Spotting a BlackBerry among the sea of iPhones and Android phones out there is now a rare occurrence. Those who remain faithful to these once-iconic gadgets do so for good reason: A love of physical keyboards. But the BlackBerry’s lagging browser, antiquated operating system and lack of apps made users envy other devices.
Next month, people will finally get the BlackBerry they wish they had: A device that combines the features of a modern smartphone with a physical keyboard. I’ve been testing the BlackBerry Q10 for the past seven days, comparing it to its predecessor, the BlackBerry Bold 9900.
This device is expected to cost $249 with a two-year contract, which is more than many smartphones. It will be available from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint by the end of May. It had a couple of app quirks, though updates before release are expected to fix these. BlackBerry still lags behind competitors with just over 100,000 apps available last month. I especially missed some of my favorites like Flipboard, Pinterest and the NPR app. And the Q10’s 3.1-inch screen is limiting compared with the 4.7-inch and 5-inch screens on the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, respectively. But this new BlackBerry’s browser races along and its camera features will impress.
Physically, the Q10 bests the Bold with a slightly bigger touchscreen that measures 3.1 inches, diagonally. To make room for this screen, the Q10 sacrifices two features. First, its keyboard runs straight across rather than in the more comfortable, broad U-shaped curve like on the Bold. Second, the Q10 lacks a track pad, the below-the-screen square that functioned as a precise cursor. In about three days, though, I got used to working without these features.
The Q10 comes in white and black.
The Q10’s keyboard is smartly used for more than just typing emails. From the home screen, typing the first few letters for commands like “text message Katie” or “Facebook” pulls up related functions. This feature is called Instant Action. And some 200 keyboard shortcuts let users navigate around the Q10 more quickly. Onscreen menus subtly display what keys to press for shortcuts.
As you type, common misspellings will be auto-corrected. You can even turn on keyboard predictions, saving you a few keystrokes by showing words on the screen that you might be typing next. A tap on a word adds the word to your sentence. I found I could type faster without using onscreen keyboard predictions, though in some cases I could select predictions for nearly an entire sentence.
The Q10 runs on the latest iteration of the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which made its debut last month on the full touchscreen Z10. This latest version of the BlackBerry 10 OS is souped up with features even the Z10 doesn’t yet have, like new notification options for contacts and fine cursor control and navigation.
The BlackBerry 10 operating system is responsive and fun to use. A list called the Hub organizes all notifications related to emails, social networks and apps in one place. The Hub can be quickly checked with a left-to-right swipe from the home screen, or by swiping up and right from within an app. Contacts are integrated with social networks, adding images of your friends to the system.
Just type the first few letters of a command and Instant Action, above, pulls up the function, such as BlackBerry Messenger.
Apps can be minimized into smaller squares by swiping up from the bottom of the Q10 screen. I grew so comfortable with this gesture that I accidentally tried to use it on my Android smartphone.
In several instances, Facebook’s in-app notifications were delayed and only appeared when I opened the Facebook app. BlackBerry said an update to the Facebook app due out this week would enhance this app. I also had trouble with the Skype app: In two tests, I could see video from the caller but he couldn’t see me though my video was on.
Battery life on the Q10 was impressive. I used it repeatedly for entire days without running out of juice. This included a weekend in a remote area of North Carolina when my cell signal was roaming and several car rides when I used BlackBerry Maps for navigation.
I wasn’t able to formally test the speeds of the device I used, which ran on AT&T’s network, because AT&T is still testing the Q10 on its network. But voice calls that I made around Washington, D.C., and Kirkland, Wash., sounded clear, and Web browsing worked without a problem.
The Q10’s 8-megapixel rear-facing camera is loaded with high-end features, including Time Shift, which captures multiple shots of people and lets you piece together a photo where everyone looks good. Other features include burst mode, enhancements that edit photos and filters that can be added after capture.
BlackBerry World, the marketplace from which apps can be downloaded, looks slicker and runs faster than previous iterations. I downloaded and used a bunch of apps for the Q10, including Skype, The Wall Street Journal, YouTube, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Weather Channel, Kayak and Angry Birds Star Wars.
Along with the Facebook and Skype issues, I found that a health-tracking app and a Sudoku app didn’t work well. BlackBerry attributed this to pre-release app issues.
The browser on the Q10 was super fast, and I found myself selecting links in emails, tweets and Facebook updates that I would have avoided selecting on a Bold — and even on newer smartphones’ browsers — because of slow load times. The Q10 browser has features like an adjustable default font size and a Reader view. Websites that run Adobe Flash can be viewed by clicking a button that enables Flash.
For plenty of users who gave up on BlackBerry years ago, the Q10 probably won’t change their minds. But for those of us who love physical keyboards and want a keyboard paired with the full functionality of a serious smartphone, the Q10 delivers.
Write to Katie at email@example.com.