The manufacturer responds to diehard fans’ muscle memory and wallets with a new QWERTY device that is less expensive than recent offerings – but the handset’s faults expose the company’s flawed strategy
These are tough times for BlackBerry. Earlier this year, the Canadian company went all out on its new smartphone operating system, BlackBerry 10, ditching its original name (Research In Motion) and shifting its focus from the physical QWERTY keyboards that made its name in the mid-2000s, and instead launching with its full-touchscreen Z10 phone, which failed to impress.
It soon followed up with a more traditional form factor, the Bold-inspired Q10, but six months into the company’s planned comeback, both high-end models have made no visible dent in the Android–iOS duopoly.
As of its most recent quarterly earnings, the company is still selling more of its older BlackBerry OS phones around the world – and when they run out-of-date software and cost much less, that’s a bad sign for its bottom line.
Enter the BlackBerry Q5. It is a plastic-wrapped, lower-priced BlackBerry 10 handset with the same tricks as its siblings, but at £320 SIM-free or free on contracts from around £21 per month, it’s somewhat more affordable. Can that price tag overcome BlackBerry 10’s dire lack of apps?
The Curve is back
BlackBerry once split its phones under two brands – the cheaper Curve line, with its isolated, hard keys, and the pricier Bold line, with a soft rubber keyboard and executive aspirations.
Though the manufacturer has dropped the names with the launch of BlackBerry 10, it’s clear that the spirit of both lives on – the Bold survives as the Q10, while the more mass-market Curve becomes the Q5.
That means you get a similar plastic shell, even if BlackBerry is now colour-blocking in favour of the drab two-tone grey and black it used to run with – our vivid red unit was nicely shaded, if quite creaky with an obvious division where the two faces connect. The Q5 seems narrower somehow and more manageable, even if at 10.8mm deep, it’s really not that thin.
It must be down to the solid keyboard, which remains as reliable as ever – the individual keys click down with just the right amount of give. While touchscreen keyboards have made massive advances in recent years – SwiftKey’s predictive software even powers the touchscreen keyboard on the BlackBerry Z10 – we’ve no doubt there is a group of diehard BlackBerry fans out there unwilling to put aside all that muscle memory, and they’ll appreciate this throwback to yesteryear’s mobile tech.
One significant change that BlackBerry has made to the keyboard is its shape. To maximise the screen space above, BlackBerry has completely straightened the rows. Veterans will find this looks more than a little strange at first, but truth be told it makes little to no difference. We found we could type just as quickly as we always could.
The display, however, is a big leap forwards. The 720 x 720-pixel, 3.1-inch LCD touchscreen is far bigger than that found on any previous Curve phone with a QWERTY keyboard – and much sharper too. Its crisp pixel density makes reading long emails and browsing the web easy on the eye, even if colour reproduction doesn’t quite match the vivid AMOLED display of the Q10 – do be aware that its square aspect ratio does not lend itself to watching videos, however.
All in all, it’s hard to get too excited about the hardware on offer – certainly, companies such as HTC and Nokia provide much better build quality for the same price – but the BlackBerry Q5 gets the job done, and that might be all you need to hear.
Full article in Mobile News issue 545 (August 12, 2013).
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