Selling an “excellent” keyboard: A BlackBerry Q10 Review

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Okay. Here comes a second phone that runs the BlackBerry 10 OS: the BlackBerry Q10.

The BlackBerry Q10 is a sister phone to the BlackBerry z10 released earlier in the year; but there are very obvious differences between the two smartphones. Very much unlike the Z10 which adopted the full touchscreen idea which seemed to be the norm for smartphones these days, there’s no mistaking the fact that the Q10 is a BlackBerry handset.

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The keyboard says it all, with distinctive rows of keys separated by bands of silver, and the shaping of the keys themselves, giving all the clues you need. BlackBerry has quit on the curved keyboard design of the earlier models to a straight one; possibly to maximize space. The keyboard may seem to the smartphone connoisseur as an overhauled cliche but it is actually commendable… especially compared to the older generations of the BlackBerry handsets. Keys are easy to find under the fingers thanks to their center ridges, and even click a little when pushed. There’s a small nubbin on the D key whose second function is the number 5, helping you find the number keys by feel easily. The design is the first from BlackBerry without a section between screen and keyboard offering shortcut buttons and some sort of screen navigation device. This multi-use is welcome, but it makes the positioning of the Micro-USB port and a Micro-HDMI connector on the left edge of the phone rather irritating.

The BlackBerry Q10 features a dual-core processor running at 1.5GHz and 2GB of RAM which is a suitable entry for this generation of mobile devices. The BlackBerry Q10 supports LTE, HSPA+ and EDGE with its microSIM sitting under the backplate. The backplate provides protection for a MicroSD card, which thankfully you can access without removing the battery. This can be used to augment the 16GB of internal flash storage, some of which is taken up by the OS and preinstalled apps: fresh out of the box, leaving about only 11GB free. The 2,100mAh battery, incidentally, is rated for up to 13.5 hours’ (3G) talk time and up to 14 days on standby. The Q10 supports Near Field Communication (NFC) and GPS and has a full set of sensors — accelerometer, magnetometer, proximity sensor, gyroscope and ambient light sensor.

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The BlackBerry Q10’s 720p display pumps out great looking colors and clear images with the help of Super AMOLED technology and a tight pixel density of 328 dpi — but, it’s a 3.1-inch square! While it may look good, even in direct sunlight, what you can do with such a small screen is a different story; and watching a movie would make quite a formidable example. Web surfing is another good example: surfing the web on a BlackBerry Q10 is quite a pain. When using a “business oriented” spreadsheet in Quickoffice or any MS Excel lookalike, you may have to agree that small screens and business software do not fit too well.

rolloverAn interesting feature for corporate users is the new BlackBerry Balance which keeps business apps, services and data separate from the user’s personal information. Anyone interested in speedy text-based communication will appreciate the feature called ‘Type and Go’. This builds on the universal search concept that lets you find apps, map locations, do web searches and more simply by typing on the keyboard then tapping the app or URL icon that appears. As long as you’re on a main screen and not in an app, you can type to make something real happen. Type “SMS Jack” and you can send a text if Jack is in your address book. Even typing “Email My Wife” will do a similar job. The phones main 8-megapixel camera at the back shoots 1080p HD video, while the front facing 2-megapixel camera can handle 720p. Both shoot in 1:1 (square), 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios, which are easily switchable via on-screen icons.

A big issue BlackBerry users may have is The Blackberry App World’s rather small library of applications and tweaks compared to iOS and Android. So, you don’t get to do too much random stuff with your Blackberry phone. Although being mission specific and business critical does seem like a good approach, it may just end up being boring as a whole when the hype is over. There are a few tasks that the Blackberry Q10 excels at; but these are those that it is designed for such as chatting with your Blackberry contacts, email functions and other “business” needs. It looks good as a Blackberry phone though; so if all you are after is a better BlackBerry then, the BlackBerry Q10 would work for you.  The BlackBerry 10 OS would seem refreshing to almost anyone, and the BlackBerry Q10’s well balanced keyboard should impress; but for just a while… and then later, you might realize that the BlackBerry Q10 remains just another significant entry to the slow evolution of Blackberry phones.

