The Q10's little brother takes a bow
It seems a little odd writing a review for a phone that won't be released in the USA. While Americans are only just getting their hands on the Q10, the UK has already enjoyed another BlackBerry 10 device release. So what does the Q5 offer for a BlackBerry fan? With the Q10 already available - who would want a Q5 anyway?
Curved, Not Curve
It's easy to draw comparisons between the Bold and Curve lines of classic BlackBerry OS phones. The Q10 would be the Bold and the colourful 'younger' Q5 is the Curve. It's not a metaphor that I'm entirely comfortable with here. The keys on the Q5 certainly have those raised individual plastic buttons that poke out from the case like small turtle shells and respond in a satisfying click and you squeeze them - but that's where the parallels end. I always felt that the Curve series did more harm than good for BlackBerry. The phones were cheap and gave the wrong impression. The hardware would be cut down to such a point that it would create a sub-standard experience when using the phone. When you compromise the experience using the phone, you're going to damage your brand. I'm glad to say that the Q5 almost entirely avoids that pitfall. Almost.
Instead, we have a phone that focuses on value rather than cheapness. Despite this - there are some comparisons to make to the Curve line, but in a good way.
The trend away from this savage cost-cutting means that you can feel the difference as soon as you hold the Q5 in your hand. Weighing in at 120g, it's lighter than other BlackBerry 10 phones, but still feels solid. Gone are the glass weave and soft touch effects, as the phone is replaced with a smooth plastic shell. The battery cover is gone, making this the first BlackBerry handset that you cannot easily change the battery. The offshoot of this is that it feels like a solid device that could take a beating in your pocket. My only gripe is that it could be easy for the Q5 to slip out of your hands while typing. Without any grip to speak of the summer months may mean sweaty hands. Combine that with the Qwerty keyboard taking up only the bottom third of the screen, it could become top-heavy and fall away from you.
I expected that I wouldn't like the keyboard. Having used the Bold series of BlackBerry OS phones, I have become accustomed to the softness of those keys. I needn't have worried. The flat layout of the keys makes moving from a Bold / Q10 device quite painless, and the keys don't quite protrude like they do on some of the Curve handsets. The keys are tapered away from the centre and feel comfortable under the thumbs. Although they still afford the classic Curve 'click' they don't sound quite so deafening.
Surprisingly, we have a handset that sits well alongside both its big brother and the Z10. With the specifications, there's only a few items that are different. Check out the specs in our BlackBerryOS Matrix-o-Matic
|BlackBerry Q5||BlackBerry Q10||BlackBerry Z10|
|Colours||Black / White / Red / Pink||Black / White||Black / White|
|Display||3.1”, IPS LCD display||3.1”, SuperAMOLEDdisplay||4.2”, 4 point multi-touch IPS LCD display|
|Resolution||720 x 720||720 x 720||1280 x 768|
|DPI||329 PPI||330 PPI||356 PPI|
|Network||4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming||4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming||4G LTE or HSPA+, support for global roaming|
|Connectivity||NFC, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0||NFC, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0||NFC, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Wifi||802.11 b, g, n||802.11 b, g, n||802.11 b, g, n|
|USB||microUSB 2.0||microUSB 2.0||microUSB 2.0|
|HDMI||None||Micro HDMI||Micro HDMI|
|Talk Time||12.5 hours||13 hours||10 hours|
|Processor||Dual Core 1.2GHz||Dual Core 1.5GHz||Dual Core 1.5GHz|
|Additional Storage||microSD card slot - up to 64GB||microSD card slot - up to 64GB||microSD card slot - up to 64GB|
|Rear Camera||5 megapixels, 5x digital zoom||8 megapixels, 5x digital zoom||8 megapixels, 5x digital zoom|
|Front Camera||2 megapixels, 3x digital zoom||2 megapixels, 3x digital zoom||2 megapixels, 3x digital zoom|
|Video (rear)||1920x1080 (1080p HD)||1920x1080 (1080p)||1920x1080 (1080p)|
|Video (front)||1080x720 (720p HD)||1080x720 (720p HD)||1080x720 (720p HD)|
What this means is that it stands up well as a BlackBerry 10 handset. Although some of the hardware is not so premium as the Q10 or the Z10, BlackBerry have not skimped on the key pieces that make BlackBerry 10 run well.
Armed with 2GB RAM and a dual-core Snapdragon processor, it's fair to say that BlackBerry do not want to compromise on the "BlackBerry 10 Experience". The most notable differences from the previous BlackBerry 10 handsets can be summed up with three words: Camera, Processor, Storage.
