With financial losses, plummeting stock prices and ridiculous statements from its boss, BlackBerry hasn't had a good time of things lately. Its BlackBerry 10 software was supposed to be its big comeback. It arrived much later than expected though, and brought with it an all-touchscreen phone, the Z10.
Hardcore BlackBerry fans were appalled at the lack of the physical keyboard, and the rest of the world was unimpressed. The Q10 brought back the keyboard, but came at a sky-high price.
The Q5 is pitched as the more affordable BlackBerry. It sports the latest software, a good screen and that all-important physical Qwerty keyboard. With a price tag of £320 though, it's hardly for the budget-minded.
Should I buy the BlackBerry Q5?
With its plain, plastic design, 5-megapixel camera and 1.2GHz dual-core processor, the BlackBerry Q5 is undeniably a budget phone. It's annoying, then, that it comes with a not-so-budget £320 price tag.
Like the Q10, it has a physical keyboard, satisfying the last few of you clinging on to your old BlackBerry Bold as though your life depends on it. It has the same good screen as the Q10 too. If you absolutely must have a phone with a physical keyboard, the Q5 and the Q10 are the only two worth considering. With its lower price, but similar specs, the Q5 represents better value for money.
It's far from impressive in most respects, however. The software is frustrating, the camera isn't great, the processor is more suited to a bottom-end Android phone and the app store is as barren as the moon. Spend the same money on an Android or even Windows Phone device and you'll be able to snag a much more enjoyable piece of kit.
Design and build quality
To look at, there's no mistaking that the Q5 is the cheaper sibling of the Q10. It's an entirely plastic phone with a very plain black design. It has a square 3.1-inch screen with the physical keyboard sitting beneath. The corners are much more square than the Q10's rounded design -- whether that's good or not is up to you.
The Q5 certainly doesn't have the same design flair as its brother. There are no sleek metal frets between the rows of keys. The back is simply a plain expanse of black plastic -- a step down from the fancy Kevlar weave on the Q10.
It definitely doesn't look nearly as luxurious as the Q10. If you want to whip a phone out of your pocket that will raise approving eyebrows around the boardroom table, the Q5 isn't the fellow for you. As a budget blower, its functional looks would just about be acceptable, but it's not quite cheap enough to get away with such a stripped-down design.
The plastic body feels fairly tough though. You won't be hammering nails in with it, but I doubt it will shatter into a million tiny pieces the first time you drop it, either. The back case isn't removable like the Q10's, so your SIM card and microSD card slots are found under a small flap on the side. This feels very weak and liable to snap off if you get it caught, so I suggest always making sure it's fully closed before cramming it into your pocket.
The sealed design also means you can't remove the battery. That's bad news, clearly, for those of you who like to carry an emergency battery for long days away from a plug. You'll spy the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top of the phone, with the micro-USB port on the left-hand side. There's no micro-HDMI port like on the Q10, so you won't be able to hook it up to a big TV.
It's 120m long and 66mm wide, making it perfectly comfortable to hold in one hand. It's 10.8mm thick though, which is definitely on the chunky side for a smart phone. At 10.3mm, the Q10 is roughly the same. If you want the slimmest phone for your skinny jeans, Huawei's Ascend P6 is a ludicrous 6.2mm.
Classic BlackBerry fans will be pleased to see the physical Qwerty keyboard is present and correct. Like the Q10, the keys are laid out in straight, rather than curved lines. There's no stylish metal fret between each row, but there is still a gap that helps your fingers identify separate rows without you needing to look.
Unlike the Q10, there are gaps between each individual key which should help make them easier to feel by touch alone. They sit quite flush with the surrounding plastic though, which negates most of the benefit. They're also quite a bit smaller that the Q10s, which won't be comfortable if you've got huge fingers.
I found both fairly comfy to type on, but it's difficult to say which is best as it really depends on what you're used to. I'd recommend getting your hands on both models to see which you prefer.
Unless you're totally committed to sticking with Qwerty keyboards though, I'd suggest trying to get used to touchscreen keyboards -- the BlackBerry Z10 is fully touch-enabled if you want to stick with BlackBerry phones. Yes, you don't have the tactile feedback of a physical keyboard, but the benefits make up for that. For a start, the screen can be made bigger to take up the whole of the phone.
An onscreen keyboard is also able to change depending on context -- tapping to enter a phone number on a shopping site will automatically bring up the number keypad, for example. Entering characters is also easier as you don't need to have to press an 'alt' button before pressing a key.
