BlackBerry (it isn't RIM anymore) clearly planned the Q10 as a high-end device from the start, giving it a 3.1-inch Super AMOLED display with 720 x 720 pixels, a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor clocked at 1.5 GHz, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of expandable memory, an 8-Megapixel camera and a 2,100 mAh removable battery. Yes, it's a Z10 with a different body.
DESIGN & HANDLING
Where is it? Where is that other element that screams "BlackBerry" just as much as the keyboard, that part that helped launch the brand to its erstwhile heights? The trackpad, that little ball you used to use to navigate through your BlackBerry, is no more. If you want to change a word or go somewhere specific in an e-mail or web page, in 2013 you use the touchscreen. It's a practical solution in that the screen is precise, but all in all we find it less effective. But more on that later.
BlackBerry has succeeded in maintaining the same level of excellence as its previously loved keyboards. Messaging addicts, be their drug of choice e-mails, texts or tweets, will love it. In fact, it's a major improvement over the Bold 9970, whose keyboard was already outstanding. This one feels great to the touch and the perfectly separated keys are undeniably easy to type on, as the curved edges make typos practically a thing of the past, even for newbies.
For people already familiar with the Curve, the keyboard should take even less time to get used to than for Bold users. However, the Q10 has a much larger screen than its predecessors, which moves the keyboard further down than on the Bold and Curve, where the keyboard often took up half of the facade.
So it takes some adjustment to figure out exactly how to hold your hands and where to place your fingers, because the low placement doesn't make the phone feel quite as steady in your hands while you type. At least that's how we felt.
Here, like with the Z10, the ON/OFF button is on the top edge of the phone, and the Q10's more compact shape makes it easier to get to. To unlock the phone, you can do the same upward swipe from the bottom of the touchscreen—a gesture that quickly becomes a habit.
The display looks great and is highly effective. The extra-wide viewing angles make it easy to see from the sides and the AMOLED technology makes the contrast excellent, just short of "infinite" with a ratio of over 12,000:1. The brightness is a tad low, however (121 cd/m²). The colours are relatively faithful with a Delta E of 4.8 (three and below means perfect accuracy, so 4.8 isn't bad—the smartphones with the most accurate colours on the market all fall below five, and some, like the Galaxy S4, even reach 3.5).
AMOLED technology has improved over the years and eked away from the flashy, unnatural, fluorescent-like colours of not so long ago. As a result, you don't need to touch up the image in any way, as it's already balanced and quite satisfactory straight out of the box.
When it comes to response times, AMOLED strikes again with an excellent... 0 ms. Needless to say, that's perfect. It makes videos play with amazing fluidity. The screen scans from top to bottom, as opposed to the GS4, which scans from left to right.
In fact, the display would be practically flawless, if it weren't for the awkward, square resolution of 720 x 720 pixels. It provides good legibility on the homescreens and in the menu, not so much for e-mails and web pages—although, naturally, it's better than all the previous BlackBerries.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
For a full description of the new operating system, BB10, make sure and check out our article BlackBerry 10 OS: The Revolution We've All Been Waiting For?
In substance, BlackBerry did a complete overhaul of its operating system, adding brand new touch gestures and borrowing bits and pieces from iOS, Android and especially Windows Phone 8's constant connectivity. In BB10 everything revolves around the Hub, a screen that's accessible from anywhere in the phone that gathers all the notifications you might receive—such as phone calls, texts, e-mails, Facebook updates, tweets and BBMs—all on one page.
That said, the Q10 doesn't allow you to enjoy the full BB10 experience in that the smart virtual keyboard, predictive text and gestures designed for the Z10 are, naturally, missing. But the physical keyboard has its own smart assistance with predictive text suggestions that are not proactive, but are relevant, plus shortcuts for navigating through the OS. Some examples: in the Hub you can go straight to the top or bottom of any list by pressing "T" or "B"; you can respond to a text or e-mail by simply pressing "R"; and you can launch any app by typing its name. You can also type phrases to launch actions. For example, if you type "call work" then the Q10 looks up the number and calls it; if you type "Spiderman", the Q10 will offer to launch the game and/or movie if you have them on your phone.
The whole system runs remarkably well—just like the Z10, which has the exact same insides. Switch between the touchscreen and keyboard works in one simple and fluid action, and we didn't notice the slightest lag or snag. However, appaholics looking for Instagram, popular video games and multiple versions of apps from different publishers will necessarily feel the lack of selection in AppWorld, which doesn't have all the best-sellers.
What to say about the web browsing experience on a smartphone with a screen this small? While the browser itself behaves pretty much irreproachably, the small space provided by the screen clearly doesn't make the Q10 one of the best smartphones for casual web browsing. And as we mentioned earlier, you don't have the trackpad to select bits of text or links; and while the touchscreen itself is highly responsive, the selection function doesn't work as smoothly as it could.
If by chance the relatively small, square screen tempts you to venture into movie-watching territory, it's worth knowing that the Q10 reads as many file formats as a Samsung phone—which means a lot. The Q10 supports just about any file type: MKV, AVI, HD DivX, MPEG4, H.264, 720p and 1080p... Although it doesn't read non-embedded subtitles.
The sound quality is similar to the Z10. The headphone output produces high volume, enough to feed most audio accessories (headphones, portable speakers, etc.) with great dynamics and zero saturation. As for the built-in speaker, it does what you expect it to, although there's fairly high saturation when playing at maximum volume.
Don't get too excited about video games, though, because the Q10 isn't really made for big, new titles, due first of all to its physical layout and secondly to the small selection of games available on AppWorld.
The BlackBerry Q10's camera provides similar quality to the Z10, with satisfactory detail on the whole. But it's even slightly better than the Z10 in that it produces less noise and slightly more faithful, neutral colours. Basically, the picture quality is satisfactory for a smartphone. But the digital image stabiliser, plus the better overall handling, makes blurry images less common than on the Z10.
The Q10 shoots movies in 1080p with adequate results. The video function's image stabiliser isn't exceptional, and you won't win any Oscars using it, but the Q10 gets the job done.
As mentioned earlier, the Q10's screen simply isn't the right size or dimensions for a number of multimedia tasks. But did BlackBerry transform this disadvantage into an advantage vis-à-vis the battery life? After all, the screen is what eats up a good part of a smartphone's power... Unfortunately, no they didn't. While the battery life isn't quite as catastrophic as the Z10's was when it came out, the Q10 doesn't have quite enough juice in it to carry the new power-hungry OS on its back.
The real power-eating perpetrator here goes by the name of the Hub. This feature that links up to every notification system on the phone drains the battery without mercy. Another thing the Q10 shares in common with the Z10 is that after a night in airplane mode, it oddly loses 20% of its battery... But all in all the Q10 lasts longer and can hold out for three-quarters of the day if you use it reasonably. And it charges quickly, in less than two hours.