BlackBerry has undergone a great number of transitions in a short few years, not all of them good. The company was once synonymous with suited business types, due to push email and full physical Qwerty keyboards on handsets. The low price of BlackBerry Messenger -- the subscription-based, unlimited messaging service -- meant, however, that BlackBerry phones found their way into the pockets of teens who could chat on the cheap.
The rise of touchscreen phones on rival platforms, along with messaging services like iMessage and WhatsApp, well and truly rubbed the shine off BlackBerry and its keyboards, though. Its big refresh came in the form of the, which sports a full-touchscreen interface.
With its full Qwerty keyboard perched on the bottom, the Q10 is a return to the classic BlackBerry design. Match that with the latest BB10 software, a 3.1-inch Super AMOLED screen, a dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera and you've got a recipe for a great return to form. But is it worth the astonishing £580 price tag?
Should I buy the BlackBerry Q10?
If you really, really want a phone with a physical keyboard on it then yes. The Q10 is the best keyboard-toting phone around. That's not really saying much though -- there's just very little competition in this area. There hasn't been a good Android keyboard phone basically ever, and BlackBerry's last efforts weren't much to speak of.
The Q10 packs some good treats. Its keyboard is comfortable, the AMOLED screen is bright and bold and the unified inbox, BlackBerry Hub, is handy. It's let down however by the same software annoyances found on the Z10. While none exactly make the phone unusable, they add up to a less than satisfactory experience.
It also suffers from a pitifully stocked app store. If you like grabbing the latest games and bragging about your high scores when you're supposed to be in meetings, the Q10 won't be for you.
With so little competition, the Q10 is the best model in what might be a dying category. If the keyboard is your main concern then it's worth taking a look at, but for the same money you can get some seriously impressive Android phones. I'd recommend trying to get to grips with a touchscreen alternative first as you'll find the rest of the phone much more pleasant to use.
The headline feature of the Q10 is of course its full Qwerty keyboard. If you've been waiting for a new BlackBerry with physical keys to hammer on all day, this is the phone for you.
Unlike previous models, the keys are arranged in straight lines, rather than curved. The keys go right up to the edge of the phone too which helps make the most of the available space. While not huge, the keys are big enough to be comfortable to press, even if you have quite big fingers. The metal frets between each row makes it easier to differentiate between keys at speed.
The layout is the same as you'll find on older models so existing BB users won't need to spend too much time getting used to things. If you're moving to the Q10 after spending time with a smart phone with a touchscreen, however, you might find things a little slow going.
The main problem is that a physical keyboard isn't able to change based on the context of task. For example, typing in a phone number into a website's box will allow software keyboards to automatically show a number panel. On the Q10, that's not possible, instead forcing you to press the 'Alt' key every time you want to use a number or punctuation mark.
Some of you might find typing on the physical keyboard quicker -- it's certainly more tactile than hitting a flat screen. Needing to hit an extra key when you want to use a full stop or comma does make things more clunky when you're writing long messages though. The autocorrect software will help out to a certain extent, sliding apostrophes into "there's" and "it's" when necessary, but it was far from perfect.
When I accidentally typed "I'm hoping thst" flagged "thst" as an incorrect word, but wasn't able to automatically correct it to "that" -- something that I'm used to taking place using SwiftKey on Android phones. It also didn't correctly capitalise the "i" in "I'm" which quickly became annoying.
If you've only ever used BlackBerry keyboards then you'll no doubt appreciate the extra space and be well used to its idiosyncrasies. If, like me, you're more used to the intuitive, adaptable software-based keyboards on touchscreen smart phones then you're likely to find it cumbersome, slow and often quite irritating.
Design and build quality
With the physical keyboard taking up the bottom third of the phone, the Q10 instantly looks like a classic BlackBerry device. There's no question it's come from a similar mould to the Bold and Curve phones. It has a candybar design, so unlike the chunky Torch, you don't need to slide the screen up to access the keys.
It's 120mm long and 67mm wide, which is quite a bit bigger than last year's Bold 9790 and the Curve 9320. It's hardly massive though -- especially when you compare it to the giant smart phones like the . It's easy to hold in one hand and you don't need to stretch your thumbs too much to hit all the keys. If you have very small hands, give it a try in a shop first to make sure you can use it comfortably.
The Q10 runs on the latest BlackBerry 10 software, which I'll talk about in more detail later on. It relies heavily on touch-based gestures, so you won't find any physical navigation keys -- or those tiny trackpads -- between the keyboard and screen.
The back panel is made from woven kevlar, with a rubberised finish. Kevlar is the same stuff stab vests are made from. While the Q10 is unlikely going to protect you from knives -- and I don't suggest you test that -- it will do a good job of resisting scratches from keys in your pocket.
It's far from perfect though. The back case slides off much too easily -- even a small amount of pressure is enough to unhook the clips. It's so easy to do, that even taking it out of the bundled sleeve caused it to come off. That's going to be a huge problem if you're outside in the rain and it falls off into a muddy puddle.
It's a real shame, as elsewhere the phone seems pretty well put together. The keys are comfortable and responsive, the side buttons don't have any annoying rattle and the metal frets across the keyboard are a pleasingly luxurious touch. It looks much more like a expensive product that some of BlackBerry's previous phones. It'll pair well with an expensive tailored suit and won't look out of place on the table in the British Airways airport lounge.
Ports and storage
Around the sides you'll find a micro-USB port for both charging and data transfer between a computer and an HDMI-out port. Having HDMI out allows you to hook your phone up to a bigger screen or, more likely, a projector. It worked perfectly in my test, mirroring everything that was currently on the phone's screen. If you need to show off apps or Web pages to an office meeting, this will come in very handy.
The Q10 comes with 16GB of storage built in as standard which should be enough for your essential apps and a few photos of Keith from accounts sitting bare-bottomed on the photocopier. If you need more space though, you'll find a microSD card slot under the back panel.
By ditching the physical navigation buttons between the screen and keyboard, the Q10 is able to make room for a 3.1-inch display, without making the handset bulge to gargantuan proportions. It's a 720x720-pixel affair, meaning that it has a square aspect ratio.
The BB10 software fits well on a square screen, displaying a 4x4 grid of multi-tasking tiles or a 4x3 grid of app icons. It looks neat and the bright and bold Super AMOLED display does a good job of making everything pop. The aspect ratio isn't brilliant when it comes to playing back videos though, as whichever way you hold it, you'll still get big black bars.
It's also awkward when you hook it up to a projector or big screen to present something. If your screen has a more common 16:9 aspect ratio then your phone's screen will simply show in a window, with a lot of wasted space around it. It doesn't look brilliant, so try to use square projector screens if you're giving an important presentation.
BlackBerry 10 software
Like the Z10, the Q10 comes running the latest software from BlackBerry, known simply as BlackBerry 10. It might be the latest, greatest interface from BB's magical developing factories, but if you're looking for the slickest, most easy to use software around, you'd be better off looking towards iOS or Android.
On the surface it starts out fairly well. App icons are laid out in an easy to read grid, similar to iOS's layout, and recent apps are displayed in a multitasking panel, making it simple to flick back into previous tasks. There are no live widgets, so Android fanatics can look away, but that does result in a simple, visually appealing interface.