The BlackBerry Q5 was announced at BlackBerry World 2013 in Orlando, Florida. The smartphone bills itself as an affordable and modern QWERTY smartphone that has all the apps you expect on BlackBerry 10, coupled with the productivity and ease of messaging that BlackBerry is known for. So does it live up to expectations? Read on and see.
3.1″ Touch display
8GB Internal storage
5MP Camera (Rear Facing)
1080p HD video recording
4G LTE Ready
720 x 720 resolution, 329ppi
Up to 14 days standby time (3G)
Up to 12.5 hrs talk time (3G)
Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ S4 processor
The hardware on the BlackBerry Q5 is everything you would expect from a decent QWERTY smartphone. It’s reminiscent of the legacy BlackBerry devices such as the 9700 in that it feels sturdy, does what you need it to, and it will likely never break. Seriously, this thing feels so strong, you could probably run over it with a truck.
In terms of the specs above, you get almost everything you expect to get, except an HDMI port which comes on the Q10 and it’s too bad it didn’t make it on the Q5 for the same price. Other than that, you get NFC, front and back cameras, HD video, keyboard and full touch display.
DISPLAY AND MEDIA
Generally, the display on the Q5 is a solid, 3.1″, 720×720 resolution at 329ppi. This is enough for everything you need in terms of email, apps and general web browsing. The problem, is a lack of HDMI output and landscape mode, means your media watching experience is very limited.
The above is a screenshot of the free Crackle app playing Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.. As you can see, not having landscape mode does terrible things to the media watching experience. Coupled with the fact that you can’t output the video to a TV via HDMI, means you aren’t getting much of a media experience.
The above picture is a sample of what you can achieve if you have the right lighting, patience and distance. If you don’t have the right conditions, or you even try taking a picture with zoom, you’re going to end up with some awful pictures such as the following:
This problem isn’t just with the BlackBerry Q5, this is a problem with the Z10 as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a problem with BlackBerry 10 in general. The more I use BlackBerry 10, the more I become convinced that hardware is less important than software in terms of making pictures beautiful. The camera on the Z10 and Q10 is good in terms of megapixels, but as you can see from the above picture, any movement or zoom renders the photo barely visible.
When I reviewed the BlackBerry Z10, I wrote about how awesome the BlackBerry Hub is and the great things it does for mobile productivity. The downside, was that the OS felt like it was 93% complete. Since writing that review back in April, 2013, BlackBerry 10 hasn’t actually come that far. At the time of writing this review, I’d say BlackBerry 10 feels like it’s 94% complete. The OS still does some really odd things when it comes to the browser and everyday use. In July of 2013, I wrote about just 13 of those BlackBerry 10 bugs that I discovered. Having switched over to the Q5, some of those bugs still exist. Below is an example of one of these bugs, with a screenshot taken the day before publishing this review.
It seems like BlackBerry is spacing its updates out and bundling everything in a big OS 10.2 update that should be arriving any day now. This makes sense as it gives the company more time to test, but as a consumer, I wish these updates would just flow out of the company on a more regular basis. Instead, we’re left with OS updates that differ from carrier to carrier and only for certain devices. This is definitely where BlackBerry can take a page out of Apple’s playbook (no pun intended).
One of the biggest advantages of BlackBerry 10 was supposed to be the fact that device fragmentation would be all but nullified, and making an app for BlackBerry 10 would mean it could run on all devices. So why do apps like the CIBC Mobile Payment app run on the Z10 but not on the Q10 or Q5? This problem extends beyond supporting the Q10 and Q5, it also includes supporting OS 10.1 and 10.2. The fact that there are certain features such as Custom Fonts that are supported in 10.2 but not 10.1, means developers have to juggle multiple builds or leave out certain users while building their apps. It seems the fragmentation issue is basically unsolvable.
KEYBOARD AND MESSAGING
The keyboard and messaging is the number one feature of the Q5 that sets it apart from every other smartphone on the market. The keyboard is so great, you don’t even need to look at the screen to type. The entire keyboard and messaging platform is so good in fact, it makes you wonder why BlackBerry even bothers to produce any other type of smartphone. It’s sort of like the story the Globe and Mail published where Frank Boulben and Kristian Tear tried to convince Mike Lazaridis the market for QWERTY devices was dead.
“In the board meeting, Mr. Lazaridis pointed to a BlackBerry with a keyboard. ‘I get this,’ he said. ‘It’s clearly differentiated.’ Then he pointed to a touchscreen phone. ‘I don’t get this.'”
Mike Lazaridis is on to something and in a market completely saturated in touchscreen phones, BlackBerry’s ability to differentiate with a world-class keyboard should be focused on. That just seems like basic business 101.
PERFORMANCE AND BATTERTY LIFE
Battery life is key these days. You can have the most powerful, awesome smartphone, but if the battery only lasts a few hours, what good is it? The BlackBerry Z10 had an awful battery life. The Q5 is better but it’s still not a full day. I can go from 9AM fully charged to 5PM but it’s dead by 6PM. I’m probably not the average user, and I definitely use my phone more than the typical use case, but it’s still disappointing to not be able to make it a full 24 hours or more.
According to the official Q5 specs, the battery life should get you:
Up to 12.5 hours talk time (3G)
Up to 14 days standby time (3G)
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 on a full battery would get you:
Up to 5.2 hours talk time (GSM)
Up to 18 days standby time (GSM)
As well as:
Up to 33 hours music playback time
Up to 6.3 hours video playback time
Notice how BlackBerry no longer displays the video and music playback times? While it looks like there has been a significant upgrade in talk time, BlackBerry is no longer reporting media playback which seems to have been reduced significantly. Back in the day, we did an experiment to see how long the 9700 battery would last, even under intense usage, and the results were spectacular. It seems those days are gone.
Let’s just start by saying: I love the BlackBerry keyboard. I love it so much. It is the one thing that BlackBerry can provide me that no other smartphone can provide. Here are just a few ways it makes my life better:
1) Typing emails is simply easier with a keyboard. It makes my life easier and that’s the essence of what technology should do.
2) Typos make you look stupid and with a BlackBerry keyboard, you’ll never make them.
3) I take pride in my writing and when I write something that seems like a typo, it’s not and the keyboard doesn’t try and correct me. Writing anything colloquially is incredibly difficult on a touchscreen.
The problems I have with the BlackBerry Q5 seem routed in the split personality that is affecting BlackBerry. Is it an enterprise device or a consumer product? The worst parts of the BlackBerry Q5 are rooted in the device being an inferior consumer product. Poor camera, lack of apps, sub par media experience and a less than satisfactory battery life. On the other hand, what makes this device great, is the enterprise and professional side of things. The BlackBerry Hub, keyboard, messaging, and app integration, are all excellent features.
So who should buy this device? Well if you’re looking for a fun device with games and a great media experience, the Q5 is not for you. If you’re a professional that does a lot of messaging, this device is awesome, especially at the price. Consider going Q10 if you have the cash to spare.