The Q5's 5-megapixel camera is one of the better shooters we've tested over the last few months. On a bright summer's day, images come out with very little noise, along with plenty of detail and strong colors. However, while wandering around on an overcast afternoon, we found the grey skies tended to wash out colors. The HDR mode is similarly so-so, with strong daylight shots coming out really well, though, as we mentioned, be advised how still you have to stand, as even the slightest movement creates ghosting. Meanwhile, shots taken in weaker light are probably destined for your desktop's trash bin.
On the video front, users have a choice of recording clips at 720p or 1080p with an additional stabilization mode. When using this latter mode, we found that every now and again, the video would kick in odd ways as it tried to compensate for a dropped frame. As you can see in our sample footage, it's very much a fair-weather camera, producing serviceable clips with strong sound, but only when conditions are in its favor. Compare the daylight tromp to the journey in the tube and you'll see it struggled to maintain focus and produced grainy, blurred footage when indoors.
We won't cover the same ground here as in our BlackBerry 10 review, but we can talk about what this OS is like to use on a daily basis. The handset is running version 10.1, same as was found on the Q10, which provided a number of minor tweaks including downloading email attachments, pin-to-pin messaging in BBM, pasting numbers into the dialer and HDR photography. Once you've gotten used to the gesture-based navigation system (up to return to the home screen, down for settings, left for your emails), getting around the device is pretty easy. In addition, thanks to its bigger bezel, it's actually easier to make the swipes compared to its comparatively cluttered bigger brother.
BlackBerry has also seen fit to add native Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and LinkedIn apps to the home screen, as well as Box.net, Dropbox and Adobe Reader support for power users. On the downside, there's no native YouTube app; just a shortcut to the browser. The only other big differentiation point between BB10 and other operating systems is the hub -- the company's one-stop shop for your email, Twitter and everything else. If we're honest, we didn't enjoy using the hub, primarily because we prefer having our social feeds and our emails not intertwined as one, but we're sure plenty of business users will disagree with us.
Performance and battery life
Like its bigger brothers, the Q5 comes with LTE bands 2, 4, 5 and 17 as well as HSPA+ and GSM/GPRS/EDGE, alongside its GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope and proximity sensors. Out here in the sticks, we weren't able to test the handset's LTE performance, but we found speeds were comparable to using other devices on Three UK's HSPA+ network. If you still use your phone to make calls, you'll find it adequate to the task, albeit with more distortion, clicks and compression than we're used to thanks to the coddling clarity of HD Voice.
Given that the Z10 and Q10 both suffered from slow boot-up times, we shouldn't be surprised to see an equally pedestrian situation here. The phone took one minute and 22 seconds to launch from cold and a further 30 seconds to completely shut down. Long story short is that you'll be turning this thing off well in advance of when the pilot asks you to shut off all electronic devices before takeoff, and you'll be the last one to receive calls when you disembark.
In our standard video rundown test, with the display set at 50 percent and WiFi on, the Q5 was able to last an impressive 12 hours and 34 minutes. We're big fans of gadgets with long battery lives, so this gets a big tick from us, even if we must attribute such longevity to the phone's undemanding 720 x 720 display. In the hands of a compulsive Twitter and email user like your humble narrator, we were able to abuse this handset for a full working day before resorting to a re-juice.
We guess there are three groups of people eyeing this as their next purchase. First up, if you're in the market for a BlackBerry 10 device, then you've got the choice of the Z10, the Q10 and... that's it. While there's a distinctly Z5-shaped hole in the company's product lineup, there's no way to tell if we'll see a low-end, full-size touchscreen coming out, or if it's just wishful thinking on our part. Naturally, we've reviewed both devices and the only meaningful difference between the two is if you prefer a physical keyboard or not.
On the other hand, QWERTY devotees looking for any handset might prefer to consider examples like Motorola's Droid 4 ($400), the Galaxy S Relay 4G ($300), NEC Terrain ($430) or, if money's tight, Nokia's Asha 210 ($80). Finally, if you're just looking for something priced in the sub-$500 range, you could snag an iPhone 4 ($450) or Galaxy S III ($430) for a similar price.
The BlackBerry Q5 isn't a bad handset, but it carries the weight of disappointment when you realize that it's not just a stripped-down Q10. Had it been, we'd probably be far more appreciative of the hardware, but as it stands we have two objections we simply can't get past. First things first, the price. We've labored this point already, but it's worth repeating that unless you specifically want a phone with a physical keyboard, for the same sort of money you can pick up a 2011 / 2012 flagship that'll pack more of a punch. Stick the Q5 beside a Galaxy S III and you can imagine who will come off the victor nine times out of 10.
Then there's the issue of the keyboard itself, which is terrible. Remember that having a physical keyboard and BlackBerry 10 at a mid-range price is the entire point of the Q5's existence, so why hobble it with a bad one? We have a sneaking belief that some executive, worried that using the company's premium keyboard would eat the Q10's lunch, insisted on resurrecting the island-style keys that plagued the Curve series. It's corporate cynicism of that caliber that means we're struggling to recommend the Q5 as your next smartphone.