If you asked any of my friends a little more than a year ago whether or not I’d be able to credibly review a smartphone, they’d have laughed. Loudly.
I got my first cellphone back in 1998. My parents signed me up with TELUS and I had one of those coveted second-by-second contracts (rather than the more common minute-by-minute ones that are now the norm). It was long before texting and before I ever signed Oprah’s No Phone Zone pledge. I would chat with friends for hours every week as I did my gruelling 104-kilometre round-trip commute.
In every country I lived during my 20s, I had a cellphone. Texting got popular when I was in Seoul (where you could even text on the underground subway!).
But when I went on my first maternity leave in 2008, I decided to save money and go off the grid a bit. I kept only a land line. And it was liberating.
It wasn’t until I went back to work after my second mat leave that I got another mobile device. All said and done, I went about three years mobile-free.
My employer handed me a BlackBerry (I couldn’t even tell you which model), and I learned how to do two things with it: make phone calls and send emails.
This lack of connectedness continued until I started Mommy Gearest and got an iPhone. Then connectedness became an obsession. Suddenly, I was keeping up with my 20-something friends who text way more than my friends in their 30s; I was tweeting and updating my Facebook status whether I was at home or an event; even mundane things like drinking coffee became shareable. I snapped photos and shot videos.
I became a smartphone aficionado.
Then the social media team from TELUS invited me to one of the most anticipated events of the year: the BlackBerry 10 launch party. And it was kind of epic. I mean, Flo Rida performed! Doug Gilmour was four feet from me! I ate decadent chocolates off of forks sticking out of a pretend wall!
And I got to meet the new BlackBerry Z10 and play with it a bit at the event. It seemed like Canada’s answer to the iPhone – at least, that’s how I walked away feeling, Canadian pride welling up inside of me.
A couple of months later, the TELUS crew not only offered to give me a BlackBerry Q10 – the one with the QUERTY keyboard for which die-hard BlackBerry fans were holding out – for the BlogHer ’13 conference I’m heading to in July, but they also invited me to be part of a campaign called The 10 Best of BlackBerry Q10 (or, on Twitter, #10BestofBBQ10). Ten of us across the country have had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with the Q10.
Let’s be honest: if you’re looking for a really technical look at the phone and the BB10 platform, you’re not gonna get that here. I couldn’t tell you about screen size specs or anything related to pixels, for example. Look to someone like David Papp for this. Better still, check out what the other nine reviewers in the TELUS 10 Best of BlackBerry Q10 have to say.
I’m simply writing this review like I write every review: as a busy mom with kids. Kids who use our devices as much as we do. Hence some of the protective gear that has been a phone-saver, like the Incipio DualPro hard-shell case, and multitasking must-haves like the XXL-ARMBAND Smartphone Workout Armband and the SM615 Slim-Grip Ultra Mini Windshield Car Mount from Arkon. Each one of them seriously solid pieces of gear.
I have to start with StoryMaker, because it’s just one of the coolest (and easiest and most reliable) apps I’ve ever used. It comes standard on every BlackBerry Q10, and it takes your photos and turns them into mini-movies. Whether you’re a budding Spielberg or an overzealous Type A mom who needs to capture every moment of her kids’ lives to feel sane (anyone?), you’re going to love StoryMaker. Here’s an example: we surprised The K Man with a birthday trip to Great Wolf Lodge, and for two days I took every photo on my Q10. On our drive home from Niagara Falls, I buckled up and opened my StoryMaker app; I chose all of the best pictures from my gallery and followed the step-by-step instructions on my screen: write a title, write your name and select music (either from the stock tunes pre-loaded in the app or from your own music files). That’s it. Within about 10 minutes from start to finish, I created this:
If you use your smartphone primarily for work, there’s no contest when it comes to having a keyboard. I’ve gotten pretty good at using the touchscreen keyboard on my iPhone but the accuracy is incomparable when I type on the good ol’ BlackBerry keyboard. I might be wrong, but the keys themselves feel slightly bigger than they were in yesteryear. Even Big B, sausage fingers and all, found it comfortable to type.
Predict-a-word. OK, that’s not actually what it’s called, but your Q10 learns the way you type and the words and phrases you use most often and can predict – with sometimes eerie accuracy – what you want to type next. Simply tap the word and move on to the next. I have “typed” whole sentences just by tapping.
The Q10 is pretty sleek looking and slim (if it helps visualize the size, it fits in my Coach wristlet); even if it’s still much wider than an iPhone, it’s miles smaller than those Samsung Galaxy phones. But by the time I get my protective cases on either phone, they’ve both lost a lot of cool-factor. Hey, it’s a necessity when you have a daughter who thinks throwing phones overhand is a bundle of laughs.
If you’ve used a BlackBerry before, you may have found the browser speed on the slow side. I don’t know what kind of guts are in the Q10, but the result is really fast surfing.
I like that I can keep many apps open at the same time and easily navigate back to them. But one of the best features on the Q10 is the hub. The hub consolidates all of my actions and messages into one running stream of activity. Whether an email comes in, or I get a text, or a photo uploads to my Twitter feed, or I need to upgrade an app, my hub lists it all in chronological order. This means you don’t need to flip from one app to another to read texts, BBMs or emails in quick succession. This is a time-saver, and what parent doesn’t need more time?