The processor is responsible for making the BlackBerry 'go' - the better processor, the more responsive the phone should be. BlackBerry have chosen to deliver a slightly lower powered CPU here, but made sure that it retains the dual-core. In my general usage of the Q5, I didn't notice any difference in actual performance to the sibling BlackBerry 10 phones. In real terms, I don't think that anyone would notice a difference between loading a game on the Q5 and the Z10 unless they had them side by side. In my tests, some games actually loaded faster - possibly because of the smaller screen! The important thing here is that the BlackBerry Experience is uncompromised. BlackBerry 10 runs as well on the Q5 as the more powerful phones.
The camera is where you're going to see the most noticeable difference. The 8 megapixel camera has been dropped for a 5 megapixel camera. This doesn't mean that it's a bad camera at all. In fact, as the Q5 comes loaded with version 10.1 of BlackBerry 10, we're treated to a camera that includes an auto-focus with touch-to-focus, HDR photography, time-shift mode and camera burst. As a casual camera, it stacks up well with a good array of features.
Unless you're obsessed about digital photography and want to print out huge pictures, it's unlikely that you'll notice much difference.
As the video camera mode is still capable of taking 1080p HD video, we're seeing a small compromise in hardware.
My main concern with the Q5 comes down to the storage. Quite frankly, 8GB is not enough space for a BlackBerry 10 device. Once you have accounted for almost 4GB of space that the BlackBerry 10 OS needs, you are not left with much to play with. Considering that some of the premium games in BlackBerry World can take 1GB of device space, you are seriously limited on how many big apps you can have on your Q5. For anyone that chooses to buy a Q5, I'll say that an additional memory card is a must. The last thing that you need is photos and videos taking up the device space.
The storage issue is the only thing that really affects how you will use your Q5. Unless BlackBerry allow us to install apps and games to the device memory card, then this is going to be a limiting factor of the
One of the nice surprises is the screen on the Q5. Not only is it the same size and resolution as the Q10, but in this reviewer's opinion - it is better. Why? Because the Q5 uses an LCD screen just like the Z10. BlackBerry chose to use a Super AMOLED screen on the Q10 to boost battery life, but as a compromise the Q10 screen has a slightly lower range of colour and contrast.
The Q5 screen brightness has a wider range than the Q10 - making it very bright when needed. The colours are vibrant, again, much like the Z10 and makes of a very cheery screen. The Q5 screen also benefits from having a wider visual field. You can see the image on the screen even if the phone is almost completely side-on. In contrast the Q10 starts to lose a little contrast and colour as you move beyond 45 degrees. When it comes to gaming, this also give the Q5 an advantage over the Q10.
As the sceen is an LCD, BlackBerry have also opted to use the default light theme throughout most of the apps, instead of the dark theme found on Q10 apps.
To compensate for the non-removable battery, BlackBerry have made the Q5 carry the largest capacity of all three phones. I found that I could happily get a day's usage out of the Q5 without the desperate need for an extra charge with average use. Of course, if you're going to play games and be messaging all day, then all bets are off.
BlackBerry haven't skimped with the connectivity options here. 4G wireless connectivity, NFC, Wireless N, Bluetooth 4.0 and full GPS options means that you won't be short of ways to use your device. Throw in features such as Box and Dropbox synchronisation, wireless sync with your PC and being able to access files on your computer via the BlackBerry Link desktop software and you have all the options to need to keep connected anywhere and at any time.
That being said, the official specifications state that NFC is not available on all models so do look carefully. The review unit I had used NFC and worked a treat.
As with the Z10 and Q10, the Q5 has a solid array of core apps for the mobile computing platform. Pre-installed are all you need for accessing social networks, editing videos and pictures, viewing and editing office documents and phone apps along with it. For a more in-depth look at the BlackBerry 10 apps, check out our Q10 and Z10 reviews.
As this device is aimed at a younger crowd, it's time to look at the features that safeguard your children. Parental Controls are an important aspect of mobile security now and I know how important it is for parents to feel secure in the knowledge that it is being used properly.
The main aspect of control is the parental controls option in the security section of the Options app. Here, you can toggle the feature and have fine-grained control over various functions on the phone. When BlackBerry 7 hit the scene, the Curve series came preloaded with the parental controls options, and it could be downloaded for Bold and Torch users.
The options don't differ a great deal from these handsets, which is great that those moving up from BlackBerry 7 won't feel there is anything missing, but it also makes you wonder why there isn't more. This is a phone from a manufacturer that prides itself on security, yet my iPod has more options than BlackBerry 10.
We also have Content Controls in BlackBerry World. This filters the apps, music and videos that are unsuitable for a certain age. Of course, if an app vendor has managed to slip by the approval process with an arguably inappropriate app - these age restrictions might not be as effective as you would hope.
A nice feature of the parental controls is that it creates a "pseudo-profile" on your BlackBerry. Icons can be arranged differently and a different wallpaper set. This is a handy feature if the Q5 happens to be shared or you want to have a "work" and "play" mode. Consider it a lite version of BlackBerry Balance.
