BlackBerry Q10 (Verizon Wireless) review

The BlackBerry Q10 smartphone is a laser-focused niche product for messaging enthusiasts.
Photo of BlackBerry Q10 (Verizon Wireless)
599.99

The BlackBerry Q10 ($199.99 with contract) stands alone. It’s in a category of one. It’s hard to compare the Q10 to other smartphones because it won’t appeal to the average smartphone buyer, just as the target buyer for the Q10 is dissatisfied with the mainstream smartphones on the market. For the niche of mad-messaging executive and small-business types who will only be satisfied with the world’s finest hardware keyboard, the Q10 is ideal. But is that niche large enough any more? That’s for you, as the buyer, to judge.

Physical Design
Physically, the BlackBerry Q10 has evolved directly from the BlackBerry Bold 9930. I’ve spent enough time with enough units by now to appreciate its excellent build quality. At 4.7 by 2.6 by .4 inches (HWD) and 4.9 ounces, it’s very clearly designed for both one-handed and two-handed use. It’s shorter than the full-touch BlackBerry Z10, and still narrow enough to use in one hand. The back is a soft-touch, carbon-fiber-like material that RIM calls “woven glass,” with a subtle gray-and-black pattern. (The device also comes in all white.) It feels distinctly different and more premium than plastic, but lighter than metal. The front of the phone is evenly balanced between a 3.1-inch, 720-by-720-pixel display and a physical QWERTY keyboard that’s similar to the Bold’s, but better. A traditional BlackBerry notification light blinks up by the earpiece.

The four-row keyboard is 30 percent wider than the Bold’s, stretching almost edge to edge. Each row is separated by a fret, which makes for a fast, accurate typing experience. My only complaint is that the Shift and Alt keys are swapped from where you’d instinctively find them, but it’s easy enough to get used to that. Your fingers absolutely fly on these keys.

This keyboard is the benchmark for a keyboarded phone experience. Verizon has a few other keyboarded devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II, but they’re all horizontal sliders. That’s a bit inferior because it requires you to rotate, slide, and hold the phone with two hands; it’s nowhere near as immediate a typing experience as the traditional BlackBerry slab form factor, with buttons always at the ready. 

Phone Calls and Networking
Verizon’s BlackBerry Q10 is a world phone, able to work on both Verizon’s LTE and CDMA networks here at home and on HSPA networks abroad. Verizon sells the phone with a SIM card and its own plans, but you can get it unlocked after 60 days for international use. It supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, as well as Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC, and mobile hotspot mode with the right service plan.

This Q10 is, oddly, tuned slightly louder than T-Mobile’s Q10 is for voice calls, but at least that means you’ll have enough volume for all circumstances. The bottom-ported speakerphone didn’t pump out quite enough volume for outdoor use. Voice quality was okay, if a touch muddy. Noise cancellation was adequate but let a bit of background noise through.

The Q10 has comprehensive voice commands that work over Bluetooth, but I found that it had real trouble understanding even slightly unusual names. I couldn’t get it to recognize either my own name or my wife Leontine’s.

Battery life was pretty good. I got 10 hours, 15 minutes of talk time and more than a day of moderate use, which is better than I saw on the pre-production AT&T model I previewed. That’s about on par with the Samsung Galaxy S III and noticeably better than the BlackBerry Z10 for Verizon. I got 5 hours, 2 minutes of video streaming over LTE, also a good result. I did notice that battery life declines significantly if you are in a weak or no-signal area.

BlackBerry 10 OS and Performance
The BlackBerry Q10 runs BlackBerry OS 10.1, a minor update to the BlackBerry 10 OS with a few new features and bug fixes, so check out that review for an in-depth look at the Q10′s operating system. In short, the Q10 has a modern, competitive Web browser with Flash support; a built-in Microsoft Office compatible office suite; a unified inbox called BlackBerry Hub that also integrates Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; and an excellent note-taking app called Remember that syncs with Evernote, among other things.

BlackBerry’s approach to its home screen is unique: The main home screen is a constantly changing list of your most recently used apps. Swipe to the right, though, and you get an iPhone-like pane of movable, organizable icons. Swipe left and you get all of your messages. There’s nothing like Android’s widgets, though.

The keyboard and the 10.1 OS update make the Q10 even better for messaging and office work. The most dramatic new feature is Instant Actions: Just start typing, and the BlackBerry will try to figure out what to do with what you’re typing, whether it’s a contact’s name, the name of an app, or something you want to search on the Web. The feature reminds me of WebOS’s beloved Just Type, and it’s excellent.

There are hotkeys in many of the built-in apps. For instance, type a ‘T’ to go to the top and a ‘B’ to go to the bottom of lists. You can now customize notification sounds by account and contact, and support for invitees in Google Calendar accounts has been fixed.

BlackBerry OS still works better with Microsoft Exchange, Windows Live, and BlackBerry servers than Gmail, though. Since it’s using IMAP to sync, Gmail messages arrive a few seconds to a few minutes later on a BlackBerry than on an Android device.

