BlackBerry Live: BlackBerry Q5 Hands-On Preview

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BlackBerry Q10 FrontAt this year’s BlackBerry Live keynote, CEO Thorsten Heins surprised attendees with the announcement of a new BlackBerry 10 device: the QWERTY-equipped Q5. Better yet, he revealed that it would be available to try out on the show floor, so we made sure to spend some quality time with the newly-revealed handset. And while it may offer a relatively similar experience as the company’s other QWERTY-based BlackBerry 10 device, the Q10, that’s nothing to be ashamed of given that the Q5 is intended to be an entry-level smartphone.

The Q5 will be targeting emerging markets and will be released at a more affordable price point than the Q10. But the specs of the Q5 aren’t that much more modest than those of its big brother, though one could argue that this is due to the fact that the Q10 isn’t that impressively-specced in the first place. At 3.1 inches, for instance, the Q5 sports the same size display, and it has the same 720 x 720 resolution. It is, however, an LCD display, unlike the Q10’s OLED screen.

Other slightly lower specs include a 1.2 GHz, dual-core processor (compared to a 1.5 GHz chip), a 5-megapixel camera instead of an 8 megapixel shooter, and 8 GB of storage instead of 16 GB. The battery capacity of the Q5 is the same at 2,100 mAh, but the key difference is that it’s non-removable. All of these cutbacks amount to a phone that is significantly more affordable, though no price point has been announced yet for the Q5.

BlackBerry Q10 Left SideThe Q5 feels significantly cheaper in the hand than the Q10 — due mostly to its all-plastic build, as opposed to the Q10, which mixes in some metal parts — and the keys don’t have the same “soft touch” coating. That’s probably the biggest knock against the Q5: it lacks the same quality feel as the Q10. It just doesn’t feel as nice in your hand.

But opting for the Q5 is otherwise not that much of a sacrifice to make. In some ways, it’s even better; the keyboard on the Q5 is what the BlackBerry reps referred to as the “classic keyboard,” featuring spaces between the keys (unlike the Q10, the keys of which are right next to one another). We found that it makes typing much more comfortable and we made far fewer typos with the extra real estate.

Much like the Q10, navigation on the Q5 is fantastic thanks to the ideal synthesis of a touchscreen and a full QWERTY keyboard. There’s more than enough space on the 3.1-inch display to use the efficient, gesture-based navigational features of BlackBerry 10, and users can easily shift to typing on the physical keyboard, the accuracy and comfort of which virtual keyboards will never compare.

BlackBerry Q10 BackIt is true that the Q5 isn’t as cramped because it’s bigger than the Q10, but only marginally so. There’s a little extra space past the edges of the keyboard, and the phone is a little longer, but one would be hard-pressed to find differences in the footprints of the two phones. The greatest dimensional difference is the thickness, but even that is negligible; the Q5 is 10.8 mm compared to the Q10’s 10.41 mm thickness.

And the build is beyond simplistic, with a power/standby switch and a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the top edge, the volume/media button rocker on the right side, and a covered port for hot-swappable micro SIM and microSD cards (for expanding the memory up to 32 GB) on the left side.

The Q5 will be released on global and emerging carriers this summer in both LTE and HSPA+ varieties (in another cost-cutting measure, the HSPA+ version will be devoid of NFC connectivity) in black, white, red, and pink. The bad news, however, is that BlackBerry currently has no intention of bringing the Q5 to the US or Canada. That’s a bit of a shame, because there’s a good chance that there are stateside customers who wouldn’t mind getting their hands on an affordable QWERTY smartphone that offers some pretty respectable bang for their buck.

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