If you would have told us a few years ago that BlackBerry would release a flagship smartphone minus its trademark QWERTY keyboard, we would have pointed you in the direction of the nearest loony bin. But as we love to remind ourselves, a few years is a long time in technology.
Earlier this year, BlackBerry indeed came out with a flagship that, leave alone a keyboard, did not have a single physical key of any sort on its front -- the Z10. It was a new era with a whole new OS (BlackBerry 10) and an interface that relied on touch and gestures as well as a completely new onscreen QWERTY keyboard, but that did not mean that the company had given up on its traditional hardware QWERTY devices. A few months after the Z10, we now have the first QWERTY device running BlackBerry 10, the Q10, in the Indian market.
Actually, make that the first high-end device with a proper QWERTY keyboard in the Indian market for more than a year.
That actually sums up both the value proposition of the Q10 as well as the challenge it faces. On the one end, it is the first really powerful QWERTY device to hit the Indian market for a while. On the other, it comes to a market that seems to have gone all-touchscreen with a vengeance over the past few years. Mind you, the Q10 ticks off all the right boxes for those who love to type. It comes with a lovely QWERTY keyboard with large keys that make typing a delight, although we still must say we preferred the slightly curved keyboard that came with the BlackBerry Bold 9900. That said, if you are the typing type (pun intended), you will get far more joy on this device than on any of the touchscreen phones out there, including the likes of the iPhone 5, the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One.
There is some very good hardware behind them than keys too. The 3.1 inch display above the keyboard is an OLED one and comes with a very respectable 720 x 720 resolution and a pixel density of 330 ppi (more than the iPhone 5 and the Nexus 4), making it decent enough for viewing videos and even reading documents. There is 16GB of storage (expandable using a memory card), 2GB RAM, connectivity options galore including 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC, an 8.0-megapixel main camera (and a 2.0-megapixel front facing one) and, making all this ticks at the rate of knots, a dual core 1.5 GHz processor. The interface is the same as on the Z10 -- you have the usual seamless BlackBerry connectivity to mail, messenger (BBM!) and social networks merged with a gesture-based interface where you swipe upwards to minimise a window, and swipe between different screens.And while there is a full QWERTY keyboard on the device, there are no buttons for menu, or even call receive and reject -- it is all about swiping here.
And for the most part, it all works quite brilliantly. All your messages get integrated in the BlackBerry hub which is never more than a couple of swipes away from any app you are in. The keyboard means that you can actually type away on long documents and mails -- there is an office suite bundled in the phone. And while the 8.0-megapixel camera will not win awards, it is the best we have seen on a device sporting a full QWERTY keyboard. Battery life is decent too -- keep mails and social networks buzzing and you will see out a day per charge.
The big question, however, is whether all this makes the Q10 worth its massive Rs 44,990 price tag. Yes, it looks smart and does perform well, but it is nowhere near the iPhone or Android brigade in terms of interface and apps - even hardcore BB Boys will take some time getting used to the BB 10 interface (we found while scrolling pages accidentally, and instinctively searching for a “call receive” button every time the phone rang). But if you have deep pockets, care not too much about downloading apps and have fingers that itch to type, then perhaps this is the best -- make that “the only” -- phone for you.
BlackBerry Q10: 3.1 inch OLED display, 1.5 GHz dual core processor, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage (expandable), 8.0-megapixel camera, GPS, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, 3G, BlackBerry 10 OS
Price: Rs 44,990