Reviews

BlackBerry Q5 Review: Can The Keyboard Warrior Make A Comeback?

BlackBerry is going through some tough times, struggling to make substantial profits in the wake of the onslaught in the mobile world from Apple and Google. Yet there's one battlefield that is still waiting to be won, a battlefield that BlackBerry can claim as its home ground: the Qwerty keyboard. For a long time, BlackBerry's claim to fame has been its amazing physical keyboards and the Q5 is eschewing the touchscreen wars for those who still like to type at blistering speeds with their two thumbs.

What Is It?
At Rs. 24,990, the BlackBerry Q5 is the cheapest phone to run the new BB10 operating system. BB10 is optimised for touch, so the Q5 does feature a 3.1-inch IPS touchscreen (720x720px, 328ppi), below which sits that familiar BlackBerry keyboard. It's powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 4 processor and 2GB RAM, and fitted with 8GB of internal memory, expandable up to 32GB via microSD. There's a 5-megapixel camera on the back with FullHD video recording, and a 2MP snapper on the front. All of this is juiced by a 2180mAh battery.



Who's It For?
It's not just about professionals any more. If you are someone who needs a smartphone with a modern OS and a physical Qwerty keyboard, the Q5 is perhaps your only choice.

Design
Much like an executive, the BlackBerry Q5 isn't about making you fall in love at first sight -- it's classy and subdued. People aren't going to be ooh-ing and aah-ing when you take it out of your pocket, but no one's going to think any lesser of you for using it.

The non-removable back cover restricts the user from swapping batteries -- something that many a BlackBerry user that I know are happy to do, especially those in the professional world. If your battery runs out, you will have to find the nearest charger, there are no two ways about it.



I can understand a non-removable back cover to give a sleek, unibody experience. But the Q5 doesn't do that. You still have that clear, demarcating line of where the back snaps on, made even uglier by the flimsy flap that conceals the microSIM and microSD card slots. What's the point of a unibody design if it's not adding to the looks? BlackBerry might as well have let users swap the battery in that case. Then again, it does have great battery life out of the box (see The Best Part).

Holding the Q5, you instantly feel a sense of reassurance that this phone can take the knocks and thumps of regular usage. But there's a huge, huge miss: the touchscreen doesn't have Gorilla Glass. When contacted, BlackBerry didn't clarify whether it has some sort of scratch-resistant surface or not. Dragging keys and other sharp objects across the screen didn't produce any scratches for me. There are reports online of people getting their screen cracked after a fall, but to be fair, that also happens with Gorilla Glass displays. While there's no sign of it being fragile, the fact that it doesn't have Gorilla Glass does leave that nagging apprehension at the back of your mind -- not something you want if you are paying 25K for a phone, right?



The screen isn't your only input device, of course, and most of your interaction will be with that physical keyboard. The keys aren't exactly like what you may have gotten used to with BlackBerry phones in the past. They are still angled, but they seem a bit flatter than before. Still, this is a minor issue and once you can easily overcome with a couple of weeks of practice.

I have always found the weight ratio of the phone to be extremely important when a handset has a physical Qwerty keyboard. Ideally, you should be able to rest the bottom half on your middle fingers, the top half on your index fingers and type with your thumbs, without the phone wobbling with each press or feeling like it's too top-heavy. The Q5's weight-balance is perfect.

Using It
Of course, the biggest question with the BlackBerry Q5 is whether the operating system matches up to the likes of other smart OSes like Android, iOS and Windows Phone. And it's a mixed bag.

There are some things that BB10 shines in. I love the gesture-based interface (there are no menu buttons, virtual or physical), where everything works by swiping inward from one side of the screen. For example, swipe upward from the bottom and you will see your notifications as well as currently running apps.



In regular usage, it's a fluid experience for the most part. Contacts work well and sync with popular services, texting and email is good, social networking is a breeze, and you can even work on documents easily.

But there are small things that irk me, such as email sync. If I get an email in my Gmail, it shows up on my tablet, my web inbox and my phone. So if I open that email on one device, it should mark it as "read" on all, right? Not so with the Q5, where it will stay a 'new mail' till you open it or manually mark it as read. The problem persists with Gtalk for IMs, Twitter notifications and more. It seems like a small thing, but it's not funny how many times I ended up opening the inbox on my phone because I thought there was a new mail, and it turning out that I had already checked it elsewhere.

And with a smart operating system, what you wish for most is a good app ecosystem. BB10, unfortunately, still doesn't have many of the popular apps that you would find on others, such as Instagram, Pocket, Words With Friends or Temple Run 2. There are other popular apps that are slowly showing up in the App World, but it doesn't inspire confidence towards the future. Will you get those apps eventually? Will a new app that is launched on other platforms make it to your phone quickly? Will you be missing out? These are not concerns that a smartphone costing Rs. 25,000 should ideally give you.



IMs and social networking, about half an hour of videos, an hour of music and some light gaming, the device lasted for 22 hours before needing to be recharged. By most standards, this will get you through a day easily without asking to be plugged into a power socket.
If maps are even slightly important to you, then stop looking at the BlackBerry

Q5 right now. BlackBerry has decided to go with its own mapping solution, BlackBerry Maps, which doesn't work in India. And by "doesn't work", I mean it literally -- there are no Maps in India at all. There's no official Google Maps in the App World either, although several paid apps offer to recreate the Google Maps experience. The only viable alternative is the Map My India app.



Test Notes
-The screen is sharp and bright, but cannot cope when you're out in direct sunlight. It also has a square orientation, which means most videos -- YouTube or otherwise -- have black bands around them. It's a poor viewing experience for videos and if you do a lot of that, this isn't the phone for you.
-The camera has an extremely fast shutter, which is great to take photos quickly by just whipping it out of your pocket and clicking. But the quality of the images leaves a lot to be desired. The colours aren't true and the images are noisy when in low-light environments. This also holds true in the videos, but the video stabilization is of great help when you zoom in while recording. All in all, it doesn't feel like a camera worthy of a Rs. 25,000 phone.
-This is a bit weird, but several apps and games on the App World are priced higher than what the developers charge for them on iOS and Android. For example, the popular game Cut The Rope retails at $1.99 on BB10, but costs $0.99 on iOS and Android.
-The call quality is decent and the antenna is good too, and it does a great job of cancelling background noise.
-The music quality of the phone is decent. Unless you are particular about how your songs should sound, you'll be fine with this.
-Playing games on that tiny screen is not a pleasurable experience. Games are meant to help you relax, but the on 3.1-inch square screen, I often tapped in the wrong place and the images appear too small to be fun.



Should I Buy It?
Here's the simple answer: There is no other smartphone with a Qwerty keyboard and a modern operating system, so your choice is pretty much restricted to BlackBerry Q5 and BlackBerry Q10. Is the Q10 worth twice the price of the Q5? Not at all. So if you are in the market for a modern smartphone with a physical Qwerty keyboard, the BlackBerry Q5 is the best your money can get.

But there are tradeoffs that you need to consider. The lack of apps, the poor camera and the dissatisfactory multimedia performance might be too high a price to pay.

BlackBerry Q5 Specs:
OS: BlackBerry 10
Network: microSIM GSM
CPU: 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 4
Screen: 3.1-inch 720x720 IPS LCD (328 ppi)
RAM: 2GB
Storage: 8GB internal, microSD up to 32GB
Camera: 5MP rear with FullHD video / 2MP front with HD video
Connectivity: 3G, Wi-Fi, EDGE, Bluetooth
Battery: 2180mAh Li-Ion
Dimensions: 120x66x10.8 mm
Weight: 120 gms
Price: Rs. 24,990
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