BlackBerry Q5

4th Jul 2013 | 12:29

BlackBerry Q5

BlackBerry 10 gets slightly more affordable, but does that make any better?

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

The BlackBerry Q5 is difficult to love. Sure it's got all the core smartphone features, but it doesn't really excel at anything, apart from perhaps web browsing, but even that's hampered somewhat by the pokey 3.1-inch display. It's a Q10 for people who can't afford one.

Like:

4G enabled; Fast web browsing; MicroSD slot; Decent BlackBerry Hub;

Dislike:

Chunky plastic case; Non-removable battery; Average keyboard; Awkward screen size;

Introduction

Ratings in depth

BlackBerry Q5 review
BlackBerry Q5 review
BlackBerry Q5 review
BlackBerry Q5 review
BlackBerry Q5 review

BlackBerry 10 gets ever so slightly more affordable with the introduction of the BlackBerry Q5 to the Canadian firm's smartphone lineup. But don't go thinking this is a bargain basement offering, because it carries a mid to high tier price tag.

Unveiled at BlackBerry's annual Live conference in Orlando in May 2013, the BlackBerry Q5 was hotly rumoured under the moniker BlackBerry R10, and while the name was a bit of a surprise at launch, pretty much every other detail had been leaked correctly.

It slides in below the fully touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 and its keyboard brethren the BlackBerry Q10, perhaps in a vague attempt to catch the eye of the Curve generation.

What you get on the BlackBerry Q5 is the same, oddly proportioned 3.1-inch, 720p IPS LCD display you find on the BlackBerry Q10, 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, microSD slot, 5MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, 4G and a 2180mAh battery.

Of course below that rather square screen you'll also find a 35-key physical QWERTY keyboard, which sports isolated keys instead of the side by side layout on the BlackBerry Q10.

BlackBerry Q5 review

In terms of price the BlackBerry Q5 is going to cost around £330 (around US$500 / AU$550) SIM-free, which puts it up against the likes of the Sony Xperia SP, Motorola Razr HD, Huawei Ascend P6 and Nokia Lumia 720.

Look the BlackBerry Q5 up and down and it's immediately obvious that this isn't a premium device, with a sizeable bezel above and below the screen, and then a chunk of plastic below the keyboard too.

The additional space below the display is actually not a bad thing though, as the upwards swipe required to close applications is made easier with this gap - something that was sorely missing from the Q10.

Pick the Q5 up and its plastic body is very noticeable. It does feel solid, but at the same time the matt gloss plastic rear and chunky dimensions of 120 x 66 x 10.8mm (4.7 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches) do take you back a few years to BlackBerry phones of old.

BlackBerry Q5 review

At 120g (4.2oz) the Q5 is suitably weighted, thankfully, because if it was nearer the 100g (3.5oz) mark you might mistake this for a toy - which isn't totally out of the question anyway.

BlackBerry has said that the Q5 is targeted at the younger generation who generally share content, like to be connected with mates and want their own freedom - although it's not exactly the handset you can see kids showing off to their friends.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The back looks like it should come off, but it doesn't - honest. We were fooled when we saw the Q5 at BlackBerry Live in May, but after a few minutes of trying to yank it apart we were politely told it wasn't possible, so don't bother.

There's no access to that battery then, and when it comes to the micro SIM and microSD slots, you'll find a flap on the left of the handset covering both ports.

BlackBerry Q5 review

We have a couple of bug bears with this set up. Firstly the flap itself, while easy to remove and replace, doesn't exactly fill us with confidence that it will actually protect our cards, or at least keep out some dust.

Push the flap in and it makes a satisfying clicking sound, suggesting you've snapped it snugly into place, but apply the lightest amount of pull to the top and it comes away easily from the BlackBerry Q5, and we can see this filling up with dust and dirt quickly.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Secondly, there's not a great deal of instruction about which way around you should insert the cards, and you'll need at least some finger nails to pop them into place.

Up top you get a headphone jack and the now common-place centralised power/lock key, but unlike the metallic finish found on the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10, the BlackBerry Q5 has been lumbered with a plastic button.

BlackBerry Q5 review

There's more plastic on the right, with the trio of buttons comprising a voice command key sandwiched in between volume rockers.

All are easy to hit with one-handed operation, but it's disappointing that BlackBerry couldn't treat us to at least a little bit of metal.

BlackBerry Q5 review

On the base is a central speaker grille, but no micro USB slot, which is found on the left at the top of the handset - one of our least favourite positions, since it makes it difficult to handle the Q5 when plugged in.

Sure the BlackBerry Q5 comes in some slightly more entertaining colours other than black - you can also pick from white, red and pink - but at the end of the day it's not particularly desirable in terms of looks.

Perhaps we could have overlooked the various design niggles on the BlackBerry Q5 if it sported a more reasonable price tag, but seeing as it doesn't and looking at its competition it's hard not to feel a little cheated here.

Interface

The BlackBerry Q5 comes running the latest version of the firm's new software - BlackBerry 10.1.

The chronically slow boot up time persists from the previous handsets, with the Q5 taking over a minute from switch on to home screen - pretty much double that of its rivals.

It's not clear why BB10 takes so long to boot, but it does. Sure it's not a huge problem, but we're busy people.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Thankfully things pick up a bit once you get into the thick of it, with the dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM providing enough power to run BlackBerry 10 without too much issue.

