The BlackBerry has finally caught up to the world of touch-screen
smartphones. It took time - six years, from the launch of the first
iPhone - and it may be too late to save the company that makes it. But
the BlackBerry deserves to be taken seriously again.
Why? Because the
new BlackBerry Q10 is a successful marriage of the modern touch-screen
smartphone and the iconic BlackBerry keyboard.
Though it can be
hard to remember, the keyboard used to be a standard feature on
smartphones, before the iPhone wiped our minds with its vision of
Since then, keyboards have been disappearing
from smartphones. Physical keyboards just didn't fit into the design
mold set by the iPhone. Palm Inc. created a credible, innovative
smartphone with a physical keyboard, but it was a slide-out version,
which made the keyboard seem like a burden and an afterthought. There
have also been Android phones with physical keyboards, but they haven't
been very good, and they've mostly disappeared.
BlackBerry has continued to make well-designed phones with physical
keyboards. But until now, it hasn't gotten the software running them
quite right. Even with physical keyboards, modern phones need touch
screens to control movies, games and other tasks beyond the BlackBerry's
roots in messaging. BlackBerry has experimented with touch screens, but
has been partly hamstrung by the pre-touch foundations of its operating
After numerous delays, BlackBerry finally came out with a
modern operating system this year, the BlackBerry 10 (Review). The
company considers it crucial to its future, as the BlackBerry seeks to
recapture relevance lost to the iPhone and Android devices.
first phone with the new software, the BlackBerry Z10 (Review |
Pictures), is a touch-only device. With the Q10, we really get to see
how it works with a keyboard.
On BlackBerrys, the keyboard has
always been about more than filling in text fields, and the new
operating system takes that further. If you want to send a tweet about
what you're eating for lunch, just pick up the phone, unlock it and type
"tweet Turkey sandwich again today." Hit Enter, and now the world knows
about your boring fare before you've even had a bite.
Just as you
can on some older BlackBerrys, you can also launch applications by
typing. If you want to play "Angry Birds," instead of flicking through
screens to look for the icon, you can just start typing "Ang" and the
game icon pops up. Again, that's fast.
The keyboard is handy for
music, too. If you're in the apps screen, just start typing the name of
the song or artist you're looking for, and up it comes.
used a keyboard-equipped phone in years, but the Q10 makes it very
tempting. There's no getting around it: it's a faster, more accurate way
to type, even compared with innovations such as Swype, which lets you
"type" by swiping your finger from letter to letter.
eats up space that could be devoted to a bigger screen, of course. But
BlackBerry has saved some space by eliminating the big buttons that
resided between the screen and the keyboard on older BlackBerrys. This
results in a larger, square screen. It's very sharp and colorful, too.
To some extent, the screen compensates for its small size with a high
resolution, which allows it to present a lot of information, as long as
you're willing to hold it close and read small type.
companies haven't yet said when they'll sell the Q10, but expect it by
the end of May for about $250 with a two-year contract. It's coming to
BlackBerry's home country of Canada on May 1.
The BlackBerry 10
software made its debut a few months ago on the touch-only Z10. The new
operating system is a welcome change, not just for BlackBerry users.
It's very quick to get around the phone, and it seldom leaves me baffled
the way many incarnations of Android do. It's laser-focused on giving
you access to email, texts and other means of communication, as opposed
to music, movies and games.
One of the coolest features is the
"peek." From any application, you can swipe your thumb up from the
bottom of the screen, then right, to slide the application slightly off
the screen. That reveals the messaging "Hub," which gathers your
communications. At a glance, you can see which accounts have new
messages. If you want, you can slide the app farther to the right,
getting you into the Hub to read and write. Swipe left, and you're back
to where you were.
The interface takes time to get used to, and it
doesn't have the simple immediacy of the iPhone. But once you learn it,
you can positively zip between tasks.
The downside to the new
operating system is its relative dearth of third-party software. There
are applications for Facebook, The New York Times and The Wall Street
Journal. A Skype app out will be out soon. But there isn't any app for
Netflix, Amazon or eBay. There are no Google apps, either. The selection
of games is particularly poor. There's only one incarnation of "Angry
Birds," and that's "Star Wars."
I also encountered one glitch
while using the Q10 for a few days: I was unable to type my response to
one email. Leaving it and going back into it did not help until the next
day. That's the kind of problem that's going to frustrate BlackBerry
users, so I hope it's a rare one, and one the company fixes soon with a
That aside, the Q10 is likely to be attractive to
the BlackBerry faithful. It deserves to lure some people over from
Androids and iPhones as well. The keyboard makes the Q10 a good
complement to a tablet. Use the bigger screen for entertainment, surfing
and gaming, and the BlackBerry for messaging.
When I reviewed the
Z10 model in January, I found I couldn't point to anything about it
that would make me say: "Forget those other phones: you have to buy this
one." I can for the Q10. If you value a keyboard, this is the one to
BlackBerry Q10: In pictures