The BlackBerry Z10 arrived in a whirlwind of frenzied marketing at the beginning of the year, but that new phone smell is starting to wear off so here’s the second new instalment from the company formerly known as RIM – the BlackBerry Q10.
While the Z10 saw BlackBerry tread new water in the mobile market with its first fully touchscreen device, the Q10 sees a return to more familiar territory with the handset sporting the firm’s famous QWERTY keyboard.
BlackBerry is keen to keep up the premium appeal of its first BlackBerry 10 handsets, with the Q10 sporting an equally lofty price and you can expect it to set you back around £560 (around $ 850/AU$ 830) SIM-free.
Over in the US the BlackBerry Q10 will require you to part with $ 249 up front for a two year contract – which makes it more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One and iPhone 5 – while in the UK it can be had for free on two year contracts starting at £36 per month.
The BlackBerry Q10 arrives as the natural successor to the Bold 9900 and Bold 9790 at the top end of the keyboard toting tree, which has been pretty much ignored by every other manufacturer as touchscreen smartphones are today’s big business.
There’s still a market for handsets sporting a set of physical keys though, with a number of people still preferring the dexterity and accuracy this option provides over their touchscreen rivals.
In terms of design BlackBerry hasn’t taken any great strides forward and to the untrained eye the Q10 could be mistaken for the 9900.
What you will note however is the once curved keyboard has now been straightened out and the metallic frets separating the rows of characters are now slightly raised for improved tactile feedback – in other words you should be able to feel where your thumbs are on the board more easily.
We’ll cover the keyboard in more detail in our Keyboard section, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Despite packing a full on QWERTY keyboard the BlackBerry Q10 is only a shade wider than the Z10, and noticeably shorter measuring up at 119.6 x 66.8 x 10.35mm.
The textured rubberised rear of the Z10 is out and in comes a glass weave finish on the back of the Q10 which provides a decent amount of drip and a relatively solid, if not plastic feel.
Glass weave is a surprisingly tough covering and a tricky one to get scratched – although it’s not impossible.
A single silver fret – reminiscent of the ones separating the keys on the front of the Q10 – runs horizontally across the back of the handset, elevating the 8MP camera lens (and single LED flash) from the surface you place it on, in a bid to avoid scratches.
The casing below this fret can be removed by simply sliding it down, to give you access to the 2,100mAh battery, microSIM, microSD port capable of handling cards up to 32GB in size – which compliments the 16GB of internal storage (of which 10.5GB is actually available to you).
You’ll need to pop the battery out of the Q10 to gain access to the microSIM port, but thankfully the location of the microSD slot means you can swap out cards without have to remove the phone’s power source.
The catch keeping the rear plate in place seemed sturdy enough fresh out the box, but we fear it could wear down pretty quickly and we’ve heard from other BlackBerry Q10 reviewers that their back plates are already feeling a bit loose.
Every now and then when we slide the Q10 out of our jeans the rear plate would come loose and while we maybe need to stay away from the skinny leg garments, it’s a bit annoying.
Thankfully the headphone jack has been moved from its rather inconveniently positioned spot on the side of previous BlackBerry devices to the top of the Q10, allowing you to slide the handset into your pocket without fear of snagging the cord.
It joins a centralised metal power/lock key which looks identical to the one found on the Z10 and 9900 and is pretty easy to hit and responsive when you do so.
On the right you get the same trio of buttons as you find on the flagship Z10, with volume switches sandwiching a third key which activates voice control when held down.
All are within easy prodding distance, but the metal keys sport an angular finish and the edges can be quite sharp if you catch them at the wrong angle.
BlackBerry has continued with its dual port offering on the left of its BlackBerry 10 devices with both microUSB and microHDMI slots situated together allowing for an easy link up to a computer, TV or even a projector.
In terms of design and hardware the BlackBerry Q10 delivers the tried and tested method of the keyboard toting smartphone and although it may not plough any particularly new furrows it will offer a welcome familiarity for anyone looking to upgrade from a BB OS 7 handset.
As you already know the BlackBerry Q10 is only the firm’s second handset to come running the new BlackBerry 10 operating system.
The Q10 has been given a head start over its big brother though, as it arrives already packing version 10.1 (10.1.0.238 to be exact) of the software, while our Z10 is still languishing on 10.0.10.90 – oh the shame.
BB10 is a huge step forwards for BlackBerry and it brings its devices up to speed with the likes of iOS 6, Android Jelly Bean and Windows Phone 8 – and it’s about time too as BB OS7 is looking pretty frail.
You get a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM inside the BlackBerry Q10, which provides more than enough power for day to day tasks and the general running of the handset – as a result BB 10 runs smoothly for the most part.
What is apparent after using BlackBerry 10 for a while on the Q10 is that it’s very much an OS built for a fully touchscreen device, and integration with the rather peculiar shaped 3.1-inch display of the Q10 is a little bit of an after thought.
That’s not to say the OS appears squashed or incorrectly formatted – it fits the 720 x 720 display correctly, but it’s not the look which is odd, it’s the feel.
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the larger, elongated displays which adorn smartphones these days, but we found ourselves cursing the amount of scrolling which was required on the Q10.
