On the higher-end Q10, the keys are fairly flat and close together, with rows separated by smooth metal frets. The Q5 does away with those frets and significantly expands the space between keys. The individual keys are far less flat on the Q5, standing out like tiny pebbles, and no two touch. This makes for a pleasant typing experience if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have very precise thumbs, because you can now smash your finger in the general direction of the key you’re looking for, and you’re probably going to hit it. I was a big fan of the Q10 keyboard, but I actually found myself typing faster on the Q5.
But there is a pretty big catch. The Q5 keyboard – and, indeed, the Q5 itself – feels much, much cheaper. Whereas the Q10 keys are sturdy, the ones on the Q5 feel like they were glued on. Even though I was able to type faster on the cheaper phone, I kept worrying that my fingernail would inadvertently dig under one of the keys and send it flying, or that the caps lock key would start sticking and all my friends would think I was yelling at them.
This is, ultimately, the Q5’s biggest problem – the build quality is pretty awful. To be fair, BlackBerry had to find cost savings somewhere in order to produce a version of the Q10 that costs some $250 less. But the difference is noticeable.
Take, for example, the slot on the side of the phone that holds the SIM card and SD memory card. The slot has a little plastic cover that’s held in place with two rubbery joints that feel like they’re going to give way at the slightest provocation. I’ll be very surprised if this cover doesn’t break off a significant number of Q5s within the first few months of use.
Also, it is annoying that you can’t remove the Q5’s plastic back cover (without committing some serious violence against the device, anyway). If the battery dies on you or you need to get at the phone’s guts for some other reason, it’s not going to be easy.
But if you can get over the general flimsiness of the phone, you’ll find that in many areas, the Q5 and the Q10 don’t really differ that much – at least not enough to justify paying more money for the higher-end device.
The operating system on both phones is basically the same. It’s the latest version of BlackBerry 10, which features all the hallmarks you’ve probably already heard about, such as Hub and universal search (I covered most of these features in my reviews of the touchscreen Z10 and the Q10). There are some minor differences – for example, the Q5 operating system appears to have a brighter colour scheme than the Q10, which went all dark and brooding by default to conserve battery power. But it’s unlikely that most people will even notice this kind of stuff. For all intents and purposes, the software is the same.
Battery power on the Q5, by the way, is kind of amazing. It ran for about two days straight when I was using it, and lasted another three when I left it at my desk before finally giving out. This is probably due to the less pixel-dense screen and weaker processor on the Q5, compared with the Q10, but it is still impressive.
The Q5’s processor, at 1.2 gigahertz, is slightly less powerful than the Q10’s 1.5-gigahertz processor. But in reality, I couldn’t tell much difference between the two when it came to most common tasks, such as e-mail, web browsing and media. At times, the browsing did feel more crisp and responsive on the Q10, but again, not 250 bucks more crisp.
Both phones feature a two-megapixel front-facing camera. The Q5 comes with a five-megapixel rear camera, compared with the Q10’s eight-megapixel one. I’m not entirely sure what the Q10 does with those three extra megapixels, because a lot of the photos, especially in low light, looked pretty similar on both devices. What differentiates the BlackBerry camera experience these days is the set of filters the phones let you apply, such as sepia, grainy and “Sixties” – these were included in part to make up for the fact that you still can’t get Instagram on BlackBerrys. Regardless, the filters are software features, and so are available on both the Q5 and the Q10.
Of course, any discussion of BlackBerry software leads to the now-mandatory warning about the sorry state of the platform’s app store. Once again, to put it simply, if you’re the kind of person who uses a smartphone primarily to run apps, you probably shouldn’t be buying any kind of BlackBerry. Supporters of the company and its hardware can argue all they want about how BlackBerry 10 had more apps available at launch than any other platform, but that’s only a valid argument if the devices were competing against a 2007 iPhone. There’s also little merit to the notion that apps will soon be obsolete because everyone will design everything in HTML5 and we’ll access it all in the phone’s browser. Increasingly, the app-related PR e-mails I get these days mention that the software is available for iPhone and Android, and don’t bother mentioning BlackBerry at all.