BlackBerry Q10 review: The BlackBerry for keyboard diehards

The Q10 can operate multiple applications at once. Sarah Tew/CNET

Just like the Z10, the BlackBerry Q10 has the power to access multiple e-mail accounts and social-networking services, and can fill your address book and calendar by tapping into these services. Unlike other phone software such as HTC's Sense user interface, BB10 didn't hunt down and suggest links between duplicate contacts with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail.

The BlackBerry Q10 supports Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC. The music app is decent, as is the basic Maps app. The same goes for Documents To Go, which lets you read, create, and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents and view PowerPoint and Adobe PDF files.

BlackBerry was kind enough to add a generous supply of social-media apps too in the form of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and LinkedIn. Sadly, as with the Z10, the YouTube app isn't really an app at all, but a way to link to the service's mobile Web site. Other notable applications bundled with the Q10 are a notes program and an alarm clock with a nifty bedtime mode (it puts the kibosh on all alerts so you can rest better).

Besides the keyboard, another benefit to holding out for the Q10 is a fresh infusion of software. The BlackBerry Q10 is the first of the company's handsets to ship with the latest iteration of BlackBerry 10, version 10.1. It brings a host of updates and fixes, including special tweaks that take advantage of the Q10's keyboard.

A tool BlackBerry calls Instant Actions lets you jump straight into common functions simply by typing commands. For example, banging out the word "tweet" with text immediately following will post a Twitter update pronto. Typing the command also pulls up options for selecting your Twitter client of choice. Of course there is a wide range of uses for Instant Actions, for functions such as placing calls and crafting e-mails.

I do have to say though that using BlackBerry 10's newfangled touch gestures on a keyboard phone takes some practice. Many times I wanted to use a touch pad that wasn't there rather than rip my thumb away from the keypad and reach for the Q10's display.

Performance
I never would have known that the BlackBerry Q10 was powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and not one of the cutting-edge quad-core CPUs driving this year's crop of muscular smartphones. The phone felt lively and responsive, smoothly gliding through multiple apps, menus, and browser windows without missing a beat.

Putting the handset through our standard battery of basic performance tests, however, belied my impressions. The BlackBerry Q10 took a long 1 minute and 18 seconds to boot up to its lock screen. That's not as fast as the Z10 (56 seconds) and a snail's pace compared with modern quad-core smartphones such as the HTC One (7 seconds).

As a matter of fact, the Q10's Web surfing speeds lagged behind as well. On AT&T's 4G LTE network in New York, it took a full 8.1 seconds to load CNET's mobile page and an even slower 11.2 seconds for the desktop version of the site. The performance here of the Verizon Q10 was mixed. The handset fired up CNET's mobile page in 4.1 seconds but struggled with the full desktop version -- opening in 15.4 seconds. Both AT&T's and Verizon's 4G LTE network has supplied quick data downloads in the past on countless phones I've tested.

Performance: BlackBerry Q10
CNET mobile site load, AT&T 8.1 seconds
CNET mobile site load, Verizon 4.1 seconds
CNET desktop site load, AT&T 11.2 seconds
CNET desktop site load, Verizon 15.4 seconds
Weather Channel app download (15.2MB), AT&T 13.5 seconds
Weather Channel app download (15.2MB), Verizon 34.3 seconds
CBS Sports app load (1MB), AT&T 4.6 seconds
CBS Sports app load (1MB), Verizon 7.9 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 1 minute, 18 seconds
Camera boot time 2.7 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 1.5 seconds

Call quality
A huge bright spot in the BlackBerry Q10's performance was call quality. I tested the phone on AT&T's GSM network along with Verizon's CDMA cellular system in New York. Both I and my callers were impressed with the results. Callers reported crystal-clear audio with no static or other distractions to speak of. In fact, they had difficulty detecting that I was calling from a cell phone. Callers' voices were mighty loud to my ears as well, from the earpiece or from the device's speakerphone. People on the other end also commented on the clarity of speakerphone calls.

That said, call quality sounded slightly better in my experience across AT&T's airwaves. As opposed to calls placed on Verizon, my conversations with the AT&T BlackBerry Q10 were a bit louder and more clear.

BlackBerry Q10 (AT&T) call quality sample Listen now:
BlackBerry Q10 (Verizon) call quality sample Listen now:

Battery life
In addition to excellent call quality, the BlackBerry Q10 delivered in another area where many smartphones fall short, longevity. In our highly controlled anecdotal battery drain test, the Q10 played back a video for an impressive 14 hours and 4 minutes before finally calling it quits. The device's behavior during my test period mirrored these results, and I consistently managed to go well over a full business day without recharging it.

Camera
One of our chief complaints about the Z10 was its no-frills camera app. That said, the phone was the first BlackBerry to pack an imaging system on par with the competition. The 8-megapixel camera you'll find on the Q10 is no different. It essentially uses the same image maker and software tricks as the Z10.

Indoor shots were well exposed.

There is one difference, though: the addition of an HDR mode for pulling out a high degree of detail in low light. You'll also find BlackBerry's TimeShift function, a mode that shoots multiple pictures in succession and then allows you to pick the best one. Interestingly, the phone provides an innovative circular wheel for cycling through moments in time.

HDR mode lightens up shadows. Brian Bennett/CNET

The Q10 does fall victim to the Z10's faults, though, namely that there's no way to select image resolution and that the editing tools are designed mainly for use after a picture has been shot. Even so, the phone does take respectable images. Indoor shots were well exposed with an acceptable level of detail. Outdoors, however, both details and colors looked flat and lifeless. Shot-to-shot time was an issue too since the phone required about a second to capture images. This lengthened substantially when the HDR mode was enabled.

Details and colors outdoors looked flat. Brian Bennett/CNET

The Q10's camera could snap photos of strolling subjects. Brian Bennett/CNET

Conclusion
How compelling the BlackBerry Q10 is really hinges on whether you believe that the ideal mobile device needs to be an efficient messaging machine first and a gadget for running apps second. If so, and I admit you're in the minority, then the Q10's superb keyboard and message-handling capabilities make it a perfect match. Its long battery life and comfortable keyboard may be what you've been holding out for, and the inclusion of BlackBerry 10.1 is extra icing on the cake. Those who want a phone tied to a bigger ecosystem and one that offers a wider selection of apps and services, however, should look elsewhere.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jun 5, 2013
  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider Verizon Wireless
  • Weight 4.9 oz
  • Diagonal Size 3.1 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
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