BlackBerry Q5 review: A Qwerty smartphone for the masses?

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.

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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, Mobility, Reviews, BlackBerry

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7 comments
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  • Hilarious

    Pretty good review but something that made my wife ask me what I'm laughing at was in the pros list you listed qwerty keyboard & the cons you listed small screen. If screen size is a con shouldn't the keyboard be a con as well? The presence of the keyboard is the reason for the small screen. Can't have both in a candy bar qwerty
    gordongr
  • Good Luck!

    BB is done!
    labjr
    • Not until they stop bringing in cash.

      BBRY carries no debt and continues to have positive cash flow. Until they lose all that cash and start having to carry debt, it doesn't make a lick of sense to say they're done.
      Jacob VanWagoner
  • You are missing the boat for seniors - all of you, that is, no matter who

    I am a senior, in my mid 80's. I like to travel, I like to go to birthday parties, especially for the kids. So I want firstly, a good camera which will take excellent pictures that I will be proud to show. And those birthday parties, are usually in very low light for portions of them, so it needs low light quality to match the HtC ONE. I need/like the qwerty keyboard, my fingers usually mash down several keys at once on a touch fone. I want to be able to send emails with those easily taken photos. NO, I don't need a six or five inch screen cause i"m not gonna watch tv as a rule - that happens when I have a 32 inch or bigger flatscreen in the comfort of my home or hotel when travelling. And since I am travellin, I want a phone with the aforementioned camera so I don't have to carry around two items. Don't need all the extra crap to play gamers etc.,Again, the basics, an excellent camera phone to send photos home, qwerty keyboard and also at my age, I am not looking for market quotes on the quarter hour. Just the basics I mentioned, plus one important app if you don't already have it - a good translation app like Iphone 4s has. Put something out like this, advertise in those places geared for seniors, have a decent lower price since we don't want all that extra technology and you might get yourselves some decent sales! Good Luck
    watacat
  • Why is small screen a negetive?

    I never get why some reviewers say that. OBVIOUSLY a qwerty keyboard will take up a large part of a smartphone so OBVIOUSLY it will have a small screen. Comparing the screen to other smart phones is silly.
    kooool1
  • Apps?

    What Blackberry user is focused on consumer apps? This is an industrial tool, like a router or an intranet. I think this reviewer is thinking of teenagers and Angry Birds, all the while Blackberry is thinking of presidents and CEOs. Even the head of Android, Eric Schmidt, uses a Blackberry. If you want to publish something useful on BBRY, ask someone like Schmidt or Obama, or even KK, why they use BBRY phones - not the teenager next door.
    JJJoseph
  • "Lack of apps"

    Look through the Apple or Android stores. How many apps are there? Take a closer look. How many of them are frequently downloaded and used?

    There you go. Most of the apps are zombie apps that do nothing for the store but sit there to boost the number of apps the store offers.

    There's no dearth of apps in the BB10 store -- and BB10 runs Android apps, so there shouldn't be any complaining there.

    Removable SD expansion slot should be listed with the pros. Not many phones have that. It means you don't have to use the cloud or frequently dump your phone's contents if you actually use it to generate or download content.
    Jacob VanWagoner