BlackBerry Q5 review: A Qwerty smartphone for the masses?

Summary:The Q5 is one of the first bearing the revamped BlackBerry OS, but is a confusing mix of elegant software and dowdy hardware.

The BlackBerry Q5 is BlackBerry's latest handset and perhaps its most important yet: while the upmarket Q10 might attract the high end audience, the Q5 is the one that BlackBerry will use to attack the mass market.

Hardware

The Q5 is an unremarkable and rather bland-looking device, devoid of the styling of the Q10, BlackBerry's flagship Qwerty handset and housed in what feels like cheap plastic. This is utilitarian design sends the message that this smartphone is a workhorse, not a peacock.

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The Q5 is a quite a wide phone, and weighs in at 120g including the non-removable battery (which may irritate some users who want to carry a back-up).

The back of the Q5 lacks the rubberised Kevlar of the Q10 and this, along with the plastic body and rounded edges, made it felt uncomfortably slippery in my hand compared to the glass and aluminium of an iPhone.

The most important element of the Q5 is the keyboard: this is a Qwerty device in a time when hardware keyboards are, for many, deeply out of fashion . Your feelings about that keyboard, and the amount of smartphone real estate it consumes, will define your attitude towards the device.

I found the keyboard easy although the keys were a little too flush with the body of the phone which made it a little tricky to hit them accurately (although the reassuring click when you press down does help to orientate you). The predictive text system works nicely, too.

The body of the Q5 also features the power button, volume up/down and mute, with the charger sticking rather inelegantly into the top left of the device. The rear five-megapixel camera is adequate, as is the two-megapixel fixed-focus front camera, although you get the sense that taking pictures is not the top priority of this device. The Q5 is an NFC device too, although given contactless infrastructure is almost non-existent is most developed markets, it's of limited use.

Screen

Inevitably the existence of a physical keyboard means compromising on screen size: the Q5 has a rather small, square, 3.1-inch display (720 x 720 resolution, at 329ppi). The screen however is bright, easy to read and responsive.

I found the combination of touchscreen and keyboard quite effective for some tasks, too, but for me the screen is so small compared to other smartphones' (Samsung's Galaxy S4 has a five-inch screen) that it became hugely frustrating after only a few minutes of use.

Because the screen is square, you can't turn the phone on its side to improve your browsing or video-watching experience either, as you can with most other smartphones.

Software

The Q5 runs the BlackBerry 10 operating system which is based around gestures (for example swipe up for home, swipe left for most used apps, swipe down for settings) which rapidly becomes second nature. The 'Peek' functionality allows you to check messages or texts via the BlackBerry hub messaging centre without closing the application you're using – such as peeking at email while watching a video. The Snapdragon S4 processor with 1.2 GHz dual-core CPUs keeps the device nicely responsive too.

The Q5 comes with some apps such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Box preloaded, along with Docs to Go which allows you to write and read Word, Excel and PowerPoint attachments — a useful addition for business users while BlackBerry Balance allows users to set up dedicated profiles to keep work and personal data separate.

The BlackBerry World app store has some of the usual favourites (iPlayer, Angry Birds) but there's not a huge amount of depth to it beyond that.

The competition

BlackBerry has the Qwerty world pretty much to itself these days (and for good reason — most smartphone users prefer a bigger screen and virtual keyboard to actual keys). Obviously there is the BlackBerry Q10 if you want to go up market or something like Nokia's Asha 201 at the other end of the scale. In the US, there's a broader ranger of Qwerty handsets including the Galaxy Stratosphere II.

Conclusion

The Q5 is a rather bland container for a rather elegant operating system.

If you're a diehard Qwerty fan looking for a mid-range device, it may hold some interest. If you are an enterprise customer looking to rollout a fleet of devices to a user base which will mostly be using their smartphones to input data (perhaps engineers or salespeople) it may have its attractions. The BlackBerry hub messaging centre may also win it some fans among social media crazed-consumers too. But for most the combination of physical keyboard, diminutive screen and limited array of apps may leave them cold.

Editors' rating: 7 out of 10

 

BlackBerry Q5 Pros

  • Qwerty keyboard
  • Bright, crisp screen
  • BlackBerry 10 interface
  • Fast and responsive
  • Useful enterprise apps

Cons

  • Very small screen
  • Lack of removable battery
  • Plastic feel
  • Lack of apps

BlackBerry Q5 specs at a glance

  • Size: Height 120mm, width 66mm, depth 10.8mm
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor with 1.2GHz dual-core CPUs
  • Camera: Five-megapixel rear camera, two-megapixel front camera
  • Memory: 2GB RAM, 8GB Flash (Removable microSD memory card up to 32GB)
  • USB 2.0 high speed port, NFC
  • Network bands: Quad band LTE (100/50Mbps) 3, 7, 8, 20 (800/900/1800/2600 MHz), Quad-band HSPA/UMTS (DC 42Mbps) -1, 2, 5/6, 8 (850/900/1900/2100 MHz), Quad band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
  • Screen: 720 x 720 resolution, at 329 PPI, 3.1-inch diagonal
  • Battery: 2180mAH non-removable battery, up to 12.5 hours talk time or 14 days standby time (3G)
  •  wi-fi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Price £320 unlocked, or free on a monthly £26 contract

Further reading

 

 

 

 

Topics: Smartphones, BlackBerry, Mobility, Reviews

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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