The Q10 uses a 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 Pro processor, and performance on the Browsermark and Sunspider Web browsing benchmarks was similar to midrange smartphones like the HTC One SV and VX. The latest, hottest devices like the Samsung Galaxy S 4 are using a new generation of more powerful processors, but they’re also driving higher-resolution screens than the Q10 has. I couldn’t find any slowdowns that I was willing to attribute to the processor rather than to poorly programmed third-party apps.

(Next page: Apps, Multimedia, and Conclusions) 

Apps: Still Not Up To Par
BlackBerry 10 OS now has well more than 100,000 apps, and the Q10 and Z10 are approaching parity: 22 of the top 25 Z10 apps and 17 of the top 25 Z10 games are available for the Q10. But those reassuring numbers don’t change the fact that you can’t simply assume every app you hear about is on BlackBerry 10.

For instance, I like to load up my phone with news apps. The Guardian, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal are available for the Q10, but AP Mobile and Pulse aren’t. I spend a lot of time on transit, too. There’s a New York subway app for the Q10, but no Hopstop or Uber. I like to eat, and I have celiac disease. Neither Yelp, Zagat, Leloca, nor the various celiac-restaurant apps I know from Android show up on the Q10. Want music? You get Slacker and Deezer, but not Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, or Amazon MP3.

BlackBerry Maps is also far inferior to Google Maps. I found it fell short on general searches (like “pubs”), it doesn’t give you rich data on locations (like reviews and ratings, for instance), and it only provides driving directions, not walking or transit.

The Q10′s excellent Web browser, which supports Flash, can get around some of these problems. For instance, the Web version of Google Maps works just fine on the Q10. But that’s a bit slower and clunkier than a native app, and there’s no way to turn it into a persistent icon.

There are entertaining games for BlackBerry 10, if you don’t care about being up to the minute with the latest releases on iOS or Android. Beach Buggy Blitz, Robotek, Doodle Jewels, and the Where’s My? games are fine commute companions, and Bard’s Tale brings a relatively rare richer adventure experience.

Multimedia
The BlackBerry Q10 has an 8-megapixel main camera and a 2-megapixel front camera. I was disappointed in the main camera’s performance. It defaults to a weird mode which takes square photos to match the screen’s aspect ratio; you can fix that, but I couldn’t fix the camera’s focus lock problems in low light. Too many of the indoor test photos I took were simply out of focus, something I hope BlackBerry will fix in firmware. Outdoors, the focus issue didn’t crop up, and burst and HDR modes worked well.

The video recording mode takes decent 720p videos from the front and back cameras at 30 frames per second, but 1080p videos were marked by distracting wobble and low-light focus issues. 

The best way to get media onto the Q10, other than by buying it through BlackBerry’s store, is by syncing it over Wi-Fi or a USB cable with a PC or Mac using BlackBerry’s relatively slick BlackBerry Link software. Among other things, that reformats music and videos for the device so you generally don’t have to worry about compatibility (although DRMed files won’t play, of course). Without Link, MPEG4, H.264, WMV, DivX, and Xvid videos all played fine, as did MP3, AAC, WMA, and OGG-formatted music files.

The phone also has a standard micro HDMI port to output video to a TV; it can mirror its entire interface, if you want to give a presentation, although everything other than the video app is locked to a 1,080-by-1,080 square in the middle of a 1080p TV screen. Although there was only 11.5GB available on our so-called 16GB device, you can add a 64GB microSD card into a slot under the back cover.

Conclusions
The BlackBerry Q10 has a different mix of features from any other smartphone on the market. It’s highly messaging and Web-centric, light on customizability and apps. If you’re looking for a device to pound out updates and schedule meetings with an office that uses a Microsoft Exchange server, the BlackBerry Q10 will make sure your memos maintain their magic. No other smartphone on the market embodies this form factor this well, and prioritizes messaging this much.

It’s hard to compare the Q10 to anything else on the market. Our general Editors’ Choice phones are the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S 4, and HTC One. But their touch screens won’t satisfy the Q10 shopper. The Samsung Stratosphere 2 and Motorola Droid 4 have physical keyboards which are nowhere near as good as the Q10′s.

But the BlackBerry 10 OS is still too far behind other mobile OSes in key categories including navigation, apps, and customizability. Combined with the issues I had with the cameras, that makes the Q10 hard to recommend as an overall mainstream choice, and drops the rating down to a 3.5—a good showing, but zigging where the industry is zagging.

Specifications
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
High-Speed Data EDGE, EVDO Rev A, LTE, HSPA+ 21
Total Integrated Storage 16 GB
Screen Resolution 720 x 720 pixels
Screen Type Super AMOLED HD
Operating System as Tested BlackBerry OS
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 8 MP Rear
microSD Slot Yes
Screen Pixels Per Inch 330 ppi
Battery Life (As Tested) 10 hours 15 minutes
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 700
Video Camera Resolution 1080p
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
GPS Yes
Screen Size 3.1 inches
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Form Factor Candy Bar

Verdict
The BlackBerry Q10 smartphone is a laser-focused niche product for messaging enthusiasts.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc