BlackBerry Q5 Review: Lacking in 'key' areas?

Reviews Dean Quinn 09:50, 5 Jul 2013

Mid-range take on the BlackBerry Q10 lands offering similar specs to the QWERTY flagship. Is the BlackBerry Q5 worth a shot?

Rating: 
2.5
Typical Price: 
£340.00
Pros: 
Good build quality, LTE-enabled, impressive battery life
Cons: 
Poor camera, small screen,
Verdict: 
If you're a legacy user of BlackBerry and are itching to get a slice of BlackBerry 10 without committing a huge slice of money, then the Q5 won't disappoint. If you're just in the market for an affordable and functional smartphone though, there's plenty of other options that offer more for less.

It's too early to judge whether BlackBerry's rejuvenation has been kick-started by the launch of its BlackBerry 10 platform. The company does however look as though it's building a healthy stable of devices across differing price points to keep momentum going.

The latest of these is the BlackBerry Q5, a mid-range QWERTY device pitched as an affordable take on the BlackBerry Q10 launched alongside the flagship Z10 in January this year. While the premium sheen of those devices might be lacking, the device will surely appeal to BlackBerry traditionalists coming out of contracts on mid-tier BlackBerry 7 offerings such as the Curve 9380. Read on to find out what we made of it.

Design

The BlackBerry Q5 harks back to BlackBerrys of old in terms of form factor but the squashed TFT  screens seen on mid-rangers like the Curve 9350 and 9360 have been replaced. But that's not to say that the handset is an out-dated relic and new design elements (sleek lines and a more angular look) introduced with the stable of BlackBerry 10 devices make the jump here.

While the QWERTY-toting Q10 featured a high-end woven glass and aluminium construction for its outer shell, the Q5 uses plastic in order to keep costs down. It's 120x66x10.8mm dimensions make it a smidgen smaller than the Q10 and its corners are slightly less rounded. The keypad differs from its high-end sibling in that it's a Chiclet-style offering with well-spaced keys. And it doesn't make annoying clicking sounds that Curve devices did either.

If you've been an Android user who hasn't really used tactile keyed phones for any great length of time you might not instantly take to the input method and comparatively small surface area of the keyboard. Give it a couple of days though and you'll be dashing off emails like nobody's business.

While the BlackBerry Q5's 3.1-inch IPS LCD display is an improvement on the Curve models passed, don't expect to be indulging in mammoth movie sessions or gaming without squinting. The increase in size does allow for the use of BlackBerry 10's gestures and the 'Flow' concept of navigation however, but more on this later.

Despite the abundance of plastics, the device does feel well put together. The smooth rear panel is a bit too smooth however and this can sometimes result in a loss of grip. We picked it up in a rush with slightly wet hands and ended up flinging it across the kitchen.

The front facia is flat, bar the 35 gently raised keys QWERTY of the keypad and this gradually dissolves from the sides to form a curve, eventually flattening out again on the one-piece back panel. If you can remember the HTC Gratia, it's similar to that. If you can't, just imagine a more angular iPhone 3GS. On that back of that rear cover is a 5-megapixel camera and LED flash positioned in the top right corner.

The positioning of the volume rocker on the Q5's right-hand edge is ideal for quick changing of levels with a thumb and is raised enough to make finding it easy when blindly fumbling in a pocket. (This is great when you're on the tube or bus and want to drown out the sound of the hen party that's just boarded.) A nubbin in the middle of the elongated key opens up voice commands. Conversely, the centrally positioned power on key on the top edge of the phone doesn't stick out enough meaning you might have to dig a nail in to get a reaction.

Display

The BlackBerry Q5’s 3.1-inch IPS LCD screen may not use the same Super AMOLED display technology as the Q10, but it still offers a 720x720 pixel resolution with 328ppi. Visuals don't quite jump from the screen but are clear nonetheless, particularly web pages and text-heavy menus/email client interfaces which let's face it, is what BlackBerrys are mainly used for.

