With the holiday season in full swing one of the biggest questions any technophile will be asking themselves is whether they should buy or upgrade their smartphone. When someone asks me about smartphone recommendations I, like many, tend to go with the usual suspects: an iPhone or an Android phone (e.g. the Nexus 5 or Moto G). I even purchased a Nexus 4 for my wife recently which she loves. But alas, I’m usually using a Blackberry of some kind since work provides a phone and data plan for me; for the last 3 years I’ve been using a Blackberry 9800 (aka Torch) and I’ve been a bit envious of how far smartphones have come in such a small period of time. I still believe the 9800 is the perfect combination of keyboard and screen in terms of its physical dimensions and weight. It has a “largish” touch screen at 3.2 inches and when I need to be productive I slide up the screen and use a great keyboard. There isn’t a smartphone on the market with a sliding keyboard that has the same build quality or proper weighting that would make it feel like a toy. The 9800’s only downfall was that Blackberry almost immediately stopped supporting the device after launch leaving it languishing at BB 6.0; updates were only provided to the next revision of the phone with the 9810.
Recently my company’s IT department moved me up on the upgrade list and I was offered 2 choices: the Blackberry Z10 or the Bold inspired Blackberry Q10. Hearing rave reviews of the Bold and being accustomed to typing on a physical keyboard, I opted for the Q10. How is the Blackberry Q10 and should Santa be giving it to a loved one this holiday season? Let’s find out!
It doesn’t give you a luxurious thrall like when you hold the laser cut aluminium iPhone 5S, but the Blackberry Q10 is extremely well constructed. Made from high quality plastics this smartphone feels like a premium device and exudes its business persona when it’s in the palm of your hand. You instantly recognize that this is supposed to be a productivity workhorse. It is slightly wider than the 9800 but you’re still able to use it with one hand. The Q10 is light coming in at 139g vs 161g yet it still feels substantial like all premium devices should.
If you’re coming from the Bold 9900 or like me a Torch (9800 or 9810), the keyboard takes a few moments to get used to. The Blackberry Q10’s keys are straight across the device where in previous models they where curved slightly upward. It’s a subtle, but noticeable difference; you don’t quite feel that you’re hitting the right keys at first. If you don’t have experience with a previous generation Blackberry phone I doubt you’ll have any difficulty. Tactile feedback is just as good as, if not better than previous Blackberry phones I’ve used. If you’re a keyboard lover you won’t be disappointed.
One of the advantages of carrying a Blackberry phone it’s ability to take an Micro SD Card to increase it storage capacity. The Blackberry Q10 comes with a generous 16GB of memory with 2GB or RAM; if you need more you can use an SD Card up to 64GB in size. This is great if you take a lot of photos or love to carry a lot of music but your data plan prevents you from continually syncing to the cloud.
One of my complaints about the 9800 was it’s pitifully slow 5 megapixel camera. Unless you were in perfect lighting conditions there has always been a 2 second delay from pressing the camera button to when the photo was actually taken. The Blackberry Q10 solved this – it has a speedy 8 megapixel rear and a 2 megapixel front facing camera however the quality isn’t great under low light conditions when compared to an iPhone 5S or 4th generation iPod touch. But I must say that I’m capturing more of my kids crazy antics than I have been ever before.
The BB10 Experience
Those moving from a Blackberry BB6 or BB7 device will find that BB10 is a bit jarring. For the first few moments I couldn’t actually do anything on the phone – even read an e-mail. I couldn’t find the familiar mail icon until I remembered the Hub and swiped my thumb left of the screen. This “Hub” is the biggest change that anyone moving from an older device will need to get accustomed as you’re constantly moving in and out from that area.
I have mixed feelings about how the Hub has been implemented in BB10. All messaging can be done from this location: e-mail, SMS, BBM, Facebook – it’s all here. The “Hub” shows everything message in a consolidated view, or you can select a category to filter only those from specific applications. It is an interesting beast however I’m unsure I like having my Facebook, Twitter and other messages intertwined with my personal and business e-mails. Luckily there’s the ability to specify what appears in the default Hub Maybe I’d feel differently if I didn’t use this device for business and personal usd. The Hub is not a bad concept and I think Blackberry does it better than I’ve ever seen, however there are annoyances.
If I’m alerted that I have new messages/alerts, the default hub view was what you were previously looking at. For example if I was previously viewing Facebook messages the next time I return to the hub I see my Facebook messages. I have to swipe/tap to get to the consolidated hub view or locate the message category that has the action icon associated with it. I really wished that every time you return to the hub that it brought you back to the consolidated “Hub” view! It was much more efficient on my 9800 – I press the “Messages” icon and boom, I see all of my messages all of the time. This extra tap drives me nuts! Newcomers to the platform may not have an issue especially if they are not combining their work and personal lives; returning to your last view may be exactly what you want.
I will give kudos on how the Blackberry Q10 displays e-mail messages. The new operating system actually behaves like a modern e-mail client and displays HTML formatted messages properly. The BB6 e-mail client was definitely showing signs of age as it struggled with richly formatted messages and newsletters.
Composing messages is a breeze as well. I’m extremely happy with the hub in this respect. I can quickly send a corporate e-mail and then update my Facebook status quickly without having to open multiple apps. This part of the BB10 experience is done extremely well; if you’re on multiple social networks and continually wish to pop in and out of them I think you’ll be extremely pleased. Facebook, Twitter and Linked are supported and if developers want to they can add their own social networking messaging service to the hub as well.