Putting the device through it's paces, I wanted to see how it stacked up to playing games and was pleasantly surprised with how it performed. As mentioned earlier, the slightly less powerful CPU barely makes a difference to the performance of the games while you're playing them. Although you're playing games on a square screen, I realised that it wasn't a huge departure from playing games on a 4:3 monitor screen on a games console or PC. Games such as Super Hexagon and Cut the Rope worked beautifully. I was also glad to see that Super Hexagon made use of the Qwerty keys, making the game more playable than on full-touch devices. In fact, I beat my Z10 record on my second attempt at the game.
Heavier games such as The Amazing Spiderman also performed well. The 3D graphics rendered well and the on-screen controls still worked as they should.
What has alarmed me a little is that there are some games such as World of Goo and Angry Birds that are on the Z10 but not on the Q5. In fact, Angry Birds is on the Q10 but not the Q5 which is even more bizarre. It's possible that the World of Goo developers decided that the screen was too small for the game, as there is some precision required when you play. I've noticed this problem playing the BlackBerry favourite Fly Craft - which I find difficult to move the pieces and place them correctly.
It's a shame that there are a few titles missing that are already on other BlackBerry 10 devices.
Mind The (App) Gap
There's no doubt that BlackBerry have been making great strides since the launch of BlackBerry 10 in getting big name apps to the platform. However if you are hoping to take part in social-centric games and apps that are big on other platforms then you may be disappointed. Vine, Instagram, Temple Run, Candy Crush to name a few still remain elusive.
What is probably more infuriating right now is not the big name apps, but the lesser-known lifestyle apps. My bank is yet to release a BlackBerry 10 app even though they have a great BlackBerry OS app, and I did see their name on the BlackBerry World banner at the BlackBerry 10 launch event. This situation manifested itself last weekend when my wife bought a video game from Game, a retailer. As we didn't have our loyalty card to hand, the cashier suggested downloading the app.
"Do you have an iPhone?"
"An Android phone?"
Now getting desperate, "An iPad?"
"No, I've got a BlackBerry Z10"
At this point, the cashier didn't know what to suggest. The idea of someone not having one of these devices was completely alien to him and I've only ever seen that perplexed look before when I was trying to explain quadratic equations to a four year old. BlackBerry still has work to do to make BlackBerry 10 well supported in this manner, but that's another article.
On the plus side, if the "must have" app isn't there, a lot of developers are filling the gaps with something else. Take Sound Hound appearing on BlackBerry 10 before Shazam. I'd be surprised if Shazam won loyalty back from current BlackBerry 10 owners now. The door is open for other app makers to pull a coup de grace and make their apps ubiquitous before the "big names" do.
A Teenager's Perspective
As the Q5 is pitched at a slightly younger audience, I took the opportunity to put it in the hands of my 13 year old daughter and find out what her initial impressions of the Q5 are.
As she held it in her hands she told me, "It's humongous!" She was impressed at the size of the screen along with the keyboard. Having used a Curve for a year she felt right at home and enjoyed the extra real estate the screen gave her. She moved swiftly through the setup process and managed to start using the phone in a matter of minutes – making use of the BlackBerry ID that is set up on her Curve 8520. Once the essential gestures tutorial had been completed, she could move around the BlackBerry interface.
The first app she loaded was BBM. “Oh my word it’s so different – it’s awesome but different!” BlackBerry’s marketing is focused on the hyper-connected multitasker. Young people are thrown into the same category as the initial target of the busy person so this is the expected landing spot.
Coming from a non-touch phone, she was really pleased at having a touchscreen to play with and just slide around the homescreen. The gestures were easy to pick up and she was darting in and out of apps with aplomb after a short while.
Given the option, she likes the idea of having a physical qwerty keyboard. “It’s like my iPod but better because it’s easier to write with.”
At the end of the trial, she would have happily given up her iPod and Curve combo to have a Q5. I guess that this is what BlackBerry want to see.
The Q5 is a solid, well made device that delivers the "BlackBerry Experience". For core gamers the smaller screen and lack of internal storage may be more of a hindrance despite the addition of a keyboard, especially as some titles are missing. But for casual gamers and those more interested in social apps, the Q5 steps into a league of its own. Bringing the BlackBerry flow and hub means that you're never more than a gesture from keeping in contact with your friends and family.
Despite being pleasantly surprised, I have to wonder how much the public would value the more expensive Q5 model over a Curve 9520 (currently £70 off-contract in the UK, while the Q5 is available for £320). No doubt the experience of using the phone is smoother than a cheap Android device, but then app selection could be a make-or-break decision for some people.
It's a great little phone, that gets the job done without making important compromises. If you're a BlackBerry fan on a budget and want the full BlackBerry 10 experience, then this phone is definitely for you.
If you're not a BlackBerry fan but in the market for a good-value smartphone that will stand the test of time, then you should definitely take a serious look at the BlackBerry Q5. It will not disappoint.