In technology, it’s not enough to have a competent, capable product. To succeed, it needs to really capture the imagination of prospective buyers. This was the problem with the recently launched BlackBerry Z10. Although it’s a good-looking, easy-to-use phone with the impressive new BB10 software shown off to effect, it hasn’t taken off just yet.
BlackBerry’s core customers – business or consumer – love the one thing the Z10 lacks, the QWERTY keyboard that nobody does better than BlackBerry. Sure, the all-touch QWERTY on the Z10 was clever, prompting you with uncanny accuracy as to what word you wanted before you’d even started typing it. And the keys were neatly designed to look like BlackBerry’s physical QWERTY.
But the arrival of the Q10 confirmed what many suspected: that BlackBerry works best with proper, clicky keys. There’s something about the travel in the letters as you press them that’s more satisfying than touching a glass screen.
Plus, the big keys (this is the company’s biggest-ever keyboard) and the well-arranged spacing, not least thanks to silver lines between the rows of keys which look like guitar frets, are hard to resist. This isn’t just for business users keen to type reliably and at speed: BlackBerry’s other constituency of teenagers and students who love the unlimited BlackBerry Messenger messages they can send at no extra cost also appreciate the physical QWERTY. It lets them touch-type while the phone is out of sight under their desks, you see.
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 was, until now, the best-looking BlackBerry handset. This new model takes that crown not least because it’s a clear successor to the 9900. The Bold’s glossy back is replaced by a matte finish glass weave material which is light and strong. It’s also the first phone with a glass weave back, we’re told. Whatever, it feels great and is a good contrast to the glossy screen and easily read keys.
There are thinner smartphones but the Q10 feels solid, not chunky. And since this is a BlackBerry, the back is removable so you can swap out the battery if you need to. After all, BlackBerry has many power users. Even so, the back fits well so the creaking effect when you flex some phones in your hand is absent.
The screen is good – at 720 x 720 pixels over its 3.1-inch display it’s not the resolution which stands out, though that’s more than fine, it’s the fact that this is a touchscreen with a square display. The fear was that this would make the screen feel poky but it’s a good size.
The software has been updated gently since the Z10 launched in January. For instance, there is a superb help system to guide you through the new software. The system is markedly different from the Android or iPhone interfaces, which makes it feel unintuitive at first sight because the other set-ups are so familiar.
So alongside an excellent tutorial that guides you through the basic gestures you’ll need to operate the phone, there are subtle reminders which appear the first few times you use them. BlackBerry has pitched this just right: they appear for long enough for you to get comfortable, not so long that you’re sick of the reminders.
As with the Z10, swiping the screen is crucial. Stroke the screen upwards from the keyboard and the display turns on – no button touches required – which creates a pleasing, intimate feeling.
Swiping left takes you from active apps to all your apps and the tricky-at-first up and right banana motion reveals the BlackBerry Hub, a unified inbox that sits just offscreen at all times, waiting to show you your texts, emails, Facebook updates, Twitter replies, LinkedIn information and so on. You can configure the Hub as you like.
When you’re in a home screen you can type the word tweet and follow it with your message. Press return and it’s posted to Twitter. The same works with Facebook and LinkedIn. These are satisfying details because you don’t need to launch the Twitter, Facebook or other apps to achieve this.
The app store, called App World, already has over 100,000 apps and though that’s way fewer than Android or iPhone, it includes most of the ones you’ll want. Games, like Angry Birds Star Wars, look a little cramped on this display and the square orientation is a surprise, but this is the exception and soon forgotten as you aim birds at piggies. Facebook and other social networks work splendidly.
Another feature that will appeal far beyond the business user audience is the camera. It can take several shots in quick succession. If you’re taking a group picture and one person’s blinking in shot 2 and another’s only smiling in shot 4, you can pick the faces from the relevant images and combine them to make the best picture possible. It’s a simple effect that’s very nicely implemented.
There’s a lot more to like. If the screen is sleeping, you can half wake it with a short stroke. The number of notifications awaiting you are shown. But drag your finger from the top of the screen to the bottom and in one stroke you mute notifications and launch the alarm screen with a pleasing red analogue clock face. Again, it’s very well done.
The Q10 is just what BlackBerry needs – a clever, effective smartphone that looks appealing and will reach beyond the traditional business user. The Q10 gives BlackBerry its cool back.
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