In Part 1 of my review, we took a look at the Blackberry Q10 from a hardware perspective. Today, we’ll see how it compares to Android from a software perspective. I’ll warn you now, this article is going to be a bit long, but I’ll try my best to keep it short. That said, let’s delve right in.
When it comes to software, I really have to hand it to Blackberry, with the recent release of Blackberry OS 10.2, they’ve managed to get some really great ideas implemented perfectly. While concepts and ideas are usually well received by the general public, it is the implementation of these ideas that is of paramount importance and there are many different ways to implement these ideas.
You could go the Samsung route and just stuff everything into the device, hoping people will appreciate diversity and freedom of choice. Or, you could do what LG’s done and try to implement fewer but more practical ideas, like the Knock-On feature. In either case however, users find themselves thinking that yes, the ideas work, but they could have been done a lot better (people will always complain).
Happily, I never found myself thinking anything of the sort during my time with Blackberry OS. It’s a very gesture-centric OS and hardly has any on-screen buttons. Coming from Android, having no home or recent apps buttons was a bit confusing and worrying at first. However, as I got to grips with the gestures (helped in part by the Setup app pre-installed on the Q10), I was up and running within minutes.
Before I can talk about the gestures, I’ll need to talk about the main screen. Unlike Android and very similar to iOS, Blackberry OS doesn’t like having an App Drawer. All your app icons are laid out in a 4 x 3 grid on your homescreen pages. Swiping from page to screen can get a bit cumbersome if you’ve got a lot of apps so you can tap on the numbers to quickly jump between pages.
Additionally, while it doesn’t have widgets, there are some ‘live’ icons like in iOS. The calendar, for example, always shows the current date. You also get quick access to the Phone and Camera apps in the bottom corners but you can’t customise/replace them.
Replacing a home button is a single swipe up from the bottom bezel of the screen. This gesture works throughout the OS, within any and all applications. Similar to LG’s Knock-On feature, this gesture also allows you to turn the screen on without having to press the physical power button. Once you get used to it, you’ll never touch the power button again, apart from when you want to turn the phone off.
Swiping up from within an application minimises the app on a new page on the homescreen; this serves as your Recent Apps menu. It’s a lot different from what I’m used to on Android but works just as well. Minimised windows of certain apps which were made specifically for Blackberry OS to act like widgets.
For example, minimising the Weather app shows you a snippet of your forecast. Minimise the Clock app and it becomes a window showing you the current time and your next alarm. It’s a quick way of glancing at important information.
These windows generally update themselves like the Live Tiles found on Windows Phone 8. You can have up to 8 apps opened up at the same time, which isn’t much compared to Android.
From here, you can tap on the little ‘x’ in the corner to close the app; there’s no swiping to close apps here. Switching between apps is silky smooth and is very quick. If no apps are open, the Recent Apps page vanishes.
The leftmost screen is the highly-coveted Blackberry Hub. Firstly, let me tell you what Blackberry Hub is. It’s essentially a place where all of your notifications are handled. Phone calls, voicemails, emails, Facebook updates, Twitter updates, Google Talk, you name it. Everything is handled through Blackberry Hub. Sadly, the only thing it doesn’t support is Google+ and as an Android user, I can tell you that this sucks.
Secondly, Blackberry Hub is the best thing ever. Period. Android should have something like this. It just makes everything so much simpler. Just like iOS, when you get a notification, you get a little toast at the top of the screen (there’s nothing similar to a notification bar here) and the LED starts flashing. Using the Home gesture, you can quickly have a look at your notifications (Blackbery Peek) and then swipe to the right to access Blackberry Hub.
Blackberry Peek is both a useful and completely useless idea. It’s useful in the sense that you swipe up to see your notifications, but it’s useless in that you’re hardly ever going to not check your notifications. You see a Facebook logo with a little star on it, letting you know something’s happened so there is no way you’d not immediately check who posted what status etc.
The notifications also show up on the lockscreen, as do the quick access to the Camera. By long-pressing the camera icon, you can open the camera app. It’s definitely slower than I would like. On the Android lockscreen, you can simply swipe to the left to get to your camera and quickly take the picture. Here, you have to wait for a few precious seconds before the camera app is opened. With swiping being so prominent within the OS, I find it strange Blackberry decided to use a buttoned approach for the camera.
One thing worthy of mentioning about the lockscreen is the very cool unlock animation. If you’ve set up no security pin or unlock pattern, you simply swipe up to unlock the device. You get this lovely fading/shining animation which, when partnered with the right background picture, can look absolutely brilliant.
