Discussions on the smartphone wars usually revolve around iOS and Android, but there was once a very different king of the smartphone realm. This king prided itself in corporate security, great email, and even better hardware keyboards. That king was once known as Research in Motion, but these days, it goes simply by BlackBerry. And how the mighty have fallen. Can it rise again with devices like the BlackBerry Q5? Is this enough to get this family of smartphones relevant to the modern user again?

Specs at a Glance


Earlier this year, we saw the launch of the “all new” BlackBerry 10 operating system. This represented a dramatic change from previous platforms, using a touch-focused UI that was heavy with touch gestures. We saw it in the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10, but those devices ultimately made a very small dent in the iOS and Android-dominated marketplace. Part of the problem was that they were generally too expensive to compete on that flagship level.

That’s where the BlackBerry Q5 is supposed to come into the picture. Launched last month, the Q5 is a more budget-friendly alternative that still gives you BlackBerry 10, plus a hardware QWERTY keyboard that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s smartphones. The specs and features place the Q5 right at the mid-range, if not the lower end of the market. If the Q10 is a Bold, then the Q5 is a Curve, so to speak.

The display is a mere 3.1-inches, but it is an odd 720×720 square with an admirable 328ppi. It does get flanked by quite a bit of a bezel, though, since some of the touch gestures do originate outside of the display itself. Powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 4 processor and 2GB of RAM, the BlackBerry Q5 offers 4G LTE, a 5MP camera on the rear, 2MP camera on the front, 8GB storage, microSD expansion up to 32GB, and the usual assortment of sensors and wireless radios. The non-removable 2180mAh lithium-ion battery is rated at up to 336 hours of standby and over 12 hours of talk time.

That’s Not a Removable Back


The rubbery textured back that we saw on the Z10 is not here. Instead, you get a smooth black plastic that is mildly reminiscent of some old BlackBerry Curve models. What’s strange is that, despite appearances, the plastic back is not removable. The phone even comes with a (thankfully removable) sticker on there, reminding you not to try prying the back off this device. There will probably be a few cracked or damaged Q5s out there.

So, you can’t get at the battery. The way you get at the SIM card and microSD card slots is through a new flap along the left side, just below the microUSB port. The flap does close with a reassuring click, but I’m not as confident in the plastic bits that are holding the flap when opened. You probably don’t need to access this area all that often, but I imagine it is prone to wear and tear. As an aside, I also found the placement of the power button on top to be an annoyance; I kept hitting one of the volume buttons (on the right) every time I gripped the phone to press the power button.

All About the Island Keyboard


This is obviously the most crucial part of the BlackBerry Q5, because without its hardware keyboard, people would likely be far more inclined to choose something else from Apple, Samsung, Motorola or a bevy of other smartphone manufacturers.

Having made the quantum leap away from hardware keyboards into full touchscreen experiences some years back, it does feel strange clacking away at physical keys again. And clacking you will, because the keyboard on the Q5 is quite loud for what it is. On the one hand, this gives you some assurance that the key you pressed was actually pressed, but that noise can get annoying quite quickly, especially if you’re used to the inaudible touchscreen keyboard.

Because the keyboard sits on a membrane, I did find that pressing any key would cause the surrounding keys to dip inwards too. For instance, tapping the “G” key would cause noticeable movement by the R, T, Y, F, H, C, V, and B keys. This doesn’t lead to typos, but it does affect the experience. I also personally prefer more of an offset layout, as opposed to the straight grid found here. It’s not a bad keyboard, for people who want physical keyboards, but this does shrink the display above and the keyboard itself still feels a little cramped for my tastes.

The Same Old BB10 Song and Dance


If you’ve had the opportunity to use the BlackBerry Z10 or the BlackBerry Q10, then you’ll be perfectly comfortable with how the Q5 operates. It’s the same OS under the hood, so you get the same apps, the same “Hub” for amalgamating all your correspondences, and the same touch gestures. You still do the swipe up from the BlackBerry logo and then to the right to “peek” at your Hub, for example.

The number of apps is still severely lacking — there’s no native Instagram or YouTube, for example; you use the mobile browser for the latter — and the relatively smaller screen means that you can only view a small handful of e-mails at a time. We’ve become somewhat spoiled by 4-inch, 5-inch and even 6-inch smartphones with increasingly high resolutions, so going back to three-inches just feels like a step backward. If you’re still rocking an old Bold or Curve, though, this will feel like a marginal improvement.

Camera: Photo Samples

BlackBerry Q5 Sample Photos

The five-megapixel camera isn’t terrible for what it is, especially when you get good lighting conditions, but it’s virtually unusuable in more dimly-lit indoor situations. When outside and in good light, you’ll get saturated colors, but you can lose a lot of detail. You can see that in the clouds in the sky here.

BlackBerry Q5 Sample Photos

And indoors, you get destroyed by fuzziness and way too much noise. You’ll also have to remember to tap and drag to move your focus point, as tapping on the display initiates the instant shutter. Given the quality of smartphone cameras these days, the Q5 is lagging behind the bunch.

MEGATechie Qualified QWERTY or MEGATechie QQ-ing Disappointment?


If you’re wondering why BlackBerry is having such a tough time in today’s marketplace, look no further than the BlackBerry Q5. While it would have been a perfectly usable smartphone back in the company’s heyday, it feels like it’s missing so many pieces when placed next to what other devices are offering these days. With the future of the company still up in the air, that doesn’t give a lot of consumer confidence either.

Don’t get me wrong. The BlackBerry Q5 will have some appeal to certain users. If you absolutely must have a hardware keyboard, you could do worse than this. If you’re bent on the BlackBerry ecosystem, there’s some value here too. While the Q5 lists at more, it can be had for as low as $367 online (outright) or about $50 on contract. That’s cheaper than its flagship brethren, but you have to also consider what else you could get for the same amount of money. The Nokia Lumia 521 is just $120 outright and it’s a great little smartphone. The now sold-out Nexus 4 was available for $199 outright for a time. Even if you want a hardware keyboard, you could probably find an inexpensive Android phone from last year that has slide-out QWERTY.

As it stands, it’s hard to recommend the Q5 to anyone but the most enthusiastic of BlackBerry fans… and those are the kind of people who would probably prefer a Z10, a Q10 or even the most recent Z30 instead.

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