TELUS BlackBerry Q10 Review – #10BestOfBBQ10
For the past month I have been lucky to be a part of the TELUS program dubbed “10 Best of BlackBerry Q10” with the Twitter hashtag #10BestOfBBQ10. The folks at TELUS were kind enough to send me a brand new TELUS BlackBerry Q10 along with an activated TELUS line and let me play with it so I could review it and let you, my loyal readers, and the internet at large know what I think of it. Before I go on, I want to be clear about a few things:
1. I really was excited to play with this device and wanted to love it and make it my primary phone from the moment I got the email from TELUS.
2. I don’t really care about apps beyond my core of email, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and a web browser. Having Foursquare and some other apps is nice and all but it isn’t an absolute necessity and I would gladly give them up for a physical keyboard on a device which functioned superbly.
3. I love Swype for Android because of the ease of typing but I choose it over all other keyboard options available for Android because of its editing capabilities. The easy way I can use keyboard shortcuts to cut, copy, and paste reminds me of my PC and my BlackBerry keyboard which both have shortcuts for those functions. On any BlackBerry before the Z10 and the Q10 (referred to as a “Legacy BlackBerry”) this was accomplished by a few different shortcuts which BlackBerry helpfully lists here. On a PC it’s the old reliable CTRL-X, CTRL-C, & CTRL-V. That, coupled with the trackpad-replacing “Edit Keyboard Layer (PIC)” which Swype has means it is my go to and you’ll be hard pressed to convince me to switch to another keyboard.
The final straws for me with my 9900 was when I got the black clock of waiting when the phone had freshly booted and I was writing an email. The device slowing down during such a mundane task was too much coupled with the camera being so horrible I couldn’t take a picture of an article in the newspaper because it’s fixed focus lens couldn’t handle close up shots. When those 2 things happened I gave up, threw in the towel, called it quits, and broke up with BlackBerry.
For all those who are too lazy to read a long review here it is in three sentences: The TELUS HSPA/LTE network in Toronto is great providing very good coverage and speeds. All in all, the BlackBerry Q10 itself is wonderful to hold in the hands and the OS is fast and responsive. The BlackBerry 10 OS from a User Experience perspective, however, is absolutely horrendous and disastrous.
Now let’s get into this review. We’ll start with the keyboard.
Hardware – Keyboard
The BlackBerry Q10 is one fine piece of hardware. As usual, the folks in Waterloo built their device to last. It feels solid in my hands and the typing on it is a joy. Although the mobile device market seems to be moving away from physical keyboards I couldn’t disagree more. I will always love having a physical keyboard…at least until we perfect voice to text to the level of science fiction movies/TV/books. On this front, the BlackBerry Q10 more than delivers. The keyboard is an absolute joy to use and is everything one could ever want from a physical keyboard. I would love to spend more space lauding it but there really isn’t much more to say other than it was done extremely well and fit every single need I had as a physical keyboard from a hardware perspective.
Hardware – Screen
The screen of the Q10 is great to look at. The colors are nice and vibrant and it performs well under bright sunlight. Of course because of the aforementioned physical keyboard the screen is smaller than it would be on an all touch phone but that’s a sacrifice I am more than willing to make. What I didn’t like was the screen’s responsiveness – or lack thereof – in my testing of the Q10 I found often that I would be trying to hit an icon in a corner of the screen and I just couldn’t get it to work. This became extremely annoying very quickly. I also couldn’t find anywhere in the settings that would allow me to turn screen touch sensitivity up. Therefore, even if this is/was an app based issue (as some people on CrackBerry forum seemed to opine) I as an end user don’t care and have to give failing marks to BlackBerry for the Q10’s screen. This is also much more relevant than the touch screen performance than on the BlackBerry Bold 9900 for example because the Q10 did away with the trackpad which all previous BlackBerry devices had. The touch screen on the Q10 is integral to the entire experience. Editing on the BlackBerry Q10 is a huge pain because of the screen’s lack of sensitivity. I found it difficult to highlight, cut, copy, and paste. I sincerely wish they had added an option for a floating trackpad to appear on the screen when editing/typing because that would have made life so much easier given the unresponsiveness of the touchscreen.
Hardware – Camera
The camera on the BlackBerry Q10 holds up against pretty much anything else on the market. I didn’t really play with the “timeshift” feature because I don’t take that many portrait shots of people and I prefer to use HDR for most of my shots being a completely amateur photographer. I decided to take the BlackBerry Q10 out to a local Fiat car dealership (a friend of mine works there) and take some pictures of the multicolored Fiats with both the BlackBerry Q10 and my Motorola RAZR HD LTE (XT925). Below are the resulting comparison shots:
You can also see the comparison shot gallery hosted here: http://imgur.com/a/xCj2w/layout/blog
All in all, the BlackBerry Q10’s camera performs extremely well and takes some really great pictures. One thing you will want to watch out for, however, is when you get the device the camera is set to take 1:1 pictures as opposed to 4:3 or 16:9. You probably want it set for 4:3 and maybe 16:9 but definitely not 1:1 unless you want all your photos to be perfect squares.
