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BlackBerry Q10 review: The BlackBerry for keyboard diehards

The BlackBerry Q10 has arrived, bringing with it a modern OS, an excellent keyboard, and long battery life.

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Brian Bennett
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Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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9 min read

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.

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7.7

BlackBerry Q10

The Good

The <b>BlackBerry Q10</b> 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.

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.

Design
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.

Meet BlackBerry's new messaging master (pictures)

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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.

Keyboard
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

Display
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

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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7.7

BlackBerry Q10

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8
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