Of course on the flip side the 3.1-inch display is gargantuan compared to QWERTY-toting BlackBerry handsets of old and anyone who is upgrading from one of those will be gleefully lauding the Super AMOLED screen and it’s pin sharp 330ppi pixel density.
Hop into the Messaging Hub – which we’ll have more on in the Messaging section – and only half as many messages can fit on screen compared to the Z10 and other rival handsets sporting Android, Windows Phone or iOS.
When it comes to flicking through the app list – which too has been condensed due to the screen size, so you only get 12 on screen at a time compared to the 16 on the Z10 – and jumping into the messaging hub the Q10 has no problem handling the on screen action.
We did find the BlackBerry Q10 slowing down a little when it came to more onerous tasks such as playing Need for Speed or loading up the Maps application, but it didn’t grind to a halt and was still usable.
The main lockscreen on the Q10 gives you a variety of information including the standard time and date display as well as your upcoming calendar entries and new message counters – which include everything from emails and texts to tweets and Facebook notifications.
There’s also a camera shortcut key which requires you to hold down on the icon in the bottom right corner for three seconds and then boots you straight into the camera app.
Three seconds feels like just a shade too long for a quick access button and the horizontal slider on the Xperia Z provides a much faster route in.
Slide up over the display and you’ll start to see your apps or active frames hiding below the lockscreen – complete the sweep to fully unlock the Q10.
If you’re using the BlackBerry Q10 for the first time you’ll be taken to the first page of applications on the handset, but as soon as you open one you’ll notice the screen jumps to the active frame page before opening the app.
It seems like an unnecessary step and adds an extra half second to the load time, which isn’t much we admit, but it does begin to jar after a while.
Exit the app – by sliding up from the base of the screen – and you’ll be turfed to the active frame panel, displaying your four most recently used app.
You can actually have a total of eight active frames open here at any one time, the other four are just hidden below so you’ll need to slide down to view them.
These panes are BlackBerry’s answer to multitasking on BB10, and developers can code specific information to display on these windows to keep you up to date with what’s happening within the app without having to open.
It’s a nice idea and if everything has been implemented properly some active frames work well – although we found that we hardly ever slid down to view the four hidden panes, choosing to go sideways into the app list if we didn’t want one of the four on show.
BlackBerry has implemented a pull down quick settings bar, accessed by dragging your finger down from the top of the screen, which apes similar implementation found on some Android handsets.
It gives you toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, alarm and ringtone volume – plus there’s a direct link to the settings menu if you need to play around with a wireless hotspot or the NFC technology.
As part of the BlackBerry 10.1 overhaul some areas of the platform have been given a darker theme in an attempt to prolong battery life.
For example the contacts, calendar, Remember and BBM apps sport a black background on the Q10, compared to our Z10 where they have a white backing.
The Q10 does have a larger battery and smaller display than its fully touchscreen brother, so it’s difficult to work out how much extra life this theme change provides, but hopefully we’ll see some sort of improvement when the Z10 gets the 10.1 update.
A couple of on going issues with have a BlackBerry 10 are to do with the alarm function and screen brightness.
First up you can only set one alarm on the BlackBerry Q10, and while a snooze function is available it’s surely not that much to ask to have multiple alarm options. Pretty please.
In terms of the second point there’s currently no auto-brightness setting on BB10, meaning you have to keep diving into the settings to adjust the level to suit your current situation.
We found ourselves nearly blinding ourselves at night in bed after we’d whacked the brightness up to full during the day to use the Q10 outside – which by the way it manages pretty well with even in direct sunlight.
There’s good news for business users as well on the Q10 as along with the dual-mode BlackBerry Balance functionality which arrived with BB10, the 10.1 update provides firms with even more control.
BlackBerry Balance provides you with two separate areas of the phone – one for business (and can be controlled by your company) and one for personal use where you’ll have free rein over the apps and content.
However with the BB 10.1 upgrade, which has also seen the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) updated to the same level, companies can now completely lock down entire handsets if they feel employees will be carrying highly sensitive information on their mobile device.
Contacts and calling
It’s the most basic of options on smartphones these days but even the humble contact list has come a long way since the days of the Nokia 3210 and the BlackBerry Q10 is determined not to be left behind.
With that in mind it will come as no surprise that the Q10 allows you to draw in contacts from a variety of fields including Google, BBM, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and various other email accounts.
All congregate in the Contacts app (shocker, we know) with profile pictures readily pulled through from social networking sites to provide a bit of colour in the otherwise white on black setup.
The Q10 takes a stab at matching contacts up with their various social profiles, although we found it only really did half a job, leaving us to tidying up a sizable chunk of our pals.
You can filter the contacts which are displayed to make things a bit clearer – pull down from the top of the screen and hit the settings icon to show/hide various accounts within the contacts app.
Those that you choose to show can be quickly accessed from the left hand menu pane, where you have the option to view your buddies account by account, or view a list with them all stuffed into one.
We did find the app could be a little flaky at times and when we linked our Gmail account to the Q10 and synced our contacts it seemed to update our friend list in batches, taking over an hour to finally show everyone.
We hope this is a minor software glitch and will be rectified pretty swiftly by BlackBerry, but it was certainly confusing and frustrating.
Jump into a contact’s profile and you’ll be able to view all their vital stats such as phone numbers, email address and social profiles on the first tab.
