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 Z10, 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 Samsung Galaxy S4. 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.
Once you start to dive deeper though, a few annoyances start to crop up. For one, there's no proper homescreen. The default screen is the multitasking panel that you'll return to when you close an app.
Swipe across to the right and you'll see all your installed apps. When you click on one, it'll whizz you back to the multitasking page before opening it up. It's only a small animation, but it slows down the time it takes to load the app for seemingly no good reason -- why not just load the app from the screen you're on?
When you turn the phone on from sleep, you'll be met with whatever page you were last on, rather than a standard homescreen. It's perhaps a system you'd get used to eventually, but I found it a little awkward to get to grips with.
To exit an app, you swipe up on the screen from below which puts the app down in the multitasking panel. That panel can keep up to eight apps running at once, but no more. Once you open a ninth, it'll kill the first app, along with any data it was holding at the time. You're perhaps unlikely to need more than eight apps open at once, but it's worth bearing in mind.
Swipe over to the far left and you'll find the BlackBerry Hub. It's a universal inbox, showing message and updates from your email, Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger accounts, as well as SMS messages. It shows only messages and notifications specific to you, rather than all your friends' updates, which is handy for quickly replying to messages.
The plain white interface doesn't look particularly good though -- especially compared to the slick interface elsewhere -- and it has its own foibles that can start to grate after a while. When you're in an app, you can swipe up and drag the app a little to the right to 'peek' at your inbox underneath without leaving the app. It's a quick way of checking for new messages, but you're only able to peek at whatever Hub panel you left it on -- if you opened the settings box before you left, you'll be met with that when you peek.
You also can't easily mark all messages as read. If you've already seen your Facebook or Twitter notifications on your PC, it won't sync that back to the phone. Instead, you'll have to go through, reading them again to get rid of the unread count.
A neat feature for the Q10 though is the ability to Tweet, post to Facebook or search through all your phone from the homescreens. Start typing "Tweet", for example followed by your message and hit send to post it to Twitter. Typing normally will allow you to search for a word or phrase within apps or in your messages. If you need to get a Tweet up about your food as quick as humanly possible, it's slightly easier than finding and loading up the app.
If a smart phone hopes to make its way into pockets of phone fans the world over, it's going to need to have access to an app store that's stocked to the gills with the latest games and services. Both Android and iOS boast hundreds of thousands of titles in its stores and even Windows Phone 8 is steadily catching up.
While BlackBerry has managed to get some big name titles in its store, it's miserably stocked compared to its rivals. At the time of writing, titles like Netflix, Spotify, Instagram, Snapseed and Evernote were all missing from the shelves, and Skype had only just found a home there. Worse still, some apps that are available on the store on the Z10 aren't available on the Q10.
There's the odd nugget of comfort to be found -- Angry Birds Star Wars is there, for example -- but browsing the store will likely leave you feeling cold and unloved. Naturally, none of the Google apps for Gmail, Maps or Drive that you'll find on other devices are on offer here. If your BlackBerry is just a tool for work use then this might not be a big issue but if you like chatting to your mates about a new game or a new app that's shaved 10 minutes off your morning routine then you won't be happy.
You'll find app icons for YouTube and BBC iPlayer on the homescreen. BlackBerry is cheating a bit here as these are just links to the websites. Click on YouTube and you'll simply find the browser loading on the YouTube mobile page. Hardly impressive.
Performance and battery life
Under the hood of the Q10 is a 1.5GHz dual-core processor along with a hearty 2GB of RAM. You might be disappointed not to see a quad-core chip on board like the other smart phone elite -- the Samsung Galaxy S4, SonyXperia Z and HTC One all rock quad-core chips -- but a dual-core processor can still give a strong serving of power.
Indeed, I found it to be perfectly swift for anything you're likely to throw at it. Navigating around the BB10 interface was nippy and responsive, with no real lag when swiping through menus or 'peeking' at the Hub. It coped very well with 3D racer Riptide GP, giving high frame rates for smooth gameplay. The browser too remained responsive even with numerous tabs open.
It has more than enough power to handle all of the tasks you're likely to throw at it on a day-to-day basis. As there isn't really anything you can challenge it with from the BlackBerry app store, there's no point in worrying that it's not got the same straight line speed as the quad-core beasts.
The battery is a 2,100mAh affair, which is quite capacious. BB reckons you can get around 13.5 hours of 3G talk time, which is pretty ambitious but not too far from the truth. I found it was able to put up with video streaming, gaming and other demanding tasks pretty well.
If you really tax it then you'll still want to give it a top-up mid-afternoon when you get back to your desk, but you shouldn't struggle to get a full day's use out of it. If you're scared of missing an important call in the afternoon and want to eke out the best battery life, keep your brightness turned down, Wi-Fi turned off and stay away from power-sapping tasks like gaming.
On the back of the Q10 is an 8-megapixel camera. Its smaller screen means it's perhaps not the best phone to use as a photography tool, particularly as you only see images in 1:1 aspect ratio. If you're viewing those classic Instagram shots it'd be perfect, but there's no Instagram app for the Q10 yet, so you'll just have to pretend.
The Q10 will take photos in 1:1 aspect ratio as default, but you can select different cropping options once you dive into the menus. Results are fair, but not exactly impressive. In my indoor shot, the camera was able to capture a decent amount of detail, with an even exposure, but colours were cold and there's a general haziness to the image that makes it less clear than snaps I've seen from other phones.
You can shoot in a variety of scene modes as well as make use of HDR and burst modes. The HDR mode did a decent job of capturing London's Shard building in the bright sunlight, but again, I wasn't bowled over by its colours or its clarity.
If photography prowess is your number one concern then this isn't the phone for you. Look instead towards the Sony Xperia Z or the Samsung Galaxy S4. For quick snaps of your new office, or to brag about your hotel suite, it'll do the job well enough.
If you're dead set on having a phone with a physical keyboard, the Q10 is the one to get. That's not strictly speaking a compliment though -- there's so little competition that it comes out on top by default. It's not a bad phone in general -- the keyboard is comfortable, the screen is bold and it has decent battery life. It's still haunted by some of the software niggles present on the Z10 though and the app store needs some serious love and attention.