BlackBerry Q10 hands-on

There aren’t too many smartphones with hardware keyboards on the market nowadays, let alone smartphones with top-shelf specifications like the BlackBerry Q10.

It has a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 2GB RAM, an 8 megapixel rear camera and 2MP front camera. Rounding out the internals is support for Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks.

The model I was given to play with is the SQN100–3, which in addition to quad band GSM and HSPA+, also has quad band LTE support for 800MHz, 900MHz, 1,800Mhz, and 2,600MHz networks.

This suggests that you’ll be able to access the LTE networks of both MTN and Vodacom with the new BlackBerry Q10.

Cell C customers won’t be able to use LTE unless the operator decides to move its service to a different frequency band. Not one of the four different BlackBerry Q10 models detailed so far supports 2,100MHz LTE – the range in which Cell C operates.

Specifications BlackBerry Q10
Dimensions 119.6 x 66.8 x 10.35mm
Weight 139g
Operating system BlackBerry 10
Display 3.1″ 720×720 Super AMOLED
Rear camera 8MP
Front camera 2MP
Storage, internal 16GB
Storage, expandable microSD
RAM 2GB
Processor 1.5GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4470
Graphics PowerVR SGX544
Battery 2,100mAh
Cellular data LTE, HSPA
SIM type Micro SIM
NFC Yes

Familiar design, big changes

Upon laying eyes on the Q10 for the first time, the BlackBerry faithful will immediately be reminded of the wider design seen in the older BlackBerry Bold 9000 and the recent Bold 9900.

The device is solid, but light and comfortable in the hand with a lightly textured back.

Similar to the 9900, the BlackBerry Q10 features a touch screen and full 35-key hardware keyboard in a simple bar form factor with curved top and bottom edges and rounded corners.

That’s where the similarities end. The trackpad, menu button, call, and disconnect buttons are done away with to increase the size of the screen.

BlackBerry Q10 press shot
BlackBerry Q10 press shot

BlackBerry 10 on a 3.1-inch display

The display boasts a resolution of 720×720 – some screen length simply had to be sacrificed to fit the keyboard.

This is barely noticeable on the BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system; this is not an indictment of BB10, but rather a strength.

BlackBerry shaved a row of icons from the app tray, and shrunk the tiles on the “recent apps” screen to still be able to fit four tiles per screen. There is still a maximum of eight recent apps displayed as tiles at any one time.

BlackBerry Q10 interface screenshots
BlackBerry Q10 interface screenshots

Software and the new BlackBerry 10.1 OS

The screen size does have ramifications; for example, not all apps that are available to the Z10 are immediately available to the BlackBerry Q10.

A prominent example is BlackBerry’s own version of the Google Talk application, which isn’t yet available on the Q10. The app is bound to make its way to the device sooner rather than later, but it serves to illustrate that developers may have to adapt their apps slightly to release for the Q10.

Some of the software and usability quirks that BlackBerry 10 launched with are also still present in the Q10, such as the peek gesture taking you to where you left off in the Hub, rather than to the hub root itself.

Text in e-mails you send from the device is also formatted in a small font size for some reason. This is easily remedied by selecting the large font size in the e-mail compose window, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to change the default font size for all sent mail.

There is also no multi-account support for Twitter, though this feature may be had from paid-for third-party apps available through BlackBerry World.

BlackBerry Q10 test emails font size comparison
BlackBerry Q10 test emails font size comparison

Ecosystem

Speaking of apps, this is still the aspect of BlackBerry 10 that’s a cause of some worry.

Though there are ports of apps such as Buffer and LastPass available on the Z10, these can’t be installed from BlackBerry World on the Q10 yet.

A Google+ app and clients for cloud storage services other than Box and Dropbox are also not yet available.

That said, BB10 is faring quite well for a more-or-less fledgling ecosystem.

Recent reports say that the percentage of Android ports in BlackBerry World is declining compared to native apps.

According to BlackBerry, they have around 100,000 apps in their store now, of which 80% are native.

Among the “top apps” that recently made their way to the platform is Skype, which from my testing works well enough and doesn’t put too much additional drain on the battery.

WhatsApp is also available on BlackBerry 10 and was available from the get-go on the Q10.

Pricing and launch

Vodacom and Cell C have both said that they intend to offer the BlackBerry Q10, with Vodacom announcing the following prices for it:

Vodacom Smart contracts S M L XL Red Advantage Red Premium Red VIP
BlackBerry Q10 price R469 R499 R649 R799 R999 R1,599 R1,999
Minutes 75 120 250 400 700 1200 Unlimited
Data 75MB 120MB 250MB 400MB 700MB 1200MB 1500MB
SMS 150 240 500 800 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited

Vodacom’s off-contract recommended retail price is R8,999, while Dion Wired recently opened its pre-orders for the BlackBerry Q10 at R8,000.

While it’s important to remember that you’re getting a high-end LTE-capable smartphone for this money, Vodacom’s contract prices for the Q10 are the same as for the Galaxy S4, with less data offered on the lower-end contracts.

From a pure network-usage perspective, the value proposition doesn’t look too good through Vodacom.

However, Cell C and Telkom Mobile both offer special data deals for BlackBerry 10 devices and it remains to be seen what they will ask for the BlackBerry Q10.

Summary

If you’re looking for a high-end smartphone with a hardware keyboard, then get the BlackBerry Q10.

There’s nothing that competes with it in that space, and its a fine phone provided you don’t need all the third-party apps available to the Android and iOS ecosystems.

What you’ll love

  • Hardware keyboard lovers rejoice! The BlackBerry keyboard is back!
  • The screen is almost as big as the Torch’s, but it fits on a Bold’s body.

What you’ll hate

  • Lack of apps
  • Touch screen is unresponsive under specific conditions
  • A few software quirks will make you go, “huh?”

What you should note

  • The trackpad, menu, call answer and disconnect buttons are gone.

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BlackBerry Q10 hands-on