Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: JBL PlayUp speaker and the BlackBerry Q5

Is it pandering to have one of our Canadian writers play with every new BlackBerry? Perhaps -- not that we could've stopped him anyway. In this week's issue, we have Mr. Jon Fingas sharing his thoughts on the Q5 and its physical keyboard, while Philip splurges on JBL speakers to match his new Lumia 1020.

JBL PlayUp speaker

IRL JBL PlayUp speaker and the BlackBerry Q5

I can't be the only one who follows up a significant purchase with a bit of accessorizing. And so it was with my recent acquisition of a banana yellow Lumia 1020; shortly after that purchase, I caught wind of a discount on JBL's Nokia-branded PlayUp speakers (normally around $150) and decided to take one for a spin.

Despite the Nokia branding on the front and the Lumia-themed colors, JBL's PlayUp worked with every Bluetooth-equipped audio source I tried (Lumia 1020, Nexus 4, iPad mini, MacBook Air). My NFC-toting Lumia had little trouble connecting with the PlayUp once I found exactly where on my phone to tap. (Pro tip: practice this before you try wowing loved ones with your NFC magic.) Beyond that, a removable bottom panel houses an audio cable to use with the PlayUp's 3.5mm jack. A replaceable, rechargeable battery also hides behind that panel and powers the speaker for a claimed 10 hours.

The unit itself is shaped a bit like the bottom half of a 2-liter bottle of Coke, with a large speaker grille covering the top. Sadly, my particular unit arrived with a small dent in said grille, but the device appeared otherwise unmarred. Peer into that large grille and you'll spot a trio of upward-facing drivers, providing what JBL bills as "room-filling, 360-degree sound."

As it turns out, JBL's claims aren't far off the mark. Even short of full blast, the PlayUp capably produced room-filling, though not quite room-shaking sound. It had no trouble supplying audio to every corner of the largest rooms in our house and kept up outdoors as well. A bass port on the side helped keep lower tones from becoming a muddled mess, but the PlayUp obviously can't compete with a dedicated subwoofer. That said, this little speaker handled everything from the Pacific Rim soundtrack to Daft Punk to Metallica's notoriously compressed Death Magnetic. Unfortunately, the PlayUp lacks the nifty pairing option seen on the earlier Play 360 speakers, which enabled two devices to connect for stereo sound. Oh, and that "10-hour" claim? Spot on, so far. After just over 10 hours of elapsed playback, a little light began flashing to warn me the party would soon be over. After a quick recharge with the supplied micro-USB / power adapter, I'm ready to rock some more.

-- Philip Palermo

BlackBerry Q5 on Telus

IRL JBL PlayUp speaker and the BlackBerry Q5One of the knocks against the BlackBerry Q5 has been its relatively high off-contract price -- a big obstacle in countries where prepaid service is common. However, it's now on sale at larger Canadian carriers for an easier-to-swallow price of $50 with a two-year contract. With that in mind, I've been trying the Q5 on Telus to see whether I can recommend the mid-range QWERTY phone when it's discounted through a steep subsidy.

In some ways, I've enjoyed using it. Although my colleague Dan ragged on the Q5 keyboard's low quality, I don't mind it; to me, the keys have that same reassuringly clicky feel as better Curve models of years past. We're in agreement regarding the above-average battery life, at least. Where I couldn't even get through an afternoon with the Q10 when it launched, the Q5 really can last all day with moderate use on Telus' LTE network. Friends with Q10s say that the battery life gap has narrowed through software updates, but I'd be tempted to pick the Q5 over the Q10 just because I know it would still carry a charge by the evening.

With that said, it's clear that the Q5 is a lower-end device. It's chunky, and it isn't quite as reassuring to grip as the Q10. The 5-megapixel camera performs well enough in bright light, but it's otherwise nothing to write home about. And while the 3.1-inch AMOLED screen is vibrant, its size and square aspect ratio are frustrating for those who love movies and social networking. For that reason, I'd rather have the Z10 -- it gives app content the room it needs to breathe, and BlackBerry's touchscreen keyboard is good enough that I don't miss hardware keys at all.

In isolation, the Q5 feels worth the $50 contract price. However, it's a much tougher sell when you see what else is on offer. As of this writing, bigger Canadian carriers are selling the more capable Z10 for that same $50. On Telus, you can buy a Nexus 4 or Galaxy S III for less; hop over to Bell and you can pick up the Q10 for $80. Fans of hardware keyboards will still want to give the Q5 a close look, but it really ought to be free on contract given its competition.

-- Jon Fingas

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