Blackberry Q10: The key is the keyboard

April 26, 2013

Not so long ago Blackberry made phones that set the bar. They were avatars of serious cool among the power set, a visible token that you had arrived. Then came the iPhone, and there went Blackberry’s cachet.

Now Blackberry is back with a two smartphone phones running a new operating system — both the phones and the OS are dubbed “10.” The rebooted line is a gambit — some think Blackberry’s last — to recapture the cool.

The Z10, released in the United States in March, was an attempt to join ‘em: it’s a full screen, multi-touch rectangle with a pop-up, software keyboard — sound familiar? But the Q10, due in the U.S. at the end of May, is a spit-in-your-eye attempt to beat ‘em: An unapologetic central feature is a physical keyboard, and this defining Blackberry touch makes the device an  intentional outlier in the smartphone world.

Some smartphones coming to the market are more like small tablets than phones. Some have more apps, like the iPhone. But all have access to a plethora of streaming content, e-books, games, cloud storage, push e-mail and browsers that “undesign” web pages, making them easier to read.

One has a keyboard. This feature is not a pander to the Blackberry faithful or a half-hearted attempt to get back to some company roots. Blackberry has made the hardware keyboard essential again. The Q10 is at the same time different, familiar, exciting, comfortable. The key is the keyboard.

The key is the keyboardEver since the iPhone debuted, the keyboard tradeoff has seemed one-sided. Full-face screens begat even bigger screens and led to the infantilization of phones.  They’re great for watching movies and playing games, but they don’t make handling e-mail, editing or reading a document a vastly superior experience. When you have a portable tablet like the iPad Mini, why would you choose to watch a movie or play a game on an even smaller screen?

The Q10′s keyboard takes up 33 percent of front face real estate. It measures 3 centimeters vertically and is situated below the 6-centimeter-high multi-touch screen. The keyboard is the main way you access content. Typing a letter or two from any menu page instantly calls up an app, a contact, or a calendar event. You don’t have to organize a darn thing. Sure, you can arrange app icons and gather them into folders. You can create contact favorites. But in the week I’ve used the Q10 I didn’t once access an app or a contact by looking for where I left it. I used the keyboard, typed two letters, and there it was.

This is only possible on a phone with a physical keyboard which, by definition, is always on. On my iPhone 4S I can also find apps in a device search, but that requires first going to the search page. And the iPhone search isn’t as smart: Type “te” (or “me”) on the Q10 and among the hits is the messaging app. Type “te” on the iPhone and “Messages” is nowhere to be found. On the Q10, “me” got me not only “Text Messages” but “BBM,” Blackberry’s proprietary messaging system. It understood that my intention was messaging.

For typing, the keyboard is great. And with predictive words — for some reason, this feature is off by default — you have a best-of-both-worlds scenario.

This Q10 is a winning combination of well-thought-out ideas in other ways as well. The contacts function aggregates “activity,” social gestures and even news stories about the company where contacts work, with ”updates,” the exchanges you’ve had. This “all-in-one-place” approach is like a mini profile of anyone you put in your address book.

When connected to your computer, the Q10 is recognized as an external drive whose contents are accessible on your desktop through the latest version of Blackberry Link — no syncing intermediary like iTunes.

The iPhone only recently added a To Do app — Reminders. But Blackberry’s To Do leaves it in the dust with an Evernote-like ability to add voice note and attachments to a task.

Navigation, transitions and animations are all spot on. This seems to be as quick and responsive an OS as I’ve seen, perhaps because Blackberry (like Apple) does both the hardware and software.

There are still ways the Q10 could inch closer to perfection.

Apps availability isn’t ideal. Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, LinkedIn and Skype were installed on the AT&T branded unit. There was no Google Maps app, but Blackberry’s version worked just fine for me on four, hour-long car trips to unfamiliar destinations. But Pandora, Spotify, Netflix were all absent.

Without a Google Drive app — and uncertain prospects for one — you can’t work directly on a collaborative document. Blackberry is up against three powerhouses that allow collaboration in the cloud with widely used Google and Microsoft (SkyDrive) apps. That said, some of the available productivity tools are impressive: Docs to Go, Dropbox and Box.

There is no horizontal orientation (you can’t use a sideways keyboard), so video and game play is on a squarish screen. This is a gamble for Blackberry but not a big one in my view. I see a smartphone as a device of last resort for such activities anyway – a small tablet is better for those types of utilities.

Finally, I’m still not the biggest fan of how the 10 series handles notifications, which I mentioned in my review of the Z10. The Hub concept is fine, but there are no verbose, peek-a-boo alerts about received messages, just that you have new messages and what accounts they are in. E-mail in the Hub can’t be filtered by default to show only unread items, so unread items are sometimes hard to find. It is possible to filter out read items ad hoc, but that takes four keystrokes each time. You can’t even mark all items read without opening them, which you might want to do based on the subject line alone.

(Maybe we can prevail on the people at Pebble to reconsider their decision to ignore the new Blackberry line so we could outsource verbose alerts to our wrists where they belong? After all, Pebble’s CEO cut his teeth on Blackberry version in 2008, with the InPulse watch. Or, hey Blackberry — How about a smartwatch of your own?)

