By: Samir Makwana, The Mobile Indian, Mumbai
Last updated : Saturday, August 24, 2013 - 17:50
Mid-range BlackBerry Q5 sports the new BlackBerry 10.1 OS version with plastic body, decent battery life and appears to be the perfect younger, affordable kin of BlackBerry Q10.
Spaced out keys
Nice battery life
Screen's aspect ratio odd to enjoy videos
Relatively hard keys
BlackBerry surprised many with the announcement to offer smartphones on two different versions of the BlackBerry mobile operating system. The company will continue to offer as well as support the BlackBerry 7 OS based devices. Meanwhile, we shall see more BlackBerry 10 OS devices and the most recent one being the mid-range BlackBerry Q5 with touchscreen display and four row Qwerty keyboard.
The BlackBerry Q5 follows the arrival of the BlackBerry Q10 and obviously points at the Q-series of BlackBerry 10 OS devices with Qwerty keyboard. Apart from the physical keys, BlackBerry has also added touchscreen display to let the user enjoy the new user experience of the BlackBerry 10 OS.
The BlackBerry Q5 is slotted bit higher than the usual Google Android and Windows Phone 8 operating system based smartphones. At the same time, the BlackBerry Q5 will be competing with loads of smartphones with either of the aforementioned operating systems on it.
BlackBerry Q10 is powerful device targeted at the professionals that seek productivity with the ease of typing. Now the BlackBerry Q5 is aimed at the new generation youth folks seeking decently powered device with most recent features. BlackBerry India provided a retail unit of the BlackBerry Q5 model number SQR100-3 with BlackBerry 10.1.0.2342 OS build pre-installed on it.
At the first instance, the BlackBerry Q5 body design appears quite similar to that of the BlackBerry Q10. The company does put in efforts to differentiate its top tier products from mid-tier ones on the physical appearance, design and materials used. For starts, the BlackBerry Q5 at 120 grams is about 20 grams lighter than premium finish bearing BlackBerry Q10 weighing 139 grams.
One of the visible differences is the keyboard layout the display treatment. The BlackBerry Q5 has the IPS LCD display with the BlackBerry logo just between the keyboard and the display. It carries more simplistic design with rounded corners and slimmer look giving profile. The Qwerty keyboard covers almost half the area than the screen and still has some plastic layer to space in its chin - for the operator branding in other countries.
BlackBerry is known to experiment with the Qwerty keyboard and same is visible in the Q5. This handset features slightly spaced out individual keys without the stainless steel fret-board lines. In the front side, the Qwerty keyboard is the only oppressed part of the phone and rest area is consistently flat. The individual keys from Q to Y have surface tilting towards left side and the keys Y to P have towards the right side. Such keyboard design has been implemented considering the constant typing needs of the users. However, the keys are bit hard compared to that on the Q10. Rapid typing with slight pressure ushers the tak-tak sound from the keyboard.
BlackBerry has placed the speaker is located at the bottom of the phone where the front side panel appears to be meeting the back panel. Most important difference between the Q10 and the Q5 is the back panel construction. The Q10 has a glass weave bearing back panel cover that gives access to the SIM slot, memory card slot and the battery. But the BlackBerry Q5 has a plastic back panel which can't be removed. Indeed, it has a non-removable battery.
The SIM card and the memory card slots are located at the up of the left side of the device and a flap is provided to protect those slots. BlackBerry has tried its best to accommodate the flap in the smooth curve of the side so that it does not pop open at slight brush. However, one is required to use nails to open the flap and correctly insert the memory card and a micro SIM. Here is where most will miss correct instructions to insert the SIM and memory card.
The power key is located on the top center, appearing in metallic with the silver coloured outlook. The volume control keys rest on the right side with the voice control activation key in between.
BlackBerry Q5 does have several changes in terms of physical design but certainly feels great to the hand for those have been using Nokia's Qwerty devices. The matte finish of the back with metallic BlackBerry logo gives decent grip to hand and makes it comfortable to hold. The BlackBerry Q5 has minimalistic like design which certainly does not make it appear downright cheap.
One of the major differences between the Q10 and Q5 is the display. The BlackBerry Q5 has a 3.1-inch IPLS LCD display panel supporting two finger touch. By default, this display supports the odd 720x720 native pixel resolution and thereby giving a 1:1 appearing aspect ratio. The display has been constructed to support decent viewing angles and big enough to enjoy the BlackBerry 10 OS interface.