That said it's not the speediest, slickest of interfaces we've had the pleasure of using, and while it doesn't lag we found the Q5 lacked the fluidity of some rival handsets.

The BB10 operating system is very different to the previous iterations of BlackBerry's software, and it's based around a core of gestures, which enable you to navigate around the interface.

To aid new users, BlackBerry has provided a demo on the Q5 when you first turn it on to show "essential gestures". It's pretty quick and easy to follow, and it does teach you the basics, so pay attention.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Your home screen, if you've opened some apps up, is made up of four active screens that display condensed versions of the last four apps you used.

You can have up to eight active screens open, but only four fit on the screen at once, so you'll need to swipe down to view the others hiding below.

The most recently used application sits in the top-left position, and while some apps - such as Facebook and Twitter - just show the app shrunk down into a smaller space, others actually display useful information, such as live news updates or your last message.

In our opinion this active panel set up isn't the best implementation we've seen, and we'd much rather have a list of apps instead - which you can quickly access anyway by sliding to the right.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Thanks to the BlackBerry Q5's squat screen dimensions, only 12 apps can fit on the screen at once, although you can easily create folders by dragging one icon on top of another to reduce the number of pages you have to scroll through.

Holding down and making the app icons pulsate will enable you to move them around, plus there's also the option to uninstall ones you don't want by hitting the trash can icon in the corner of the app.

At the bottom of the display there are always two apps available on every app page and on the home screen - phone and camera.

A quick tap will open up each app, and they generally load in good time, with the dual-core processor making mincemeat of simpler applications onboard the BlackBerry Q5.

BlackBerry Q5 review

We did find that the Q5 struggled with more complex applications, and something like BlackBerry World gave us a black screen for several seconds before springing to life.

Pull down from the top of the display and you're provided with a useful, yet limited, selection of quick settings that consist of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, notifications and an alarm.

There's also a link to the main settings menu, but we'd like to see toggles for things such as mobile data, airplane mode, NFC and brightness here too.

You'll notice there aren't any notification messages displayed in this area a la Android, since BlackBerry 10 has a different way of dealing with them.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Slide up from just below the display and keep your finger on the screen and you'll notice the panel on the screen shrink into the middle of display, while on the left side a column of icons appear to show you your new notifications.

This Peek motion has everything from emails and texts to WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter notifications on show, and from here you have two options.

If you aren't interested in the latest that Facebook has to offer, just release your finger and you'll be transported back to the app or home screen you were viewing.

However if you fancy finding out a bit more, slide your finger from left to right to peek at the BlackBerry Hub, where you'll be able to see a short summary of your latest message - but more on that in the Messaging section.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Swiping up from the bottom of the display is also the gesture required for closing applications, and if you're new to BB10 it takes a while to get used to, since you'll be constantly searching for a back button or home key.

Something that BlackBerry likes to shout about on its QWERTY keyboard handsets is the Instant Actions feature.

This enables you to tap out a tweet, construct an email or pen a text without having to dive into a dedicated app or the messaging hub.

For example, starting typing "Tweet" when you're on the home screen and then continue with your missive and the Q5 will recognise you're wanting to post to twitter and formats the screen accordingly.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Type "Email Gareth" and hit enter if the correct contact is highlighted and you'll be transported into a new email message.

It's a nice feature and something that really speeds up communications if you quickly want to fire something off.

The screen size itself on the Q5 is somewhat of a hindrance, however, since you're required to do a lot of scrolling if you're reading a long message or web article, as less content can fit on the display.

BlackBerry 10 itself also feels a little squashed, and it does appear to be an OS made for a fully touchscreen device, which has then had to be reduced down to fit on the awkward square display of the Q5.

While BB10 works relatively well on the BlackBerry Q5, it does jar in places, and the unfamiliar gesture interface will likely put some off.

Contacts and calling

Contacts

Unsurprisingly, the Contacts app is where you'll find all your friends' details on the BlackBerry Q5.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Sign in to your various accounts from emails to social media and the contacts app will start grabbing people's details from all sources and bunging them into one list for your perusal.

We found that the BlackBerry Q5 wasn't the quickest when it came to harvesting contacts from our various accounts, and it took it a good 30 minutes before everyone was showing up.

It made a decent effort at joining up our Google contacts to their various Twitter and Facebook profiles, although those with slightly differing names required a manual link up.

BlackBerry Q5 review

While systems such as HTC Sense do a much better job of matching up accounts, it is at least easy to manually join contacts on the Q5, and it's worth taking the time because your contact list looks a lot more attractive with everyone's profile pictures pulled through - that is unless you have ugly friends.

If you fancy finding out more about a particular friend, then tap on their name to open up their contact card, which is capable of showing you a veritable feast of information, providing it's available in the various accounts you've linked it to.

BlackBerry Q5 review

There's an Updates tab that shows you that person's latest ramblings on social media, while the activity tab provides you with your history of communication with that person.

Adding a new contact is easy, just hit the icon of a head in the bottom bar of the contacts app to get to the data entry form.

From here you can fill out all manner of details on your new found friend, although don't feel like you have to interrogate them on every aspect of their life just to fill up every box - a name and number/email will do.

