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A BlackBerry Q5 on display at the company's Annual and Special Meeting, in Waterloo, Ontario, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Geoff Robins/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A BlackBerry Q5 on display at the company's Annual and Special Meeting, in Waterloo, Ontario, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Geoff Robins/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Review: No, the BlackBerry Q5 won’t save the company Add to ...

Jessie’s Girl (the computer, not the song, or the girl) is seven years old and dying. Even the slightest effort leaves her wheezing, her overworked fan suffocating on dust. Often she falls asleep for no reason and every time she does there’s a good chance she won’t wake up.

This is a review of BlackBerry’s latest smartphone, by the way. Stay with me.

I forget why I decided to name my computer after Rick Springfield’s 1981 ode to being a terrible friend. Perhaps the song was playing on the radio when my buddy Wesley and I (mostly Wesley) built her on the floor of my old apartment, ordering all her organs separately and then Frankensteining them together. At the time, she was state-of-the-art. Today, she can’t do half the things my phone does.

And yet I have never given much thought to buying a new desktop, in large part because the vast majority of my computer use these days consists of typing, surfing the web and a couple of other things I won’t detail here for reasons of morality and copyright law. None of this requires anything more than a low-end machine.

There was a time when I thought about computers the same way characters in the Fast and the Furious movies thought about cars. Today, I belong to that unexciting demographic that has no interest in frequently upgrading or paying lots of money for electronics – if it can do the basics, I’m happy with it.

All of this is to say it may not be a terribly good omen for BlackBerry that I kind of like the Q5. BlackBerry’s new mid-tier phone, released in June overseas and available in Canada as of today, is a no-frills version of the keyboard-equipped Q10. I like it because it’s adequate, does everything it’s supposed to do and, unless the less-than-stellar build quality causes it to fall apart or BlackBerry ceases to exist as a company, I probably won’t have to replace it any time soon.

The problem is, I’m not sure what BlackBerry’s strategy is with the Q5. It is at once a much flimsier device than the Q10, but also similar enough that a lot of average consumers won’t see much of a difference, which could hurt sales of BlackBerry’s higher-end phone.

At the same time, the Q5 isn’t cheap. All indications are it will run you somewhere between $400 and $450 without a contract – that’s in the same ballpark as an iPhone 4S or Google’s Nexus 4. And as much as I like physical-keyboard BlackBerrys better than both those phones (and pretty much every other phone), that’s because I use my phone to write stories on the road, which isn’t something most people do. Any comparison of those devices has to take into consideration things like the woeful discrepancy between the apps available for BlackBerrys and those on the Apple and Google platforms.

Generally, there are two reasons I can’t recommend the Q5 outright. The first is price – I’m just not convinced a lot of people are going to be willing to spend $400 on this thing when they can get an HTC WhatzIt or an LG Random-Numbers-And-Letters for hundreds of dollars less.

The second reason has less to do with the phone itself, and more to do with BlackBerry as a company. Variations of this reason seem to pop up in every BlackBerry review I write, and this one is no exception. It’s a company-wide problem and I’m not sure it’s fixable.

Visually, the Q5 resembles its big brother in most respects. The front and back-facing cameras are located on top, and the speaker on the bottom lip. Because the BlackBerry logo runs along bottom of the Q5 screen but along the top of the Q10, the screen sizes look slightly different, but in reality almost all the phones’ dimensions are pretty much the same.

Now for the traditional running of the specs: the Q5 comes with a 3.1-inch LCD display, 2 gigabytes of RAM and 8 gigabytes of memory (expandable to 32 with an SD card). The operating system is the latest version of BlackBerry 10, which is the same one you’ll find on the company’s high-end phones. The Q5 runs on a 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor. Aside from the usual specs, the Q5’s central gimmick is colour – as in, you can get the phone in a variety of colours.

Where the Q5 differs most significantly from the Q10 is in the design of the physical keyboard. Most reviews of the Q5 I’ve read had generally negative things to say about the phone’s keyboard, compared with the one on its higher-priced sibling. Personally, however, I loved it – with one important caveat.

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