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BQ Aquaris X5 hands-on review

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WE’RE SURE THAT the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation will forgive us for saying that the country isn’t particularly renowned for its smart devices.

BQ, hailing from Madrid, is looking to change that. A leading maker of e-readers, smartphones, tablets and robotics in its home country, BQ is making a big play for the UK market with the upcoming Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition tablet and a crowd-pleasing Android device: the Aquaris X5.

Design
Unlike the rest of BQ’s largely plastic smartphone output, the Aquaris X5 aims for style points with an anodised aluminium frame and a matte polycarbonate backplate. It does look good, especially with the slimline dimensions of 71x144x7.5mm, although we’re more impressed by the feel. It’s an unusual, but thoroughly pleasant, mix of textures that provides plenty of grip.

It’s light, too, at 148g, a little less than the ultra-slim Samsung Galaxy A5. This allows it to rest easily in the hand even with the lack of other typical ergonomic features like a curved back or tapered edges.

BQ Aquaris X5 hands-on

As for ports, there’s a standard microUSB connector and a single dual-purpose card tray that holds the nano SIM and a microSD card. This is a very by-the-numbers device in physical connectivity, then, but that’s pretty much what we’d expect for the price.

That said, BQ has made a few interesting additions to the design. The bodywork – not just the screen – has received anti-fingerprint treatment to prevent the build up of any oil-induced marks and smudges, and the whole thing is UV resistant, so the frame and backplate won’t be discoloured over time by exposure to the sun.

Another nice little feature is the notification LED, which be configured to shine in different colours depending on whether the received notification comes from an email, missed call or social media.

Display
The BQ Aquaris X5’s screen is 5in diagonally and is constructed from Dragontail glass, a cheaper, slightly less scratch-proof alternative to Gorilla Glass.

The 1280×720 resolution might not be the best around, but it seems adequate for general use; at 294ppi, we had to look closely and squint before we could make out individual pixels. A more pressing issue is the low default brightness, which made whites, in particular, a lot duller than they could have been.

BQ Aquaris X5 hands-on apps

That said, it’s still a colourful display overall, with a fine mix of cool blues, vibrant yellows and intense reds. The anti-fingerprint coating is also effective enough that these hues won’t be obscured behind ugly smudges.

Operating system and software
We’re still waiting for a true budget Android 6.0 Lollipop device, as the BQ Aquaris X5 runs Android 5.1. However, unlike most smartphones, this comes in a choice of flavours: unskinned or modified with CyanogenOS 12.1.

The latter is likely to delay future Android updates even further, but credit is due to the customisation options, which extend to allowing no aesthetic customisations at all. This effectively maintains the basic look and UI of Android 5.1, while keeping CyanogenOS’ added features.

Some of these are, in fact, genuinely useful. We particularly appreciated PIN Scramble, which randomises the PIN entry layout to confound anyone who tries to peek at thumb movements, as well as Truecaller. This uses a database of phone numbers to warn the user that a call from an unknown but spam-associated number can be safely ignored. Conversely, it can also assure the user that an unsaved number belongs to a legitimate owner, such as a food delivery service.

It’s also worth noting that, even on the unskinned Android option, BQ has pre-installed a few apps like BQ Plus, which manages the firm’s warranty and replacement service, and a Dolby app for changing sound settings. They’re not hugely bloating, but this still isn’t quite an absolutely clean Nexus-style Android installation.

Performance
Inside the BQ Aquaris X5 is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 412 chip, the 1.4GHz quad-core successor to the Snapdragon 410 that powered last year’s Motorola Moto G and the Wileyfox Swift.

BQ Aquaris X5 hands-on benchmark

It’s a lower-end processor, to be sure, but along with 2GB it scored a decent 1,212,4ms in the Sunspider benchmark, putting it on par with the Moto G and even the mid-range ZTE Axon Mini Premium Edition. Scrolling through an image-heavy webpage also felt slightly smoother than it normally does on cheap handsets, and apps like YouTube and Gmail open reasonably quickly.

We’ll put the BQ Aquaris X5 though the full benchmarking regime in our upcoming review, but its real test will be whether it can maintain its responsiveness over time. We tried out a model only as it would come out of the box, not after a while spent loading it with apps and files.

Cameras
The room in which we tested the BQ Aquaris X5’s 13MP rear and 5MP front cameras wasn’t particularly well lit, so it was impressive that the former managed the highly accurate colour reproduction that it did. That said, detailing wasn’t particularly high and fuzzy edges abound. Both cameras can capture 1080p video – another nifty inclusion for a sub-£200 device – but in practice, footage appears dark and slightly too blurry for our taste.

BQ Aquaris X5 hands-on rear

The front camera, meanwhile, was capable of some surprisingly vivid colours, but not always the ones we wanted. Sometimes the image would look fine, at other times it would gain a strange turquoise tint throughout. More positively, videos look smooth and stills are adequately sharp, although photos are prone to a little visual noise.

Another welcome software addition is BQ’s camera app, which is considerably better equipped than the stock Android offering with its time lapse, slow motion and panorama modes.

Battery and storage
BQ hasn’t given any estimates on how long the 2,900mAh lithium-polymer battery will last, but perhaps that’s no bad thing considering the habit of manufacturers to advertise extremely optimistic media playback and mixed use times. Again, we’ll look at this in our full review, but we will say that 2,900mAh is no small cell for a 5in smartphone.

Internal storage options are 16GB and 32GB, the larger option costing £20 more. That might turn out to be a pretty sound investment, as the 16GB model’s usable space seems limited to 11.8GB on CyanogenOS models and 12GB on Android 5.1 models.

All varieties do support microSD, which is more than we can say for certain top-end handsets, although the 32GB card size limit is relatively low. We usually see such limits at 128GB or 200GB.

First impressions
We suspect that it will take more than UV resistance and CyanogenOS for the Aquaris X5 to take the UK by storm, but at the very least BQ seems to have ticked all the boxes for a mass-appeal smartphone: decent specs, sharp design and an affordable price.

We’ll soon have a better idea how the handset will cope with regular day-to-day use, so be sure to check back for our full review. µ

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