BlackBerry diehards finally get a keyboard
This is for the BlackBerry die-hards. You know who you are.
You're the ones who scoffed at those newfangled iPhones back in 2007, and still do. You turned your back when BlackBerry launched its touch-screen Z10 phone earlier this year. Your motto is "You'll take away my physical keyboard when you pry it from my cold, dead thumbs."
For you, and only for you, there's the new Q10. It's a sometimes uneasy combination of the company's modernized BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is designed for touch screens, and a traditional design modeled after the iconic (at least to its fans) BlackBerry Bold.
Carriers in the U.K. -- where the Q10 will arrive by the end of April -- and Canada are now taking pre-orders. The company says it will be in the U.S. by the end of May, at $249 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage on a two-year contract; Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile will carry it.
The new BlackBerry measures a compact 4.7 by 2.6 inches, and weighs just under five ounces. It's well- and thoughtfully built, with a soft back that makes it easy to grip and three frets laid between the four rows of keys. The Q10 will run on LTE networks, the fastest cellular data connections, where available.
The phone's most unusual feature is its screen. Unlike just about every other smartphone, whose displays are taller than they are wide, the new BlackBerry's is a 3.1-inch-diagonal square with a resolution of 720 by 720 pixels.
That means, among other things, that it can show much less content per screen than other phones -- for example, icons for 12 apps, as opposed to 24 on Apple's iPhone 5 and 20 on the Samsung Galaxy. You can theoretically watch a movie on it, but I can't imagine why you'd want to.
BlackBerry enthusiasts, of course, don't really care about that. What they want to know is: "What about the keyboard?"
They're likely to be more than satisfied. The keys are comfortably spaced and nicely sculpted, with a solid feel that will be familiar to the faithful. I haven't been a regular BlackBerry user for several years, but once the old muscle memory kicked in, I was able to rattle along as I did when Bill Clinton was still president.
Some features of the old BlackBerrys are missing. There's no trackball or trackpad; that function has been taken over by the touch screen.
A swipe up from the bottom unlocks the phone; a swipe down when it's locked puts it to sleep, or, when it's awake, pulls down a window shade reminiscent of the one in Google's Android operating system, with various settings and notifications.
Instead of using the touch screen, though, I often found myself using a new feature called Instant Action that's really an old-school set of keyboard shortcuts.
Type "bbm," for instance, and the phone automatically goes to the secure and much-loved BlackBerry Messenger service -- -- which includes both voice chat and, with other BlackBerry 10 users, video and screen-sharing. Type "call," "dial" or "phone" and the first few letters of a contact's name, and the Q10 is ready to place the call. The same with "text" or "sms."
The Q10 has many of the Z10's strengths, including its enterprise-friendly security features and BlackBerry Hub, a unified message inbox you can peek at from within other apps simply by swiping your finger.
But it also has the Z10's weaknesses, including the absence of many popular apps. There's no Instagram, no Pinterest and no Netflix in the BlackBerry World store, and a substantial chunk of the 100,000 or so apps are actually tweaked versions originally written for Android.
Nor does BlackBerry have much in the way of Cloud-based services for saving and accessing information, the way Apple and Google do.
My guess is that the Q10's target audience won't really care. This isn't a phone to attract a new breed of BlackBerry users. It's one to keep the old breed happy. They will be.
• Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.