Review: Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Q10
As the first BlackBerry 10 device to ship with the iconic BlackBerry keyboard, the BlackBerry Q10 is a smartphone that many BlackBerry fans have been waiting years for. Verizon Wireless was kind enough to send over a BlackBerry Q10 and I’ve used it over the last couple of weeks. In this review, we will determine if the BlackBerry Q10 was worth the wait
The Verizon Wireless version of the BlackBerry Q10 comes in a plan black box with Verizon and BlackBerry branding. This isn’t the fancy, Q10 branded box that BlackBerry ships the device in, but I have noticed that none of the other US carriers are using that box either. Not that it really matters though, since it’s what’s inside that counts.
The Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Q10 comes with everything you see above. You’ll get a handful of manuals, a data/sync cable, a 750mA BlackBerry wall charger and a 2100mAh Lithium-Ion battery. As is the case with most of the other wireless carriers, Verizon isn’t including the new BlackBerry Premium Stereo Headset with their version of the BlackBerry Q10. Which kind of bummed me out a little, I was actually looking forward to trying out the newly designed BlackBerry headset. Thankfully, they are available for purchase separately from BlackBerry.
Design & Hardware
The BlackBerry Q10 looks and feels like a BlackBerry should. The design closely resembles that of the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930, but with a few modifications that users of older BlackBerry smartphones may or may not appreciate.
The most noticeable change is the removal of the row of physical buttons that would normally go between the screen and keyboard. This row of buttons used to include the Call, Menu, Back and End Call buttons as well as either a trackpad or trackball. With BlackBerry 10, all of those functions are controlled using either on-screen buttons or gestures. The change took a couple of days for me to get used to, but is well worth it because it allows the Q10 to have a larger screen and keyboard without increasing the device’s overall size.
Comparing the Q10 to previous BlackBerry smartphones, we find that it is just a hair taller and wider than the last model of Bold and about a half inch shorter than the BlackBerry Z10, as well as a bit wider. The BlackBerry Q10 measures 4.71″ L x 2.63″ W x 0.41″ D and weights in at 4.9 ounces. I think the BlackBerry Q10’s size is perfect. It’s wide enough for comfortable dual thumb typing, yet narrow enough to allow for one-handed operation and it fits comfortably in pockets.
Going around the phone, you’ll find the Q10’s notification LED, 2 mega pixel front-facing camera, earpiece and sensors located directly above the Q10’s 3.1 inch display. The power/sleep button, headphone jack and noise cancelling mics are up top and the main speaker and mic are on the bottom. The right side includes the volume rocker with a voice command button in the center, while a micro-USB charge/sync port, along with a micro-HDMI port occupy the left side.
Other than the HDMI port, which is a great option to have, it’s pretty much the standard array of buttons and ports you’d find on any smartphone. All of the buttons are easily located and pressed, and having a dedicated voice control button is always nice. The main speaker’s location keeps it from becoming accidentally muffled, and the speaker itself sounds good.
The rear of the BlackBerry Q10 features a 8 megapixel camera with flash and a nice carbon fiber look. Although attractive, that isn’t real carbon fiber. Instead it is a glass weave that provides a nice feeling surface to grip. A metal band protrudes slightly from the rear, which raises the phone off of flat surfaces and should help prevent scratching.
By pressing in and down on the rear, users can slide-off the BlackBerry Q10’s battery door and gain access to the user replaceable battery, a Micro SIM Card slot and a Micro SD Card Slot that will accept up to 64GB cards. That band on the battery door is the Q10’s NFC antenna.
At just 3.1 inches, the display found on the BlackBerry Q10 is quite small by today’s standards. That’s simply the price one has to pay in order to have a physical keyboard always present and ready to use on the front of their phone. Although small, the display itself looks great and is much better than the screens found on any of the older OS 7 BlackBerry devices.
The BlackBerry Q10 uses a Super AMOLED touchscreen with a resolution of 720 x 720. The small screen size and high definition resolution make for a impressive pixel density of 328 pixels per inch. Text appears sharp and you won’t see individual pixels on this display, no matter how hard you look.