The screen is a 3.1-inch affair with a 720x720-pixel resolution, giving it a density of 329 pixels per inch (ppi). That's the same size and resolution you'll get on the Q10. That might seem like a good thing, but I actually think BlackBerry should tone the resolution down a little in order to bring the overall price down.
It doesn't match the whopping 441ppi of the Samsung Galaxy S4, but you really don't need that kind of resolution on a screen this size. As it is, the Q5's screen is very sharp. There's no fuzziness around icons on the homescreens and small text in emails and Web pages is perfectly readable.
Its size means it's not ideal for watching movies. Crucially, it has a 1:1 aspect ratio (it's exactly square) so most videos will have enormous black bars at the top and bottom. It's fairly bright though and has satisfyingly rich colours, so whatever you do look at will look its best.
BlackBerry 10 software
The Q5 is running the latest version of BlackBerry's software, imaginatively named BlackBerry 10. It's the same software you'll find on both the keyboard-packing Q10 and touchscreen Z10. You won't find any difference in its functionality between the Q10.
It's a fairly neat interface. Icons are laid out in an easy to read grid, similar to iOS's layout, with recent apps displayed in a multi-tasking panel. Sorry Android fans, there are no live homescreen widgets to play with.
It's far from perfect though. There's no default homescreen -- you'll be returned to a multi-tasking panel each time you close an app. The phone will also navigate to that screen every time you open an app, which involves an annoying and pointless animation. Turn the phone on from sleep and you'll see whatever screen you were last on. If you're used to having a central homescreen to return to, you might find BlackBerry's system a little hard to live with.
The BlackBerry Hub is a handy tool. It combines your text messages, emails and social-network notifications into one combined inbox, letting you see what's going on without needing to jump into different apps. It doesn't seem to want to sync with the separate apps, however -- if you choose to read the Facebook message in the Facebook app (or using a different device altogether) you'll still need to read it again in the Hub to get rid of the notification.
You can also tweet, post to Facebook or search through your entire phone straight from the homescreens. Type 'tweet', followed by your message and hit send to post it to Twitter without having to go into the app. Typing normally will allow you to search for that word within apps or your messages. If you need to tell the online world about your delicious latte as fast as possible, you'll save a few crucial seconds not needing to fire up the app.
A big downside of BlackBerry 10 is its app store. While you can find the odd big-name title such as Angry Birds: Star Wars and Skype, other major apps such as Spotify, Instagram, Netflix and Snapseed are all absent. Even YouTube and BBC iPlayer don't get their own apps -- you'll find icons for them, but they're just links to the mobile websites. If you're a keen app addict and love comparing games scores with your mates, BlackBerry really isn't the option for you.
It's powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor along with 2GB of RAM. That's a marginal step down from the 1.5GHz chip in the Q10. It's only a minor difference and not one I think you'll notice in everyday use. In my testing, the Q5 seemed snappy, swift and every bit as responsive as its pricier brother.
It's of course considerably less powerful than smart phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, but given that its software limitations mean you can't perform the same demanding tasks with the Q5 as you can with Samsung's flagship phone, you really won't need that kind of power.
On the back of the Q5 is a 5-megapixel camera. That's a step down from the 8 megapixels found on the Q10 and it's easy to tell the resulting images apart. My test shot from the Q5 displayed an even exposure overall with natural, realistic colours.
It doesn't have the same level of clarity and detail of the Q10's camera though. Fine detail on the brickwork of the building is much clearer, while the leaves in the top right are in considerably sharper focus on the Q10.
The Q5's snapper will do the job for getting a quick snap of your colleague's awful new tie, but don't expect to take over corporate photography responsibilities with it.
BlackBerry has stuffed a 2,180mAh battery into the Q5 -- roughly the same as in the Q10. It's not enormous, but with a smaller screen and weaker processor than most top-end smart phones, it should be able to put up a better fight.
I found it to be pretty decent overall, and I reckon BlackBerry's quoted 3G talk time of 12 hours is close to the truth. As with all phones though, it entirely depends on how you use the phone. Stream hours of video on full brightness over 3G and you'll need to give your phone a toke on the power pipe during the day. Keep brightness down and stick to the essentials and you won't struggle to get a day of use.
The BlackBerry Q5's screen is bright and sharp, while its physical keyboard is fairly comfortable to type on. The BlackBerry software is still far from perfect though, the design is about as interesting as the underside of a shoe and the camera doesn't impress.It's the best -- and best value -- BlackBerry you can grab, but that's a very low bar to cross. Unless you're dead set on a BlackBerry, you can spend your money much more wisely elsewhere.