Most people don’t know the name BQ, and I wouldn’t blame them for not knowing. But BQ themselves are trying to change that this year, and one of the way they are doing that is offering premium designs at lower prices with interesting software. That is where this comes in, the BQ Aquaris X5, but not just the BQ Aquaris X5, we have, the Cyanogen Edition.
Disclosure: BQ Have supplied us with an BQ Aquaris X5 C.E review unit for a month to use as a daily device. Although the device was supplied free of charge, BQ have no editorial control over the content we put out. Our X5 C.E was tested on the Three network in the southeast of the UK, and we were on CyanogenOS Version 12.1-YOG4PAS5UI.
One of the fleet BQ are storing into the UK with is the BQ Aquaris X5, and they have inked a deal to have the CyanogenOS totting version being sold on O2 as a carrier exclusive, though you can also buy it through their site. There are other members of the Aquaris line, going from the entry level M4.5 all the way to the top of the line M5.5, there are options running Android (both BQs software and CyanogenOS) and even Ubuntu’s mobile effort. BQ aren’t messing around, and the BQ Aquaris X5 is proof of that.
BQ Aquaris X5 Specs
- 5” 1280x720p IPS screen
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 412 @1.4Ghz
- Adreno 306 GPU @470Mhz
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB storage (of which 12gb is available)
- MicroSD slot up to 128gb
- Dual NanoSIM slots
- 13mp rear camera (Sony IMX214) W/Dual LED Flash
- 1080p30 video capture
- 5mp front facing camera, F2.0, LED Flash
- 2900mAh Lithium-Polymer battery
- CyanogenOS 12.1
For a more comprehensive look at the specs, head on over to GSMArena
BQ have done some great stuff with the X5. It looks like it costs a lot more than £180 and that’s what is so impressive to me. The BQ Aquaris X5 features a Metal frame, aluminium if I’m not mistaken, with a light (read, small) chamfer on both the front and back. These chamfers are glossy and polished, but on the Anthracite grey model I have, It looks really quite nice.
On the front of the BQ Aquaris X5 we have the RGB Notification LED, LED camera Flash, 5mp Front facing camera, Earpiece and the ambient light and proximity sensor setup. The RGB notification light is something I both love and hate. On devices with LCD screens I’ve learned that full screen notifications such as Motorola’s Active display, or even the stock android Ambient Display, just aren’t all that feasible (yes I know there have been LCD implementations of both, that doesn’t mean they’re efficient) so I learn to like the LED notification light, and one that can display a multitude of colours i one that is customisable to a relatively infinite extent. The LED Flash on the front in conjunction with the 5mp front facing camera is something we’ve seen a lot of smaller OEMs try. Whereas companies like Apple and Samsung are content to simply light up the screen to simulate a flash, BQ have simply stuck a flash on the front of the phone, and it performs… like an LED Flash, which is to say it blows you out and makes you look like Casper the friendly ghost. But, in those instances when you’re in very low light, it can make that selfie actually usable, even if it is not the most flattering.
The Earpiece is neither all that loud nor all that impressive. It could certainly be worse, and i’ve heard worse on devices that cost more, but it doesn’t wow me in any way. Lastly on the top of the front I want to give special mention to the ambient light sensor in the X5, It is one of the most smooth transitions of screen brightness of this price range. It seems like a silly thing to mention, but you don’t notice it until you have a device that is bad at it, and the X5 is seriously not.
Next we have the 5” 720p IPS display and the 3 capacitive buttons underneath. The Display reminds me of the Wileyfox Swift in the way I was so enamoured with that display, The X5’s screen is seriously bright has really good viewing angles, it’s just a shame the touch screen latency is so high. The Three capacitive buttons below the screen are things that if you’ve read any of my reviews you know i’m not overly fond of, but luckily, the CyanogenOS settings allow me to have on-screen buttons, sadly it doesn’t do anything to reduce the size of the bezels on the device. Whilst the side bezels are manageable, the bezels on the top and bottom of the screen are just huge and there really is no need for them to be as large as they are, It’s one of the few hardware choices i’m really upset with on the BQ Aquaris X5.
If we go to inspect some other parts of the design, on the right hand side we have the controls, a Volume rocker and a Power/Lock button. The buttons have a little play in them, but not enough to hear a rattle when shook, my only real “issue” on this side is the presence of the MicroSD tray above the Volume rocker means that both the volume rocker and power button are moved down to an extent where i more often than not hit the volume down button when trying to turn the screen on or off. The presence of the MicroSD slot is not one that has much bearing on me, im perfectly okay with the confines of a 16gb device, but I know a lot of people aren’t, and even the option for a 3gb/32gb SKU of the X5 won’t be enough for some people, so being able to buy a 128gb MicroSD card to throw their music and movies on to is just something they feel more comfortable with. I just wish it were on the other side so the Volume and power buttons weren’t shifted down so much. A small design touch that not a lot of people will notice is the fact that the power and volume buttons are inversely chamfered, It’s a very small thing, and not one you’ll often notice, but once I did, it made me smile and appreciate the amount of effort that went into designing this.
