Why is this handset a big deal? Because BlackBerry’s revival rested on its all-new BB 10 software – but the only two BB 10 handsets that have been launched so far have been priced too high to make a difference to markets such as India. The Z10 came in at Rs 43k, and the keyboard-equipped Q10, at a staggering Rs 45k price that was universally criticized. So while much of the world didn’t get very excited about the Q5, India’s mobile market has been very curious about it.
The Q5 is a much cheaper Q10. At just over half the price, it gives you almost a Q10-like experience: the same software, in a cheaper package. Where the Q10 felt premium and heavy, with aluminium touches, the all-plastic Q5 is lighter, but feels sturdy – and is in fact easier to hold than the Q10.
In deference to its much lower price, BlackBerry worked hard at distinguishing the Q5, starting with the keypad. It borrows the old Curve model’s smaller but more-spaced-out keypad, making the Q5 look older than the Q10. Unlike other reviewers, though, I find I’m typing faster on the Q5′s keypad.
The Q5′s touch-screen has the same 3.1″ square size and 720×720 pixel resolution as the Q10′s, but uses LCD (instead of the Q10′s more modern AMOLED), making it whiter if mildly less capable in bright sunlight. Yet I found the Q5 touchscreen easier to use, for there’s more space under the screen, making it easier to swipe up – an action you use often, to get out of an app.
So the two are well matched. The Q5 is slightly slower, but doesn’t feel sluggish. Both use dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processors and 2 GB of memory, but the Q5 runs at 1.2 GHz against the Q10′s 1.5 GHz. However, I didn’t really load it with apps (there aren’t that many BlackBerry 10 apps yet, anyway). Web browser performance on both handsets is terrible.
My one real disappointment with the Q5 is the 5 Mp (megapixel) camera, down from the Q10′s 8 Mp. The resolution doesn’t really matter, but the Q5 clearly has a cheaper sensor. Outdoor daylight shots are okay, but indoor or low-light shots are mediocre, noisy. There’s poor comparison with, say, the HTC One’s brilliant 4 Mp sensor, or even the old Phone 4′s 5 Mp sensor.
My other disappointment is common to both Q5 and Q10 – the overwhelming touch metaphor. You can’t even make or end a call, or speed-dial, without using the touch screen – which makes it a pain to call or answer when driving. The old “call end” button was a great way to exit apps, but now it’s all touch. There’s no “BlackBerry” key either, to give you quick, context-sensitive menu options on everything – for instance to quickly forward an SMS as an email.
Overall, though, the BlackBerry Q5 is very capable, and, compared to the Q10, very good value. It matches the Q10 on many counts, and if you can live with sacrificing the Q10′s cooler look and feel, is the handset to buy. If you want to buy a BlackBerry! And therein lies the rub. There aren’t all that many BlackBerry loyalists. The Q5 isn’t sexy enough to make users switch from Android or iPhone. It isn’t cheap enough to get low-end-BB users to upgrade from their older Curve.
So we’re back to the price. A Rs 25k price still doesn’t give BlackBerry a market-saver in India. It desperately needs phones in the Rs 10-15k price range. Yes, there are those old BB 7 handsets, but they are, well, old.
Still, the Q5 is good value, and all the more so because BB 10 no longer requires you to pay for BlackBerry service. You just need a 3G plan. This isn’t great for the company – BlackBerry loses some of its service revenue – but it’s nice for the user. For now, this is the handset I’m going to be using.
(Prasanto K. Roy (@prasanto) is a technology analyst and writer)
Photographs: Harshita Rastogi