Head to head: Nokia E6 and Blackberry Q10

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Now this should be a really interesting fight. I've compared the Nokia E6 to several QWERTY candybars from the Android world in the past, but it's been a bit of a mismatch in terms of overall quality, in favour of the Symbian device. The Blackberry Q10, on the other hand, is much more cutting edge in terms of specs, is brand new, and is also priced at a premium. As a result, it should present a very serious challenge to the 2011 Symbian-powered E6.

Even writing that feels a bit odd. Was the Nokia E6 really announced two years ago? Of course, all our Symbian devices have had so many firmware updates since then and it's almost like getting a new phone when each hits, so it's perhaps not so surprising after all.

The Q10 is, of course, brand spanking new, and part of Blackberry's (ne RIM's) renaissance with OS 10. Watch out for a full review of the devices in Phones Show 202.

Q10 vs E6

As usual, I've approached the detailed head to head comparison by breaking each device's attributes and functionality down and, as usual, I've tinted with green the cells in each row that indicate an obvious 'winner' for that attribute, for purely academic interest, and if appropriate. Some rows also have no clear winner, as you will hopefully agree.

  Blackberry Q10 Nokia E6
Approximate (new) price in the UK, inc VAT, as at May 2013 £530 SIM-free £220 SIM-free (possibly cheaper if you shop around now)
Latest firmware Blackberry OS 10.1 Nokia Belle Refresh, firmware 111.140.nnnn
Form factor, materials Premium steel chassis, disguised under black paint and with 'soft touch glass weave' (feels like plastic) back and end cap, capacitive (square) touchscreen, 139g. Premium materials, steel battery cover and chassis, solid plastic body sections, Gorilla glass capacitive touchscreen, BUT in landscape mode, 133g.
Dimensions 120 x 67 x 10 mm. 115 x 59 x 11 mm (so slightly shorter and quite a bit narrower).
Connectivity Quad-band 3G*, Quad band LTE*, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, built-in Wi-fi hotspot function, DLNA, HDMI out. (*depending on market) Pentaband 3G, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, 'USB on the go' (to USB disks/accessories, though cable not supplied), DLNA via Nokia utility.
Input mechanisms Four row QWERTY keyboard, the decently large keys are angled/sculpted in a slightly odd way (optimised for thumbs from each hand) and hinder typing for me personally, since I tend to cross over from one keyboard hemisphere to the other, depending on the letter combinations needed. There's touch cursor positioning if needed. Four row QWERTY keyboard, domed keys with superb feel and adequate key travel (iteration on the usual E71/E72/E5 design), with d-pad and touch cursor positioning if needed.
Durability Should be excellent, with that steel chassis, though there are some questions over the toughened glass used. 'Gorilla glass' display plus rigid construction means that the E6 should be very robust and long-lived.
Display  Relatively small 3.1" AMOLED (720 x 720 pixels) with decent contrast, excellent indoors, though not quite as good as the CBD AMOLED screen on the Nokia 808. Comparable with other commercial AMOLED screens, such as on the Galaxy S4, though, and similar visibility to the E6. Very small 2.46" TFT (640 x 480 pixels) high brightness display with anti-reflective properties, gorgeous indoors, still quite readable in sunlight, though not as good as the CBD screen on the Nokia E7 or 808.
Interface  Gesture-based multi-touch interface, with a communications hub that slides in from the left, applications which slide in from the right, settings from the top and a multitasking view from the bottom. In practice, it works very well indeed.  Nokia Belle, kinetic scrolling everywhere, multi-touch where needed, five homescreens of live widgets. Application menus generally standardised, but often centred around a bottom toolbar and an on-screen 'More' button.
Speed, RAM  Excellent, very responsive, a 1.5GHz dual core processor, 2GB total RAM, plus GPU. Video playback is excellent, Blackberry has done a good job with the codecs, though everything's very slightly distorted horizontally - there's a choice of two aspect ratios: slightly squished and extremely squished! Quite good, 256MB total RAM (which is fine for Symbian), and a Broadcom GPU to help out with effects, transitions and multimedia. Video playback is enabled with a wide range of codecs supported.
Memory capacity (storage) 16GB system disk for data and apps, plus microSD expansion for downloads and media.  450MB of (C:) system disk, plus 8GB mass memory and microSD expansion. Apps can be installed on any disk (C:, E:, or F:)
Camera (stills) Excellent 8 megapixel auto-focus stills for static subjects, though the lack of manual focus was occasionally a frustration and there's the usual struggle in low light. Single LED flash.

Excellent 8 megapixel stills, with EDoF, though lack of macro photography will be a problem to some and, again, it all goes to pot in low light. Dual LED flash.