…And Swiping Down
The second gesture present everywhere in the OS is a swipe down from the top of the screen. On the main homescreen this brings down the Quick Settings menu. In every other application, this is a universal gesture to bring down the app’s menu or settings. As a result, no screen real-estate is wasted on having an on-screen menu button. While this may not be a big issue on the Z10 or Z30, on a phone with a 3.1 inch screen, screen real-estate is everything.
The Quick Settings menu is very similar to Android and provides quick access to all your settings. You can customize the tiles and rearrange them however you like. It sports a paginated style like the homescreen so you swipe left and right to go between settings. There are only 2 accessible pages if you enable all the tiles. Pressing on the icons triggers certain actions (tapping the Bluetooth icon turns on Bluetooth) while pressing on the word opens up the respective application/setting (tapping ‘Bluetooth’ opens Bluetooth settings).
I mentioned in my Part 1 of my review that Blackberry has an option called ‘Bedside Mode’ which makes brilliant use of that AMOLED display. When you swipe down from the lockscreen, you activate bedside mode which essentially makes the screen a clock. The screen is completely black with 0% brightness and you just get this nice little red clock.
Speaking of which, there are three main apps that are worth mentioning here. First up is the clock app for its intuitive and stylish design. I won’t spend too much time here but the main thing is that setting an alarm is very similar to Android, except it looks sleeker. You add an alarm by on the clock face itself and swipe around to set the time. The alarm turns red for AM and light blue for PM. Not really a big deal, but it’s the little things like this which make Blackberry OS a pleasure to use.
Second is the File Manager. It’s worth mentioning simply because it connects everything in one brilliant place. There’s no stock file manager app on Android unless you’re running a custom ROM; you usually download something like ES File Explorer. In Blackberry OS, the File Manager not only shows you all the stuff on the phone, but it can also wirelessly access files on your computer (once it’s set up with Blackberry Link). Additionally, it connects to Dropbox and syncs your Dropbox directory so all your files are easily accessible with one app. Very easy to set up and use.
Speaking of Blackberry Link, I have to say that I don’t like it. It’s the iTunes of the Blackberry world. Android is brilliant in that you can simply connect your phone and access all the files and folders like its a common hard-disk. With Blackberry, you need to have Blackberry Link installed on your computer before you can do anything. It’s a long-winded and annoying approach to something as simple as transferring some music on to your phone.
Thirdly, I’ll talk about the camera. The camera defaults to taking pictures in a 1:1 ratio, something which is useful for contact pictures and not much else. Fortunately, you can change it to capture pictures in either a 4:3 ratio or the increasingly popular 16:9. The camera interface is pretty straightforward and clean. You don’t get much in terms of features or choices here though.
There are 4 shooting modes: Normal, Stabilization, Burst, and HDR. As mentioned before, the Q10 takes great pictures in good lighting but it practically falls apart when it comes to macro shots. You tap anywhere on the screen to take a picture and can drag the focus ring to focus on a specific area of the screen. Pictures are taken very quickly and accurately; there’s no shutter lag at all here.
Editing pictures is also very similar to Android. You get the same bells and whistles wrapped up in a slightly different package. I still prefer Android’s approach to editing since it’s a bit more intuitive. In Android, you can slide your finger across the picture to see Before/After comparisons but it’s not the case with the Q10. Perhaps the smaller screen plays a part in this, but editing pictures is not a very enjoyable experience on the Blackberry Q10.
Yes, it’s taken a while, but we finally got to Blackberry World. I’m sure you’ve all heard the myriad jokes.
“Blackberry World? More like Blackberry House!” etc. As rubbish as they are, the jokes have a very valid point. This is the area where Blackberry flat out loses in the smartphone world. There are a lot of apps in the market, but it’s not even comparable to Android or iOS. Windows Phone suffers from the same problem.
As an Android user, I found it horrible that there’s no Google+ app available at all on the Blackberry platform. I had to bookmark the mobile site and stick it on my homescreen to be able to access Google+. Also, there’s no Hangouts app, although that’s a bit less terrible since you do get Google Talk.
You see, certain apps need Google’s Framework to be installed in order to work so apps like Google Play Music or Hangouts don’t work. What’s inexcusable, however, is that the stock YouTube ‘app’ is nothing but a bookmark to the mobile website. That’s just embarrassing, especially when there’s a perfectly good YouTube app (dubbed FastTube) available in Blackberry World.