What’s In The Box?
This was an area where I felt the folks in Waterloo were pretty cheap and I was unimpressed. I was astonished to not find the standard BlackBerry holster or at least slide case in the box with the BlackBerry Q10. As well, there wasn’t even a small capacity microSD card included with the device? I thought the Q10 was supposed to be a flagship device? Your standard headphones, charging/USB cable and country specific AC adapter are all included in the box as well as a battery, the device and a bunch of manuals.
Software – The BlackBerry 10 OS
The new BlackBerry 10 operating system is also quite beautiful and it works really, really well. It is smooth, almost never slows down, and in my time using it, it never crashed. The whole gesture based aspect of interacting with the OS instead of pushing a button took some getting used to but once you’re used to it it becomes second nature. That said, there is still A LOT of work that BlackBerry needs to put into BlackBerry 10 as it still leaves, in my opinion, much to be desired. Coupled with the fact that they have taken over 2 years to release a device running BlackBerry 10 because it was still being developed and finished (unless you include the PlayBook which runs PlayBook OS which has the same root of QNX as BlackBerry 10 does) and BlackBerry have even delayed the release of the BlackBerry 10 devices AND that the Q10 was released months after the Z10 and I don’t really know what is going on in Waterloo but whatever it is, it isn’t getting things to work with their consumers in mind.
What do I mean by the above? Well, it seems that everything is that much more difficult to do in BlackBerry 10. Want to check your battery’s percentage? On a Legacy BlackBerry all you’d have to do is hit ALT+SHIFT+H from the Home Screen and it’d bring up the “Help Me!” screen which listed your battery percentage to the nearest 5%. On BlackBerry 10 you need to go through 5 steps and a scroll from the Home Screen to find the percentage of battery remaining in some hidden submenu. Battery life and how much battery we have left is something which is HUGELY important to today’s mobile device users since often they are our sole lifeline. The little battery indicating icon on the top of the screen doesn’t even have your battery indicator divided into quarters (as you can see in the screenshot below). This requires you to download an app to tell you your battery percentage and to make sure it is always within the last few apps you’ve used otherwise it gets shifted to the bottom and out of sight.
The active frames of apps which are still running in the background are pretty cool and all but it seems no one at BlackBerry gave any thought to their actual usage, privacy implications, and keeping them useful. One Friday I glanced at my open BBM active frames and saw that it was unhelpfully showing me a status update from Saturday, 6 days beforehand. There is no control for the end user over what updates they want to see and you are left at the frustrating mercy of the OS. Beyond that, and even more problematic, is the case of the Pictures active frame. They begin a slideshow (as you can see in the screenshot above) where it starts showing pictures which are on the device. This sounds great until you consider how many images we have these days which are Private (that capital p was not accidental). There is no way to tell your BlackBerry to not show that new logo you just had designed for your company in your BlackBerry’s slideshow or to avoid displaying the image of the new ad you have to approve so it was emailed to you. The BlackBerry used to be the device of security but in this regard the designers seemed to decide that we want everyone to always be able to peruse all of our images with just a glance at our screen if we leave it unlocked and on a table. Ouch.
If you want to change your ringtone/alert tone the device just gives you a few for that specific category and if you want to preview them you have to select them first then go back through the menu substructure and choose the next one. All notifications are divided up into subfolders and there is no way to preview any of the tones. Even if you try to go to them through your file explorer on the phone it won’t let you see the tones because they are in a hidden directory. It makes choosing ringtones a HUMONGOUS and time consuming task and is just plain user unfriendly.
Software – BlackBerry Hub
This is technically part of the OS itself but I felt it deserved its own section. Unfortunately, I feel as if BlackBerry failed again with this portion of the device simply because it once again doesn’t keep certain expectations we as hardcore BlackBerry users had from the outset. The BlackBerry Hub integrates pretty much every type of notification your device receives in one spot. The problem is that the Hub doesn’t play nice with all of them and is lacking in many regards. I am, at this point, already at around 2,000 words and I could probably write another 2,000 on how terrible the Twitter app is especially when used with the BlackBerry Hub but I won’t. What I will talk about is how basic functionality we used to have in our old email inboxes on a Legacy BlackBerry is once again gone. Remember how we used to hit “U” to jump from one unread message to the next no matter how far back in the message folder it was contained? Can’t do it anymore. The only alternative is to do about 5 steps which has something to do with setting up a filter to filter by unread messages. Frankly, I never bothered to figure this out and still to this day do not know how to do it because I was so disgusted by the removal of functionality and seeming lack of caring for the core base of BlackBerry users. I have even spoken to a person involved in Software Development for BlackBerry and he seemed amazed that I was so upset by the removal of all these different shortcuts from the Legacy BlackBerry experience. Newsflash: Pissing off your core audience is a terrible idea.