Tap on "Updates" and you’ll be greeted with that person’s latest social whitterings, while the final tab, "Activity" shows your recent interactions with them.
Joining profiles together is relatively simple – just hit the chain icon on a person’s contact card and then select their other accounts from the list. Be careful though as the Q10 doesn’t remove the entry you’re currently trying to join to something else, which can lead to you attempting to join it to itself.
Adding a new buddy is easy too, just hit the icon of a head and a plus sign at the base of the screen within the Contacts app and fill out the details you know in the form which pops up.
There’s no point having a bulging contacts list if you can’t call anyone – luckily the BlackBerry Q10 brings the staple of smartphone functionality to the table via the rather unsurprisingly named Phone app.
The Phone app itself is a little special as it gets a permanent spot below the active frames and app list along with the camera – giving you quick, easy access.
Fire it up and you’re transported to your recent call history – tap on a contact and the Q10 will quickly get them on the line.
If you pull the page down you can view your phone number as well as three quick links to favourite contacts plus your voicemail.
There are a further two tabs available within the app which are Contacts and Keypad.
The former gives you a list of your contacts, but for some reason on our Q10 not everyone was listed, even though they showed up in the main Contacts app.
It left us a little puzzled when we tried to quickly find one of our mates only for them not to appear – forcing us out of the phone app and into the contacts app.
Meanwhile the keypad is a very basic offering, with no smart dialling available – leaving you to your own numerical input devices.
We found that call quality was pretty good on the BlackBerry Q10 and we were able to hear our chums clearly.
You can dive into a settings menu within the Phone app, where you can set up things such as call forwarding and voice mail, but there’s also an option to adjust the call audio – you can pick from normal (default), bass boost and treble boost, depending on which variant takes your fancy.
To be honest we found the default "normal" setting was fine, but those with more acute hearing may be thankful of this option.
If you’re a fan of the pouch cases which often accompany BlackBerry handsets you can also set the Q10 to answer a call as soon as you whip it out of the holster, and hang up when you put it back in.
We found the BlackBerry Q10 managed to keep hold of signal well enough and we didn’t experience any lack of service or dropped calls during our week of testing.
With the physical keyboard on the BlackBerry Q10 putting emphasis on the messaging functions this handset has to offer you’d expect it to come with all the bells and whistles under the sun.
And the Q10 duly delivers with everything from texts and emails to BBM and social networks covered in BlackBerry 10.
BB 10 provides you with a new way to check your latest messages in the form of peek – when you hear your notification tone, or see that little red light flash in the top right of the Q10 just slide up from the bottom of the screen, but don’t release your finger.
This will minimise whatever you’re currently viewing on screen – automatically pausing video or games – and adds a column of icons on the left hand side.
These will show you what new/unread notifications you have, including texts, emails, social interactions and missed calls.
It’s a handy little feature as it allows you to quickly see what type of communication you’ve just received and whether it’s important enough to investigate further.
If the notification has piqued your interest keep your finger on screen and slide from left to right, which will see the screen slide away to reveal the messaging hub, where you’ll be able to see who the missive is from and preview the first few words.
You still have a chance to back out of the hub and return to what you were doing previously – just slide your finger back across the screen and release and you’ll be catapulted back to the app you were in.
It’s not without its flaws though. If you happen to be reading a message and exit the Hub while still in that message stream, peaking back at the hub to check a new notification doesn’t automatically show your inbox, but the page you were last viewing – plus it still counts that message as new until you return to the hub.
This meant the whole peak ability was made a little redundant, requiring us to go into the Hub and navigate back to the main inbox everytime.
Although the BlackBerry Q10 is running the newer 10.1 version of the software, we reckon the Hub still has a bit of a way to go and it needs another layer of polish to make it a really great messaging manager.
Another issue when it comes to messaging on the Q10 is the screen size, with its rather diminutive stature compared to fully touchscreen handsets resulting in less information on display.
You can only see half as many messages at a time compared to the Z10, and this meant we were continuously scrolling down lists of texts and emails to find the one we wanted.
More scrolling is required when you open a message too as the Q10 can’t squeeze as much text onto the screen as it’s fully touch rivals – which results in lots of scrolling if you’re reading a long missive.
This also becomes a bit of a pain when you try and view previous messages in a text conversation – with lots of additional thumbing required.
Of course if you’re looking to upgrade from an older BlackBerry handset you’ll be head over heels with the additional space provided on the Q10, but if you’re considering switching from a fully touchscreen device this will become frustrating pretty quickly.
A nice feature on the BlackBerry Q10 which you don’t get on the Z10 is something BlackBerry is calling ‘Type N Go’.
If you’re viewing the active frames page, or are currently browsing the app list you can jump into a email, text, BBM or other form of written comms without have to launch dedicated apps or even visit the BlackBerry Hub.
Tap out "Email John", "BBM Morgan" or " text Paul" on the keyboard and the Q10 will search your contacts for that person and you just need to select the address/mobile number you want to send a message to and it’ll jump you straight into the relevant app.
There’s even slicker integration when it comes to Twitter and Facebook. Just type "Tweet" or "Facebook", tap out the 140 characters you wish to unleash on the world and then hit enter and the Q10 will post it without going anywhere near the official app – smart.
Adding email accounts to the BlackBerry Q10 is pretty simple, just stick in your address and password and let the phone do the hard graph in the background.
