You know, for a company that made its mark thanks to devices with physical QWERTY keyboards, BlackBerry really didn’t spend much time chatting about the Q10. It’s going to hit the street well after the all-touch Z10 does so it’s an understandable move, but I’ve heard many a person begrudgingly stick with an ailing BlackBerry because of its top-notch keyboard. Thankfully, I managed to corner a Q10 for a little hands-on time, and its keyboard is just as good as ever — the big question is, how’s the rest of it?
Looking at the Q10 is much like a catching a glimpse at familiar-looking stranger walking down the street — the broad strokes are similar, but many of the smaller touches are different and surprising. Take BlackBerry’s legendary keyboard, for instance. It doesn’t look entirely unlike the ones seen on recent BlackBerry 7 devices like the Bold 9900, and it retains the spacious layout and highly-satisfying click of the BlackBerrys of days past, but the familiar row of navigation and menu buttons have finally been put to rest. The volume rocker also looks like its been plucked off of a PlayBook too, which isn’t much of a surprise — the same could be said of the company’s Dev Alpha units.
The Q10 is actually quite a looker despite those borrowed bits. Its rear-end is buttery soft thanks to its glass-weave construction, and the end result is a carbon fiber-esque pattern that looks awfully familiar to the sort of things Motorola has been doing with its recent smartphones. And don’t worry you special little flower you, because the initially cagey BlackBerry rep on hand said that no two Q10 backs would look the same. It’s not the thinnest device I’ve ever seen at 10.3mm thick, but it’s surprisingly light and felt like it could take a few hits before giving up the ghost.
Sadly, the BlackBerry representatives on hand didn’t allow for much fiddling with the software (an effort to prevent people from monopolizing demo units for too long), but what I did see was very promising. Checking the hub, peeking at apps, and generally just zipping around the OS was smooth and unfettered, thanks in part to the Q10’s 1.5GHz dual-core processor and its 2GB of RAM. Darrell did a fine job deconstructing all of BlackBerry 10’s particulars in his Z10 review so I won’t rehash it all, but there was a distinct difference in feel between how gestures and navigation work on the two devices. Things are generally a bit more intuitive on the Z10’s expansive display, and having to reach over the keyboard to swipe around is a bit curious at first, but folks coming from touch-enabled devices like the Bold 9900 will already be used to that.
Overall, the Q10 is a surprisingly handsome device that seems well-equipped to handle the needs of existing BlackBerry fans who need more than just a touchscreen in their lives. Whether or not it’ll cause Android or iOS devotees to jump ship remains to be seen (though I highly doubt it), but that’s more of a quandary for BlackBerry 10 as a whole rather than the device on its own. Sadly, there’s no hard word on when you’ll be able to get a hold of one yourself: CEO Heins mentioned in a post-presser Q&A session that the device will likely hit store shelves in the U.S. and beyond some time in April.