Calling

You can call someone by tapping on a number on their contact card, but if you don't happen to be browsing your contacts list and fancy getting someone on the blower then you'll probably head for the phone app.

BlackBerry Q5 review

As we mentioned in the Interface section of this review, the phone app on the BlackBerry Q5 takes pride of place in the bottom left of the screen when viewing they active panels and app list.

Give it a tap and you'll be transported to the call history tab of the application, showing you all the recent numbers you've dialled as well as those who have dialled you.

Tap on any person/number in this list to call that particular caller back, but if the contact you require hasn't been in touch recently there are a couple of other tabs available.

First is the contacts tab which, as you may be able to guess, shows all your contacts, enabling you to select the person you wish to call.

BlackBerry Q5 review

If you want to do it the old fashioned way and physically tap out the number, then select the last tab in the phone app, which takes you to the dial pad.

There's no smart dialling here, so don't expect to see the BlackBerry Q5 offer up suggestions as you start tapping in the number - you're in it for the full 11-digit long haul (or 10-digit long haul if you're a lucky American or Australian. Why do British phone numbers have to be so long?).

In terms of call quality, the BlackBerry Q5 has a decent volume, meaning you shouldn't have trouble hearing the person at the other end of the line, even if you're in noisy surroundings.

The clarity of voice did become a little distorted as the earpiece volume was turned up, although we were still able to understand what was being said.

We found the BlackBerry Q5 was able to hold onto signal pretty well, with no dropped calls experienced during our review period.

Messaging

For the BlackBerry Q5, messaging is one of its big selling points. It's looking to attract the younger, always-on generation who spend all hours of day and night texting, tweeting and BBMing fellow peers.

Of course the physical keyboard is a key USP for those looking for a complete typing solution in their pocket, but more on that on the next page.

BlackBerry Q5 review

All your standard forms of communication can be found onboard the BlackBerry Q5, from texts, emails and BBM to the official Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and LinkedIn apps that all come pre-installed.

The main attraction on BlackBerry 10 devices, however, is the BlackBerry Hub, which is one gigantic unified inbox for all forms of messages and notifications from the various messaging applications installed on the Q5.

This is accessed by sliding from left to right on the home screen, or by sliding up from the base of the screen to see the new notification icons on the left - known as Peek - and then to the right to enter the BlackBerry Hub.

On the whole it's a generally well designed system, but there are some niggles. If you're reading a message and exit the Hub while still in that message stream, peeking back at the hub to check a new notification doesn't automatically show your inbox, but the message you were last in.

BlackBerry Q5 review

This sort of makes the whole system a bit pointless unless you remember to navigate back to the main Hub page after reading every message - plus the Q5 still counts that message as new in until you return to the hub. It's just a bit frustrating.

You don't have to view all your notifications in a combined inbox if that's all a bit much. Hit the button in the bottom-left corner and select a particular account/service you wish to view - which makes things a little simpler on the screen.

The 3.1-inch display on the BlackBerry Q5 causes a bit of a problem here, because long messages require a lot of scrolling, as only a small amount of text can fit on the screen at once.

For seasoned BlackBerry users this won't be a problem, as you'll be upgrading from equally small screens on the Bold and Curve ranges, but for anyone who's used an iOS, Android or Windows Phone handset, the lack of screen real estate is an obvious issue.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Even scrolling through your inbox is a hassle, since you can only get about four messages on the screen at once, so if you're going back through your emails, prepare yourself for lots of finger sliding.

We were pleased to see that the BlackBerry Q5 was able to properly handle HTML emails, enabling you to zoom out to the full width of the missive to avoid annoying sideways scrolling.

While the 720p resolution is sharp and clear, its diminutive size means that only those with good vision will be able to read emails in this zoomed-out form - so you'll probably end up going sideways as well as down anyway.

You can sync as many email accounts as you wish, and unlike with the BlackBerry Q10, the BlackBerry Q5 had no trouble pulling in our Gmail messages.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The keyboard below the screen also offers various shortcuts for replying to messages and emails quickly. Hitting the 'R' or 'L' keys while reading an email will send you straight to reply or reply all.

Meanwhile, 'F' will forward the message and pressing 'W' will see the message flagged for attention later - it's a simple, yet effective implementation, and those who spend a lot of their day emailing will find it a great benefit.

As we mentioned during the Interface section of this review, the QWERTY keyboard on the BlackBerry Q5 enables you to take advantage of Instant Actions, which enables you to fire off a quick message without having to even go near the BlackBerry Hub.

BlackBerry Q5 review

From the home screen or app list you can just start typing, for example, "Email Keeley", "BBM Tom" or "text Sam" and the BlackBerry Q5 will bring up contacts of that name.

You just need to select the address/phone number you want to send the message to and it'll stick you straight into the relevant new message template.

The BlackBerry Q5 goes one step further, however, when it comes to Facebook and Twitter.

Just type "Tweet" or "Facebook" and then your status and the Q5 will recognise the social plugins, enabling you to post to the networks direct from the Instant Actions screen.

BlackBerry Q5 review

It's a system that works really well and there is an obvious speed advantage as you don't have to navigate your way to the correct app before you can start tapping out your thoughts.

Of course the BlackBerry Q5 wouldn't be complete without the inclusion of BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), which gives users free instant messaging with friends between BlackBerry handsets - although it will soon be rolled out to Android and iOS devices too.

