1 Week (so far) with the BlackBerry Q10!
Disclaimer: I wrote this myself and posted it first on PinStack.com. Then I posted it on CrackBerry.com. I am re-posting it here because I think it will benefit people, and I would like to save a copy of it.
[I am going at this from truly personal experience, along with some background so that you know what kind of an user I am. If you are interested in the specs and overall usage, there are thousands of reviews. I hope that people will appreciate this a bit more than a typical "i used it, it made phone calls, it lasted 12 hours, the screen is small, the back over heated, the keyboard was amazing, it's not an iPhone or Android and there are no apps" review]
First – a bit of background about me and cellphones: to call myself a cellphone enthusiast/a power user, or someone who is obsessed with cellphones would be kind of like calling Tiger Woods “ok at golf” or the Bugatti Veyron “faster than a honda”. To give you some quick numbers: I’ve gone though >30 phones in ~4 years (many many more since the early part of 2000), I have switched through each major US carrier about ~5 times, and in the whole process, I have only paid a cancellation fee twice. [Please note that I have really toned this down lately - mostly because carriers like Samsung have found a way to push a new device every 3-4 months without doing anything exciting and ground breaking.]
The devices that really stand out in my mind as “ground breaking” start with a few flip phones (Motorola v66, first RAZR), the Treos, a few Windows phones, a few Blackberries (8320, 8900, 9700, PlayBook), the first few iPhones (1, 3G, 3GS, 4), Palm’s WebOS (Pre, TouchPad), and at last, but definitely not least, Android (G1, MyTouch, first Nexus, Nexus S, Nexus 4). I am sure that I am missing a whole bunch of great phones, but these are the phones that made a memorable impression – with both some good/great things, and some bad things. There are also some tablets in there. To me, cellphones are more than just phones, smartphones, tablets, or “cool devices”. They are amazing technology that is supposed to push the boundary of what is possible – and that is in fact what I truly appreciate about these great gadgets. My love for them is far beyond an obsession. I see each device from each manufacturer for what it truly is (usually anyway). No phone is perfect. Each phone has something great and truly unique.
For the last 4-5 years, I was bouncing between a Blackberry and Android (first the G1, then the MyTouch). Every once in a while I got an iPhone to see how far they had advanced (do you remember the 1st iPhone – holy crap was the browser mind blowing – for its time). The reality however stood – I always loved and kept coming back to the physical keyboard. I couldn’t live without it…well yes, I could, but I wasn’t happy. I went from the BlackBerry 8320, to the 8900, and then to the G1 and MyTouch. I got the first Nexus, returned it, and bought the iPhone (3GS). And then – back to the Bold 9700 – which I think is the phone that I used for longest period of time (close to 2 years) as my primary phone. I always craved the nice browser and apps, but the reality was that the great build, call quality, great battery, instant email, and finally, the physical qwerty keyboard, always pulled me back. I eventually gave up the 9700 and went to the Samsung Nexus S, and from there, to the LG Nexus 4.
Fast forward a bit – the Z10 had just come to the US. Not officially. It wasn’t available for sale in the US (yet – I think that week it became on sale w/ Verizon), but my work received one for testing. I asked a co-worker if I could use it for a weekend. It was a very interesting phone – definitely with some great new concepts. The problem is that after a weekend, I was extremely annoyed, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my Nexus 4. The experience was simply “not there yet”. It wasn’t even close. Tons of things were missing. The day to day usage was disjoined/broken, without uniformity, and there were a lot of bugs. Nothing was just seamless, and there was no consistency in anything on the system. It felt made-shift and rushed. That said, some things were very interesting – camera, maps, and “WebOS like swipe”. This left me interested. [Just to note: this was on Verizon running 10.0 - 1 or 2 updates at max]. The other thing that stood out was that while the touch keyboard was amazing, the screen was just too small. This was noticeable in browsing and typing — possibly became I came from the bigger LG Nexus 4 (which is the first Android phone I have been able to type mostly comfortably). Either way, what I did get out of this was a spark for BlackBerry again which made me go back to the beloved CrackBerry site and read up the news/rumors/etc. Just like everyone else, I had long ago heard about a qwerty blackberry coming out. In fact, I think it was a year before the z10 came out the rumors came around about a new physical keyboard BlackBerry. But like most people – I didn’t pay much attention.
