BlackBerry has gone back to its roots and produced a typical BB smartphone that means business, literally. But is the hefty price tag justified?

Since the beginning of time (at least in the gadget universe), BlackBerry phones have been the smartphones of choice. In its prime, BlackBerry, for me, was everything a smartphone could be.

In fact, when I first saw the iPhone, I was extremely sceptical about the functionality of its touchscreen keypad. But then again, times change and gadgets changed too. And like most others, I moved on to the touchscreen bar form factor, thinking I’ll never have to come back to the physical keypad.

That is, until the BlackBerry Q10 popped up. And from the time I learnt that it will feature a touchscreen, a fresh operating system AND a physical keyboard, I wanted to lay my hands on a unit. The Q10 is finally here, and the Smartbuy team has put it through its paces.

Design

For all practical purposes, the Q10 is a Bold 9900 with neater, straighter lines and subtle elegance. It still retains the characteristic BlackBerry features like curves and a square screen but unlike the Bold, its keyboard is laid out in straight lines, and there’s just a bit of brushed metal between the rows of keys.

The Q10 is chambered in a metal chassis, which adds a lot of durability to the product, but takes away the shiny-metal-rim look that the Bold has. Some users might not like this styling, as the uniformity of body colour is broken only by a few metal lines on the entire body. The black units, however, have a nice carbon fibre weave pattern on the removable rear hatch which is slightly rubberised, offering a decent grip.

The dimensions of the Q10, however, make it a very ergonomic device. The 3.1-inch (diagonal) 1:1 screen is enclosed within a 4.71x2.63 inch body, which is all of 0.41 inches thick. Its design makes it very convenient for swift typing (both single and double handed).

Display

The Q10’s 3.1-inch Super AMOLED screen is a brilliant one. It is way better than the Z10’s screen as well. Text and images are sharp, well contrasted and clear under all lighting conditions, including bright sunlight. The 720x720 pixel resolution amounts to more pixels per square inch than the iPhone 5. Reading emails, PDFs and surfing is delightful. The screen also manages decent colour reproduction and visibility up to some really extreme angles.

However, being laid out in a 1:1 aspect ratio, it is a bit awkward to watch videos on the device. Almost all the videos available these days are laid out in 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio, so when you watch such videos, they lose height to fit the width. Being a square screen, it makes no sense to have screen rotation, and hence the Q10 does not have it.

Input

It usually is a dicey and messy affair when it comes to having two different kinds of input methods on a smartphone. For instance, the touch and type interface on the Bold 9900 was a bit confusing at first, because it had both touch and a joystick, and it took a while for many users to decide which input method to use for what. Same was the case with a few Android devices such as Motorola Defy XT Pro, LG Optimus Pro C660, HTC ChaCha and Samsung Galaxy Chat.

With the Q10, however, BlackBerry has retained the keyboard’s use strictly to text input. For everything else, the super-smooth and responsive multi-touch capacitive touchscreen does the job. The lack of any navigation or call function keys also make this fact loud and clear. And the keyboard, is a delight to use. The keys are aptly sized, allow decent travel, and are very tactile. They also don’t have the loud clickety-clack sounds that some older BlackBerry models’ keyboards had. It took me about 30 minutes of typing on the Q10 to get re-accustomed to a physical keypad, but after that I couldn’t stop pinging people.

Camera

For a phone that’s meant to be a quintessential business phone, the Q10 has a decent camera. The camera setup is actually the same as seen on the Z10, 8-meg with LED flash at the back, and 2-meg on the fascia. The rear camera produces decent pictures with good colour reproduction and sharpness in daylight and well-lit indoors. But, it’s no HTC One-esque Ultrapixel camera or Lumia 920ish low-light superstar, and hence low light performance is sub par. However, because the Q10 has a Super AMOLED screen, images look better on the device now.

The Q10 has quite a few basic editing options like some vintage filters to add in the Pictures app, but BlackBerry needs to bring popular imaging apps to BlackBerry world ASAP, if it wants users to get hooked to this.

Specs and performance

BlackBerry has packed in a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 1.5 GHz dual-core CPUs, with a 2GB RAM to go along with it. Number wise, the specs don’t look too fancy. But the way the BB10 handles this is amazing. Throughout the usage period there were no lags, no freezes and no bugs as well. The interface too, was like hot knife to butter.

As with the Z10, the swipe-gesture-based navigation on the OS is just so sensible. It helps with multitasking, and eliminates the need to have any capacitive or physical navigation buttons. The BlackBerry hub is also present, which stacks up all synced accounts. The Q10 comes with 16GB worth of internal storage, but this can be expanded up to 64GB using a microSD card. The onboard speakers are quite loud and decent, and can be used at full volume without losing audio fidelity.

Apps

Apps are one area where BlackBerry needs a lot of refinement. The native social network apps are good, but not better than the versions found on other platforms. For example, the Facebook app doesn’t have the swipe-to-reveal chat list, and WhatsApp has a few bugs that don’t show up newly added contacts with full details. The Google Talk application is practically useless (umm, we’ve moved on Hangouts, y’know?). The new Skype (preview) app is quite unstable, and Instagram is nowhere to be seen. And in case I forgot to mention, the YouTube app is just a sham. The Maps application also needs some fine tuning.

BlackBerry Messenger is awesome as usual, but that’s going to keep only loyalists happy. People moving on from other platforms have not much to look forward to, other than the business features such as BlackBerry Balance.

Battery life

Here, I would like to thank the good folks at BlackBerry for putting in a battery that’s so much better than the Z10’s. The Q10 has a 2,100mAh battery that can easily take a full day worth of action, intermittently between 3G and WiFi. By a full day of usage, I would like mention that it was being used for voice calls, frequent emailing, Tweeting, some multimedia consumption and a lot of WhatsApp and BBM pinging.

We say

While the Z10 strove hard to be the perfect balance between work and life, the Q10 goes back to its roots by being the quintessential business smartphone with a few life features. But I feel that Q10 holds more promise than being just an awesome business smartphone – if the applications are worked on, and popular ones are brought to this platform. And this needs to be done fast, because the competition (albeit all full-touch ones) has got it all.

At this price, the Q10 does offer some premium construction quality, a beautiful screen, an awesome keyboard, and multitasking and meticulously synced accounts functionality. But to offer more value for money, BlackBerry needs to work on the app front.

Rs 44,990

Love – Awesome keyboard, brilliant screen, BlackBerry 10 features

Hate – Average camera, apps need refinement

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on June 17, 2013)
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