BlackBerry Q5 User Review

*This is a review of a loaned unit from BlackBerry Malaysia*

In December this year, I was swamped with a number of gadgets, smartphones and tech toys to play with. It got overwhelming and I struggled with finding time to review everything on loan before I have to return them. As much as I love gadgets, workload coupled with the responsibility of writing good blogposts for you guys was stressful that I didn’t update my blog for a couple of weeks early in the month.

Nevertheless, with all the devices I had to test and review, I never forgot about the BlackBerry Q5 – BlackBerry’s iteration of the ever-faithful form factor of hardware QWERTY keyboard, updated to run on the new BlackBerry 10 OS that’s touchscreen friendly. Also, as I sit here by the beach, I am serving my commitment to you, fellow readers, with my final gadget review for 2013.

This BlackBerry Q5 looks almost identical to the previous BlackBerries, but updated with touchscreen and the new BlackBerry 10 OS. This is the younger and more affordable brother to the flagship touch and type BlackBerry Q10, designed and marketed too the mass consumer market. The everyday Joe who (still) loves a BlackBerry and wanted an updated BB 10 OS version of their favourite BlackBerry keyboard and design.

BlackBerry Q5 Colours - Winnie
Me with 3 available colours of BlackBerry Q5 at Malaysian launch

Here’s a quick tech spec of the BlackBerry Q5:-

  • 3.1″ IPS LCD touchscreen display (720 X 720)(329 ppi) with QWERTY keyboard
  • 1.2 GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 processor
  • 8 GB internal storage (expandable up to 32 GB microSD) + 2 GB RAM
  • Powered by new Blackberry 10.1 OS
  • 5 megapixel auto focus rear camera (1080p HD video recording) with LED flash, 2 megapixel front facing camera (720p video recording)
  • 2,180 mAH removable battery (up to 12.5 hours 3G talktime)
  • 10.8 mm thin (10.5 mm for non-NFC model); weighing 120 gram
  • Connectivity : 4G LTE/HSPA+, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC

For more information, check out the BlackBerry Q5 product page at http://www.blackberry.com.my/smartphones/blackberry-q5.html

Having reviewed this for over 2 weeks, and being familiar with the new BlackBerry 10 OS already, here’s my full review on the hardware, software, feature, camera, battery life and overall conclusion of the mass consumer market, QWERTY toting, BlackBerry Q5.

 

Hardware Overview

The BlackBerry Q5 came to me as a review unit that has likely been through many reviewers hands already. The box packaging seemed a little worn.

BlackBerry Q5 - Box
Box packaging of the BlackBerry Q5
BlackBerry Q5 - Unboxing
Unboxing the BlackBerry Q5

Inside the box, you’ll find the BlackBerry Q5 device itself, 3-pin power adapter, USB to microUSB charging and sync cable and standard earbud headphones. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

BlackBerry Q5 - Hardware 1
Front and back of the BlackBerry Q5
BlackBerry Q5 - Hardware 2
Ports and buttons on the Q5

Top of the device houses the Power On/Off button in the middle, with a tiny speaker/microphone pinhole, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right, the volume rocker with an action button in the middle of the volume up and down, for music playback, and other actions. On the left, is a flap protecting the microSIM and microSD slot. At the bottom, the speaker grill holes and another tiny speaker/microphone pinhole.

At 10.8 mm thin, it’s not exactly a slim device. But with the hybrid touchscreen and hardware QWERTY keyboard, it’s quite a standard BlackBerry shape and thickness, really.

See Also : BlackBerry Q10 keyboard-touchscreen hybrid Launched in Malaysia (Update: On Sale NOW)

BlackBerry Q5 - Flaps
Flaps for cleaner lines, not waterproofing

There are tiny labels inside the flap to show you how and where to insert the micro SIM and micro SD cards. FYI – these flaps are there to ensure cleaner lines on the exterior design of the device, not for waterproofing purposes like the Sony Xperia devices like the Xperia Z1, Z Ultra or Xperia Z.

