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The new BlackBerry Q10, photographed at The Globe and Mail offices in Toronto. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
The new BlackBerry Q10, photographed at The Globe and Mail offices in Toronto. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

With near-perfect keyboard, Q10 a better BlackBerry than Z10 Add to ...

One of my few annoyances with Research In Motion’s Z10 – the touchscreen device released earlier this year to generally positive reviews – is that it felt like somebody else’s phone. Many of the phone’s features felt derivative of other companies’ popular models.

The Q10, on the other hand, does not have that problem. This is a tried-and-true BlackBerry, complete with the best keyboard RIM has ever developed. The Z10 may prove to be the more commercially successful phone, but the Q10 is the better BlackBerry.

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The Q10 – which landed on our desk last week and goes on sale May 1 for roughly $200 on a three-year contract through the major Canadian carriers – is the physical-keyboard cousin of the Z10, in that both run on the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. If the Z10 was designed to appeal to people who fell in love with iPhones over the past few years, the Q10 is for the die-hard BlackBerry user.

For the most part, the two phones share many of the same features, including BlackBerry Hub, which organizes all your messaging in one place. The touchscreen gestures are also largely the same: You swipe up from the bottom bezel to wake the phone up or to exit programs, you swipe down to access menus, and so on. If you’ve used the Z10 or you’re one of the half-dozen people who still use a PlayBook, you’ll be familiar with the way these controls work.

Design-wise, the Q10 looks like a trimmer version of the most recent BlackBerry Bold. There are a few touches of flair, such as a backing cover made of something called “glass weave” that a RIM rep swears is not plastic but sure feels like plastic – albeit a sturdier, smoother plastic than the one on the backing covers of any recent BlackBerry models.

Along the top of the phone lies the main power button. There are rear-facing (8 mega-pixel) and front-facing (2 mega-pixel) cameras. Along one side are the steel-brushed volume and play/pause/voice command buttons. Along the other side are the MicroUSB and MicroHDMI buttons, which are right next to each other and which you will inevitably get mixed-up. The touchscreen measures in at 3.1 inches.

The Q10’s new features can be broadly classified in two categories: keyboard-related upgrades and things RIM got wrong with the Z10 that they’ve subsequently tried to fix.

Of these, the keyboard features are by far the most impressive. In overall dimensions, the Q10 isn’t that much bigger than the most recent Bold – but it feels much, much bigger. That’s because RIM has done away with the traditional Green-Phone, Red-Phone, Trackpad and menu buttons – essentially, that entire horizontal row of physical keys has been cleared out to make room for more screen. But the keyboard has also been expanded. Although it’s only about 3 per cent bigger than the one on the Bold, the keyboard too feels more substantial. The horizontal steel frets between the rows of keys is thicker, and the keys themselves slightly wider.

The Q10 has, without a doubt, the best keyboard I’ve seen on any phone, physical or virtual. The larger keys make for fewer mistakes, and the phone comes with all the bells and whistles on the Z10 virtual keyboard. These include the predictive text options that pop up as you type (and, after a while, begin to guess what you’re about to type better than you can) and the auto-correct feature, which is quite good, but not perfect.

This, ultimately, is the problem with the Q10 keyboard – it could have been perfect, it came so close to being perfect, but it isn’t perfect. The biggest issue is the lack of physical backward and forward keys. On older-model BlackBerrys, if you got something wrong and didn’t notice it until 10 words later, you could navigate to the problem word with the physical keys. But those are gone now, so you have to use the miserably annoying touchscreen option to navigate. This is a problem on all touchscreen phones for one simple reason – no matter what gimmick the designers come up with, they can’t seem to fix the problem that your finger on the screen makes it very difficult to see where you are placing the cursor. On the Q10, there’s a big blue circle that surrounds the cursor and is supposed to solve this problem. It doesn’t.

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