The resolution does cause one problem though. A screen resolution of 720 x 720 equals a square and having a perfectly square shaped screen can really be a pain depending on what you’re using the phone for. The 1:1 aspect ratio makes pretty much every single video you’ll ever watch on this phone squished down and surrounded by black bars. Again, it was a necessary trade-off to make room for the fantastic keyboard, but it does make this phone a bad choice for anyone that enjoys watching a lot of videos on their smartphone.
As is the case with most Super AMOLED screens I’ve used, blacks are as black as black gets and colors are a little unnatural looking. I’ve personally grown to prefer IPS LCD screens over Super AMOLED technology, but am overall happy with the picture quality, and brightness levels of the display found on the BlackBerry Q10. One advantage of going with a AMOLED screen, is it uses slightly less power than LCD screens, especially while displaying blacks. BlackBerry took advantage of this feature of AMOLED panels by adding a black theme to the Q10’s software.
The main attraction here is the full QWERTY physical keyboard. Anyone thinking about purchasing a BlackBerry Q10 is doing it because they want that traditional BlackBerry typing experience and BlackBerry doesn’t disappoint here.
Like previous BlackBerry keyboards, the BlackBerry Q10’s board is made up of small, chiclet shaped keys. Each key has a sloping edge which makes it easier for your thumbs to find the right one and all of the keys offer a consistent amount of resistance and a satisfying clicking noise when pressed.
Here is a comparison photo of the keyboards on both the BlackBerry Q10 and the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930. The Q10’s keyboard features all of the same buttons in the same locations, the only differences are the rows of keys are now straight instead of curved, and each individual key is slightly larger. All added up, the Q10’s keyboard is 30% wider than Bold 99’s. A difference that my thumbs immediately noticed. The extra width and straight frets makes the individual keys even easier to identify by touch, which results in a very fast and accurate typing experience.
The BlackBerry Q10’s Keyboard is simply the best physical keyboard I’ve used on a phone. Verizon doesn’t offer any modern smartphones with a keyboard that can compare with this one. So if you are a Verizon Wireless subscriber and need to have that satisfying feeling of typing on real keys, you can probably stop reading this review now and head over to the nearest Verizon Wireless store. It really is an amazing keyboard.
As far as the internal hardware goes, the BlackBerry Q10 is neither cutting-edge, nor a slouch. Its hardware is basically what you’d expect to find in a flagship Android device from over a year ago. The Q10 is powered by a dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 Pro processor, and 2GB worth of RAM. That combination provides a mostly smooth and lag-free experience. I’m sure the fact that BlackBerry 10 is more stable than previous BlackBerry operating systems also helps. With BlackBerry 10, you don’t see that annoying spinning clock anymore!
The Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Q10 runs BlackBerry OS 10.1, a minor update to BlackBerry’s all new OS 10. I have been using devices that run BlackBerry 10 for over a year at this point, and I’ve really enjoyed watching it improve over time. This latest build that ships with the Q10 includes several new features and improvements that help make the new platform more stable and useful. For those of you who may be completely new to BlackBerry 10, I’ll briefly describe how the UI works and cover some of its key software features.
BlackBerry 10’s main homescreen changes depending on what you’re currently doing with your BlackBerry 10 smartphone. With no applications running, you’ll see a list of all your installed applications. The screen shot above shows the “Active Frames’ screen, it appears as the main screen whenever you have at least one application open and allows users to easily jump between their running applications.
Active Frames aren’t the same as icons or widgets, instead they’re like minimized applications. Depending on the app, Active Frames can display different views or information. An example of that is a news feed app could be programmed to scroll through unread articles while it is minimized. Tapping on a Active Frame will bring the full app into the foreground, and tapping the little X on a Active Frame will close that particular app.
The Active Frame screen will show up to eight minimized applications, the first four are displayed on the top page, opening a fifth app will automatically create a new page for Active Frames and users have the option to scroll up and down between these two pages. Once all Active Frames have been closed, the homescreen automatically defaults back to the application list view. Users can also return to their app list from the Active Frames view at any time by swiping sideways.
BlackBerry 10 does away with with Back and Menu buttons found on previous with BlackBerry devices. Instead of using dedicated buttons, BlackBerry 10 maps specific gestures to those functions. At first, it can be a little confusing, but with a little practice, BlackBerry 10’s gestures become very intuitive.
