Monday, August 19, 2013

BlackBerry Q10 is a lot of innovation looking for longtime BB fans

I have been enjoying the company of the BlackBerry Q10 for the past couple of weeks. Some might think this smartphone is too little and too late. I think it's a lot of innovation and I hope it's not too late.

My soft spot for the BlackBerry platform goes all the way back to the trackball or roller ball, and the scroll-wheel days. These devices set the standards for security and email management and were considered the "must have" mobile phone during its heyday, especially for enterprise customers. Now fast forward a decade and the BlackBerry is fighting for survival among the iPhones, Samsung Galaxies, Motorola Droids and a host of other newcomers.

But the latest BlackBerry, the Q10, with the QWERTY physical keyboard for us that remember the good old days, is quite a smartphone and I wouldn't count BlackBerry out just yet. The Q10 is running the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is supposed to propel the BlackBerry devices into the future of smartphone innovation.

Straight out of the box from Verizon Wireless, this devices has a feeling of quality, with a textured back, rounded, smooth edges and an extremely tight fit. You can't help but notice the keyboard occupying the lower one third of the Q10's 4.7 inches in height. Then you're left with a 3.1-inch display, which is small by today's smartphones standards, but gets the job the done.

I guess having a 1.5 gigahertz dual-core processor is fine for now, but if BlackBerry is going to compete with its most fierce competitors, such as Apple, Samsung, HTC and LG, it will need to move into the quad-core territory.

I can stand behind the Q10's 8 megapixel camera though, especially in low-light situations. I shot some gorgeous photos just before sundown, with some of them in dark shadows. The colors were vibrant, life-like and impressive for a smartphone camera.

When I was setting up all my various social media and email accounts on the Q10, I was surprised to see integration for Evernote, a popular online note management application, become a part of the BlackBerry's Remember app. Now that falls into the very useful and cool category. As a heavy Evernote user, I like it and was thrilled to see this feature integrated into the Q10.

Here is one of the reasons I still think the BlackBerry has a fighting chance. When I look at the iPhone home screen, I see 24 icons with various red numbers in rounded-corner boxes. When I look at the Q10's home screen, I see my next appointment, which in was in 41 minutes on this particular day, along with "new' email and voice mail notifications. The synergy between all the calendars, social media accounts, task keepers, messages and multiple email services is nothing short of amazing. The Q10 became my go-to device to see what's happening next in my schedule.

I also like the shortcuts built into the device. From the home screen, you can just type "text" to begin sending a message, or "c" to call someone, or "T" to jump to the top of any page.

I did find it odd that Web pages don't rotate when you rotate the device, but fell in love with the "Reader" feature, where information comes up in plain-text view with no other distractions. You'll find this little nifty feature under the menu while visiting Web pages that contain articles to read.

I also don't know if the BlackBerry platform will ever catch up with Apple and Android in the number of apps available, and now even Windows Phone 8, who has also passed the 100,000 mark and iOS and Android marches toward one million. But I do know there are some good ones available for BlackBerry and one of the first apps I tried out for the Q10 is the famous BlackBerry "Password Keeper." It's as rock solid as ever and still sets the standard for password apps.

With all the talk from the BlackBerry corporate board about finding a buyer, exploring joint ventures or going into a partnership, it's hard to imagine to what's next for BlackBerry and their smartphones. The PlayBook tablet bit the dust a couple of months ago and might not resurface under the BlackBerry 10 operating system.

I think the BlackBerry will be around for years to come and will remain competitive. The Q10 is available from Verizon Wireless for around $200 under contract.

But here's one last effort to bring some traction the BlackBerry and especially the Q10. It's kind of a "Back to the Future" approach, which is to bring back the trackball in the land of touchscreens, much like the BlackBerry Bold 9930. I find it difficult to place and move the cursor around when editing text on this BlackBerry. Sometimes, you need to back up when writing a sentence to make a correction or insert a word and there are no arrows keys on the Q10's keyboard to move left, right, up and down.

I found the physical keyboard on the Q10 to be comfortable and precise. I made less typing mistakes than with a touchscreen device. The Q10's touchscreen above the keyboard was wonderful for swooshing from screen to screen, launching apps and getting into the Hub.

If I had only had a trackball, I would have had the best of all worlds — a touchscreen, physical keyboard and a quick, precise method to manage the cursor without having to go to the touchscreen.

Then the BackBerry Q10 could lead the way back into the game as the powerhouse among the business users, just like in the old days. Now that's something to think about.

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