Signing in with your BlackBerry account details will see all your BBM contacts automatically transferred over to the Q5, ensuring you don't miss anyone out when you switch phones.

It's not just text-based messaging that BBM supports, however, oh no. You can now make voice and video calls with your other BlackBerry chums, and there's even the option to screen share, which enables one of you to show the other person what's on your screen.

Keyboard

The big selling point for the BlackBerry Q5 is its physical keyboard - that and its lower price tag compared to the only other QWERTY keyboard phone on the market worth considering, the BlackBerry Q10.

Those who don't fancy an old-school, button-laden handset will ignore the BlackBerry Q5 from the off, heading instead in the direction of a shiny full touchscreen device, but those still hankering for 35-keys of joy will be sniffing around this smartphone.

What you'll notice immediately is that the keyboard on the Q5 differs greatly to the one found on the more expensive Q10.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Gone are the metallic frets between the keys, and BlackBerry has opted for an isolated, chiclet layout of the buttons on the Q5, which initially gives the impression that you'll get better travel with this handset.

This layout makes the Q5 look a lot cheaper than its premium brother, and it's obvious that this BlackBerry phone is a more budget offering - although its £330 (around US$500 / AU$550) SIM-free price isn't as budget as we'd perhaps have liked.

When we got hands on with the BlackBerry Q5 at the Canadian firm's annual conference in May 2013 we were concerned about the amount of rattle there was when you tried to move the keys with your finger.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Luckily BlackBerry has addressed this issue with the final product, with a much sturdier set of keys adorning our Q5 full review unit - although some rattle was still present, which slightly detracts from the usability experience.

While we dubbed the BlackBerry Q10 the best QWERTY keyboard on the smartphone market we unfortunately can't say the BlackBerry Q5 lives up to the same billing.

Even though the gaps between the keys make it look like a well spaced offering, the fact of the matter is that the buttons are actually smaller than on the BlackBerry Q10, making them trickier to hit and increasing the number of typing errors we experienced.

BlackBerry Q5 review

We admit that we're not fans of the QWERTY keyboard and much prefer touchscreen typing these days, but general consensus from our BlackBerry-using friends is that the BlackBerry Q5's board is nowhere near the same quality as the BlackBerry Q10's.

The small, pokey keys may have been engineered with their own unique angles to speed up typing, but at the end of the day the BlackBerry Q5 is a sub-par QWERTY offering.

One-handed typing is also difficult, as we really had to stretch our thumb to reach the far side of the phone, which often led to the wrong key being hit.

This isn't so much to do with the width of the BlackBerry Q5 - it's around the same as the Galaxy S3 in that respect - but the girth of the handset that made it a little unruly in the palm when attempting to type with one hand.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The BlackBerry Q5 does offer next word prediction, auto-complete and spell check to speed up typing, but the first two were not turned on by default.

It only took a few seconds to dive into the settings menu and turn these features on, but we knew what we were looking for, while the average user may go the whole time without ever knowing that these options exist.

The BlackBerry Q5 learns your writing style and adapts its predictions based on what you've previously written, so the more you use it the more you'll find it offers up the words you want, reducing your time spent on the keyboard - and thus reducing the number of mistakes.

It's a system we've become accustomed to on the likes of SwiftKey on Android, and it's a handy feature that will no doubt be a boon to the email generation.

Internet

There's one choice when it comes to surfing the web on the BlackBerry Q5, and that comes in the form of the stock Browser application.

While some of you may bemoan the lack of Chrome, Firefox or Opera options in BlackBerry World, it's not all bad news, and the standard BlackBerry 10 offering is actually a pretty robust package.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Design-wise the browser is simple, all you see on the screen other than the website you're viewing is a black bar at the bottom with the URL box, tabs button and link to the menu - which is just as well really, considering the BlackBerry Q5's screen size.

The BlackBerry Q5 comes 4G enabled, which means you can take advantage of the super-fast network speeds, although 3G and Wi-Fi are also built in just in case you're not on the 4G bandwagon just yet.

We were blown away by the browsing speeds we experienced on the Z10 and Q10, so we had high hopes coming to the BlackBerry Q5, and while it doesn't quite match its more expensive relatives, it doesn't let itself down.

The dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM coupled with a decent mobile or Wi-Fi signal means you won't be waiting long for your websites to load.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Over 3G, mobile sites took just four seconds to load up, while busy desktop sites such as TechRadar took a respectable 10 seconds.

Load times were pretty similar over Wi-Fi, but sadly we were unable to test the Q5's 4G performance, since we didn't have an LTE SIM card available at the time of review.

Websites look good on the 720p display of the BlackBerry Q5, with bright colours, crisp images and sharp text, but you'll need to do quite a bit of zooming and scrolling thanks to the 3.1-inch dimensions.

Hit the Tabs key in the bottom-left corner and a menu will slide onto the screen showing you your open tabs with links to open a new tab, as well as history and bookmarks.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Select New Tab and the BlackBerry Q5 will display a series of tiles on-screen of your most recently visited sites, enabling you to jump to a favourite quickly.

Bookmarks and History, while appearing as separate links, are actually both housed in the same area and are separated by tabs at the top of the display, enabling you to switch between the two.