BlackBerry 10's gesture-based commands are provisioned for by the inclusion of a frame measuring a couple of millimetres around the perimeter of the screen. This allows the swiping upwards motion that's required to exit apps on BlackBerry 10 and although the extra may space may look wasted, it’s an essential part in BlackBerry 10 navigation.

Screen viewing angles aren't great though and unless you're looking at the BlackBerry Q5 head on under normal lighting conditions, you'll not get the best visual experience. The screen is also very reflective and has a habit of pinging light off in every direction meaning that using outside on a summer's day is quite difficult.

Video is commendable though with good levels of contrast and definition. The only downside is the constricted viewing area you have. Shame really.

Operating System and UI

Just like older brother the BlackBerry Q10, the Q5 runs BlackBerry 10 with the BlackBerry Flow navigation concept in place as well as staple features such as BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Balance and the new and improved BBM messenger service.

The OS can take some getting used to with no 'home' button like on Android and iOS devices. To make up for this, BlackBerry has employed 'Active Frames'. These are essentially live icons that display things like your next appointment, the last music track you listened to or shortcuts to fire up the camera.  They can be flitted in and out of with a quick swipe to the right or up from the bottom edge of the screen to go 'home'.

It's a bit of a learning curve to say the least and you can often be left frustrated looking for a button to take you back to the start from within an app before remembering that an upwards swipe from the foot of the BlackBerry Q5's screen will do it. Give it time though and the navigation system becomes second nature.

The same improved multitasking and BlackBerry Hub services debuted on the Z10 and Q10 are here too.  You can access your currently open apps by swiping to the left from the 'homescreen' tap the tiles to dive back into the app with ease. Four are displayed at any one time but you can actually have eight running - the screen size dictates that you must scroll up to see the other four.

Speaking of apps, the icons and menus here are another throwback to BlackBerry's headier days. The stark black text on white background within contact lists and messaging interfaces is still there and the app icons retain that stylised 'Lego-esque drawing on a postage stamp' look. Not particularly awe-inspiring but clean and easy enough to spot what you're after at a quick glance.

App icons are grouped in to four rows of four and spread across two screens. Add more than this number and they'll spill into another, much like they do on Android devices. We do like the way you can now long press on an app icon to remove it or drag it into a folder. Holding down on one will cause all of those on screen to throb and then from there you can either manoeuvre it elsewhere or click on the little dustbin icon to remove it.

This borrows heavily from iOS but accurately tapping the trashcan can be quite a task owing to the BlackBerry Q5's small screen. It's still a nice feature to have and an improvement on BlackBerrys of old.

BlackBerry Hub is accessible via a swipe from the left hand edge of the screen and sees all your interactions from contacts across social networks, email accounts and texts messaging grouped into one place and updated in real time. This is very useful for keeping tracks on your communication without digging into separate apps and call histories etc, especially as the tiny notification icons that appear on the new lockscreen are easy to miss (as are the ones in the notification bar).

You can Tweet and post Facebook statuses from BlackBerry Hub without having to go into a separate app , but we found it doesn't seem to like syncing automatically. If you open a Tweet or respond to LinkedIn notifications from with their dedicated apps, you'll still see it as unactioned in the Hub.

Specifications

Length 120mm
Width 66mm
Thickness 10.8mm
Weight 120g
Screen Colours 16m
Screen Size 3.1-inches
UK Launch May 2013
Phone Style Candybar (QWERTY)
Typical Price £340
Website http://uk.blackberry.com/smartphones/blackberry-q5/buy.html?CPID=KNC-kw251023_p8&HBX_PK=rim|5f9a3772-fcd5-a2a9-62e8-0000787ac246
Designer Lens No
Camera Resolution 5-megapixels
Video Resolution 1080p
Flash LED
Zoom 5x Digital Zoom
Music Formats MP3/WMA/WAV/eAAC+ player
Song Storage 8GB

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