When the newly formed BlackBerry, risen from the ashes of Research In Motion, released the Q10 last year, hardcore BlackBerry fanboys rejoiced. The Q10 was a solid phone, designed to replace the ageing Bold and let people continue to clatter away incessantly at their physical keyboards at all hours of the day and night.
That phone didn’t interest me much. BlackBerry will always have a market of hardcore users who’ll happily pay upwards of $600 (unlocked) for their sweet, QWERTY goodness.
But the recently-launched Q5 did grab my attention. Time was, all the cool kids had BlackBerrys. The new Q5 is supposed to help bring those customers back from their iPhones. Have BlackBerry managed to make a convincing mid-market phone?
BlackBerry Q5: prices start at $389 (unlocked) from Amazon.
At the risk of sounding like a Luddite who prefers mid-market handsets over the best in class models, let me say this. I think BlackBerry had more of a cultural impact, especially in its latter years, with the mid-range models. It wasn’t until the phones became cheaper (specifically the release of the Curve 8520 which could routinely be found for just over $100 without a contract in Europe) did the BlackBerry get interesting. These cheaper models flew off the shelves.
The BBM (BlackBerry Messaging) service, unique to BlackBerry phones coupled with cheap data and unlimited texting plans made this every teenagers dream phone. But unfortunately, they couldn’t innovate fast enough to keep up with Android and iPhones. The release of the mid-market Q5 with its retro-futuristic design and BlackBerry 10 software, complete with an App Store, is supposed to bring those wandering teenagers back home to the ‘Berry.
Can BlackBerry convince the youth to come back?
The short answer is no. At least not with this phone. Its just too expensive. The Q5 retails for $400 unlocked, which is only $100 less than the flagship Q10. Most people will be buying this phone for $100-199 on a two-year contract so you’re competing directly with flagship smartphones from Apple, HTC and Samsung. Phones with proven platforms and user bases.
The market has changed wildly since the glory days of the BlackBerry: BBM is no longer a big deal when we have platform-agnostic messaging services like Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp. BlackBerry have promised to make a BBM app for Android and iPhone but who wants to deal with finicky numbers when we can just as easily use our real numbers or Facebook details, for that matter.
Secondly, this just isn’t a good phone. Four hundred dollars should buy me something that doesn’t feel quite as plastic and tacky. It took me an hour to get this phone setup, between the excruciatingly slow setup process and software updates, it seemed like the processors just couldn’t keep up with me. I was questioning my choice of phone before I had even had a chance to actually use it for a day.
I really wanted to like this phone, I love the retro design and I love the idea of the BlackBerry 10 software, but in practice it falls way short. If the App Store was any way decent, the sluggishness was gone (perhaps via software updates?) and it were half the price, I would absolutely recommend this phone. But not now, not in its current state.