However, don’t judge too harshly. Blackberry is well aware of its lack of apps and has made arrangements to fix the situation. Where Blackberry is truly deserving of praise is that it natively supports Android apps.
Yep, you heard me. Just copy the .apk file to your phone, install it using the File Manager and you’re all set. You can run your favourite apps on BB if you can’t find them in Blackberry World, and that makes a world (badum tss) of a difference.
Installing Android applications on the Blackberry Q10 is a piece of cake and when you’re done, you can just run them like you normally would. Most of them run brilliantly, but some of them (which rely on Google’s Framework and for Play Market to be installed) often crash. Blackberry is definitely working hard to fix this problem and hopefully it’ll get better with each OS update.
In some Android applications, you get a Back button. Not just any Back button. It’s a hideous, gigantic, bar which sits at the bottom of your screen and eats up some of your precious screen real-estate. Reminiscent to the legacy menu button found in older versions of Android, this back button is a little bit different. Blackberry actually allows you to get rid of it completely.
Bringing down the menu in any Android app (by swiping down), you’ll get a little option which says “Hide Bar”. Click on that and your troubles disappear. The hideous bar has been vanquished and you can see your screen in all its glory. Since Blackberry OS is gesture-centric, you get a new gesture which acts as the back button instead. Of course, if you like looking at ugly things, you can always bring the back button back (pun intended).
The keyboard is fully integrated into the OS and is one of the best features about the Q10. Typing on the homescreen brings up a quick actions, sort of like Searching in Android. You can send a tweet or update your Facebook status directly from the homescreen. “Tweet I like apples” tweets “I like apples” from your connected Twitter account immediately. However, there’s no support at all for Google+, which kinda sucks.
Another brilliant aspect of the keyboard is all the stuff it can do in different apps. Pressing ‘T’ takes you to the top of a list, anywhere in the OS, while pressing ‘B’ takes you to the bottom. In the browser, pressing ‘I’ zooms in, while pressing ‘O’ zooms out. There are loads of different tricks and buttons which do different things but I won’t mention all of them.
My absolute favourite is ‘Reading Mode’ (entered by pressing ‘R’) on any website. It strips away the images and the flash and just leaves you with the text. Absolutely brilliant for websites like Android Dissected or The Verge etc.
Blackberry OS also has Voice Control, which can be accessed by holding the Multi-Function button. It is very accurate and is quick to understand voice commands. However, when compared to Google Now, it’s not as powerful or well integrated. It’s considerably slower than Google Now as well. For example, asking what the weather will be today takes a good 10 – 15 seconds before it shows the local forecast. On the other hand, searching the same thing on Google Now on my Sensation had the weather card ready in 3 – 4 seconds.
Phone UI and Finishing Touches
In addition to having awesome call quality, the phone UI on the Blackberry Q10 was lovely. Like every other OS, it’s got the Slide-To-Answer/Ignore, and sports the full screen contact picture. You can silence the incoming call and you also get some preset response messages if you can’t answer the call the moment.
The thing I liked most about it though, was that colour-fading animation you get when you slide your finger across the slider. It turns either red or green, depending on what you choose. Again, this isn’t really a big deal, but it looks really nice and elegant.
What’s weird is that usually, Answer is on the right and Ignore is on the left but on the Blackbbery Q10, it’s reversed. Since you’ll be answering your calls more often than ignoring them, it makes more sense to put Answer on the right since your thumb has to travel less distance. If you’re holding the phone in your right hand, it’s easier to swipe to the right than the left. Not sure why Blackberry opted to change it up.
All in all, Blackberry has done an absolutely stellar job with the Q10. The hardware is excellent and the software is just as good. Having that 2100 mAh battery is a definite advantage; this phone lasts all day even with heavy usage.
The attention to detail put into every aspect of the device is what makes it so brilliant. Whether it’s the placement of the ports, or the colour-changing alarm icon, Blackberry has put a lot of effort into the device and it truly shows.
One thing I would really love Blackberry to do for a future phone is to make the screen bigger (get a 16:9 ratio) and get a horizontal slide-out keyboard. That would be an absolutely amazing device. Or, they could just make something like the Z10 with a portrait slide-out keyboard similar to the concept on the left.
That being said, I really enjoyed my time with the Blackberry Q10. It is a spectacular device and I can’t recommend it enough; keyboard enthusiasts, this is the device to get.