Fast forward a bit more – the q10 becomes available in the US and goes on sale with T-Mobile. I spent a few days (more like a week and a very long weekend) reading up on everything that I could find on the phone. I really think that I read everything published on it by everyone Seriously. After a while the first 8+ pages on google were all links I had clicked on, and just about every youtube video that had the word ‘q10′ I had watched. It was very hard to get a read on the device. It was very frustrating to read the hundreds of comments by CrackBerry fans who ignored EVERYTHING bad about the device and simply swore this was the cure for cancer. I started then reading reviews by Android fanatics (like myself) in the hope that I would get a more realistic view. These were also extremely frustrating to read. Some bashed it on things that I clearly knew the device could not be bad on (ex: battery life, push email). So — eventually — I realized that what I needed to do was go and play with one. I spent about 30 minutes, twice, in the store playing with it. Eventually I decided to go and buy it. Out of luck, the system was down. The next day, I found out it was sold out. Later that night, I found a store that carried it. First impression – the spacebar was broken (factory defect – it worked, but it was cut a bit too closely and the sparebar shifted). I exchanged the device the next day for another one [funny thing: i've owned only one blackberry that I didn't have to exchange for a 2nd because of a manufacturer defect, and that was the 8320. Every other one has had some problem with the 1st I've bought, and the 2nd has been solid for many years after that]. And here is where we finally get to the review of the BlackBerry q10 itself:
My first thought ofthe q10 was that it is much heavier than I thought it would be – now that I could play with it without it being locked to a 2 pound metal weight in the store so that someone wouldn’t steal it. That said, it felt very nice and firm. It felt “well built”. It also felt a bit thicker than I wanted it to, but yet it fit nicely in my pocket. The next thing was making a phone call. The ear piece is simply amazing. Super loud. I think every phone is not loud enough, and this is the first one I had to turn the volume down on. Same for the speaker phone. It is extremely loud. The call quality was superb. I feel like BlackBerry has always done very well in these categories. It actually gets 4-5 bars of 4G, where as my Nexus 4 got only 1 bar of 4G. The first problem/bug I ran into was contacts – since I had become a “google” person for some years, I have a dedicated contacts label that contains all of my “sorted” contacts (the ones that have first and last name, email, all phone #’s, etc..). These are the ones that I control manually. It turns out the BlackBerry only looks at your contacts in the “My Contacts” main folder. Easy enough, select all and tag the extra label. The second problem/bug that I ran into (and this one is a real bug that’s nasty) is that when you turn on other sources (Facebook specifically), it takes contacts that match both gmail and facebook, and makes those contacts “facebook” contacts now. So if you only display your email contacts, the contacts that are available in facebook will not be available outside of the addressbook (ex: when you write an email). This was annoying and took a bit to figure out, but eventually I selected that all contact categories should be available.