Bringing your finger up from the bottom edge of the screen will unlock the screen as well as allow you to exit and minimize the application you’re currently in. If performed correctly and slowly enough, this gesture will also allow you to Peek at your notifications as you’re exiting the app and returning to the Active Frames screen, as the screen shot above demonstrates. While inside an app, you can access the menu by swiping directly down from the top of the screen. Performing the same gesture while on the homescreen will present you with setting short cuts and a swipe to the left while on the homescreen brings you to the Hub.
Anyone that has used a BlackBerry device in the past should be familiar with the BlackBerry Hub. The Hub replaces the Messages app that was found on previous BlackBerry operating systems, and functions like its predecessor, except with a few upgrades. BlackBerry Hub is a unified mailbox for all of your email accounts, text messages, BBM, Twitter, Facebook and other communication apps. By using the Hub, users can view, reply to, or delete all of their messages across multiple accounts and apps, all without ever needing to leave the Hub to launch a separate app. That saves steps and time, and makes the user more efficient throughout their day.
Always having a full keyboard ready to use on the BlackBerry Q10 allows for incredibly useful keyboard shortcuts. These shortcuts have been availble for a while on BlackBerry smartphones and I’m happy to see they’ve made the move to BlackBerry 10.
Keyboard shortcuts works by assigning keys to certain functions within applications. For example, pushing “C” while inside a mailbox will allow you to compose a new message. Pressing “R” while reading an email will allow you to reply to the email. “Space” will scroll the screen down exactly one screen worth. “T” brings you to the top of a email or website and “B” will bring you down to the very bottom. There are way too many of these short cuts for me to list here, but you get the idea.
Along with keyboard shortcuts, BlackBerry has added a new feature called “Instant Actions”. With it, you can simply start typing while on the homescreen and your Q10 will attempt to figure out what you’re wanting to do next. Phrases you can type include actions, contact or application names, and searches for Google or Bing.
I used this feature most while communicating. For example. you can type “Text” then a contacts name and it will quickly allow you to text the appropriate contact. Same with Calling, Email, BBM, and so on. I really like the new Instant Action feature, it allows me to be more efficient with the BlackBerry Q10 and saves me time.
The browser is one area that has received a ton of attention from BlackBerry over the last couple of years and it really shows on BlackBerry 10. BlackBerry has went from having a horrible browsing experience to having one of the best with BlackBerry 10. The Q10’s browser blows away the browser found on BlackBerry 7 device, both in loading time and rendering. Because it supports flash and HTML5, the BlackBerry 10 browser is capable of rendering websites just like they would appear on a desktop PC. The new browser also supports multiple tabs and features a very useful “reader” mode for text-heavy websites.
BlackBerry partnered with Tom Tom to create the Maps application for BlackBerry 10 and the results are satisfactory. BlackBerry Maps doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Google Maps, but it will get you to where you need to go.
While using BlackBerry Maps and Google Maps side by side, I noticed that Google’s service returned search results much quicker than BlackBerry’s, but the results were mostly the same on both apps and each gave me the same directions while navigating to the same location. Overall, I still prefer Google Maps, but I’m happy with BlackBerry Maps.
The Application Situation
For all that is new and improved with BlackBerry 10, somethings have remained the same. The application situation is one of those things that simply hasn’t improved much with the release of BlackBerry 10. Currently, the selection of available apps for the BlackBerry Q10 is terrible.
If it is a popular app, you can almost be guaranteed that BlackBerry 10 doesn’t have it yet. There is no native BlackBerry 10 apps for Pandora, Netflix, Instagram, Vine, HBO GO, Spotify, My Fitness Pal, eBay, Shazam – there isn’t even a YouTube app for BlackBerry 10 yet. The icon you see on the Q10’s home screen is just a launcher for the website. Actually, there are no Google apps at all except for the BlackBerry-made Google Talk app. So no Google Maps, Voice, Earth or Gmail apps either.
It’s unfortunate, but big name app developers aren’t going to support the platform until BlackBerry 10 captures a larger share of the market. I remember seeing a similar situation during the early days of Android. It took time for Android’s user base to grow, once it did, the applications came. Sadly, it will take time for BlackBerry’s application situation to improve.
