-poor battery life-has been dealt with well by BlackBerry.
Like the camera, the Q10 is a middle-of-the-road child on media too. Does the job, but could be better. Speaker quality though seems much improved over the Z10's speaker. For the average listener the audio capabilities of the Q10 are good enough, though an audiophile may demand more. Video playback is also decent enough, though the small screen once again puts paid to any movies or long videos unless you really want to see an eye doctor soon.
On the numbers front, apps are still a problem for BlackBerry. Though BlackBerry World has over 120000 apps now, that is still a far way from Google Play and Apple's App Store. To be quite honest though, in actual usage it may not matter if you're more of a work-oriented user like me. I use a Google Nexus 4 as a secondary smartphone and my BlackBerry 10 smartphone actually has more apps downloaded. Most users regularly use only around 16-20 apps and while some big names are still missing from the BlackBerry tent (Instagram, Google Maps, Gmail, etc), it's not all sackcloth and gnashing of teeth though, especially when you consider the market segment the Q10 is aimed at.
BlackBerry 10 is all about productivity, and hence it's important to mention that it is best used with BlackBerry Balance and BES 10.1-BlackBerry is as much about the service as about smartphones. BlackBerry Balance separates work and personal spaces and you get two completely separated spaces (right down to the OS layer). One is for work (with a separate wallpaper too, if you like), with work approved apps and another is for personal use with whatever you want. Everything is separated and even if you get a work calendar notification when you're in the personal space, you won't be able to see details of the meeting, just basic information that doesn't compromise work security. You cannot copy content from area to another-so no one can copy text from a work email and post it to Facebook in the personal area. And going between work and personal areas is as simple as one swipe down. And neither can your system administrator access your personal area where your personal photos, etc, are stored.
Docs To Go must also be mentioned because it is a powerful mobile office suite and is very handy for viewing and editing Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents and usually compatible with the latest versions of Microsoft Office.
I guess it's fairly clear that you can't really be comparing the Q10 to other smartphones, since none of the leading smartphones come with a physical QWERTY keyboard. The Q10 is unique in the smartphone space and is aimed at successful corporate types who have to type a fair bit and don't like touchscreens. The BlackBerry faithful, of whom there are a fair bit, will lap up this device too. At Rs 44990, it is very expensive and clearly in the premium iPhone 5 category. BlackBerry claims the premium build and the features justify the price point. To some extent they may be right, because according to sales trends reports from countries where the Q10 has been launched, customer response has been good. There are many from the BlackBerry faithful who have been waiting for this one.
Finally Indian customers will decide if BlackBerry has got the price bet right in India, but I wish the price tag was under Rs 40000. Though finally, on a personal level for me one thing is clear. Having used the Z10 for a while, I feel the best BlackBerry crown no longer belongs to the Q10/Bold form factor, but to the Z10 form factor, and that's largely because of the exceptionally great keyboard on the Z10 with its predictive capabilities, which I found to be faster to type on in many cases, though not always with symbols.
But if you have been waiting for the Bold 9900 replacement or are sick of typing on touchscreens and don't mind sacrificing screen real estate for a great physical keyboard then look no further-the BlackBerry Q10 is currently the best smartphone with a physical QWERTY keyboard.
WHAT I LIKED
• Best QWERTY keyboard smartphone in the world.
• Great battery life
• Instant Action takes traditional BlackBerry productivity shortcuts to a new level
WHAT I HATED
• Display size is a pain after the larger display of the Z10, especially if you browse and read a fair bit on the Net and watch videos on your smartphone.
Dual-core 1.5 GHz
Internal Memory: 16 GB storage
RAM: 2 GB RAM
Hot-swappable MicroSD: up to 64 GB
119.6 x 66.8 x 10.4 mm
Weight 139 gm
Display Type Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours
Display Size 720 x 720 pixels, 3.1 inches (330 ppi pixel density)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual band, Wi-Fi hotspot
Bluetooth: v4.0 with A2DP
Primary 8 MP, 3264 x 2448 pixels, autofocus, LED flash with geo-tagging, image stabilization, face detection
Secondary Camera 2 MP, 720p
Li-Ion 2100 mAh
Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
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