There are a few software upgrades in the Q10 (that will also soon roll out for Z10 handesets). Most of them will delight the Blackberry faithful — and mean nothing to anyone else. They include pin-to-pin messaging, a proprietary means of texting which doesn’t use your data plan or the Internet, and can only be done between Blackberry phones. It’s one of those quirky differentiators that Blackberry had abandoned but loyalists missed. The “T” and “B” shortcuts are back, scooting you to the top and bottom of pages.

Since 2007, I’ve owned nothing but iPhones, but the Q10 is the first phone to make me question that loyalty. Carrying one for about a week feels like I’ve put on my big kid pants. At this moment in time, the Q10 is my next phone.

10 comments

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Why did RIM abandon the slide keyboard feature that is available on the Torch? With the other features you covered, that would make the 10 a clear winner for me. I’m not willing to give up my keyboard or lose screen landscape in favor of it.

Posted by mentioch | Report as abusive

Good points. I have held off upgrading my Curve because i can’t do without my keyboard. I have an Ipod touch which provides a superior web browsing and media experience ;However, I am usually at home for that and use a Kindle as well for that experience. The Ipod is too cumbersome for writing emails and lengthy messages which is my primary use for my phone. I will be getting the Q10 first day it arrives stateside. Blackberry’s problem is repairing its brand image here. People have no idea they have new phones coming out and the people that do believe its still the old hourglass/constant battery rebooting os.

Posted by JuanGruber | Report as abusive

Here are the hands-on videos of BB Q10.

Blackberry Q10 Review [best video collection]
http://www.zeeik.com/zeeik/-2099380598

hope to be helpful.. and feel free to edit it or add more videos~

Posted by hotdrink | Report as abusive

I don’t use any apps except Google Maps, I don’t play games or watch videos on my smartphone, I take photos occasionally for work, but only occasionally, I’m not on social media all day, etc. But, man, do I crank out some emails. And I get a lot of emails, too. And a fair amount of texts.

So, yeah, I love the BB physical keyboard. I have a BB Torch (bigger screen, slide-out keyboard), and I really, really hope that model is in the queue over at BlackBerry, because I’d love to get one with the new 10 OS.

Android and Apple operating systems are dead-on perfect for most of their buyers, but not for me.

Posted by ehhow | Report as abusive

Good job BlackBerry and nice article. I have a BlackBerry PlayBook tablet which will get the BB 10 OS update at some point. The Q10 is going to be the perfect complement to that soon!

Nice to see that BB designed their own OS unlike all the Droid phones out there. The Z10 and Q10 are both excellent phones and BES 10 (for business use) that will accept all BYOD devices in the workplace are all winners! BlackBerry is going to be around for a number of years analysts are starting to wake up to this…

4 more product releases coming based on BB10 OS that will allow BB to access all markets. How many developments from Apple in this space? A 5S maybe a watch LOL

Not to mention I highly expect to see a licensing deal with perhaps Lenovo or Sony or both! Sony can sell in Japan using BB10 on their phones – No BlackBerry phones in Japan made by BlackBerry… Coincedence – maybe or maybe not?

Posted by Tony67 | Report as abusive

Thought I’d add a good link for the Q10 from a UK seller as the Q10 has just been launched there… sounds very busy in the background and good to see a knowledgable salesperson…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX_rXjlYy Rk

Posted by Tony67 | Report as abusive

One thing that I have noticed, you can actually mark emails read without opening them on Z10. I am sure it is the same on the Q, press for a long hold – multiple select then select the fourth icon down with a closed envelope behind an open one. Not sure if that is what you meant or not but for whatever its worth. Thanks for the great article.

Posted by scottd. | Report as abusive

You can’t be serious? You have carried this phone for a week and it feels like you have put on your big kid pants? What the hell does that mean?

You are either:

1. Shilling for RIM or
2. Technologically challenged or
3. Dumb as a bag of Nokia flip-phones

Which one is it?

Posted by LSButts | Report as abusive

The key is the keyboard – once I had Nokia E65 with keyboard. This was very cheap feature phone, but I loved this device. Then I decided to buy something more modern – finally I’ve selected Nokia N8, however Nokia E7 was considered too. I decided to go with N8 because of very good digital camera and some additional features, like I/O ports (HDMI etc.) and a possibility to use microSD cards. Now, I want to buy a smartphone which will combine all the features I want – and to be honest: this is the physical, real keyboard. Instead of operating system, thousands of applications, I/O ports and a nice screen, I want my keyboard experience back. A great digital camera is a very nice feature, especially for a person which don’t want to have an advanced device separately, but touch-screens are unable to simulate the joy of having real keys under our fingers  So, come back keyboards, please!

Regards,
Pawel Wawrzyniak
http://turingsman.net/

Posted by Turingsman | Report as abusive

With the Z10 or the Q10, now if you want Google Maps, open the browser. Type in the web page search maps.google.ca if you are in Canada. In the US, type maps.google.com

Once the maps open, save the shortcut to the desktop using the side menu. When prompted type the name to save as Google Maps. Close the browser.

Go to the desktop. Open the new Google Map icon. Log in and save your favorite place to open.

Explore the Google Map menu. There are a number of useful features. I found it to work very well for me.

Jerry G.

Posted by Jerryg50 | Report as abusive