Hero… but NOT Savior: A BlackBerry Z10 Review

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The BlackBerry Z10 is the first smartphone to run the BlackBerry 10 OS. The company’s hope of holding on to its diminishing market share and its ability to right the ship that sent it from first to worst in smartphone relevance all rests on the shoulders of The Z10. Gone are the days when we consider the BlackBerry as a definitive smartphone. Today’s world of smartphones is not as it used to be as striking a balance between entertainment and enterprise is now the much desired standard. Can The BlackBerry Z10 be the savior that BlackBerry – the company and operating system – so desperately needs?

Design
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The BlackBerry Z10 has what many might consider a generic appearance. There are no eye-popping colors like we’ve seen with Windows Phone 8 devices, nor any bold curves to elicit the cliché labeling of a phone being “sexy.” It’s an all-business box, rectangular and overwhelmingly black except for the silver-colored buttons that appear in limited areas. That’s not to say that being all business is boring; The Z10 just so happens to have a design that favors minimalism. The 130mm x 65.6mm x 9mm (5.11in x 2.58in x 0.35in) frame is basically the “Little Black Dress” of smartphones.

A large edge and lines along the edges make the BlackBerry Z10 rather catchy but a user’s senses will quickly gravitate to touch. Hard plastic is used for the front and sides of the phone, but a pleasant soft rubber-like material is used for its back. It has dozens of tiny “dimples” similar to the Google Nexus 7, and it’s definitely one of the most comfortable smartphone materials to rest gently in your palm.

BlackBerry has shed the weight of a physical keyboard and trackball that has been the trademark of the handset maker. The Z10’s only distractions from its otherwise understated build are micro USB and microHDMI ports on the left; a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. There are also volume buttons, separated by a button that can pause music playback or be held down to prompt voice commands, on the right. The bottom of the phone houses a speaker that plays music at a decent volume, and there’s also a red notification light in the top right corner… as usual.

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Screen

The BlackBerry Z10 features a 4.2 inch screen with a resolution of 1280 x 768. The display looks excellent thanks to strong brightness, which can be adjusted on a sliding scale. With a pixel density of 356ppi, The Z10 creates a detailed picture that looks wonderful for videos and text. The brightness levels also translate to a legible screen when viewed outdoors.

Software, Apps and User interface

BlackBerry 10 is a new approach to smartphones that places an emphasis on gestures and hidden menus. There is no “Home” button like what’s seen on every other major platform, because the concept is more like “you shouldn’t go Home, you should move on to the next task or app.” Swiping from the bottom of the glass button of the Z10 will reveal the screen showing Active apps, which are the eight most recent that have been opened. Users can tap or visit or close an app, or swipe to the right to browse through a traditional app grid.

The BlackBerry 10 places a high value on its gestures because that’s how users interact with elements that typically don’t appear on screen. For instance, swiping down from the top of the phone will reveal a quick settings menu, and swiping to the right will go back to the previous screen within apps. The approach is not always the most intuitive because it’s hard to know when a gesture is appropriate. A downward swipe in the browser can expose the webpage’s title, but swiping towards the left doesn’t trigger the back gesture like it does in other apps. To go to the previous page, the user must tap the on-screen back button. Likewise, the camera app can tap in the bottom corner to make adjustments to the snapshot, but full settings are only available by swiping down from the top. The inconsistency is a minor annoyance, but it sparks frustration with the UI at times. The built-in software included with the BlackBerry Z10 represents BlackBerry’s effort to shake its reputation as the phone of choice for stuffy executives in suits. The Z10 is still the phone with the most enterprise-oriented background, but it branches out into other areas to be a solid consumer device as well. BlackBerry’s balance is a killer feature that enables a work and personal mode.

The work mode grants access to corporate data and apps in a secure environment that IT managers can use to push app installations or revoke access, and the personal mode lets employees retain control of their phone and install other apps or have some private, personal data. Balance creates a dividing wall between the enterprise and entertainment aspects, and either side can be accessed through a secure door that can be opened quickly.

