If you’re a fan of the new BB10 operating system but not a fan of the price tags tied to the likes of the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10, then the new BlackBerry Q5 should be right up your alley.

BlackBerry Q5 review: Design & Screen

This handset uses the tried and tested hardware QWERTY layout that the brand became famous for in the first place. The front of the Q5 is dominated by a 3.1-inch 720x720 square LCD panel with a broad bezel to accommodate BB10’s gesture-based interface. The screen itself has great colour definition and contrast but as you’d expect, doesn’t lend itself well to the 16:9 aspect ratio typically used for video playback.

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The BlackBerry name separates the screen and all-important hardware QWERTY keyboard underneath, which features a split key design, more in line with BlackBerry’s previous Curve handsets as opposed to the gapless keyboard of the Bold and more recently, the Q10. Aside from the small rise of the keys, the front of the Q5 is completely flat; a sheer face that contrasts strongly against its heavily rounded back.

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The all-plastic body of the Q5 feels comfortable in the hand but is by no means svelte, and the smooth finish leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the more premium bodywork of previous mid-range BlackBerrys that employed soft touch and textured finishes.

BlackBerry Q5 review: Operating system & Performance

Just as the BlackBerry Q10 one-up’d the BlackBerry Z10 at launch, the Q5 too comes running the most recent iteration of BB10: version 10.1. This ensures that Q5 users will have access to the latest apps including the likes of Skype, with full support from the get-go.

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If you’re already a fan of BBOS 10 then you’ll be pleased to see the latest version of BBM with video and screen sharing support, apps like Story Maker to generate nice edits of content you’ve captured, social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn installed by default and a whole host of gestures and keyboard shortcuts integrated into Blackberry Flow.

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BlackBerry Hub is one of the slickest ways to aggregate information from accounts on the Q5. You can see an overview of incoming notifications across all accounts under the ‘Hub’ tab, but then filter individual feeds for things like text messages, BBM, email accounts, social networks and the dialler. What’s more, we’re fans of how access to BB Hub comes as part of the interface design, with a swipe up from the main homescreen allowing a peek at new notifications or a swipe to the right granting full access to the Hub.

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Specs wise the BlackBerry Q5 is a dialled down version of the Q10, with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor being the most notable change in hardware (rather than a 1.5GHz dual-core), however, through general use and multi-tasking, lag seldom appears to be a problem.

BlackBerry Q5 review: Camera - Stills and video

Imaging falls to a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing snapper which as we’ve already mentioned, is ideal for apps like BBM Video and Skype.

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In practice picture quality is a little hit and miss. Natural light offers usable colour balance and contrast values, whilst artificial and low light environments breed noise throughout an image, particularly in the darkest areas. Warmer colours, particularly reds, suffer from over-saturation, but it’s not all bad.

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With BlackBerry 10.1, the Q5 is one of only a handful of mid-rangers complete with HDR photography capabilities and in addition BlackBerry’s distinctive Time Shift feature is also available out-the-box. Just like the BlackBerry Q10, the Q5’s camera can shoot in 1:1, 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios.

Compared to stills, video can look a little de-saturated, but in truth offers a more balanced overall outcome, with options for both 720p HD and Full HD recording resolutions available. Whilst the 30fps is fairly consistent, stutters can crop up every now and then.

BlackBerry Q5 review: Multimedia & Storage

The lower level status of the Q5 means that the internal storage is limited to 8GB but thanks to a port on the right side of the phone, users can slot in a microSD card of up to 64GB to shoot the storage capabilities through the roof, surpassing even that of its beefier BBOS 10 siblings.

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The web browser doesn’t support Flash so video playback on sites like YouTube resort to alternative codecs, whilst local content like photos and videos can be accessed independently through their respective apps or in an aggregated view, solely from the Photos application. As we mentioned earlier, Story Maker also adds a little extra spice to the multimedia experience and provides yet another way to interact with your own content.

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Movie buffs won’t appreciate the 1:1 aspect ratio forcing standard videos into heavy letterboxing, however, a trip to BlackBerry World for apps or games should for the most part offer up a number of BBOS 10-friendly apps which scale nicely to the Q5’s unorthodox display.

BlackBerry Q5 review: Connections & Battery

BlackBerry has packed a ton of connectivity into the Q5, with 3G (HSPA+) and 4G (LTE) mobile data speed capabilities as well as WiFi with hotspot functionality, low energy Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, GPS and NFC. The Smart Tags app is also on hand to read QR codes and NFC tags and keep a record of them for easy access down the line; a great out-the-box feature that doesn’t appear on the majority of the competition. In fact the only absence is that of an HDMI-out, another by-product of the Q5’s standing in the pecking order.

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The battery story is a happy one, with the biggest cell of any BB10 device thus far in the form of a 2180mAh power pack. Considering the relatively thick waistline of the Q5, it’s a little disappointing that the battery is sealed away (read: non-removable), however the longevity it offers should see typical users through into the afternoon of a second day without too much trouble.

BlackBerry Q5 review: Conclusion

It’s a mixed report card from the BlackBerry Q5 with an under-developed design, awkward display and unbalanced camera, but at the same time the BB10 experience is undeniably good and there are some great elements that help it stand out against its rivals, not to mention that sweet, sweet near-two-day battery life.

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As far as powerful mid-rangers go, it’s up there with the likes of the Sony Xperia SP and Nokia Lumia 820 in terms of performance and functionality, however, with an asking price of nearly £350 these Android and Windows Phones might sit better with your wallet.

If you’re looking at the BlackBerry Q5 from a business perspective, it’s the most affordable BB10 handset to date and by a fair margin at that. So long as you don’t mind the lack of HDMI-out, the Q5 serves as a more accessible business device that doesn’t skimp on features and functions.