BlackBerry Q10 review: The BlackBerry for keyboard diehards

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The Good The BlackBerry Q10 boasts a superb physical keyboard, the latest BlackBerry OS (version 10.1), smooth performance, and long battery life.

The Bad The BlackBerry Q10’s screen is small. Its camera is average, not exceptional. BlackBerry 10’s learning curve is long and its app selection trails behind those of its competitors.

The Bottom Line The BlackBerry Q10 is a great phone for QWERTY diehards and e-mail addicts, but anyone who doesn't need a physical keyboard should skip it.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

Say hello to the BlackBerry Q10, which offers a larger and more spacious QWERTY keyboard and a fresh infusion of the BlackBerry 10.1 operating system. It builds on the greatness of past BlackBerry messaging machines, yet blends this with modern smartphone software powerful enough to run multiple apps at once without skipping a beat. It also surfs Web sites like a champ and has a battery that goes the distance. Of course, the BlackBerry ecosystem lacks a wide app selection, but the Q10's hybrid approach should satisfy traditional BlackBerry addicts who crave a practical upgrade.

The Q10 is sold on Verizon for $199.99 (with a two-year contract) and T-Mobile for $99.99 down plus $20 per month (plus service) for 24 months. It will also be coming to AT&T and Sprint soon.

A deep and luscious all-black, the slablike Q10 has an appearance that's all buttoned up and ready for business. If you've used a BlackBerry Bold or even an ancient Curve handset, the BlackBerry Q10 will feel like an old and familiar friend. I know I felt waves of nostalgia flood over me when I scooped the machine up for the first time.

The Q10 is cut in the same classic flat shape with softly rounded edges that graced other BlackBerrys. Above the 3.1-inch screen sits a large circular notification light that flashes an angry red to compel you to check your messages. Below the display is the phone's large keyboard, right where you expect it.

BlackBerry says the Q10's edges are honed from specially treated aluminum, not plastic, which though black is designed to withstand scratches and scrapes. According to BlackBerry, it also strengthens the chassis and guards against bending and flexing. I can say that while this band helps the edges feel sturdy, they do give a little when pushed.

The BlackBerry Q10 is small enough to grip with one hand. Sarah Tew/CNET

On the left side you'll find a Micro-USB port plus a Micro-HDMI connection to output video to TVs. Running along the right edge is a thin combo volume rocker and Play/Pause key that doubles as a way to activate the Q10's voice command feature.

An elegant stainless-steel stripe divides the Q10's back. Above it is a small area which holds the phone's 8-megapixel camera and LED flash. Below the stripe is the Q10's battery door, which conceals a 2,100mAh removable battery, plus slots for microSD and SIM cards. I definitely like the phone's rubber soft-touch coating, which is easy to grip and repels fingerprints. BlackBerry also claims the Q10's thin battery cover is made from reinforced glass that's designed to flex, not crack. The cover though doesn't fit quite flush against the chassis, especially near the USB port, which is disconcerting.

A stainless steel stripe runs along the back of the handset. Sarah Tew/CNET

Measuring 4.7 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide, the BlackBerry Q10 is shorter and more compact than many of today's big-screened phone monsters. At 0.4 inch thick, the Q10 isn't quite as svelte as competing handsets, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One, however. Still, in a gadget equipped with a full four rows of physical keys I can forgive this.

The BlackBerry Q10's keyboard is the star of this show. With a full four rows and 35 keys, the device's QWERTY layout is exceptionally comfortable. There isn't much spacing between keys, but the buttons themselves are large. In fact BlackBerry claims the keys are 30 percent bigger than those on previous models.

As on the BlackBerry Bold, the surfaces of the Q10's buttons are sculpted with ridges and concave depressions. The end result is that you can intuitively feel where the center of each key is, and more importantly, know when you stray. Key travel is deep as well, and key presses give a satisfying click.

The keyboard is comfortable, well designed, and the largest on a BlackBerry yet. Sarah Tew/CNET

There's no confusing BlackBerry's tried and true design with that of any other phone maker. One big drawback to relying on physical keys, however, is there's less available room for the screen. Measuring 3.1 inches, the Q10's display is veritably lilliputian compared with the 4.7-inch, 5-inch, and, yes, 5.5-inch panels found on top-tier handsets.

At 720x720 pixels, the Q10's screen resolution is paltry, especially when viewed against phones with full HD resolutions (1,920x1,080 pixels). In fact whether reading Web pages or viewing photos and video, I found my eyes straining to discern detail in the device's cramped display area. The Q10's screen doesn't get very bright either, though thanks to its OLED technology it has wide viewing angles, high contrast, and deep black levels.

Software, UI, and features
As a BlackBerry 10 device, the Q10 runs BlackBerry's most advanced operating system. With it comes all the new features BlackBerry Z10 owners enjoy, including true multitasking (running multiple applications at once) and novel ways to stay on top of your messages, e-mail, and social-networking feeds.

The BlackBerry Hub channels all your messages and alerts into one handy inbox that displays not only the number of incoming missives but also their subject lines. It makes prioritizing and powering through communications either a breeze or difficult to avoid, depending on your perspective. I personally appreciate the Hub and wish Android phones had a similar capability.

You can check your Hub status by performing the Peek gesture, essentially drawing an inverted L, by dragging your finger up from the bottom of the screen and then to the right. With this gesture you can to roll up any app or home screen like a window shade and slide it to the right to reveal the Hub beneath. For more about BlackBerry 10's capabilities, check out our full review of the OS.

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

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