BlackBerry doesn’t completely shed its stiffness, but it makes some admirable attempts. The Music, Photo, and Video apps follow a similar design and are effective at the basics, and they even include DLNA streaming to other devices. The Photo app looks rather plain, but it hides a capable editor that can enhance photos and apply filters. The Music app feels half-baked because it does a good job of organizing music and including cover art, but navigating large libraries may be a problem for some because there’s no option to browse with a list view until you’re choosing a specific song. Story Maker is one example where BlackBerry breaks from formation and has some fun. The app lets users select a collection of photos or videos and create a video that splices clips and photos with background music. The BlackBerry 10 isn’t blessed with many options for customization other than changing the order of content and applying some optional filters, but the app is a quick and clever way of creating personal videos on a smartphone. App results improve when BlackBerry sticks to what it knows best – communication and productivity.

BlackBerry enables Word, Excel, and PowerPoint document creation or editing in Docs To Go, a capable app that works well for light editing or computing. The BlackBerry Remember app creates notes that synchronize with Evernote, so users can manage their to-do lists and memory aids just as easily as they manage their work documents.

BlackBerry 10 includes a few quality pre-loaded apps, but the apps in BlackBerry World fall short of doing much to enhance the Z10. It’s true that BlackBerry has made strides to launch its new OS with more than 70,000 apps, but a sizable portion of those apps are junk or hastily-ported Android apps that perform strangely. While no one should reasonably expect all of the top smartphone apps to be included in BlackBerry 10, many of the headliners are absent, and the apps available to take their place are less than appetizing. Even the built-in Twitter and Facebook apps are disappointing because they lack features that have been available on the Android and iOS versions for months.

Performance, Memory & Battery

For an Operating System built entirely on the concept of fluidity, it has to feature a strong processor, and the BlackBerry Z10 fits the bill with a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM. The processor keeps the Flow and Peak elements of the BB10 software moving freely, and the phone seems to buzz along with only a few hiccups. It also comes with an internal storage memory of 16GB and is expandable to 32GB via microSD.

Battery life is pretty much on the average on the BlackBerry Z10, The 1800 mAh battery will deplete sooner with LTE enabled or using power-hungry features like video calling. The Z10 won’t last a full day for a power user, but the slim battery is replaceable and easy to store, so one advice: if u’re a power user, it would be better to keep a spare battery to swap in when necessary.

Camera

BlackBerry has never been famous for exceptional camera qualities and the BlackBerry Z10 keeps to that tradition. The 8 megapixel rear camera produces good photos when there’s a lot of light nearby, but it does a poor job in low or moderate conditions. Photos are dark, noisy, and often out of focus, which can be frustrating because there are no manual controls in the camera software.

Browser Connectivity

The BlackBerry 10 browser is not that great from a design standpoint, but it’s pretty good behind the scenes. The browser loads webpages fast enough and could be one of the best of the modern webKit-based browsers when it comes to handling various websites and designs. There are some issues with sites failing to recognize the BB10 as a mobile device, even when the Desktop preference is disabled, but the browser is as good, if not better, than the default options on other major phones. There’s obviously the usual bundles of radios as well, including 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, dual-band, GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, the BlackBerry Z10 supports HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 – STL100-1 networks along with EDGE 850/900/1800/1900.

The BlackBerry Z10 does not support FM radio.

Conclusion

With all the rumors and hype… we waited for the BlackBerry Z10 to impress compared to its other smartphone counterparts. BlackBerry Z10 has impressed in its own way. However, there are still some areas of concern with BlackBerry 10: navigation issues, lack of useful apps and a not very okay camera are letdowns on sensitive spots. It shines on several things though, communication and its browser, making this a sensible purchase for business-minded individuals and BlackBerry loyalists. But others will see The BlackBerry Z10 as just another smartphone that doesn’t quite do what they’ve already managed to do on their existing device. Would I drop my Android or iPhone for the BlackBerry Z10? Heck! Never!!

BlackBerry can’t yet convince most consumers that the Z10 makes more sense than more popular and mature options. The BlackBerry Z10 is a hero device, but it’s no savior. Many thanks to Andrew Kameka for making this article a success.