BlackBerry Q5 - in hand
BlackBerry Q5 in my hand

The Q5 is made of polycarbonate (plastic) materials, so it does somehow feel very plasticky and cheap. Considering this device is created and marketed for the mass consumer market,  it is understandable why BlackBerry decided to keep their costs low. It is, the younger and cheaper brother of the high-end BlackBerry Q10. Still – this Q5 definitely feels like a low-end, entry level device.

 

Software and Features

BB Q5 - Menu, Navigation
Menu and navigation on BlackBerry Q5

BlackBerry Q5 comes with all the software features you’d find in the higher end BlackBerry Q10, as they both run on the latest BlackBerry 10 OS, which includes:-

  • BlackBerry Hub – Unified inbox for all your email, notifications, social media updates, BBM and more
  • BBM Video with Screen Share – BlackBerry Messenger has evolved beyond chat and video calls. Now you can put a video call on hold and share your phone’s screen, in real time, with whoever you’re chatting with / speaking to.
  • Time Shift – Snap a burst shot of image and select the right frame for the best picture to save, or select your subject’s face and change the frame where he/she is smiling <– Samsung Galaxy S4′s “Best Face” / HTC One’s HTC Zoe “Always Smile”
  • Story Maker – another great camera feature to stitch pictures and videos together to make a multimedia album <– Samsung Galaxy S4′s “Story Album” / HTC One’s HTC Zoe
  • BlackBerry World – the redesigned app store for all BlackBerry 10 OS apps, games and more
  • BlackBerry Balance – separation of work (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) and personal emails and apps
  • BlackBerry Tag – NFC enabled version of the Q5 enables exchange of data and files
  • BlackBerry Remember – Note taking app (that syncs with other apps like Evernote) for easy notes and reminders

See Also : 4-part CNET Asia Tech Factor Review on BlackBerry Z10

BlackBerry Q5 - QWERTY
Best feature – BlackBerry Keyboard

The best feature on the Q5 is hands down, the classic BlackBerry Keyboard, with the familiar chicklet style hardware keys. To be honest, it has been awhile since I last used a BlackBerry with physical keyboard. I have long since moved to touchscreen devices with on screen keyboard. The technology and sensitivity and autocorrect predictions have gotten so much better over the years that I barely make any mistakes typing on screen anymore. Even when I’m not looking at the keyboard.

I do, however, have lots of friends who are still using old BlackBerry 7 devices today, because they can’t live without the physical keyboard or (in some cases) BBM (which is moot now that BBM is available on iOS and Android). If you’re one of those people who still prefer physical keyboards, but update to the newer BlackBerry 10 OS devices, this BlackBerry Q5 (or the higher end BlackBerry Q10) is for you.

BB Q5 - Keyboard & Text Message
BB Q5 – Keyboard & Text Message

Me, it took me awhile to get used to using a physical keyboard again after so many years. There is indeed a learning curve and I was typing really slowly on the Q5 throughout my review. Also, the placement of the “alt” (for numbers) and “arrow” (or “shift”) key differentiation from my on-screen Android keyboard, along with the placement of the number keys, threw me off several times with multiple post typing corrections. Even with on-screen auto-correct and word prediction in place.

And it’s also been improved with additions like Instant Action. Instant Action allows fast actions with keyboard shortcuts to reply emails, post status updates to Facebook and more. Check out the BlackBerry demo video bellow:-

BB Q5 - BlackBerry Hub
BB Q5 – BlackBerry Hub
BB Q5 - BlackBerry Peek
BB Q5 – BlackBerry Peek

One of the bigger selling points of the BlackBerry 10 OS has to be BlackBerry Hub – the unified inbox that consolidates all your notifications, emails, text messages and alerts, into one inbox – and BlackBerry Peek – the ability for you to swipe up and right to “peek” at any incoming alerts and notifications from any screen, without exiting your current app.

BB Q5 - BBM
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)

Of course, in the core of all BlackBerry devices, the inclusion of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). Of course, you can now already download BBM for your iOS and Android devices (BBM Product Page here) that allows simple chatting across different devices and platforms. But the original BBM on the new BlackBerry 10 OS device which allows BlackBerry Voice messaging, screen sharing and a bunch of other features.

