It has been six months since the BlackBerry 10 OS was launched. In that time a grand total of two handsets have been released carrying the OS – the Z10 and the Q10, the former being a full touchscreen phone, and the latter a traditional BlackBerry half screen, half keyboard affair. Neither is particularly aimed at the budget conscious.
Recently there have been hints that the BlackBerry OS might be licensed to third parties, and frankly that could be the only way BlackBerry can be saved from annihilation in the long term, in the cut-throat smartphone world.
Still, let’s change the topic from that doom and gloom and look at the third BlackBerry 10 handset to arrive – the Q5. It’s aimed at a more budget conscious buyer, yet it still costs over £300 SIM free, so it’s not a pocket money phone. Its aims are twofold: to bring over all those Curve/Bold folks from the old BB OS, and to lure anyone who fancies the new OS but just can’t afford the Q10 or Z10.
I have to say my first impressions weren’t very promising. One of the great things about the Bold and Curve lines was their build.
In fact, RIM (the name was dumped earlier this year so I can talk of RIM as being in the past) was generally praised for its design ethic. But things have gone awry here, in so many ways.
The build is plastic and without shame in that. There’s none of the silvery shine that we associate with the old Curve and Bold lines. For example, up against the old Curve 9360 the Q5 looks blocky and bricky – see the image below with the Curve on the right – and that’s not just because it is quite a bit larger. The Q5 is a thick handset by today’s standards. At 10.8mm there’s no attempt to even try to break the 10mm barrier.
Plastic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. It can be tough and solid, and it can have a finish that helps with grip. It can be all these things, but it isn’t here. The handset is a little too bendy for my liking and the finish looks like it will scratch. It picked up sweaty fingerprints readily too.
Another irritation with regard to build is that the backplate isn’t removable. Business users, who of course remain part of the market for BlackBerry, may steer clear because they can’t swap in a second battery. MicroSIM and microSD cards both live under a hinged slot on the left edge of the chassis.
This doesn’t bode well, but once you start using the BlackBerry Q5 things do get better. The one thing that has always made BlackBerry devices stand out from the competition is their keyboards. What’s here is good – but it is not great.
The keys are a bit small, and they could be slightly more raised from their surroundings to make them easier to hit with the pads of your fingers. As it is you may find you need fingernails to make the best of tapping them at speed. But the keys have that distinctive BlackBerry shaping which makes them easy to hit accurately and I was able to type pretty quickly.
When it comes to the internal specifications the BlackBerry Q5 is a step down from the Q10. Its 1.2GHz dual-core processor is no match for the Q10’s 1.5GHz dual-core model, but like the Q10 there is 2GB of RAM here and I didn’t notice much of a problem with speed.
There’s 8GB of built in storage, with nearly half of that in use out of the box which meant that there was 4.4GB free on my review sample. At least you can hotswap microSD based memory thanks to that side-mounted slot. There are two cameras – a 5-megapixel shooter on the back and a 2-megapixel one on the front. The former takes 1080p video, the latter 720p.
In the olden days when BlackBerry was an entirely business focussed company called RIM it didn’t see the point of cameras on phones. These days cameras are a requirement, and BlackBerry has even included some fancy editing features such as its TimeShift feature that lets you choose the best smile from multiple shots for a photo. Be warned, though, that framing wide shot photos (14:3 and 16:9) is tricky as they are letterboxed in the square screen.
The BlackBerry Q5 supports 4G LTE and NFC is built in. DLNA is also supported, and you can use the Q5 as a mobile hotspot. There’s GPS too, so pretty much all the smartphone bases are covered in terms of capabilities.
The BlackBerry 10 OS takes a little getting used to, and I am still not convinced that the Hub, which brings together email, Twitter, Facebook, BBM, notifications and other communications in one place really works. Sure, you can flick across the screen to see all this under one umbrella, but if your incoming messages tend to be stuff you don’t need to action right away, then “peeking” at the hub will be a time wasting distraction.
Much more useful is BlackBerry Balance, the system which lets companies hive off an area of the device for their use alone while leaving you to fiddle around with a personal settings area. Companies will love this concept, as it gives them a secure walled garden in which to operate. End users should love it too, as they can carry just one device for both work and personal needs.
I also really like intuitive searching feature. Start typing the name of an app or action and the screen narrows down apps and services till you can see your choice, tap it and continue. Provided you’ve set up email, Twitter and so forth, then getting messages out of the BlackBerry Q5 is really straightforward and fast.
The BlackBerry Q5 isn’t as impressive a handset as I would have liked it to be. There’s a distinct lack of excitement about the build, and the small screen compromises use – we’ve simply outgrown this screen size for many tasks. If you really need BlackBerry 10 and have a Curve or Bold then think carefully about sticking with your old handset until you can afford the much better Q10 or Z10.
Manufacturer and Model
3.1in, 720 x 720 resolution
GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSPA 850/900/1900/2100; LTE
120 x 66 x 10.8mm