It's all laid out in an intuitive manner, making it easy for anyone to pick up and use, even if you haven't experienced BlackBerry 10 before.

Hit the menu button on the other side of the Q5 display and you'll be greeted with another slide-in panel, with a range of options for you to choose from.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Browser basics such as reload, back, forward and add to bookmarks are all present, but there is the added bonus of reader mode, too.

Hit this and the browser on the BlackBerry Q5 will automatically pull out the text from the page you were reading and display it in a new view minus all the advertisement and image clutter.

There are tools at the bottom of the screen to increase or decrease text size to suit your vision - although once again we're going to mention the squat display and the copious amounts of scrolling required to read long articles.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The reader mode is something of a blessing, since the browser on the BlackBerry Q5 doesn't support text reflow, so if you zoom in on an article in the standard view you'll find yourself having to go sideways as well as down to read everything, which is just a pain.

Something that may irk some users is the decision that BlackBerry has taken to use Bing as its default search provider, with no obvious way to change this to an alternative on the BlackBerry Q5.

Sure it's not a huge issue, but we are kind of fond of Google and we'd like the option to pick between the two.

There's good news for Adobe Flash fans, however, with the BlackBerry Q5 welcoming the dying format with open arms in its browser - although you'll quickly need to jump into the settings to enable it.

BlackBerry Q5 review

This means you'll be able to view all your favourite video content and Flash-based websites without fear of getting the "Flash is not supported on your device" message that is plaguing iOS and Android users.

The QWERTY keyboard on the BlackBerry Q5 also comes in handy as it provides a handful of web-based shortcuts to streamline your surfing.

Hitting 'L' will reload the page you're currently viewing, 'R' will launch you into the useful reader mode and 'S' will pop up the 'Find on Page' bar if you're searching for a particular phrase in an article.

Punching the 'T' key will take you to the top of the webpage, while 'B' will send you to the bottom, and if you fancy checking out your browsing history just hit - yep you've guessed it - 'H'.

Camera

The BlackBerry Q5 comes with a 5MP camera on its rear, which is accompanied by a single LED flash.

This isn't as good as its rivals, with the likes of the Sony Xperia SP and Motorola Razr HD packing 8MP sensors - 5MP is something we're now expecting from cut-price handsets at the bottom of the market.

There's a 2MP snapper thrown into the mix on the front of the Q5 for those all-important selfies, plus it's handy for video calling - especially since Skype is now in the BlackBerry World store.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The camera app itself can be accessed from the lock screen by holding down the camera icon in the bottom corner for three seconds, or by hitting the camera icon in the same position when viewing the home screen or app list.

It opens pretty quickly on the BlackBerry Q5, which means you can get snapping almost immediately, but a word of caution before you start dancing your fingers across the screen - the entire viewfinder is a shutter key.

This means if you try to tap-to-focus, or simply miss the menu keys, the Q5 will snap a picture. To be honest it's pretty annoying, and there's no way to turn if off.

BlackBerry Q5 review

There is some salvation, however, as you can use the volume rocker keys on the right of the BlackBerry Q5 as shutter keys, making it easier to snap pictures - especially ones of yourself.

Although tap-to-focus doesn't work, it doesn't mean BlackBerry has done away with the feature. Instead you'll see a green square on the screen showing where the camera is focusing - hold your finger down on this and then drag it to the position you wish to refocus on.

It's a simple procedure, but not one that's totally obvious, and new users may struggle to work it out.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The autofocus generally steadies itself pretty quickly, and the shutter takes no time at all to snap your photo and return you to shooting mode - enabling for rapid fire photos.

Another annoyance with the camera app on the BlackBerry Q5 is the sound it makes every time you hit the shutter, and there's no way to turn it off.

When it comes to additional features, the BlackBerry Q5 is pretty low, with a choice of three aspect ratios (the standard 4:3 and 16:9 options are joined by the odd 1:1, which matches the screen), three shooting modes (stabilisation, burst and HDR) and four scenes (action, whiteboard, night and beach or snow).

BlackBerry Q5 review

It's hardly an awe inspiring lineup, and there are none of the white balance and exposure settings you find on rival Android and Windows Phone devices, making this a simple point and shoot.

A nifty feature that BlackBerry has built into its BB10 camera app is its Time Shift function, enabling you to take photos of lots of lovely faces and then go to each one and select the moment their eyes are open and mouths smiling.

You can access Time Shift by hitting the camera icon at the bottom of the app, but it's a separate area of the application so it's not something you can leave on.

The pictures produced by the BlackBerry Q5 are OK, but they're nothing special, and considering rival handsets have better sensors around the back it was always going to struggle to match up.

Obviously the digital zoom, controlled by pinching the display, greatly reduces the quality of your photos, but for the odd snap the Q5 is adequate.

BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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Video

The BlackBerry Q5 is capable of capturing 1080p video at 30fps using its rear-facing lens - which, unlike the camera, is on par with its rivals.

You can also record using the 2MP front-facing camera, which offers up 720p footage.

You'll need to head to the camera app to get to the video recorder - tap the camera icon at the bottom of the screen and select the camcorder picture to jump into recording mode.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The same drag-to-focus set up is present here as it is in the camera app, plus the whole screen is still a trigger, so if you accidentally hit it you'll find yourself starting or stopping your recording.