You get the option to sync contacts and calendar entries as well as email messages, ensuring you’re fully connected and kept up to date with all your appointments.
However it wasn’t all plain sailing for us in the email arena as the Q10 flat out refused to sync our Gmail emails – although it was more and happy to sync our Google contacts and calendars. A strange one for sure and hopefully something BlackBerry will rectify quickly.
In terms of the email accounts which do want to play ball with the Q10 the experience is a fluid one, with the BlackBerry Hub proving an excellent tool for managing your mail.
Full HTML messages display correctly and the high pixel density of the screen on the BlackBerry Q10 means images and text appear sharp and well defined.
You can zoom out fully to get a better overview of visual emails, although once again the odd 3.1-inch screen size means you’ll still need to do a fair bit of scrolling when reading longer newsletters.
The addition of the full QWERTY keyboard below the screen on the Q10 provides you with short keys to quickly respond to urgent emails.
Hit "R" or "L" on the keyboard while reading an email to reply or reply all, or hit "F" to forward the message to colleagues, while pressing "W" will see the message flagged for attention later.
This makes dealing with emails even quicker and the intuitive interface is easy to learn.
The only feature the messaging hub is missing, and the email area specifically, is the ability to jump from one message to the next without having to return to your inbox each time. It’s a minor point, but one which some may find annoying.
If you’re big on social media you’ll be pleased to find the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pre-installed on the Q10 as standard, giving you access to the official apps – although they’re not quite as polished as their iOS and Android counterparts.
We did find the social network apps could be a little sluggish at times, with some feature missing from the BlackBerry 10 versions which we get on other platforms.
When it came to switching our BBM account over from our Z10, the BlackBerry Q10 didn’t struggle at all with a seamless transfer of our contacts when we signed into our BlackBerry account, allowing us to get straight into messaging, voice chat and video calling.
The keyboard will be the main, if not only, reason why people will plump for the BlackBerry Q10 over any other handset currently on the market.
Some of you absolutely love the accuracy and level of response provided by the physical keys, and for those who spend most of their time emailing on their smartphones the latest button bashing BlackBerry seems like the only real choice on offer.
This full-on keyboard attack isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and will therefore turn off a number of consumers straight away, who’ll be instantly drawn to fully touchscreen devices.
BlackBerry however isn’t trying to convert every touchscreen user. It knows there is a space in the market for a handset which offers a QWERTY keyboard and to be fair the Q10 offers the best experience out there.
We have never been huge fans of the QWERTY keyboard offering, finding the keys a little on the small size resulting in a fiddly and often frustrating experience with our large thumbs pressing the wrong keys on numerous occasions.
However when we passed the BlackBerry Q10 to our friends who were brought up on BlackBerry handsets the story was very different.
Picking up the Q10 for the first time they were able to get up to speed in a matter of seconds, typing out words at an impressive rate of knots – and for that BlackBerry must be applauded as it’s managed to transfer its history of excellent boards onto the Q10.
As we mentioned during the introduction the once curved keyboard which famously adorned the likes of the BlackBerry Bold 9900 has now been straightened out.
There’s a greater definition between the metallic frets separating the rows of characters and the buttons themselves which improves tactile feedback – in other words you should be able to feel where your thumbs are on the board more easily, which means you’ll be able to keep your eyes on screen while typing.
This straightening out process and also seen the keyboard on the BlackBerry Q10 gain a little bit of extra width allowing for slightly larger keys – all of which have their own unique angle which BlackBerry claims leads to a faster and more accurate typing experience.
Of course the additional width means one handed typing is pretty much out of the question, with both thumbs required to generate a decent typing speed, while both hands are needed to keep the Q10 steady.
While the keyboard itself may be an off screen experience on the Q10 it doesn’t mean you don’t get any assistance from the BlackBerry 10 interface.
The Canadian firm’s new dictionary and next word prediction engine are both in play on the Q10, providing you with further assistance on screen.
We found both worked very well, with the Q10 learning our writing style and tailoring its predictions to our most commonly used words and phrases.
This helped us greatly when it came to overcoming the issues we were having with the small, backlit keyboard buttons, as we could often just tap the word we wanted on screen.
As part of the BlackBerry 10.1 update the way you manipulate text on screen has also been improved, with a new circular tool highlighting the place in the text you’re trying to edit more clearly – which certainly helps when it comes to copying/pasting text or making a quick addition, deletion or correction.
The BlackBerry Q10 comes equipped with Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities ensuring you’ll be able to get online anywhere, but it also packs the superfast 4G technology too – allowing you to utilise the blisteringly quick network, if it’s available.
Every Q10 sold will come with 4G capabilities, but it will only be switched on for networks which actually use it. This means if you purchase a Q10 via a network which doesn’t currently offer a LTE service, its functionality will be disabled.
Don’t fear though, as BlackBerry has told us that when networks launch their 4G services a simple software update will be sent to Q10 handsets enabling the tech inside the phone.
When it comes to actually browsing the web on the BlackBerry Q10 you’ll unsurprisingly find yourself heading to the Browser app which offers a one stop shop of web surfing ability.