Ok, moving on. The next thing that really stood out was the insane integration. CalDAV, CardDav, IMAP, Exchange. Awesome. Then social services: Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. I don’t really use social services, but again, great! Fantastic on the CalDav and CardDav. Adding both my Google Apps and work accounts was a breeze. What I did run across was a bug with deleting emails. It turns out even if you set your Gmail to not archive over IMAP but wait for client, it will only put it in the Trash when there are no labels. If there are, it will simply remove the Inbox Label. I did find a KB article on this, and it claims that they will fix this to go into the trash. For now, this is an issue. (check your “All Mail” for deleted items). That said, some people like this and never want to delete email. Me personally – I want my device in 100% sync, and when I hit delete, I want it to end up in the Trash (same trash) everywhere. Also, I really wish that there was a way to do “server side” mail searches for all email available. This is annoying. The next thing that stood out was the amazing “flow” of “business” apps and features. I put in quotes because many people will argue here about these. So let’s list them: the calendar app is simply out of this world. Google and Apple should be absolutely ashamed by what BlackBerry has done. Every option and menu that you think should be “just there when you do XYZ” is there. Send an invite, see when you are free, accept an event and see how it fits in the rest. Quickly go from Month view to other months. Wow. Beautiful. I did notice that the feature where it finds “relevant emails” when you select a calendar invite heavily broken. But everything else is perfect. The things that you expect to be there are there. And they are where you expect them to be. It’s like it’s reading your mind.
The next thing that stood out was the “peek/flow” experience. I will heavily disagree with people here. It is not amazing. In fact, it was far from that. What I think people are saying is amazing is the fact that when you navigate programs and screens on the BlackBerry, there is NO delay – this is the amazing part. I mean not even that fraction of a split micro second that you feel on iOS and Android. It feels like all the screens are already there and running, and what happens is that YOUR window simply pans in one of the 8 possible “window” around it (that’s 3 on top, one left, one right and 3 on the bottom ). This is what I think people rave about. The “peak” experience however in my opinion blows. It involves many steps (2-3 steps to go into the hub just to see an email and then 2-3 to get back). It doesn’t feel right. Use an Android 4.2 system and let’s talk again (1 button email OR 1 button to go back OR 1 button to get to your main screen) Also, the Hub view should always reset you into the main Hub view. Otherwise it’s extra steps (if you were in the text message part for example). Again, my opinion. Many people disagree with me. The other thing that really annoys me is trying to get back into the phone app. It takes a lot of steps if you are on a call and go somewhere else (hub, text, email, app), to get back into the phone app, change views, and hangup. There needs to be a pull down method or some instant way of hanging up the call. At last here, the last annoyance was the inconsistently between menus, screens, options, and all the bugs along the way (what apps should be visible on the Hub is badly broken and shows different toggles). This is however expected. It’s a new system. It has not matured yet. I’ll make this point at the end, but you cannot compare this system head to head with Android and iOS because they have had 4-5 years to get a head and learn from their mistakes. Give it some time. Things like this (inconsistencies) will get sorted out.
The next ting that I ran across were the apps. Let’s not pretend this is not an issue. It is a very big issue. There are no apps (yes many will disagree). I wouldn’t call myself an “App user”, but to me, having apps means having the popular apps that 80% of the people have come to depend upon. For some, this is instagram. For others, this is Netflix. For me – while it’s nice having the popular ones, I need the role/functionality at the end of the day. Some of the stuff I can get by with the great built ins (Remember app + Evernote integration). For others — IRC client, SSH client – there isn’t a good alternative. And for yet others — jabber client, SIP client – there is nothing! I expected this. I fully mentally prepared myself that I will not even try to use the app store. Well I did. I actually had used it with my PlayBook, and the reality is that while there are some apps (some very key games have been won over), 9/10 apps that I need are not there. The integration with the ones that do exist (AccuWeather) is not yet perfect either. I am going to skip over this category, because honestly, if apps are your thing – then the blackberry is simply not for you. The Android apps is a great idea with a very poor execution. I think this will get better, but with time. As many people have said, Android and iOS started in the same/much much worse place. Give it time. The only gotcha I can see is the chicken and egg problem – the apps will come as people do, but people will come if there are apps. For now, there are some useful ones that I suffer without. And it’s not like I even need them all the time, but that one time that I do, it gets annoying. (ex: jabber (not gchat), Yelp, sip client, irc client, FlipBoard, GroupMe for work, NextBus, ssh/scp client, 1 password, and some games – but that’s really a screen thing…again, this phone is not meant for games).