If you were hoping for a treasure trove of features then you'll be sorely disappointed, as the BlackBerry Q5 offers up a basic recording platform.

Hit the menu button and you'll find an option to toggle the rear light on or off (which needs to be done before hitting the record button), a scene selection comprising two options (Night and Beach or Snow) on top of the standard Auto and a toggle to turn stabilisation on or off.

We found that the autofocus on the BlackBerry Q5 sometimes struggled to keep up if we moved the handset around too much, so you will want to make sure you have a steady hand for filming.

Media

The BlackBerry Q5 isn't really a smartphone you'd consider as a multimedia monster, mainly due to the fact that it sports that quirky, square 3.1-inch display that doesn't exactly lend itself brilliantly to apps, games or video playback.

That said, all the standard features for consuming music, video and photos are included on the Q5, so you won't be left completely in the lurch here.

BlackBerry has stuffed 8GB of internal storage into the Q5, although only 4GB of that is actually available to use - which is pretty poor.

Luckily there's a microSD slot on the left side of the phone that supports cards up to 32GB in size, so that should give you more than enough storage.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The easiest way to get content onto your BlackBerry Q5 is to load it onto a microSD card and slot it in the side, because if you choose to use the bundled USB cable to connect it to your computer you'll be forced to install the BlackBerry Link desktop software.

As far as desktop software goes, BlackBerry Link isn't too bad, and it's relatively easy to use, but we much prefer the drag and drop system - which annoyingly only becomes available once you've installed Link.

Music

BlackBerry Q5 review

Music playback isn't hampered by the smaller screen of the Q5, and while the music player app may not feature any of the bells and whistles you'll find on some other smartphones, it's a functional and intuitive offering.

You can view your tunes by the most recently added and recently played, as well as via the more traditional filters of artist, album and genre. But oddly you can't view by song name, which may annoy some users.

There is a playlist function that enables you to create your own group of tunes on the move - it's all pretty simple, just hit Create and then tap the tracks you want to include.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Select a particular song and you'll be transported to the minimalist player screen, with play/pause, skip, shuffle and repeat buttons the only tools on show - with album art proudly displayed as the background.

Hit the Menu button and you do get a couple of extra options in the form of Play on, which enables you to stream your tunes via DLNA to other enabled devices, and BlackBerry World, which jumps you into the dedicated music store operated by 7 Digital.

There is a playback widget that enables you to control playback without having to go back into the app, and you need to poke one of the volume buttons to get it displayed on the screen - it even works on the lock screen.

BlackBerry Q5 review

BlackBerry hasn't included any sound enhancements on the Q5, with no equaliser or bass boost to speak of, but it does support the major audio formats including MP3, WMA and eACC+, so your record collection should play on the handset.

Head back over to BlackBerry World and you'll find a dedicated music section in the store, enabling you to increase your collection with a decent range of albums and singles to choose from.

Prices here mirror those of 7 Digital stores on other platforms, with singles generally setting you back £1/$1.29, while albums tend to range from £5/$9 to £8/$12.

Video

While music is all fine and dandy on the BlackBerry Q5, video is a different proposition altogether.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The 720p resolution theoretically provides a decent enough picture for you to enjoy a feature film on, but the 3.1-inch dimensions of the display tell a different story - with your favourite movie appearing pretty small on screen.

There's not a great deal you can do about it either, as deciding to turn off the black bars above and below the footage - and thus making the video full screen - leads to bits being chopped off the left and right sides.

The BlackBerry Q5 does come with a dedicated video app, which thankfully means you don't have to scrabble around in the gallery to find your clips - and its basic, unfussy design makes it easy to find what you want.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Once you've started playing a video you'll find the player is very simple - just a play/pause key and a scrubbing bar keep you company here.

As we've mentioned, there's also a button in the top-right corner to toggle whether you want the black borders above and below your film.

Playback quality is actually very good, with the BlackBerry Q5 able to produce strong colours and vivid images - but it just doesn't feel right with that screen.

We found the Q5 happily played our WMV and MPEG-4 videos, although it refused to play MPEG-2 and MKV files, so make sure your files are compatible before transferring them to the phone.

BlackBerry Q5 review

In short, if you're planning on watching a lot of video on your shiny new smartphone, the BlackBerry Q5 isn't the handset you are looking for.

As with the music app, hit the menu key during playback and you'll find a link to the DLNA-streaming Play On feature, plus a link to the BlackBerry World store where you can buy and rent movies and TV shows.

You're looking at paying around £2.99/US$2.99 when it comes to renting movies from the store, but if you prefer to actually own a copy you're looking at between £7.99/$7.99 and £15.99/$19.99, while TV shows are usually around £1.99/US$1.99 per episode.

Photos

BlackBerry Q5 review

Wondering where all those lovely photos go that you've snapped with the 5MP camera on the BlackBerry Q5? Well surprise, surprise - they're living in the Pictures app.

This basic gallery app gives you a thumbnail overview of all the photos on the Q5 (and the microSD card if you have one inserted), and if you fancy a little slideshow of all your snaps just select the option in the menu.

The Play On streaming option is on hand once again in the menu when you click on a picture to make it full screen, as too are options to set the image as your background, rotate it and even stick it into a basic editor.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Once inside the editor you can apply a range of effects to your photo, and do the standard crop and rotate actions.