BB Q5 - Browser
Browser is quite speedy
BB Q5 - FB & Twitter
Facebook and Twitter looks the same as other OS
BB Q5 - BlackBerry World
BlackBerry World is the app store to download more

Overall, the software feature on the BlackBerry Q5 is just as expected as per the previous BlackBerry Z10 that I reviewed. The only difference is the fact that the Q5’s 3.1″ (720 X 720 resolution) square touchscreen is a little smaller than the 4.2″ (1280 X 768 resolution) portrait touchscreen on the BlackBerry Z10. This is the time when I crave for a bigger screen to see more than what this square display can show me, especially with browsing or reading emails.

Also, the 1.2 GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 processor was a little slow for my liking. Perhaps I’m used to blazingly fast quad-core processors, but swiping between menu and navigation on the phone does seem a little laggy with slight milisecond delays. Browsing and swiping fast between apps and screens, can get annoying after some time. For the mass consumer market though, with minimal browsing and slower navigation than a power user like me, it should be well sufficient.

 

Camera

BlackBerry Q5 - Rear Camera
5 megapixel rear camera

The 5 megapixel rear camera is not the fastest or best lens in smartphone market today, not even the highest megapixel count for other similar low-end or entry level smartphones these days. It is sufficient and it does take some decent pictures, but I wish BlackBerry would pack at least an 8 megapixel shooter though.

Picture quality is decent, with a bunch of other photo taking and photo editing features, similar to the higher end BlackBerry 10 devices. Check my full 4-part BlackBerry Z10 review on CNET Asia Tech Factor for more detail review and info on the camera features here.

Here are some sample pictures taken from the BlackBerry Q5, unedited and not resized. Hover for description of the picture condition and click to view enlarged picture.

PS. Sorry for subjecting you guys to “oogly” (read: ugly) selfies of my #NoMakeup face with the front facing camera. 😛

 

Battery Life

I didn’t get to take any screenshots of the battery life on the BlackBerry Q5, but in my time reviewing the device, with my moderate usage of a few emails, some light browsing, a couple of semi short phone calls and social network postings and browsings…

I managed approximately 16 – 18 hours of use on the Q5 until I have to charge it again.

It does provide me relatively good battery life, even with the relatively small 2,180 mAh battery.

 

Pricing and Availability

Blackberry Q5 is available on sale since July / August 2013, for a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 1,299 at authorised BlackBerry retailers in all 3 Black, White and Red colours.

You can also purchase the Q5 at a discounted rate with a bundled telco plan.

Remember, new BlackBerry 10 devices don’t require BIS (BlackBerry Internet Services) licenses anymore. So a regular data plan will do.

Although BlackBerry Malaysia mentioned that all telco operators will be offering their bundle plans for the BlackBerry Q5, as of time of writing, the only one I found are Celcom plans with device from RM 888 onwards HERE.

 

Conclusion

 

At a price tag of RM 1,299 I can’t say that it’s cheap or affordable for a smartphone these days. With Android low end smartphones selling from RM 499 to RM 899 and mid range devices (that are quite powerfully spec-ed, might I add) from RM 1,099 to RM 1,599, the BlackBerry Q5 is a tough sell. Especially for a dwindling market share in the sea of smartphones.

However, if you are one who loves your physical keyboards, you will feel right at home with the BlackBerry Q5 at a price point that is… err… mid range.

If you can spring more money for a higher end phone, then the BlackBerry Q10 older brother is your choice. If you’re not particularly faithful to keyboards, or BlackBerry for that matter, you would be spoilt with choices these days from Android or even Windows Phone smartphones.

I see BlackBerry would need to market this really hard to keep their phones in hands of their loyal users in emerging markets like India and Indonesia. But even that is getting tricky. In Malaysia though, although there are still loyal BB-ians, they are quickly becoming a minority group. BlackBerry’s gotta work hard here.

 

 

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