Camera (video) 1080p capture, great sound quality, auto-focus hunting is a little fiddly, but acceptable. HD (720p) video is excellent, EDoF produces a huge effective depth of field, from 40cm to infinity, CD-quality 48kHz audio capture.
GPS and navigation  Good GPS, with wi-fi and cellular location, free voice guided sat-nav, though no map pre-loading (that I've found so far!). Digital compass.  Good GPS, backed up by Nokia Wi-Fi location, with Nokia Maps worldwide free voice-guided SatNav. Multi-touch maps can be pre-loaded by continent, country or area or loaded over the air. Includes digital compass and many POI guides and services.
Audio out Single loudspeaker (on bottom of unit), excellent volume and tone, 3.5mm jack, A2DP Single loudspeaker, reasonable quality and volume, excellent quality via 3.5mm jack, compatibility with Nokia's OMTP full media control headsets, A2DP
Web browsing Decent modern multi-touch browser, with double tap to zoom to appropriate text columns. A little fiddly for some sites on such a small screen, but usable. Time to render full New York Times site: 5s  Symbian Web (webkit-based), revamped for Belle, faster and more responsive but still constrained to a degree by the relatively slow processor and by the limited physical screen size on this device. There's multi-touch for zooming. Time to render full New York Times site: 17s 
Email Modern email client with, seemingly, its own way into Google and other cloud systems, along with contacts and calendar sync where possible. Email is threaded in with social mentions and other notifications as part of the Blackberry Hub. All purpose Mail client provides 'push' facilities for Mail for Exchange (one only, though, and Gmail not guaranteed anymore), Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! mail and many others - works well on the whole and slightly faster now under Nokia Belle.
Social networking Facebook, Linked In and Twitter are built-in, as is Evernote, so pretty comprehensive in terms of services. Actual functionality is similar to Nokia Social on the E6, i.e. fairly basic, so you'll still need the separate official or third party clients if you're a power user, etc. A Web Runtime-based, extensible social tool, currently working for Facebook and Twitter. Still a little slow and clunky, even in v1.5 form (supplied here in the E6's Sw_update tool). Some integration with Contacts. 
Other application highlights out of the box BBM (of course), Docs To Go (editing version), Story Maker (video editor), Foursquare client, Box.com client, Adobe Reader, Compass utility.  A comprehensive package: Quickoffice file editors, Adobe Reader, Dictionary, Zip manager, Microsoft Communicator, Joikuspot, Shazam, Photo editor, Video editor, CNN Video, Nokia Search (v2.39), Psiloc Traveler.
Application store and ecosystem  Right now, the Blackberry World store is in much the same situation as the Symbian one, in terms of choice and quality. Some apps for the Z10 don't work on the square-screened Q10, of course, but that number is dropping, just as the overall number for Blackberry OS 10 is rising. The Nokia Store is now smooth under Belle and fully supports multiple application updates. Hundreds of native Symbian (and Qt) applications are compatible with the E6, but less than for the nHD devices like the X7, N8 and 808, due to the non-standard screen size.
Battery and expected life 2100mAh replaceable battery, microUSB charging, charging every two days for typical users. 1500mAh Li-Poly replaceable battery (BP-4L), microUSB and 2mm charging, charging every two days for most people.
Ongoing firmware support and OS updates Pretty good, providing Blackberry stays in business. The smartphone world is so competitive right now and the company has been in such trouble. The Z10, Q10 and newly announced Q5 are a solid start to begin rebuilding the company's reputation though and I suspect everybody's rooting for Blackberry secretly. Prospects not dazzling. Many OS modules and components can be upgraded as-and-when using the 'Sw update tool' in the device, though we haven't had any for some time now.

Q10 and E6

Adding up the green 'wins' gives a score of 8-3 to the Blackberry Q10 - and I'd remind you that this is All About Symbian, which means I'm something of an E6 fan, making the scoreline all the more shocking. In the E6's defense, the difference between the two handsets essentially comes down to the two years of smartphone development between them. The industry moves at such a pace now that two years can double or quadruple performance in all areas. Plus it has to be acknowledged that the Q10 is arguably almost three times the price (now).

What's needed, of course, from the E6's (and Symbian's) point of view, would be something similar on this platform with the same form factor and internals. That we'll never see get the chance to see this is down to Nokia's post-February 2011 stated direction - and I can't see there being a keyboarded Windows Phone any time soon.

Would the Blackberry Q10 make a good upgrade for an E6 owner, perhaps worrying over Symbian's future? I've only been playing with the Q10 for a short while, but I'd have to go with 'yes'. It's the single best implementation of the QWERTY candybar form factor yet, has a big removeable battery, a very respectable camera, a terrific speaker and internals which hold up well in 2013.

Comments welcome if you've tried both devices too!

Q10 vs E6