BlackBerry Q10 review: the smartphone grows up

Q10 holding watermark

I dislike BlackBerrys. But I like the Q10. It’s a fresh take on the old Curves and Bolds, with a touchscreen thrown in for kicks. It also feels very rich in my hand, like running my fingers across an Audi’s seat.  It smells good too. Did I mention that it’s also a damn fine phone? As for the price, it’s US$529 or R8 999 from where I hail.

So I really didn’t like the Q5. It felt like a nasty little phone with a price that was way too high for what was on offer. I like free stuff though, so I didn’t hesitate for too long when BlackBerry handed me its upgrade to the Q5, the doubled-up Q10. It’s miles better than the Q5 and probably better than the Z10, which if I had to review again, would now score lower. But I stand by my reviews, so I’ll just say that the Q10 is the best-BEST-BlackBerry ever made. As of right now.


The Q10 is right sexy. It’s been luxuriously crafted right down to the thin steel part the backing plate clicks into. It even looks good under the hood, BlackBerry went as far as to design how the SIM-card tray looks. Fancy that.

It’s a little heavy in my hand, but it’s the sign of something that has been well-designed, rather than mass-produced from a factory cut out. Kind of like a Porsche, which BlackBerry has also (ironically) made.

Q10 Top down watermark

Looks the business

BlackBerry’s nailed the design. The media interface buttons feel good. So does the power button on top, and the keys. I won’t go on about the keyboard, just know that it’s fantastic, responsive and solid. It’s what makes the Q10 so special (and the Q5 so appalling), as it’s combined with the 3.1-inch touchscreen. I don’t want to get too geeky, but the amount of pixels per inch is 328, which is incredible for such a tiny thing.

So it looks and feels great. The only negative is that the HDMI port and microUSB slots look too similar and I keep cramming the charging cable into the wrong port.

It’s a phone

Despite all the bells and whistles, this is a phone at heart, and a very good one. In terms of comfort, the Q10 feels great and, thanks to the keyboard, is rather pleasant to squeeze across your jawline. You answer calls by pulling down on the touchscreen and thanks to the speedy processor, answering a call never failed me.

The Q10 is a 4G phone, there’s not too much I can say about that except that the internet was fast, very fast. A hint on how to save data: disable Facebook notifications. Facebook, or any app that is too generous with its images will chew data like nothing on earth.

Better battery and display

The 2100mAh battery is sturdy enough for a full day of messing about. Even better, if you want to use the Q10 for actual work, it’ll last almost 10 hours, as long as you don’t spend time on YouTube. That’ll drop it to half that. Ten hours for a solid day of work is more than adequate, it’s great. It has everything to do with the smaller 720×720 display, which despite having an abundance of pixels, is almost half the size of a normal touchscreen. But, viewing any video is a horrible, terrible experience. Since it’s a square display, 16:9 videos are squashed into a space as small as a stick of gum. Even HD content is a mess on here. It’s a crying shame because the display is dazzling, just too cramped for video.

Q10 open far watermark

Q10 open close watermark

A really “nice” set of internals shows us that this is a phone built with care

Why on earth do I want a touchscreen BlackBerry when the iPhone 5 is the same price? That’s a good question, and the answer is you probably don’t. Especially if you worry about the fact that society looks down on BlackBerry owners. When your friends pull out an old Curve or Bold 9300, you’ll generally sneer inside at their choice of device. It instantly says one of three things about your friend that they are a) Luddite b) simple-minded or c) couldn’t care less. If it’s anything but d) Thank god I don’t have a BlackBerry  – then you quietly forget about their issues and get back to Infinity Blade. Sadly, the Q10 isn’t going to solve this social stigma.

It still looks like a BlackBerry. I wish I could place one in your hands instead of describing it to you, but as something to whip out and go  – hey friends, look at my very expensive new phone, the Q10 is not. It is a pity though. A damn shame. Because under its very unassuming, yet elegantly created shell is a phone that’s begging to be loved.  What’s inside? The sort of components that would make any smartphone cringe.


