Why you can trust ZDNet ZDNet independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNet Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNet's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNet nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNet's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.


BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition review: Affordable Android with extra security features

Written by Sandra Vogel on

BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition

Very good
  • Cyanogen OS adds some useful security and privacy features
  • Lots of theming options
  • Solid build
  • Dual SIM support
  • Good battery life
  • Cannot use second SIM and a MicroSD card at the same time
  • Camera is prone to blurry images
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Tired of the same old mobile operating systems but still want a broadly recognisable handset? Then cast your eye over the BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition, which is available exclusively from O2 in the UK. Cyanogen OS is an overlay for Android, so you're assured of some familiarity while also getting something a bit different -- and that something includes some interesting security and privacy features.

The Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition isn't as radical as the Spanish handset-maker's Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition -- a world-first released last year. You can find Cyanogen OS on another UK handset, the £129 Wileyfox Swift, but the BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen is exclusive to O2.


The Cyanogen OS Edition of BQ's 5-inch Aquaris X5 is available exclusively from O2 in the UK.

Image: BQ

The BQ Aquaris X5 doesn't look special in terms of its design and build, although the icon on the central touch button under the screen -- a curved array of dots -- mimics the BQ logo. And if you look closely enough you'll notice that the other two soft buttons to its left and right are indicated by small, single dots.

The 5-inch screen sits in a chassis measuring 70.5mm wide by 144.39mm deep by 7.5mm thick and weighing 148g. The bezel above and below the screen is relatively large, making this a rather tall handset. The shell is black, its aluminium back disguised under a matte black finish that's smooth but not overly slippery. The metal edge has a grey sheen and stops slightly shy of the back, which makes the device look a little fatter than it is. The edge curves nicely into the front of the handset, though.

The build is solid: when we tried to bow the phone between two hands we were pleasantly surprised by the almost zero flexibility it displayed.

Connections and controls are pretty standard. Volume and power buttons sit on the right edge, where there's also a SIM caddy that will accommodate two Nano-SIMs, or one SIM and a MicroSD card. This arrangement, which allows you to swap out the storage in favour of a second SIM, doesn't win any plaudits from us: if you regularly use a MicroSD card for storage, you won't appreciate having to sacrifice it whenever you need to insert a second SIM.

Top ZDNet Reviews

Raspberry Pi 4

Top ZDNet Reviews

Raspberry Pi 4

Motorola Moto G100

Top ZDNet Reviews

Motorola Moto G100

Raspberry Pi 400

Top ZDNet Reviews

Raspberry Pi 400

OnePlus Watch

Top ZDNet Reviews

OnePlus Watch


There's a headset jack on the top edge and a Micro-USB port and a speaker on the bottom. BQ is quite pushy about the sound output from this speaker, which it says benefits from a soundbox, boasting of 'spectacular' audio quality at its website. Testing this with some YouTube clips revealed a good volume level but too much treble and too little bass for us to agree with that description.

The 5-inch screen's 720-by-1,280 pixel resolution (294ppi) is low-key compared to flagship handsets, but is fine for a phone that costs £179 (inc. VAT) SIM-free direct from BQ -- the same screen resolution is shared by Motorola's £160 Moto G (2015), for example. Still, a 294ppi screen doesn't excel when displaying small text: we found reading websites and ebooks a little bit unsatisfying, although the display is bright and viewing angles are fine.

The Snapdragon 412 used here was announced mid-2015 as an SoC for entry-level handsets, alongside the power-frugal Snapdragon 212. A quad-core CPU, clocked at 1.4GHz and supported by 2GB of RAM, the 412 performs fine for everyday activities.

Internal storage is somewhat meagre, with just 16GB installed, of which 11GB was free on our review unit.

Cyanogen OS

Cyanogen OS (version 12.1) sits on top of Android 5.1.1. (Readers with long memories will remember that Cyanogen was used by OnePlus in its debut OnePlus One handset back in 2014, but was subsequently dropped in favour of the company's own Oxygen OS in the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X.) As mentioned earlier, you can find Cyanogen in another UK handset -- the Wileyfox Swift.

The BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition is exclusive to O2 in the UK. It's on the Refresh tariff, which splits bills into a device plan and an airtime plan, cuts the tariff when your handset is paid off, and lets you trade in your phone whenever you wish.

According to O2, this handset is all about giving customers more choice as Cyanogen is "a new option to the traditional Android and iOS systems offered by other networks". We appreciate that it and adds to the range of choice, but as we've already noted, Cyanogen is an add-on to Android rather than a new operating system. What purchasers are really getting here is Android plus some extras.

Setup is very much like setting up any Android handset, and this includes the ability to restore apps from a previous Android smartphone. However you also need to set up a Cyanogen OS account to take full advantage of all that's on offer.


A Cyanogen OS account gives access to security features like remote locate, lock and wipe.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

There are some neat security features in the mix. Creating an account gives you, via the Cyanogen website, remote access features that will locate your device -- the location is displayed at the Cyanogen website on a Google map -- and let you remotely lock and remotely wipe your handset.

There are also some nice on-device security features. Privacy Guard gives you a detailed breakdown of how different apps are using your data, for example, and lets you control specific aspects.


Cyanogen OS's Privacy Guard gives a detailed breakdown of what apps are doing, and lets you adjust the permissions.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

You can set up a blocked caller list, while an option to scramble the keypad when you're using a PIN for login might prove useful if you are wary of people watching where your fingers go when you unlock.

A Cyanogen OS account also gives you access to a range of themes. Some you pay for, some are free, and what's on offer includes themes that emulate the UIs of other handsets as well as seasonal variations. You can fiddle with elements within themes too, for further customisation.

The 13-megapixel rear camera shoots full-HD video (1080p) and the front camera delivers 5-megapixel images. Unusually both the front and back cameras have a flash. However, you'll need a steady hand as any motion at all while shooting results in blurred images. Forget trying to take pictures of pets or people unless they -- and you -- can hold still.

Battery life is good. BQ uses a 2,900mAh battery and we found we easily got a day's life from a single charge with a usage regime involving some web access via wi-fi and when out and about, regular email, a bit of YouTube viewing and some phone calls. Keen gamers, music fans, or video watchers may need to recharge during the day though.


If you're on a budget and want the familiarity of an Android handset with some extra security, privacy and theming features, then the BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition is worth considering. You'll have to live with moderate-quality cameras, but unless you're a power user you can expect to get good battery life.


Netgear Orbi Quad-Band Mesh WiFi 6E System (RBKE963): Fast but expensive wireless mesh networking

Netgear Orbi Quad-Band Mesh WiFi 6E System (RBKE963): Fast but expensive wireless mesh networking

NexDock 360 Touch review: Transform your Samsung smartphone into a capable laptop

NexDock 360 Touch review: Transform your Samsung smartphone into a capable laptop

Dell XPS 17 9710 (2021) review: A highly configurable premium 17-inch laptop

Dell XPS 17 9710 (2021) review: A highly configurable premium 17-inch laptop