Software – Web Browser
The BlackBerry Q10 web browsing experience is a lot better than anything BlackBerry brought out before it and for my purposes was pretty much fine. Having less screen real estate wasn’t ideal but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make for a keyboard. HOWEVER, once again the User Experience monster reared its ugly head when it came time to try and change the browser’s search engine. BlackBerry teamed up or were paid by Microsoft Bing I am guessing because that is the default search engine when you open up the browser. This is fine except I and many others prefer a different search engine as our go to. When I went to the settings option in the browser I couldn’t find any option to change the web browser’s default search engine. It took me a day or two before I noticed the little arrow at the top of the screen when I began typing a search into the search bar at the bottom of the screen. When I clicked the little arrow, suddenly a list of search engines dropped out of nowhere like a gift from the gods for my perseverance in navigating this user unfriendly environment.
Software – “BlackBerry Link” BlackBerry to PC Connection Software
Not bad at all. Does almost everything it should do. Backs up devices, lets you easily transfer photos and music and videos and does all that you’d need your device’s PC client software to do. Except one thing: The continued lack of an EJECT BUTTON. That’s right folks, BlackBerry still has yet to include a button with the option to safely disconnect your hardware from your computer. Sure we can do it with the option in the tray in Windows but I’d be willing to bet that a large percentage of Windows users still don’t know that option exists in Windows. What gives BlackBerry?
TELUS’ Network & Service
As a guy who primarily has used the Fido/Rogers network for the past long while I have to say I was very impressed with everything about the TELUS HSPA/LTE networks. They had great reception most everywhere in the Greater Toronto Area, the speeds were almost always amazing. I even noticed the device maintaining signal in some TTC subway tunnels/stations where I never ever received a Rogers/Fido signal and who doesn’t like an extra bit of coverage every now and again in some of the harder to reach spots?
I even took advantage of the “TELUS Learning Centre” and did a One-To-One Learning Session with Jerome in Bayview Village, Toronto. He couldn’t have been nicer and more desiring to help. Unfortunately for Jerome I know my electronics pretty well and had already had the device for a bit before I went in so there was very little he could teach me. I will recommend checking out the TELUS Learning Centre if ever you have a question about your device. Their employees are not paid based on making sales but rather on how many people they help so you aren’t trading advice for a sales pitch. You don’t even have to be a TELUS customer to get your learn on! How great is that? Oh, Jerome and I are totally buddies now, too – we added each other to BBM and Twitter.
Round Up & Final Thoughts
As I said above at the beginning of this review the hardware that is the BlackBerry Q10 is great. The core of the OS that is BlackBerry 10 is great in that it solves all issues we ever had with our BlackBerry devices in the past. BlackBerry 10 is smooth, fast, reliable, doesn’t slow down, and doesn’t crash. However, in the development of the BlackBerry 10 OS it seems the folks at the company formerly known as RIM forgot about key pieces of functionality their legacy devices had which their core user base was used to. Either they forgot, didn’t know, or they simply didn’t care.
In any case, the BlackBerry Q10 was, like Anakin Skywalker, supposed to be the Chosen One. It was supposed to bring balance to Waterloo and turn the tide in the battle that BlackBerry had been losing over the past couple of years against Apple and Android. Instead, it seems that all the hardcore BlackBerry fans have to look forward to is the promise of “BlackBerry 10 update to 10.2 which is totally coming this fall and is definitely going to fix all of these user experience issues.” I’ll believe it when I see it. But hey, that attitude might be what Obi Wan Kenobi said when Yoda told him not to worry because there were Skywalker twins one of whom might be the Chosen One (and we all know how amazingly that turned out!).
- If you are a physical keyboard loyalist and won’t even consider going to an all touch device until they pry your physical keyboard device from your cold, dead hands you’re going to love the BlackBerry Q10. It is a workhorse of a device and its OS is rock solid but be prepared to learn a whole new world because this isn’t your BlackBerry OS from 2010.
- If you are someone, like me, who reluctantly switched to another platform once you finally couldn’t bear the slowdowns and memory leaks of the legacy BlackBerry devices anymore this isn’t the device that is going to bring you back in the fold – yet. I recommend staying away until at least the release of BlackBerry 10.2 in the fall (if it doesn’t get pushed back).
- If you are someone who has never used a BlackBerry and has always been iPhone or Android don’t even bother. You probably don’t care that much about having a physical keyboard since you’ve never had one anyway and this device as it currently stands isn’t going to convert you to Team CrackBerry.