BlackBerry has developed a novel way of applying effects to pictures, incorporating a preview function into the action of dragging an effect across the photo, so you can compare how it looks at the moment with the potentially new effect you're considering.

Story Maker

It's not just the stock music, video and pictures apps that are included on the BlackBerry Q5, however, with the Story Maker app also making an appearance.

BlackBerry Q5 review

This application enables you to pull in content from all three media areas to create your own video, or "story".

It enables you to select the pictures and videos you wish to include and then enables you to choose a song to use as a soundtrack.

From here you can add opening and closing titles, re-order your media and add various effects to content to make sure you get the right mood for your movie.

It's not a particularly complex app, and while you won't be editing feature films on the Q5 it is a pretty simple application that we had some fun with.

Battery life and connectivity

Battery life

The BlackBerry Q5 comes equipped with a 2180mAh battery, but unlike in the Z10 and Q10 you can't remove this from the phone.

This will annoy those who are on their handsets all day and need a back-up battery just in case it runs out before end of play - and in the case of the Q5 this could well happen.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Its saving grace is that the battery is actually bigger than both its BlackBerry 10-toting counterparts, although only by 80mAh when compared to the BlackBerry Q10.

We found that with a full day's heavy usage including many emails, text messages, social media updates, mapping and camera action, the BlackBerry Q5 was limping its way to the charger by around 7pm.

If you're slightly less intense with your usage then you'll be able to eke out a whole day on the BlackBerry Q5, and perhaps even see out some of the next day too before reaching for a power source.

One of the issues we have with the Q5, and with BlackBerry 10 in general, is the lack of an auto-brightness setting, which can be detrimental to battery life if you forget to turn your screen down when you move to darker areas.

When you compare the BlackBerry Q5 to rivals in terms of battery life then it's pretty much on par with the day's usage we've come to expect from smartphones these days, but if you're an email hound or love gaming on the go then don't expect the Q5 to make it to bedtime.

Connectivity

As we've already mentioned in this review, the BlackBerry Q5 comes not only 3G enabled, but also 4G enabled, giving you access to the super-fast network's speeds, providing they're available in your area and with your network provider.

BlackBerry Q5 review

There are other smartphone staples onboard the BlackBerry Q5 as well, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS, plus the Canadian firm has also stuffed the contactless NFC technology inside this handset.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections can be quickly toggled in the pull-down quick settings bar, accessed when viewing the home screen or app list pages on the BlackBerry Q5, but we'd have liked to have seen NFC and GPS also feature here - there is space after all.

You can also use your BlackBerry Q5 as a mobile hotspot, enabling other devices such as tablets and laptops to share your phone's internet connection - although be warned that this runs down the battery and eats into your data allowance.

Down the left side of the BlackBerry Q5 are a couple more connectivity-related trinkets in the form of the microSD slot - perfect for complementing the 4GB of usable internal storage - and a micro USB port.

The USB port is used for charging the Q5 as well as hooking it up to a computer - although you're forced to install the BlackBerry Link software on your machine first before gaining access to the contents of the handset.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Simple drag and drop between folders becomes available after the software is installed, but it's all a bit of a hassle.

BlackBerry Q5 review

What you'll notice on the Q5 is that it's missing the micro HDMI port that adorns both the Q10 and Z10, with BlackBerry deciding this phone isn't worthy of the physical TV hook-up connection.

Don't despair just yet, though, as the BlackBerry Q5 does support DLNA streaming, enabling you to wirelessly stream content to other enabled devices such as TVs, computers and games consoles.

You can share music, photos and videos from the Q5 to other DLNA-enabled devices, and it's easy to do. Just navigate to the media you want to stick on the big screen, hit the Play On option in the menu and then select the device on your wireless network you want to link up with.

Maps and apps

Maps

TomTom has provided the mapping nous behind the Maps app on the BlackBerry Q5, and while it's not the worst service we've used, it's some way off the best, which in our eyes is Google Maps.

BlackBerry Q5 review

There was quite a wait when we first opened the app, with the Q5 hanging for what felt like an eternity, but which was probably between 40 and 50 seconds in reality.

After the initial think, the app opened up quicker from then on, but we were still left waiting at least 10 seconds before a map actually appeared on the screen.

The BlackBerry Q5 seemed to be quite hit and miss when it came to finding our location, too. Some days it would pin point us almost imediatly, while on other days it took its sweet time tracking down exactly where we were.

BlackBerry Q5 review

When it comes to panning and zooming around the map, we found the lower powered processor inside the Q5 struggled to meet our demands, and we were often left waiting for the maps to render on-screen.

There's no satellite, flyover or StreetView options in the Maps app - you just get the basic bird's eye, Ordinance Survey-style view to play with.

You can toggle traffic on by hitting the menu button, but this seems to just slow down the app even more, so we'd recommend you keep it turned off.

BlackBerry Q5 review

We were disappointed to find that train stations weren't marked on the map, nor any other public transport information, and visually the Maps app isn't as appealing as the iOS and Android alternatives.

At least there's route planning onboard, which tells you the distance of your journey and approximately how long it will take in current traffic.

If you fancy actually driving to your selected destination there's also free turn-by-turn satellite navigation included on the Q5 that provides a clear and accurate service.