The battery life is quite good. One day in particular, I spent probably three hours on the phone (between a conference call and personal chit-chats with my girls after the kiddies were in bed), I downloaded at least a dozen apps, I texted, BBM’d, and did all of my Mommy Gearest tweeting and Facebooking solely on the BlackBerry Q10 – from morning until night. And the battery lasted all day. That’s pretty impressive and I’m hoping I won’t need to buy an extra battery for my BlogHer conference as a result.
It’s a little thing, but I sure am glad BlackBerry adopted the two-in-one charging cord that can either plug into the wall or into a USB port. Now if they’d only invent one that works as a car charger, too.
I didn’t like the cut and paste tool at first. To be honest, it took me about a month to get used to it. But now I prefer it to the cut and paste function on my iPhone – for the most part. More on that shortly.
Another thing I like better on the Q10 than the iPhone is how email messages are shared on your screen. Where iPhone bundles related messages together once you select one to read, BlackBerry keeps it real by just leaving them in the order they were received.
It’s easy as pie to share your photos and videos on any of your social channels or by text and email.
I am in love with the alarm. Aside from being super-easy to set up whenever I need it (which amounts to once a week when I have to get up and look human before descending on my colleagues in the city), the alarm volume starts of rather quietly and gradually increases. So if you’re the kind of person who’s woken by the birds chirping across the street (me before kids) or the one who basically needs someone to give her a wet willy before she’s going to drag her tired ass out of bed (me after kids), this alarm is perfect. Plus it lets you snooze every 10 minutes if you like.
There’s this awesome nightshade feature that Bill from the TELUS Learning Centre showed me, but I haven’t been able to remember how to do it. It lets you turn off your notifications but keep your phone on while you sleep. The TELUS Learning Centre, by the way, was an amazing experience. At TELUS stores across the country, there are experts who will spend one hour of 1:1 time with you for free whenever you get a new device that’s activated on the TELUS network. I’d been playing with my Q10 for about three weeks when I went to my learning session, and I had a good handle on the phone. But I’m telling you, I left feeling like I had a new phone in my hands. It’s amazing how much you can learn in an hour. Especially a child-free hour.
Oooh! Get this, if you meet someone else on the BB10 platform, you can put your phones back to back and you instantly share contact information. It’s so neat.
There’s a white option for the Q10. It looks pretty. That is all.
The Q10’s camera works best in natural light; yes, there’s a flash for darker environments but your photos are never going to be crisp. Even in good light indoors, too much action and you’ll get the blurries. I don’t think any smartphone can replace a good camera, though.
The one downside of the amazing Time Shift option with the camera? No flash available. See point above. Meh.
The cut and paste, as much as I’ve learned to love it, it still doesn’t copy from just anywhere – and that’s limiting. If I want to grab a phone number from a message in Facebook for example, it won’t let me. Similarly, if I want to copy my own phone number from my own dashboard, it won’t let me. Fail.
The touch sensitivity takes some getting used to, and – overall – is not as sensitive as the iPhone. You have to use the full pad of your finger, versus just the tip for example. It’s become second nature now and I’ve gotten very, very fast with the gestures. I sometimes find myself wishing Apple would adopt some of the gestures for the iPhone. I love being able to get to my home screen just by swiping from the bottom of my screen, for example.
The app selection for kids is pretty dismal. Aside from one Angry Birds game and an app that makes fart noises, BlackBerry app developers have a long way to go to match what’s available for little ones on the competitor platforms. And this is not just from a content perspective – this also goes for the sophistication of the graphics.
My kids also get frustrated with the gestures you need to know to get from one app to the next; while it’s not as instantly intuitive as the iPhone, an adult is going to find the learning curve pretty short. Depending on your kids’ ages, though, the frustration may last and last. My two year old still needs me to exit out of apps for her.
The biggest disappointment for me with the Q10 is the voice command option. When I’m commuting into the city for work, I use Siri on my iPhone so I can be 99.5 per cent hands-free but still call my parents to remind them to put a loonie in my kid’s backpack for some new thing the school needs me to pay for, or text my husband to tell him to bring home milk, or email my boss noting that traffic is a nightmare. And I’ll be late. Again. Unless you’re within inches of the Q10, the voice command simply doesn’t pick up what you’re saying. Where I have my windshield car mount set up is arm’s length from the driver’s seat – and I have yet to place a successful phone call or dictate a single email without switching to Siri’s help. If BlackBerry could master this feature and match Siri’s capabilities, I could certainly ditch my iPhone for the Q10. And for someone who doesn’t commute, you might not ever have a need for a function like this in the first place.
I don’t normally give more than one rating, but I think you really need to determine what your smartphone will be used for before you decide which one to buy:
- For work: 4.5/5
- For casual use with lots of social activity: 4/5
- For child’s play: 2.5/5
So…where can you get it?
- TELUS, of course 🙂