BlackBerry Q5's display packs pixel density of 329 pixels per inch and thereby appears great for reading text in emails, chats, and social network updates. It is crisp enough to keep the icons from tearing off but certainly does not offer the best when it comes to brightness. However, it goes without saying that the screen has been adjust to be more of text friendly and provide readability.
BlackBerry has done no drastic compromise on the hardware unlike many other Android based smartphone makers. The company still believes in delivery same software experience on its range of devices with obvious exceptions of select features.
BlackBerry has packed a dual-core 1.2 GHz clocked Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 mobile processor in Q5, which is slightly under-clocked that the Z10 and Q10. However, BlackBerry has used 2 GB RAM even in the Q5 which makes us think that it will the basic denominator for RAM for the BlackBerry 10 OS.
The BlackBerry Q5 features the Adreno 225 graphics chip that makes the phone capable of running most recent games and fair level of graphics details. Unlike the BlackBerry Q10, the Q5 has only 8 GB of on-board storage space out of which some gigabytes are reserved for the system updates. Thankfully there is a memory card slot provided to add more storage. There is no dedicated camera or BlackBerry Messenger key.
BlackBerry has also added Near Field Communication Chip to make the phone connectable to several compatible accessories and services out there.
Operating System and Apps
BlackBerry has noted all the issues existing in the first version of the BlackBerry 10 OS and fixed them. The proof of which is the BlackBerry 10.1 OS loaded Q5. The gesture driven BlackBerry 10 OS will give a fresh user experience for the BlackBerry 7 OS users. It will take just about a day to get familiar with the Qwerty keyboard shortcuts and the touchscreen usage simultaneously.
Lock screen carries the clock along with the notifications on the right panels with small app favicons with numbers below it. On the bottom right corner is the camera shortcut which needs to be pressed for three seconds to launch the camera directly. That time delay beats us for we think a dedicated camera key would have been better. The three row and four columns of the app icons is neatly laid out to leave the room for the call icon in the left corner and camera icon on the right.
BlackBerry has tossed couple of names for the user interface experience such as Peek, Flow and Hub. These user experiences are aimed to deliver better multi-tasking on the BlackBerry 10 OS. The Peek is basically a simple gesture - swipe from bottom of the screen and hold will show you the Time on the top and new notifications for different messages/email on the left side in a bar. Peek is meant to take a quick peek at the notifications and then continue using the app or window.
The Flow allows seamless transitions between several open apps and the different parts of the OS with simple touch and gestures. Whatever app is currently being used, one can simply do a swipe gesture from bottom centre of the screen to take a peek at the existing notifications on the right side of the icon grid. A swipe gesture from left to right reveals the BlackBerry Hub - the unified inbox that collects email headers, SMS, BBM chat notifications and Social Network updates.
The bottom to the center swipe gesture on the screen minimises the running app and turns it into an "Active Frame" icon in a grid lay out. This Active Frame gives a snapshot of whatever is happening in that app and a small x button on the right corner of the frame to close it. Basically, it is the multi-tasking view of the BlackBerry 10 OS.
For those who find the Hub pretty cluttered with all kinds of updates, can simply tab on the BlackBerry logo bearing Hub icon at the bottom left corner. That will reveal the list from which user can choose to view one of the several items - Notifications, BBM, Text Messages, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and Calls. This list view also gives more clear access to the user for viewing only emails or BBM updates.
The Instant Action feature makes one use the keyboard the best way to cut down the steps for simple tasks such as making a call to a specific person or sending a text/email/BBM message. Users can simply start typing "call xyz" and universal search bar will automatically appear with the list of relevant contacts for you to choose the correct person. Similar input method is to be followed for composing email, sending SMS or even Twitter/Facebook update.
BlackBerry Messenger has been redefined to appeal and support video calling over WiFi and network as well. The BBM experience has been made smoother and richer along with the support for apps with BBM integration.
If you wish to bookmark a flagged email, link, screenshot, date, or any other thing with one single broad topic, then Remember is the app for you. It enables better management of information in different apps or format in a folder for easy access and better organization. The several pre-loaded apps are seriously helpful for the productive work while some can be easily downloaded - such as Skype. The Maps app is the total odd one out and is not as impressive as the other apps. Pre-loaded apps includes Calculator, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Foursquare, Adobe Reader, Nobex, TuneIn Radio, Newsstand, Maps, Calculator, Compass, Weather, File Manager, Box, and Docs To Go.