We found the BlackBerry Q5 was able to track our location as we hurtled along the motorway, and it didn't seem to struggle in built-up areas, either.

Apps

BlackBerry 10 and apps is a topic that has been debated time and again. In one corner you have BlackBerry claiming it's got the fastest growing app store of all time, which may well be true, but in the other there's the lure of Apple's App Store and Google Play, which boast over 800,000 apps each.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Compare that to BlackBerry World's 120,000 and even if it has grown rapidly it's at a clear disadvantage in today's app-centric market.

It is hot on the heels of Microsoft's Windows Phone store, which now packs over 135,000 apps - but that still leaves BlackBerry in fourth place for the time being, and thus makes it a hard sell to app-hungry teens.

Some of the big hitters are beginning to get onboard, with the likes of Skype, WhatsApp and British Airways all having dedicated BB10 apps, plus for the gaming population the inclusion of Angry Birds, Where's my water? and the recent addition of Stick Sport's Stick Tennis continues to boost the store's appeal.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Back to the BlackBerry Q5 itself and like its two brothers it comes relatively bloatware-free, which we applaud it for as we're not fans of manufacturers filling our shiny new phones with apps we'll never use - and sometimes can't even delete.

You do get the stock Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and LinkedIn apps out of the box, and we can happily live with all those.

In terms of app selection it's the same as the Q10, although availability does differ a little to the Z10 - with the latter having a more favourable screen size for developers.

BlackBerry Q5 review

Stock offerings such as clock, calculator, weather and compass are all included on the Q5, and are all pretty self explanatory in what they offer.

One of the pre-installed apps worth mentioning on the BlackBerry Q5 that isn't a social medium is DocsToGo, a handy app for those looking to use the handset for business purposes.

It provides a simple and intuitive way to create, view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on the device.

BlackBerry Q5 review

The small nature of the screen means things can get a little tricky if you're trying to work on a complex document, but for the odd quick revision it's a pretty valuable tool.

On to Remember, and this is BlackBerry's answer to Evernote. It can even sync with the popular note-taking app to ensure all your favourite shopping lists safely make the transition over to BB10.

As well as text, you can also attach voice clips and photos to your notes to give yourself a fully rounded memory.

The Smart tags app enables you to group together a bunch of information that can then be transferred onto an NFC tag, made into a QR code or passed directly to another NFC-enabled handset.

Instead of handing out a business card you could create a smart tag with all your contact information on and then share it via NFC to the phones of people you meet with - it may not catch on, but at least BlackBerry is trying to push the boundaries of the tech on the Q5 and its other BB10 handsets.

Hands on gallery

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BlackBerry Q5 review

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Official gallery

BlackBerry Q5 review

BlackBerry Q5 review

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BlackBerry Q5 review

Verdict

Once again BlackBerry has created a functional handset that offers up everything you'd expect from a smartphone. But the BlackBerry Q5 isn't overly desirable, doesn't sport the specs to make it stand out in its £330 (around US$500 / AU$550) price bracket and ultimately we fear the younger generation it's aimed at isn't going to be overly receptive.

We liked

Once again where BlackBerry 10 seems to excel is in the web surfing department, and while the BlackBerry Q5 may not be quite as fast as the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10, it still puts in a decent performance that it can be proud of.

The inclusion of 4G and NFC in the Q5 are positive steps forward in both technologies as they begin to appear on more and more devices, and it's good to see another, non-flagship smartphone sporting LTE.

We're still big fans of the BlackBerry Hub, and while its minor niggles are slightly annoying they can be ironed out in future software updates, and it's a great way to handle all your various messages and notifications.

We disliked

Sadly we're not sold on the chunky, overly plastic design that feels like it's been pulled directly from a BlackBerry handset from a few years back - and the extra girth makes it a little tricky to type one-handed on the Q5.

The QWERTY keyboard itself is also a little bit of a letdown, especially after the excellent offering found on the BlackBerry Q10.

BlackBerry prides itself on offering the best physical keyboards on the market, but the Q5 falls a little short of this mark, with small keys and fiddly operation hindering our progress.

We have to mention the display on the BlackBery Q5 as well. We understand that you can't have a lovely big screen with a keyboard bolted below it, but in this day and age of big screened smartphones the 3.1-inch display on the Q5 just feels outdated, and it doesn't make for a great gaming or video-watching surface.

Final verdict

The BlackBerry Q5 is difficult to love. Sure it's got all the core smartphone features, but it doesn't really excel at anything, apart from perhaps web browsing, but even that's hampered somewhat by the pokey 3.1-inch display.

If you want a great QWERTY keyboard device then spend the extra cash and pick yourself up a BlackBerry Q10, but if you're nonplussed on the whole physical keys debate then you're going to be better off with the Sony Xperia SP or Motorola Razr HD, which offer better specs, bigger screens and more applications.

We can't help but feel the only people likely to seriously consider a BlackBerry Q5 are those yearning for a Q10, but whose pockets are not deep enough to afford one.

The BlackBerry Q5 feels like it should be dropped down the pricing scale, towards the bottom of the mid-tier of smartphones - and at that price we could very well be recommending it, but as it stands it's hard to make a convincing argument for this BlackBerry 10 handset.

First reviewed: July 2013

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