Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
While BlackBerry’s bread and butter has long been the enterprise and government market, there was a time when it catered to a large user base of consumers.
Previous BB models like the Pearl and Curve smartphone lines offered the functionality and ease of use of the more expensive and luxurious Torch and Bold series without higher cost. They were a step up from feature phones and were made from cheaper materials and offered simpler features than the higher-end models
In the age of BlackBerry 10 OS, however, there hasn’t been a serious replacement for the consumer focused BlackBerry smartphones of the past. Until now.
The BlackBerry Q5 is the mid-tier model designed for emerging markets but it recently was made available to Canada as a cheaper option for users who want to migrate their old Curves, Pearls, Storms and Torches to the new OS and functionality.
In terms of design, the Q5 is austere, functional and simple. Its smooth, matte black polycarbonate body is well built. It feels good in the hand, specially the rounded corners as the plastic power button and volume rocker.
The QWERTY keyboard is very responsive, feels quite durable and the familiar sculpted keys are well spaced. While these are island style Chiclet keys, which are different than the ones on the Q10, they still have that great feel and response. I think this is the best BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard that I've used.
Comparisons with the flagship Q10 are inevitable since these are currently the two QWERTY enabled BlackBerry smartphones in the market right now.
They have relatively the same screen size at 3.1-inches (although the Q10’s display technology is better), side by side comparison shows that they’re roughly the same size and weight with the Q10 being slightly thicker and heftier but this difference is hardly discernible.
The Q5 is devoid of the textures and treatments that the Q10 has in abundance. The carbon-fiber type glass casing on the black Q10 and the grippy textured rear case of the white Q10 are far more visually interesting and tactile than the expanse of matte black polycarbonate of the Q5.
So, while it comes off as generic, the Q5’s simplicity of design do give it a solid structure and a lasting utilitarian appeal. It is also the type of industrial design that’s rather timeless and ageless. It looks like something you’ve seen before, and it won’t look terribly dated five years from now. Some users will like the Q5's no nonsense design approach.
The Q5’s spec sheet isn’t too shabby either. It has a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor clocked at 1.2GHz, 2GB of RAM as well as 8GB of onboard storage space that can affordably be expanded with up to a 32GB microSD card slot.
Opening and closing apps, multitasking as well as firing up the camera, video and music player apps and varied games on BB10 feels just as quick as with the Q10.
The Q5 comes with a 5-megapixel camera with the BB10 Time Shift feature as well as a 2MP front facing camera for BBM video messaging are on tap. The Q5 will record HD video in 720p resolution, which is outstanding for most uses. Camera quality is just alright and will serve users well in well-lit conditions.
The 3.1-inch IPS display isn’t bad but doesn’t pop as much as the Q10’s similarly sized AMOLED display. There’s a certain pale cast to the Q5’s screen that is the only real indicator that it is a less expensive model.
If screen quality is of no consequence, some might say that the Q10 and Q5 are pretty much functionally equal, specially since both rock 4G-LTE capabilities, dual-core processors 2GB of RAM and even NFC.
A non-removable 2180mAH battery powers the Q5 and BlackBerry promises 12.5 hours of talk time on 3G networks as well as 14 days standby time on 3G networks, which is pretty darn impressive in this age power-hungry smartphones.
Without the pressure to push to market right away, the BlackBerry Q5 actually feels like a better realized product than the Q10. See, the Q10 had a tremendous amount of hype to live up to, and as an aspirational successor to the Bold line smartphones, had to reflect a familiar look and feel.
With the Q5, the pressure was off, BlackBerry just had to create the best mid-tier BB10 smarphone they could from the ground up, and it looks like they succeeded.
Save for the non-removable battery and ho-hum screen, the BlackBerry Q5 looks like it hits many of the important points users are looking for in a modern and connected smartphone.
Call quality is superb, reception as well as 4G-LTE connectivity on the Virgin Mobile network was on par with the Z10 and Q10’s reception. I was amazed to still have a signal in my favourite movie theatre that is usually a dead spot for me.
While many believe the Z10 and Q10 to be the devices to bring BlackBerry back, I think it is the Q5 that can gain mass popularity and win back previous users as well as serve the youth and consumer markets while being the go-to handset in the emerging markets it was designed for. From the looks of the marketing product shots, it will also be available in pink, white and red. But only black and red are coming to Canada for now, the other colours are possibly for other markets.
The Q5 is the cheaper BlackBerry device but it isn't in any way inferior. A lot of credit goes to BlackBerry for not holding back on the Q5's features and capabilities while managing a lower price point. If i didn't already own a Q10, I'd most certainly consider the Q5 as my daily driver.
The BlackBerry Q5 will be available on August 13 through carriers like Bell as well as various retailers. The phone will also be available through Fido and it will be available in exclusive red through Bell’s lower priced brand Virgin Mobile.
Rating: 4 out of 5