Connectivity, Call Quality & Data
My BlackBerry Q10 demo unit was the first BlackBerry I’ve used on Verizon’s incredibly fast, 4GLTE network and I liked it. Having those speeds on a device like this made browsing the web while away from a Wi-Fi connection very enjoyable, that’s something I never thought I’d say about a BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Q10 had no problem finding and keeping a strong signal and the data speeds I experienced with it where just as good as any other Verizon Wireless 4GLTE device I’ve used.
Voice calls sounded great on both ends no matter if I was using the Q10’s earpiece or the speaker phone and I didn’t have a single dropped call during the 2 week period that I was using the phone. The BlackBerry Q10 handles voice calling very well. No complaints at all.
A user replaceable, 2100mAh Lithium-Ion battery provides the BlackBerry Q10 with enough juice to easily last a full day worth of pretty consistent use and probably close to two full days with light usage.
During my deliberately heavy use battery life testing day with the BlackBerry Q10, I unplugged at 9:40am. I then watched close to an hour worth of streaming videos over the Verizon 4G LTE connection, did some web browsing, and listened to over two hours worth of my mp3 collection using the music player app while I was typing up parts of this review in the Remember app. While all of that was going on, the Q10 was being used as my primary phone, with six email accounts activated in the Hub, the occasional phone call, text messages coming and going and BBM notifications going off every few minutes. Added up, I’m sure the Q10 had at least 4 hours worth of screen on time for that day. When I plugged the phone back in at 11pm, the battery still had 28% of its charge remaining. I am impressed with those results and the fact that the Q10 gives users the option to pop in a freshly charged spare battery when needed makes it even better.
The combination of a larger battery and the smaller, Super AMOLED screen enabled the BlackBerry Q10 to more than double my Limited Edition BlackBerry Z10’s battery life with similar use for the day on both devices. If you’re a power user that requires all day battery life, skip the Z10 and go for the Q10 instead.
BlackBerry has never been know for offering the greatest camera available on a smartphone and the BlackBerry Q10 doesn’t necessarily change that. What it does do is provide users with a camera that is perfectly capable of providing good results consistently. The camera found on the Q10 is the same 8 Megapixel camera that the BlackBerry Z10 offers and is a huge improvement over any of the previous BlackBerry smartphone cameras.
The BlackBerry Q10 has all of the camera features of the Z10, so you’ll be able to record videos in either 720 or 1080p and you’ll get a blindingly powerful flash. One of the new additions with the BlackBerry 10.1 software that released with the Q10 is HDR mode. HDR is short for High Dynamic Range imaging, and is a mode that is supposed to improve the ratio of light to dark in your pictures. When using HDR mode, the Q10’s camera will take three photos, each at different exposure levels. The phone will then combine the three separate images into one picture that has a higher dynamic range than a normal picture. Below are some sample shots in HDR and Normal shooting modes.
Normal shooting mode:
HDR shooting mode:
Besides HDR and normal shooting modes, the BlackBerry Q10 also features a burst mode that will capture several shots per second for as long as the shutter button is pressed. Also included is BlackBerry’s Time Shift mode. It allows users to edit their photos on the fly. For example, say you take a photo of someone and they blinked, with Time Shift, several images are captured over a time frame of a couple seconds. Allowing you to easily scroll through the different shots of the persons face and replace it with the best one.
The photo above shows Verizon’s very first BlackBerry smartphone, the track wheel-equipped BlackBerry 7250 and their latest, the BlackBerry Q10. Between those two phones, I have owned or at least used, nearly every BlackBerry device that has came out. There have been a lot that I really liked and a few that I hated, but I can confidently say that the BlackBerry Q10 is the best BlackBerry I’ve used yet.
If you happen to be a fan of BlackBerry smartphones or just love physical keyboards, you’ll more than likely be happy with this phone. It offers all of the things BlackBerry is known for and improves in a few of the areas where older BlackBerry smartphones suffered. It is the phone that many BlackBerry fans have been waiting for.
If you have already moved on to a different platform and are happy with what that platform is currently offering, than you’ll probably be better off staying with what you’ve gotten used too. The BlackBerry Q10 is a major step-up over the BlackBerry 7 phones and I personally love the phone, but the missing apps really hurt the phone. It is the best BlackBerry ever, but it still isn’t quite good enough to replace a flagship Android, iOS or even Windows Phone 8 device. At least not yet.