Like the BlackBerry Z10, the Q10 offers up an impressively quick browsing experience – managing to load up mobile sites in two to three seconds, while full blown web pages usually take less than 10 – including the content heavy TechRadar which we were able to start browsing in a half loaded state after just four seconds.
There’s very little difference in browsing speeds when you switch over to 3G, with perhaps an extra second or so required for the Q10 to get its head around sites – but you certainly won’t be hanging around.
We didn’t have a 4G enabled handset to hand during our review period so were unable to test the 4G speeds of the BlackBerry Q10, but on this showing we’d easily settle for its impressive 3G speeds.
In terms of layout the BlackBerry 10 client keeps things simple, sporting a look which reminds us of Internet Explorer on Windows Phone 8, with a white on black URL bar located at the bottom of the screen.
There’s a quick link to tabbed browsing to the left of the URL box, allowing you to easily manage multiple windows – something which is a little more tricky on Windows Phone.
The 720 x 720 3.1-inch display means websites look great on the Q10, with a high level of clarity making text easy to read and images appear sharp and defined.
Once again though the peculiar size of the screen gets in the way, adding additional vertical scrolling as less of a page can be displayed at once.
The viewing experience is further hampered by the lack of text reflow, meaning you’ll be sliding sideways as well as down to read zoomed in text.
To counter this display issue BlackBerry has included a Reader mode in its browser, which strips out all images, ad banners and fancy formatting to provide you a clutter free and easy to digest page of text – there’s also a simple tool at the bottom of the page to increase/decrease the size of the words to make reading even easier.
It could do with an additional offline reading mode as well, where the Q10 could store a web page for consumption later when you’re out of signal – but we guess you can’t have it all.
The Q10’s QWERTY keyboard also comes into play on the browser with short cuts available to enhance the browsing experience.
You can hit "L" to reload a page, "R" to enter reading mode and "S" to open up the "find on page" function – all of which are quicker than opening up the browser menu and selection the option on screen.
Meanwhile "K" will send you into your bookmarks and "H" will take you to your browsing history.
iOS has never supported flash and Android is slowly killing it off, but BlackBerry is staying true to the dying format in BB 10, with support for it embedded in the Q10.
This means you can watch various Korean pop artists prance around in music videos and view overly elaborate websites without the fear of getting the dreaded "Flash is not supported on your device" message.
The BlackBerry Q10 comes equipped with the same rear facing 8MP snapper with single LED flash and 2MP front facing lens which adorn its fully touchscreen brother, the BlackBerry Z10.
Although in terms of hardware there’s nothing to pick between the two handsets, the Q10 has the upper hand when it comes to software as the BlackBerry 10.1 update brings some new features to the camera app.
First up though is the business of actually getting into shooting mode. You can launch the camera app direct from the lockscreen by holding down on the camera icon in the bottom right of the display.
Alternatively you’ll find a shortcut to the camera app in the tool bar which you see when viewing your apps or the active frames page.
The app takes around a second to boot up, which means you can be ready to snap almost immediately after hitting the camera icon.
There’s auto-focus available as standard and while tap-to-focus isn’t possible due to the view finder also being an active shutter if you tap it, you can drag the focus square around the screen if there’s a particular object you wish to draw attention to.
We found that having the whole screen – bar the menu buttons and gallery link in the bottom corners – as an active shutter was a little cumbersome, with accidental presses regularly occurring resulting in a lot of unwanted pictures.
Luckily you can also use the volume keys on the right of the Q10 to snap pictures, although we’re a little disappointed there’s no way to turn off the on-screen shutter function.
In terms of new features in the camera the BlackBerry Q10 has a couple. First up is the addition of an extra aspect ration, allowing you to now shoot photos in 1:1 as well as 16:9 and 4:3.
While this new ratio works best for the square screen of the BlackBerry Q10, viewing them anywhere else makes them look a bit odd, so we’d recommend sticking with one of the other two options.
The second new feature – and something which the Z10 will also benefit from once it gets BlackBerry 10.1 – is HDR mode, which can be found in the shooting section of the camera app’s menu.
HDR offers the ability to enhance photos – especially those with variable lighting or large areas of shadow – and it does give some rather pleasing results on the Q10.
In terms of other features the camera app is relatively limited, with a toggle for the flash, option to switch between front and rear cameras and a selection of four scene modes, although we opted to keep it on auto most of the time.
Shutter speed was generally very quick and you’ll be able to take pictures consecutively without to much hassle, although if you don’t give the auto-focus enough time to settle you’ll end up with some rather blurry results.
In terms of results image quality was variable, with the BlackBerry Q10 capable of taking some good shots – not great – providing conditions were favourable, although it places when lighting was less forgiving it was unable to stand up to the likes of the HTC One, Nokia Lumia 920 and Samsung Galaxy S4 – which with its high price tag is the sort of competition it has to compete with.
Results were sometimes pretty grainy and colours often lacked the vibrant pop we’ve seen with other smartphone cameras, meaning our images didn’t look quite so attractive.
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Thanks to the 8MP camera housed on the back of the BlackBerry Q10 you’re able to shoot video in full 1080p HD, with the front facing 2MP lens also offering a decent 720p recording option.
The video recorder is accessed via the camera app – you’ll need to hit the camera icon and select the video camera – and it’s pretty basic in terms of funtionality.
As with the camera the whole screen is a shutter key, so any accidental prod will start you off filming.