Moving on – the keyboard – this is WHY you would buy the q10. This is what brought me to the device in the first place. I can’t say enough about how amazing the keyboard is. Yes, you can actually type faster on a virtual keyboard. But it’s not about that. You will enjoy this and you will not make mistakes. It’s about the fact that you don’t have to look at the keyboard and THEN at the word you typed, and then back to the keyboard. You can actually keep your eyes on the screen and type. (well I can). Or, for most people, you can look just at the keyboard and know that 100% of what you type will show up. I love this. I really like the feeling of being able to touch the physical keys and get that physical feedback. Just to let you know, it did take a little bit to get used to the keyboard. About 2 days I would say. I won’t drill into this, but like many people have mentioned, I was a “consumer of information”. I read a lot of websites/emails, and if it required a reply that was over 2-3 sentences, I did it later. This has all changed. I now write paragraphs to pages. Not only with ease, but with a great internal satisfaction.
Camera? Quick, and good (not amazing). Sometimes it takes great pictures, at other times it doesn’t. I like how fast it fires, and I like how well it integrates with the share option. Nothing that’s not available on Android or iOS. The autofocus at close range could be better. I think the lens needs to be a bit better, and the MP need to be higher. Some pictures do come out a bit grainy, and others come out amazing. I did enable the image stabilization, which made a bit of a difference. Overall, I would say it’s good, but not amazing. Nothing that can compare with the iPhones (not even close). Android has pretty mediocre cameras (on the Nexus devices) for the most part – although Samsung has really changed that.
Screen size? Small. Good for reading texts. Could be better for emails. Not great for anything else. Browsing is very tough. GPS/Maps surprisingly enough is good. Again, as mentioned before, you are getting a great phone with some “smart abilities” which happened to lie around email and texts. Accept it. The sooner you do the more you will enjoy it
Maps? Interesting. VERY interesting. As I said about the z10, I truly thing the technology behind the maps here is far superior to Android’s. The navigation gives you that extra heads up just before you really need it. Ex: “take a right and get in the left lane to take a left”. Android will tell you to take a right, and when you get in the right lane, it will then tell you that you need to take a left. Really frustrating. I haven’t used iOS’ maps enough to conclude if they are any better, but I think the UI on iOS is better than Android’s. What does lack is the database. It will place you a bit away from where you are going, or on the other side of the highway (this happened to me going to HomeDepot). The traffic avoidance is specular. Yet another thing that google should be embarrassed about – although I do think they fixed this in their latest maps release. I am really excited to see where this goes.
Web Browsing/Voice integration/Home screen Actions? It’s OK. My only gripe is that you can’t search as fast as you can with Google Now. Siri? Siri is fantastic. BlackBerry has the internal integration going like Siri (much better designed than Android it seems for calling apps and their actions the way Siri does), but the information google provides for web searches is very nice. Google has that extra little glue to make it nice — like places/their phone #’s right under them. It’s the suffering from leaving the “Google Universe”. I think this is a problem on the iPhone, but not as bad. The voice integration needs work. The quick search is very useful in some places and a bit behind in others. You can make it better by pruning out what it searches so that Google is first on the list. I think I have contacts, google, and maps only.
