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First look: BlackBerry Q10 smart phone exudes old-school cool

First look: BlackBerry Q10 smart phone exudes old-school cool

While the BlackBerry Z10, launched in January, was the first smart phone to run on the company’s revamped operating system. But its most radical aspect was the absence of a physical keyboard—this from a brand that inspired the term “BlackBerry Thumb,” the medical condition caused by repeated tapping of the tiny buttons on mobile devices. Now the BlackBerry Q10 gives longtime ‘Berry’ loyalists a phone that boasts both the new OS and a physical keyboard—a very good one, too, I found.

The Q10 looks a lot like the last-generation Blackberry Bold and Curve, complete with a smallish 3.1-inch LCD display. And it even comes with some conveniences not yet available on the Z10. These include a high dynamic range (HDR) mode to help its 8-megapixel camera take better pictures under difficult lighting conditions, a simpler touch-screen method for placing the cursor within text more precisely, and the ability to compose messages from the home screen by simply typing “email John” or “text Jane.” These and other features will be added to the Z10 in the near future via an over-the-air update to the operating system (BB 10.1).

Over several days of using a press sample of the BlackBerry Q10, I’ve found the 4.7 x 2.62 x 0.40-inch phone quite comfortable to handle. Here are my first impressions:

Q10-phone-keyboard-close.jpgKeyboard. I relished the superior tactile feedback of the Q10’s well-spaced, distinctly shaped keyboard. It offers many convenient shortcuts, such as pressing the “S” key to initiate searches, the “T” key to scroll to the top of a list, or the space bar to skip down a page.

Crackberry addicts still jonesing for the trackball/trackpad of their old Bold or Curve should find some relief with the Q10’s improved cursor control. The cursor appears when you lightly tap editable text, and it’s surrounded by a bull’s-eye-like circle you can easily drag to other parts of the document with your fingertip. For more precise positioning, you can nudge the cursor one character forward or back by tapping the right or left side of the bull’s-eye.

The lack of a virtual keyboard does mean the Q10 doesn’t feature Flick, the predictive-text tool on the Z10 that lets you literally flick the suggested words up into a sentence as they become available. Instead, the suggested words (typically three instead of Flick’s five) appear on the bottom of screen, just above the keyboard.

Not that the keyboard is perfect. One space-saving measure compromised its ability to handle numbers efficiently: Numbers share keys with letters, requiring you to press the Alt button for access. That’s a big hassle when you’re typing an alphanumeric string, such as the strong passwords you now need to minimize hacking threats.

Balancing work and play. BlackBerry 10 OS allows you to separate your professional and personal lives on the phone. The feature, called BlackBerry Balance, puts personal e-mail accounts, photos, and apps like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on one desktop, while corporate email and other accounts managed by your company reside on the Work desktop. You can also maintain and access separate work and personal accounts for a single app, such as Facebook or Twitter. The advantage of this optional setup is that corporate restrictions and cumbersome passwords won’t hinder your access to the fun side of having a smart phone. Switching between two worlds is easy. Simply drag your finger down the middle of the screen to see the Personal and Work tabs.

The Blackberry Q10 smart phone will also be available in white.

BlackBerry has smartly minimized the potential confusion and frustration of maintaining separate phone lives by allowing you to simultaneously view and access messages and calendar appointments from both worlds in the Hub interface and Calendar app.

Maps and navigation. Map searches seemed fairly accurate, and the GPS app’s voice-activated prompts also include traffic updates, which helped me avoid a significant jam on my trip home.

BlackBerry says the Maps app, designed by TeleCommunication Systems, generates map data mathematically using vectors, rather than employing bit-map technology to create fixed graphic images. This method, also used by iOS Maps for iPhone, among other phones, means smoother transitions when you zoom in on an object because the file downloads are smaller. The navigation app seemed to lack points of interest or a satellite-view option, though such details could admittedly be lost on the Q10’s smallish screen. More annoying was the fact that BlackBerry Maps had trouble understanding address requests made over Voice Control. Address numbers and street names were comically interpreted.

Bottom line: The BlackBerry Q10 is a palm-friendly phone with an intuitive interface that smartly keeps all of the people, places, and other things you care about where they belong: under your thumb. Overall, I liked the keyboard, but—attention, BlackBerry designers—it screams for a separate row of buttons devoted to numbers (with Alt symbols). That addition wouldn’t even make the phone noticeably larger.

Availability: We will fully test the BlackBerry Q10 when it becomes available in the U.S. at the end of May, at a suggested retail price of $249 with a two-year contract. Carriers will confirm pricing closer to availability.

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