The camera is a strong addition to this archaic but sturdily designed phone. The 8-megapixel camera with LED flash produces some decent shots, even at night. I’ve always preferred the BB10 OS’ take on camera software, with nothing but a tap needed to take a picture. No fiddling for a physical key or specific button to take an image. Here’s a sample of the camera. The shot was taken with a 1:1 aspect ratio.

BB Q10 shot 1

The shots are in my opinion, richly detailed, even close-up
The camera has three shooting modes: normal, record and Time Shift. Time Shift, in the high-end BlackBerrys such as this and the Z10, delivers some stunning results. When a picture is taken with Time Shift, shots from the beginning and end of the image can be swiped through to find the perfect picture. It looks better than I’ve described it, as is great to use.

The 2-megapixel front facing camera, for the one bloody app that supported it (besides the camera) is fairly sharp but I look forward to the next generation of front facing cameras that are 8 or 12-megapixels strong. Don’t laugh, it’s coming soon.

BB10 OS, mostly fuss-free

iOS and Android have two things in common: both platforms have a very strong app store. Sure, BlackBerry can boast that it has hundreds of thousands of apps, but the stuff that you want is simply not there. Still no Instagram, FlipBoard, no Google anything, YouTube is a link to the mobile site, Skype is in Beta, there’s no hint of WeChat, frankly it’s a mess. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at a particular store, it’s simply not up to snuff.

Amendment: for the life of me, I could not find WeChat when I searched the app store. That was roughly a week ago. When I last checked, it is on the store. Thank you for assisting me, internet.

Thankfully, the Q10 includes a host of apps by default. Twitter, native LinkedIn support, Facebook and of course the reason for owning the phone, BlackBerry Hub. From here, every Tweet, Whatsapp message, email, text, message and missed call will filter through to the front of the Q10.

Q10 side on watermark

From top to bottom, the Q10 bleeds class

Accessing the hub is a pleasure on the large touchscreen of the Z10. On the Q10, the 720×720 display will sometimes go against your gestures and instead of peeking to reveal the screen, you’ll accidentally lock the phone or drag down the settings menu. It’s not a major issue, but something to consider.

For those of you who don’t know what I meant by gestures, the BB10 OS experience is built on flicks and swipes. It was quite controversial when BlackBerry first announced it. Now it’s a stellar addition to the phone and this button-free interface (if we ignore the keys on keyboard) is the future of touch. Give it a few days of use and you’ll be one with the touchscreen. Sure, you’ll miss the physical home key buttons but after a while you’ll see how well BlackBerry has implemented the gesture controls. This high degree of tactical interface delivers a responsive touchscreen unlike many on the market.

I may have glossed over some of the hardware, in that case here are the specs for the Q10. The remaining stats, the CPU, GPU, memory all seem to meld into each other, providing a similar experience across all high-end smartphones. The Q10 is about as expensive and high-end as it comes, and this means that you’ll never get a slowdown or any sort of graphical lag, ever. During my time with the Q10, the only issue I had was a fleeting one: I reset the phone and it booted up with the screen off. I panicked, of course, took out the battery and reset the phone. That did the trick, but I’d rather that it never had happened. Still, most phones present a diesel truck load of issues in the first few weeks. The Q10 only had this one error, which says much about the stability of the phone. In other words, top marks all round.

But there are still no apps

Yes, but try to look past it. I’m guessing that in a years time, if BlackBerry can survive that long, its app store will provide a richer experience. But BlackBerry’s currently deciding whether to sell itself off, so many developers may flock away from its app store. At this point, it’s really all about managing expectations.

Let’s wrap things up.

Verdict: The only fault, outside of an app store that I have now thoroughly combed for useful apps (I found very few), is that the Q10 is not a cool phone, at all. You’ll certainly be the coolest banker, or the trendiest CEO in the dimly lit cigar lounge, but you’ll only be fooling yourself. In spite of its rigorous and richly designed shell which could even be called boring, the Q10 is a phone you should own. It’s well priced in some countries and ludicrous in others, so choose wisely before you plunge into this investment. It’s very fast, the keyboard is intuitive and the screen is a brilliant portal crammed with colour. The Q10 is all that and more, and is part of a James Bond lifestyle many of us have mistakenly given credit to the iPhone for.

Score: 9/10

Steven Norris: grumpy curmudgeon


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