There’s nothing new added from the BB 10.1 update, so you’re stuck with the option to record in either 720p or 1080p (if you’re using the rear cam), toggle the light on or off (which can also be changed while recording), choose between normal or stabilisation shooting modes and select from two scene modes – night and beach or snow – although once again auto did us just fine.
Auto-focus will try and determine what it needs to concentrate as you record, but it can sometimes take a couple of seconds to readjust if you’re moving around, or if there’s a lot happening in front of you.
Video footage is pretty decent for a smartphone and considering BlackBerry handsets of old had pretty sub-par camera options anyone upgrading to the Q10 will be more than happy with what is being produced.
For the main core of consumers who will be looking to purchase the BlackBerry Q10, the phone’s media capabilities probably won’t be at the forefront of their minds.
And that’s probably just as well as the 3.1-inch display on the Q10 doesn’t exactly lend itself to a fully immersive multimedia experience.
The BlackBerry Q10 comes with 16GB of internal storage, although you actually get 10.5GB to play with as a sizeable chunk is taken up by the BlackBerry 10.1 OS.
Luckily behind the glass wave rear cover of the Q10 you’ll find a microSD slot which allows you to expand the memory of the handset by up to 32GB – giving you a decent amount of breathing space.
The easiest way of getting content onto the Q10 is to load up a microSD card of the music, films or photos you want to have on the handset and popping it inside.
If you’d rather dig out the USB cable and hook up the BlackBerry Q10 to your computer you’ll be forced into downloading and installing the BlackBerry Link desktop software.
This allows you to sync your phone’s content with your PC as well as back up all your settings, just in case you need to wipe the Q10, but we found dragging and dropping files between windows was still easier and quicker then using this software.
Once you’ve put content on your Q10 you can then easily share it with DLNA enabled devices such as some TVs, laptops and games consoles, allowing you to view your content on a bigger screen.
There’s a microHDMI port on the left of the Q10 allowing you to hook it up to a TV, monitor or projector if a wireless DLNA service isn’t available.
While the screen on the Q10 may not be suited to video playback there’s certainly nothing wrong with it when it comes to listening to music.
The stock music app on BlackBerry 10 offers up a pretty basic player, allowing you to view tracks by artists, albums, genres and most recently added. You cannot however view all your songs by title – which may frustrate some, but it’s not a big deal.
You can create playlists on the fly and the thumbnail design which puts album art front and centre makes for an attractive and easy to use application.
The player screen itself has all the standard controls from play/pause, skip and scrub to shuffle and repeat.
Hit the menu icon in the bottom right corner and you’ll be able to access the Play On DLNA streaming service if you fancy pumping your tunes out of some beefier wireless speakers.
There’s nothing in the way of sound enhancements or a graphic equaliser, so while sound output via a half decent set of headphones will be acceptable for most users, discerning audiophiles may not be quite so impressed.
All the major audio formats are supported on the Q10 including MP3, WMA and eACC+, meaning you shouldn’t have a problem getting your tracks to play.
If you fancy adding to your music collection then pop over to BlackBerry World where you’ll be greeted with a strong selection of past and present hits.
The music selection is provided by 7Digital and prices mirror those on other platforms, with singles generally setting you back £1/$ 1.29, while albums tend to range from £5/$ 9 to £8/$ 12 .
Video is a bit of a funny one on the BlackBerry Q10. On the one hand the high pixel density of the 3.1-inch display means that films look crisp and clear, but on the other they appear pretty small with large black bars above and below.
The Q10 is comfortable to hold and at 139g it’s not overly taxing during long periods, but you wouldn’t want to watch a full length movie on this handset.
We found ourselves squinting at the screen to properly see what was going on, even though colours were vibrant and clarity strong, the image itself was simply too small for a pleasing movie experience.
There is the option to get rid of the black bars and have the video fill the whole screen, but this results in you losing a sizable amount of footage off either side.
The Q10’s video playback capabilities probably won’t concern those who decide to buy this handset which means it won’t be a huge issue at point of sale, but it doesn’t really encourage anyone who’s currently got a fully touchscreen device to make the switch.
Like the music player the video player app is pretty basic, with a list of the videos and movies stored on the Q10 and the options in the player screen are limited to play/pause and scrub.
Once again a link to the DLNA enabled Play On service is available in the menu, which lets you watch a film properly on a big screen.
An added extra in the video app is its edit mode which gives you a simple video editor allowing you to cut, transform and enhance your clips.
There’s nothing particularly outstanding in this editor, but it’s an intuitive little feature which can come in handy for perfecting your home movies.
Head over to BlackBerry World again and you’ll find a video section which has an ever growing array of movies and TV shows to buy and rent.
Movie rental prices are usually around £2.99/US$ 2.99, and if you fancy owning a copy you’ll need to fork out between £7.99/$ 7.99 and £15.99/$ 19.99.
TV shows seem to come in at £1.99/US$ 1.99 per episode, but there’s no sign of season bundles yet which is a little annoying.
The straight forward Music and Videos apps will lead you swiftly on to the Pictures app which follows in the same, simple footsteps.
All your snaps and screenshots can be found here, displayed in various thumbnailed tiles for your viewing please.
You can’t organise photos into albums on the Q10, with BlackBerry 10 forcing you to create this on the BlackBerry Link desktop software – which is a huge hassle and we found we could never be bothered to do this.
A nice feature which is part of the Pictures app is the edit function – also found on the Z10 – which enables you to choose from a whole range of effects to apply to your photos as well as tools to crop and rotate the image.
The way the effects have been implemented is a clever one, as you’re able to drag each effect across the image to see how it will look before deciding whether or not to apply it.
It’s such a simple system we found ourselves playing around with it a lot, and with 16 effects on offer there’s probably something there which will take your fancy.
From within the editor you can also adjust the white balance, brightness, contrast and sharpness of an image.
Battery life and connectivity
The BlackBerry Q10 packs a 2,200mAh battery, which is better than the 1,800mAh offering you get in the bigger screened Z10.
A larger battery coupled with a smaller screen and the new, darker theme of BlackBerry 10.1 means that you’ll be expecting great things from the Q10 in terms of life.
BlackBerry reckons the Q10 will easily go two days before a charger needs to be introduce, and in cases where you’re using it infrequently it could go even longer.
During out tests we didn’t manage to eek two whole days of the battery, but the BlackBerry Q10 did manage to last a whole day without too much hassle.
We found that gaming did start to eat into the battery and half an hour of Need for Speed took a chunk out of the battery – but not enough to have us worried.
When you look at the competition the Q10 certainly performs better than the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, but you’ve got to remember it has a lesser processor and smaller display – both of which are less demanding on the battery.
As we’ve already mentioned in this review the BlackBerry Q10 comes with 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi capabilities, ensuring you’ll always be connected pretty much anywhere you area.
Along with these network connections come the likes of Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and NFC which makes the Q10 a thoroughly well connected device.
But the Q10 isn’t done there – oh no. Alongside the standard microUSB and microSD ports, like the Z10 this keyboard-toting handset also sports a microHDMI connection on its left side.
This means you can quickly and easily hook your BlackBerry Q10 up to the nearest monitor, TV or projector to show off your latest investment forecast or a video of a cat wearing a shark costume chasing a duckling while sitting on a vacuums cleaner – yeah we probably have too much time on our hands.
If digging out a wire is just too much hassle then all is not lost as the BlackBerry Q10 also supports DLNA, allowing you to stream content to and from the handset and other compatible devices.
Head into the settings menu and you can toggle the content you wish to make available for streaming – your choices being photos, videos and music.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can be easily controlled via the pull down quick settings panel we talked about in the interface section, while other connections will require you to jump into the main settings menu.
You can also use the BlackBerry Q10 as a mobile hotspot, giving you the ability to share your phone’s internet connection with other devices such as laptops and tablets – perfect if you quickly need to dive onto the web on a bigger screen while on the way to a meeting.
Maps and apps
The BlackBerry Q10 comes with its own mapping and navigation solution simply called Maps with the information provided by TomTom.
The maps do give a pretty good account of the lie of the land, but it’s certainly not as polished as the excellent Google Maps you’ll find on Android.
There are far fewer features as well with just the standard map view available, no satellite overlay, no street view, no flyover, no public transport information – but at least it knows where places are.
While we could excuse the lack of information such as bus stops and train lines, we really found that without any mention of train stations at all it could be a bit tricky to find your way around.
Visually the maps are not quite as impressive as Google’s offering, although the sharp display of the BlackBerry Q10 at least made sure everything was crisp and well defined.
We’re sorry if we’re beginning to sound like a broken record, but we’re going to mention the Q10’s screen size once again.
Although the 3.1-inch display is bigger than a lot of the BB OS 7 handsets before it, we found that the Q10 still didn’t offer us the real estate we’ve come to expect from smartphones, and the large black bars at the top and bottom of the app only eat into what you have on offer even more.
Upon opening the Maps application the BlackBerry Q10 was generally very quick when it came to pin pointing our location – taking just a few seconds – although we did have to wait for the maps to fully render.
Like the Z10, the Q10 doesn’t provide the slickest of experiences when it comes to panning and zooming, with it usually requiring a few seconds to render new images which made for a slightly jilted experience.
Something which BlackBerry and TomTom have provided on the Q10 is live traffic information, which can be toggled in the Maps’ menu and appears as a series of coloured overlays on the roads to show the flow of traffic, with green being good, orange average and red highlighting heavy traffic.
You can also get directions using the Q10, with free turn-by-turn navigation software embedded into the handset allowing you to go from route planning to driving with minimum fuss.
We found the sat nav worked very well and the BlackBerry Q10 managed to keep up with our location, providing information on traffic conditions as well as how long we had left.
Applications are one of the big sticking points with the new BlackBerry 10 operating system and while the store is slowly improving in terms of number of apps it’s still some way off the likes of Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
BlackBerry tells us there are now over 104,000 apps in BlackBerry World, which apparently puts it hot on the heels of the Windows Phone Store, although we’re still not overly impressed by the selection.
A big name which arrives alongside the BlackBerry Q10 is the Skype app – something which was promised at the launch of the new operating system at the start of the year, but has only just arrived.
It’s not quite feature packed as its iOS and Android equivlents, and this is a theme we’re seeing across many other applications.
The official Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare apps have been with BlackBerry 10 since the off, but they’re not quite as well rounded as they are on other platforms.
