Review by Andrew Kameka on Thursday June 13, 2013.
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Critics often say that BlackBerry is a relic trying to make sense of an age it never saw coming. After years of being ahead of the curve, the company soon found itself behind it after poetically becoming obsessed with trying to reinvent its Curve lineup. BlackBerry eventually realized it was time to adapt to the new world and released the BlackBerry Z10, an all-touchscreen phone with software made for this era and the next.
Though the Z10 was received with tempered praise, it did nothing for the large contingent of BlackBerry customers who aren't ready to completely leave the last era behind. They want the promise of new software with forward-looking designs, but they want that software loaded onto devices with the physical keyboards that they know and love. To that segment of the population, BlackBerry isn't a relic; it's the last of a dying breed. The BlackBerry Q10 is the first BB10 device with a QWERTY keyboard, but does it merge the new era with the old well enough to make BlackBerry fans happy again?
Hardware and Keyboard
The BlackBerry Q10 is a neo-classic BlackBerry handset. The Q10 has shades of the BlackBerry Bold of RIM's better days, but it wisely modernizes its overall design. The phone looks like an oval that has had its sides compressed, so the black design with silver accents has a comely shape. It's been a long time since I've held a phone with a physical keyboard this small, and I've loved being able to have a device fit comfortably in my pocket, pants or shirt.
Touching the Q10 is a pleasure thanks to its clutchable shape and exquisite glass weave materials. The rear of the device has the look of large grain carbon fiber, but it's really just a pattern reflecting a smooth finish that's well suited for fingers and palms. The texture is outstanding and doesn't attract visible fingerprints or moisture as much as other devices I've tested recently.
Of course, the most important aspect of the BlackBerry Q10 is on the front of the device. While the Z10 may be seen as BlackBerry's take on the future, the Q10 and its physical keyboard represent its attempt to modernize the company's staunchest supporters. I'm not among that group, but I have to imagine that BlackBerry loyalist will love this new set of keys. While old BlackBerry keyboards curved around a trackball and button set, the Q10 walks a straight line separated by silver dividers. Each button is sloped so there is a portion that is elevated and designed to prevent tapping the wrong key. The design is slightly different from days past, but the alphabet layout and the Alt+Letter combinations remain. BlackBerry vets should be typing rapidly without issue.
After spending the past 4 years mastering virtual keyboards, I found the process of typing on the Q10 to be jarring. It felt strange to suddenly have to pay attention to which button I tapped and not rely on keyboards to automatically recognize what I mean to enter. The Q10 does well with text prediction, but its auto-correction is shaky. The phone commonly recognized when a letter was misplaced ("recieve" instead of "receive") but it often failed to fix occasions when the wrong letter was entered ("sre" instead of "are"). I'm the first to admit that I'm not a very good typist on a physical keyboard, but these are simple errors that every virtual keyboard is smart enough to recognize. The Q10 is perfect at auto ordering but not as good at auto-correcting because BlackBerry expects that users will be more deliberate in their typing and make fewer mistakes. I'd still like to see some improvements in error recognition, but the keyboard feels great physically and I'm sure I could curb my penchant for mistakes over time based on the progress I've made in only a week.
The presence of the keyboard also provides a long list of shortcuts within apps. For instance, calling Xavier is much quicker when just tapping the X key as soon as someone launches Contacts brings up all contacts starting with the corresponding letter. Navigating through Calendar is easy when pressing S to search or T to get to the current day. There are dozens of different shortcuts throughout the operating system, and that serves as an added bonus for anyone who embraces keyboards.
The presence of a keyboard forces the BlackBerry Q10 to shrink its screen down to a 3.1-inch Super AMOLED display. The 720x720 resolution ensures that it still has a pixel-dense display with good clarity and solid colors, but it's small size knocks the phone down a few pegs as a media device. Anyone purchasing a Q10 knows that already, so all that should matter is that the quality of the screen that is present, however small it may be, is actually quite nice.
BlackBerry decided to double-dip when it created the Q10's hardware. Just like the Z10, the phone has a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB internal storage, a 32GB microSD slot, and Micro HDMI. The Snapdragon processor predictably operates at a solid level. Transitioning is seamless throughout the software and the only real occasions of lag are related to third-party app designs. Built-in features for media, the browser, and the home screen all load with fairly consistent speed.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.