As a productivity workhorse you would think managing your messages would be a central experience. You see the typical list of messages from the hub or from a specific category and you can do the typical “tap and hold” to bring up a contextual menu allowing you to file a message away, delete it, etc. You can bring up a secondary menu allowing you to select multiple messages at once for delete. So managing your messages is pretty good, right? It’s better than my experiences on Android or Apple iPhones, but again if you’re accustomed to how previous Blackberry devices worked then you’re a bit annoyed here as well. On my 9800, I was able to hold down the shift key on the keyboard then quickly scroll to select multiple messages to perform a bulk action – there was never an additional menu I had to access; with BB10 it’s a tap to open the secondary menu, a tap to choose “select more”, then start tapping each and every message. This feels like a slow process for a device that is supposed to make you feel productive. Since the Blackberry Q10 has a physical keyboard I’m wondering…
…where are my beloved keyboard shortcuts?
The Blackberry Q10 has tons of keyboard shortcuts and you can see a full list of them on Crackberry.com. My problem is that the ones I’ve used the most are no longer available. Holding shift to allow me to select a bunch of messages should have came over; pressing “U” to get to the next unread message would be a thrill, but alas these and others are missing in action. These two shortcuts alone would make me much more happier with the device (there are tons of other shortcuts missing as you can see here on Blackberry’s official forum). If you’re new the platform these won’t miss these and it’s not really much difference from any other smartphone on the market… you’re starting to see a theme build.
WTF No Holster profile!?!
What I absolutely loved on previous Blackberry smartphones is the ability to detect that they were in an official holster. Put the phone into the holster and you can adjust how it notifies you. For example while the phone is in the holster new messages may trigger it to vibrate; while it is out the notification light may blink. Adjusting to the circumstances was a key differentiator against its competition. Now I’m constantly having to switch profiles throughout the day because holster detection is only partially implemented. Sure I can answer a phone call when I take it out, but I really don’t make a whole lot of calls on my phone these days.
But if you’ve never experienced this before it won’t bother you…
The web browser is fast compared to previous generation devices. The 4G LTE support doesn’t hurt it either, but this is a brand new browser that is miles above what Blackberry had in the past. This browser renders pages accurately and quickly and the usual techie websites that I visit often display perfectly. I’m quite pleased and shows me that if Blackberry puts its mind to it they can create spectacular things. My 9800 was always hit and miss and really I started ignoring that I had a web browser after a year of using it.
One advantage of the Blackberry OS is that the browser supports Flash – there’s still many websites that rely on this technology which render incorrectly on an iPhone or a newer Android phone (without hacking around). It also means that you’ll probably be annoyed seeing flash based ads – luckily you can enable or disable it easily.
Congrats Blackberry – fantastic web browser!
You don’t buy a Blackberry for the number of apps in the Blackberry AppWorld store. It has some of the key ones like Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Foursquare and they even have some top games on there. It is anemic compared to Google Play or Apple iTunes, but for my use it’s almost perfect since my main apps are:
If I need apps that aren’t on the platform I tether my iPad Mini to the Blackberry Q10. If you are looking for entertainment
I do want to mention Blackberry Messenger. I’ve found limited use for it in the past but now that it has gone cross platform BBM has been becoming more useful. My wife has it on her Android phone and she can message me and know that it was delivered and that I’ve viewed it. Creating ad-hoc chat groups is a breeze and the ability to share not just messages but images, videos and other media is fantastic. Delivery is fast too compared to SMS and some other chat services I’ve used in the past. Blackberry just needs to figure out how to make it attractive to a younger audience. Capability is there, now the branding and marketing engines need to kick into high gear.
Is this the Blackberry Q10 smartphone for you?
Now it comes down to whether you’ll be a holiday hero buying the Blackberry Q10 for a loved one (or perhaps a treat for yourself)? As with all things it depends on your needs. If you are looking for a quality smartphone for primarily doing e-mails I still believe Blackberry makes the best devices. I’ve used Android and iOS mail apps and I still find I’m more productive on a Blackberry Q10 than any of those other phones. The web browser is as good as other phones on the market, and app selection is decent if you’re looking for standard set for a productivity focused device.
If you are looking for an Entertainment device it’s a mixed bag. It doesn’t have Netflix, or Instagram without side-loading. So if you’re the hacking type of person you can make the phone work for you, but why bother? You might as well pick of an Android or iOS phone and not deal with the hassle. Blackberry also won’t be the initial platform of choice for new app developers so you’ll either have to wait or it won’t be made available.
The Blackberry 10 OS is fast and definitely an improvement over OS6 and OS7, however it has enough annoyances for those coming from those older devices to drive them batty for a few days. Predictive typing that exists on the Z10 doesn’t appear on the Blackberry Q10 which is a shame. Holster profiles and missing keyboard shortcuts will be a disappointment. If you’re new the platform you probably won’t care about these but you can tell that the company was catering more for new users than their existing user base.
With all of its shortcomings the Blackberry Q10 is a decent smartphone and for the price/quality proposition it stands well against the costly Apple iPhone. You can get decent deals for the phone during this holiday season and if you or a loved one is an e-mail fanatic this is definitely your phone… just be aware of its shortcomings.