Next on the list – battery. I am very mixed about this. Some reviews say 20 hours of talk time, others say 9 hours. You can definitely get a lot, but it really depends how you use it – and I don’t mean not talking/not getting emails. It looks like the screen (obviously) burns a lot of the battery. Things like blackberry world burn quite a lot of battery. I think waking the phone w/ a swipe might too, but this is just a guess/theory at this point. However, I’ve noticed that running external apps is the worst thing. This is because the OS is not yet optimized. If you remember, the same happened with iOS and Android. Think about how big the battery is. It should be able to last 2 days EASILY, but it doesn’t. Apps simply don’t utilize the OS efficiently, and the OS doesn’t run efficiently – yet. Even native apps. Let’s not even talk about “Android ported” apps. The reality is that if you don’t use 3rd party apps – let’s say you just have a weather app that you check 2-3 times a day, your phone will last for a VERY long time with constant push email, texts, and 1-2 hours of phone calls. Today for example: I am at 15 hours of usage so far and my battery is at 55%. This is with ~1 hr of phone calls, 200+ emails, and 200+ texts, while on 4G. I have opened the calendar app about 15 times today, and I have opened the Remember app 3 times. I browsed the web for 20-30 minutes. The only external apps that I have used today are AccuWeather (twice) and iHeartRadio for ~5-6 minutes. I think the battery is also getting better after a few days. The first few days it was much worse. Many people claim this online for many phones. There are no memory effects w/ Lithium Ion, but there is some sort of a boundary push/calibration for the internal chip to understand where the start+end of the battery really is. That or pushing the cells to the max takes a few days. I’ve read all of these being mentioned and I am not sure which is 100% true (if any), but the reality is that I have had many phones get better battery life after ~2 weeks than they did the 1st week (or first few days).
So, to wrap things up – is this the best phone that has ever come out? The one and only phone you will ever need? The cure for cancer? No!
Is it a good phone? Absolutely. Is it a great phone? Absolutely.
In this day and age, I think that you have to be very ignorant to say XYZ phone is the BEST phone I have ever used and the “it”. Maybe it’s the “it” for you, but not for someone else. Android has some fantastic things. The iPhone has some fantastic things. BlackBerry has some fantastic things. I am sure there are other great platforms (I haven’t used the new Windows system enough to judge, but I am not a fan). Each OS, each Phone (hardware), and each revision brings something great and unique.
If I had to sum up the q10 – it brings an amazingly built phone which is very well thought out from everything like where the speaker is to how high the keys are. The q10 has a fantastic physical keyboard with some smart features (email, text, and maps). The beautiful integration of things like the calendar/memo/and social apps is simply superb. The way the screens instantly open (even on the small screen) is very interesting. Again, my guess is this is the real “things just flow” experience that people keep talking about. You can’t understand this until you try it. The iPhone is very fast in app closing/opening, and even on it it’s not the same. Android is also getting very fast, but again, it’s just not the same. This is something I didn’t understand when I read the reviews. Anyway, I bought the q10 with the idea in mind that I will carry and Android phone along – I have specifically tried (and succeeded) not to do this for the first week. My goal is the same for next week. There have been a couple of apps that I have missed, but for the most part, I’ve been able to get along just fine. The push email, the central “everything in one place” (even though getting to this one place is 3 swipes ) is very very nice. I think some people associate this phone with “getting things done”. I think this is codeword for “no apps, but it’s ok”. I agree. Most of the apps that you want are not here. But that’s ok. You quickly start realizing how many of the apps you actually needed or didn’t need. A lot of the “need” things are built-in, and nicely too. The calendar/email integratation is very nice. I can’t speak about BBM because I was never a heavy user. I had a few friends on it, at this point, no one is left (from my friends that is). The overall BB 10 experience is not without bumps of course, but again, this is expected. Give it some time. Be patient. I would say this phone is not for everyone. There are many people that will get extremely frustrated. I personally think that this is the perfect device for anyone that needs to or loves to type. It is also the perfect device for any blackberry fan who has been getting pissed off with the lack of thought/execution coming out of the “amazing” new phones lately (everything from reception, to speaker/microphone, to button placement). I think that for most people, this should be one of two devices — where the 2nd is an iPad or an Android Tablet, or even an Android phone in wifi mode. If you can afford it, get an Android or an iPhone with a SIM chip. But this is definitely my primary phone. Between the design and execution, and the keyboard, it is the devices that I have craved for a VERY long time.
By the way, you may ask, is the keyboard REALLY that good? To that I would say – it’s good enough to write all of this. Yes. Really. (if things sound disjoined or all over the place, remember how big the screen is and how fast you can type on a phone keyboard and how long this post about my experience is).