We were initially concerned when we first picked up our BlackBerry Q10 that there were an awful lot of apps missing which were available on the Z10 – five out of the top 10 free apps available on the Z10 were not showing up on the Q10.
Thankfully things have improved over the week we’ve had the handset and Whatsapp along with a host of others which weren’t there originally now have support for the Q10 and its unique screen size.
That said at time of writing three out of the top 10 free apps on the Z10 were still not available on the Q10 and while developers are slowly getting round to adding support for this new handset, we can’t help but think its unusual screen is creating some problems.
At least apps have become easier to update in BlackBerry 10.1, with a notification popping up in the messaging hub on the Q10 providing a link straight to the app’s page in BlackBerry World where you can download and install the new version.
Apart from the stock smartphone apps you expect to see on every handset these days, and the various apps we’ve already mentioned in this review, BlackBerry hasn’t gone too overboard when it comes to pre-installed options.
DocsToGo is a handy app for those looking to use the BlackBerry Q10 for business purposes, providing a simple and intuitive way to create, view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on the device.
The small nature of the screen means things can get a little tricky if you’re trying to work on a complex document, but for the odd quick revision it’s a pretty invaluable tool.
Remember is BlackBerry’s answer to Evernote and it can even sync with the popular note taking app to ensure all your favourite shopping lists safely make the transition over to BB 10.
It’s not just text which Remember can handle, with content such as pictures, audio clips and videos also included in the straightforward app.
Games is a hub for your gaming activity on the BlackBerry Q10 and works in a similar way to Apple’s Game Center. It logs all the compatible games you play on the handset and any achievements you unlock.
You can add friends who are also playing on their BlackBerry handsets, compare progress and even challenge them to a showdown.
If tapping away at that keyboard and screen gets too much for you then voice control will let you bark commands at your Q10 instead.
As well as tapping the Voice Control icon you can also launch the app by holding down the central key lodged between the two volume switches – similar to the way you hold down the home key on an iPhone to launch Siri.
We’re not talking Siri levels of controls and questioning here, it’s a far simpler offering, enabling you to say things like "Call this person", "Text that person" and "Make a note to buy milk" and if you speak clearly then it will have no trouble understanding what you are saying.
We probably wouldn’t use this function day to day as its scope is pretty limited and it doesn’t really offer any speed or usability advantage over your fingers, but we can certainly see its advantage in certain situations, such as driving.
Smart tags is an application that enables you to group together a bunch of information which can then be transferred onto an NFC tag, made into a QR code or passed directly to another NFC-enabled handset.
Instead of handing out a business card you could create a smart tag with all your contact information on and then share it via NFC to the phones of people you meet with.
You can save the tags you send so you can use them again and you can also save any you receive from other people on your Q10 for use at a later date.
Hands on gallery
The BlackBerry Q10 is different, and to be honest it’s cool with that.
It’s not here to win a popularity contest, nor is it aiming to blind us with some new technology. It’s merely filling a hole which pretty much every other manufacturer has ignored – the physical keyboard market.
While it may not be the poster boy for BlackBerry’s revived onslaught on the mobile market – the Z10 has that job – the Q10 knows its market and will pretty much nail it.
We may not have got on with the QWERTY keyboard ourselves, but those who love BlackBerry’s button-centric offerings will be more than pleased with what the Q10 has to offer.
Anyone who currently uses a BlackBerry handset will be able to pick up the Q10 and start tapping away without a care in the world – although if you’re thinking of transitioning from a touchscreen device you may not fare so well.
Like the Z10 we were seriously impressed with the Q10’s web browsing speeds – there’s clearly been quite a bit of work within the BlackBerry 10 OS to ensure it makes mince meat of web pages before your very eyes.
Battery life is a big issue in today’s smartphones, however the BlackBerry Q10 is one of the best out there, easily providing you with a full day of operation – even with pretty heavy usage.
The updated BlackBerry 10.1 software may not bring any big wholesale changes to the platform, but the tweaked themes, handful of bug fixes, interface improvements and addition of an HDR camera mode are all welcome.
Anyone looking for a smartphone which can also double as a decent multimedia device will want to look elsewhere as the oddly proportioned 3.1-inch display on the BlackBerry Q10 makes watching video and gaming a frustrating experience.
We know BB10 is still in its infancy, but the app selection will be a sticking point more many consumers who want all their favourite apps available to them, and that’s something BlackBerry World can’t promise.
Potentially the biggest problem with the BlackBerry Q10 is its price – as it’s pretty similar to the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, Sony Xperia Z and iPhone 5 in terms of cost – all of which are much better phones.
Without doubt the BlackBerry Q10 is the best QWERTY keyboard smartphone on the market, which is certainly a bold claim – until you consider, what other high-end smartphones are sporting a full-on keyboard these days? Exactly.
It may be the best, but it’s the best of one. People will buy the Q10 for its QWERTY keyboard, it’s a business tool and in that arena it excels.
However start stacking the Q10 up against handsets which have a similar price tag and you can’t help but think it’s possibly one of the most expensive keyboards on the planet, with little in the way of stand out features to justify its cost.
If you can’t live without a physical keyboard on your phone then you’re more than likely going to buy this phone anyway – and that’s fair enough – but if those buttons are less of an issue you’ll get much more for your money elsewhere.