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Review: BlackBerry Q5

Need a phone with a qwerty keypad but don’t want to spend the earth? David Phelan reviews BlackBerry’s new Q5

When the BlackBerry Q10 launched earlier this year it signalled something of a change in the phone maker’s perception, if not yet its fortunes. Here was a handset that was superbly usable, had the best physical keyboard yet on a mobile phone and managed to be cool – something BlackBerry had lacked for quite a while.

But it was premium-priced and it was aimed directly at BlackBerry’s core audience, the business-oriented power user. So what about that other important group, the teenagers and students who took to Blackberry handsets in their droves half a dozen years ago? These were the customers who found BBM, the unlimited and therefore effectively free instant messaging service that only works between BlackBerry phones, irresistible. And when one student bought one, they all did. Some even learned to touch-type on the physical keys under their desks – something impossible on touchscreen keyboards.

The answer is the new, more affordable Q5. With marketing that pushes the phone’s camera more than its rigorous security features, it’s aimed at bringing back some of those kids who defected to the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy series phones, and used WhatsApp. This is an app that offers instant messaging as well, but is platform-agnostic so you can be on an Android phone and your friend on the iPhone 5.

The keys on the Q5 aren’t quite as wonderful as on the Q10, though the physical travel is still much better than a touchscreen and they’re well-spaced which makes typing faster.

Things look as good as on the Q10 – the screen is identical, a square 3.1 inch display that’s high-resolution and pin-sharp. Better than you might expect at the price. Some apps are still a little unusual on the square screen but it mostly works well. And there’s the new BB10 operating system which is radically different from most rivals, but enjoyable to use when it becomes familiar.

The App World store is growing at an astonishing speed – over 120,000 apps and still under six months old. But there are still big omissions. See, 120,000 should be more than enough for anyone, right? Right, unless it still lacks some of the big names like National Rail, for instance. But it is growing and the excellent British Airways app is now on board.

This phone has a sealed battery, the first time on a BlackBerry, which means space for more juice and less battery casing, but you can’t swap batteries if you run low.

The five-megapixel camera’s main claim to attention is the TimeShift feature which takes multiple shots and lets you combine elements from each to create the best result – so if one person’s smiling in the first shot and the other’s blinking in all but the third, you can pick the faces from each. It is available on other phones as well now, most notably Nokia’s, but it’s very nicely implemented here.

Will it be enough to bring back the kids from Android or iPhone? Perhaps not as fast as BlackBerry would like. But this is a well-built, effective phone that’s fast and affordable.

Available from free with contract, Vodafone.co.uk