BlackBerry's native web browser has been a lot improved than the one offered on the BlackBerry 7 OS based devices but still does lag at times. It does not provide smooth experience as the rival mobile web browsers such as mobile Safari. Pages load quickly and also allow pinch-to-zoom for better reading experience. Not to forget that the browser also integrates sharing so that the particular page can be shared over the BBM and social networks easily.
The status bar on the top also hides the Shortcut tray that can be pulled down by the downward swipe from the top of the screen. It has the Rotation Lock, Bluetooth, WiFi, Alarm and Notifications options. Tapping on either these buttons enables or disables the respective options.
Contacts app pulls in the information including numbers from variety of sources - email accounts, BBM and social networks. However, one has to invest some time in joining the contact entries of same person. Once that effort has been put in, it pays off in the long run because each contact will reveal its full details along with all possible information available from that person including emails as well as social network updates.
Though most popular apps are available in the BlackBerry App World, not all would be happy with the lack of the most popular apps already available on Android and iOS platforms. Overall experience of the BlackBerry 10.1 OS is hiccup free and smooth but it does appear bit slow when compared to the BlackBerry Q10.
BlackBerry Q5 has a 5 megapixel camera at the back with LED flash and autofocus. This camera is technically capable of recording full 1080p HD videos at 30 frames per second. The secondary 2 megapixel camera in the front is quite useful for a BBM Video Calls or video chat over Skype in 720p HD format.
The lack of camera button will puzzle every first time user for capturing an image. Actually one is supposed to adjust the reticle for focusing and then capturing the image. The reticle can be dragged around to shift the focus area and the autofocussing is not as fast and responsive as many Android devices.
The camera app has options located the three vertical dot box. It further takes to the options - Shooting Mode, Scene mode, Flash and Aspect Ratio. The Shooting Mode offers Normal, Stabilization, Burst Mode and HDR. The Scene mode has Auto, Action, Whiteboard, Night and Beach or Snow. All these options can be used appropriately to get the best possible image output.
The Gallery app has been integrated with the Picture Editor that can be used to tweak certain aspects of the images such as the colour, brightness, saturation, contrast of the captured photo right on the device itself. Not only that, the user can also add filters such as Black and White, Lomo, Antique, Sepia and more. These image editing capabilities can make a normal looking image bit interesting to be shared over the social networks or BBM.
The BlackBerry Q5 offers great support for the variety of the audio-video formats. The smartphone supports lossless audio formats such as WAV, eAAC+ and FLAC natively and thereby keeps the audio files happy. The native music app lacks software equalizer. The music app is like the Google Music app - simply promoting the music service from the company. Even the video player also supports variety of video formats including the DivX and Xvid. However, it would be really cumbersome to watch normal videos and files with the odd aspect ratio bearing display and those black stripes in every video would bug anyone.
BlackBerry has not offered built-in Radio but there is an audio port is located on the top of the phone. That means you can load your favourite music. There is something called Story Maker that basically creates a mash-up of the videos and photos on the phone by adding effects, transitions and sound track to make it a cool video.
With the powerful hardware, we obviously expect to enjoy the apps and BBM for hours on the BlackBerry 10 OS. New Peek, Flow and multi-tasking features do take some toll on the battery life eventually.
BlackBerry has packed 2180 mAh battery in the Q5. Even with the fair usage involving couple of calls, texting, using BBM, listening to music, social networks and basic browsing, the large battery managed to push the run time to just about a day. Rest we blame on the network congestion.
The auto-brightness feature needs to be more responsive in order to conserve the battery usage. Only part we feel bad is that the battery is non-removable. It also charges up fast in just about two hours roughly. There were no issues with the call quality but it was not the best out here. The BlackBerry Q5 certainly has the edge when it comes to battery life over the high-end devices.
Let's get this one thing clear - the BlackBerry Q5 is a mid-range offering with decent battery and relatively better mobile operating system. The BlackBerry Q5 can be purchased for roughly around Rs 24,500 in India. The toughest part is that it competes with not only the new but also the last year's flagship Android devices - right from Galaxy S III to Nexus 4. In front of them, the BlackBerry Q5 does fall short in several areas.
Many would contest the comfort of BlackBerry Q5's keyboard as some love little spaced out keys instead of tightly packed ones. When compared against the Q10, this is certainly the more affordable and powerful BlackBerry smartphone one can move to from the mid-range curves. Provided the powerful hardware, it is certainly in for long run. Offered in Black, White and Red colours, the BlackBerry Q5 may not have that style quotient but certainly the shortcuts would make up for loads of things. One should never miss out on the battery life either.