On the left hand side we have nothing but the Dual NanoSIM tray, and this is one area, along with the MicroSD tray that betrays the X5s quality. The trays do not quite sit flush with the rest of the chassis, so when running your finger over it, unlike the Huawei P9 where you’d be hard pressed by feel alone to tell where the trays are, it is very obvious where the trays are on the X5. It’s not horrible, but like I said, it betrays the premium feel of the rest of the phone. Cost had to be saved somewhere, and this was apparently one of them.
The Top of the X5 has the noise cancelling microphone, the 3.5mm audio jack, and 2 antenna bands. Unlike the SIM and SD trays, the Antenna bands are implemented in a way that they are seamless, if all the seams on the device where this perfect, i’d be incredibly happy. Doing a 180 to the bottom, we have the mono speaker, MicroUSB charging port and main microphone, with the same 2 antenna bands as the top. As with the top, the antenna bands are so smooth you can’t feel them without looking. Unlike most manufacturers, BQ has used rectangular grilles for the speaker and microphone here instead of the more traditional circles, but I really enjoy the aesthetic of the bottom of this phone.
Lastly is the back of the device, which somehow manages to look barren and busy at the same time, which is quite an achievement. In the top left we have the 13mp Sony IMX214 camera sensor with Dual LED flash beneath it, this is topped off with a rectangular pill of black glass, a nice offset to the matte soft touch plastic of the rest of the back. Slightly below the camera setup, in the centre of the device is the BQ logo, it’s etched into the plastic so that you can feel it, and it’s semi glossy, I’m not sure what I would have prefered here, for them to have made it flush but visually similar, or to leave it as it is. It is not bad at all, but I feel that it lowers to feel of the device a tad. Lastly on the back at the centre bottom is all the regulatory information and the Branding “Aquaris X5” this is done really nicely, the etching isn’t as deep as the BQ logo and at most times I forget it is there.One dessign feature on the rear Im a fan of is that the back black plastic panel is not flush with the metal chassis, so it feels nice, but also if it is face down, getting to see the anodized aluminium wth a chamfer on it. It’s a small thing, and something I can’t really explain, but when I see it, it makes me have a little smile in the corner of my mouth.
This is where things start to get kind of dicey: The BQ Aquaris X5 isn’t slow, but with the components inside I expected it to be a lot faster, and also a lot more consistent. The Snapdragon 412 is a slightly newer version of the Snapdragon 410, found in countless budget phones from the last year. The 4 ARM Cortex A53 CPU Cores Clocked at 1.4Ghz and the Adreno 306 clocked at 645Mhz paired with 2gb of RAM and an easy 720p screen, the X5 should perform like the countless other devices with that combo, 2 of which (the 3rd Generation Moto G and the 4.7” variant of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3) I have on my desk right now, and even though both of those devices are encrypted, both are more performance and more consistent than the BQ Aquaris X5 C.E is.
What I would call the BQ Aquaris X5 is hesitant, to the point where I had tapped icons, and I had gone back to tap on it again, but just before I had gotten there, it launched. Once in said app, the X5 felt mostly fine, apart from a few hiccups in certain apps, such as the Google Keyboard. Google Keyboard is my default Keyboard on every device I use, but it was unusable on the X5, not just gesture swiping, but just tapping on the keys felt like the processor was running at 50mhz. It got to a point where it was 2 or 3 words ahead of what was actually on the screen. Switching back to the Cyanogen Keyboard fixed this issue, but it’s an incredibly strange problem to have.
Everything on the BQ Aquaris X5 just takes a beat longer than It should and I’m having a hard time figuring out why. The SD412 is a newer version of the SoC used in the two devices mentioned prior, but despite them both being encrypted (something which makes the X5 almost unusable in my testing). The X5 is even on a newer and more stable version of Android Lollipop than the Idol 3 (but not as new as the Marshmallow ROM on the Moto G), there is no reason for the X5 to be as hesitant as it is, the closest I can come up with is that the OS, CyanogenOS is just poorly optimised, which is something I never thought I’d say.
The Snapdragon 412 doesn’t benchmark particularly well, on Geekbench we get scores of 526 and 1529, this again is just a slightly faster clocked Snapdragon 410 so this was to be expected, but those devices performed so well (oftentimes better than their SD615 counterparts) and as I’ve said a couple of times before, this is just very hesitant. A Part of me wanted the SD412 to be a more legitimate upgrade, maybe a move to A35 cores, or moving down to a 16 or 14nm node with a more up to date GPU, but as it stands, the Snapdragon 400 series has remained pretty consistent since the Quad-Core offering came out in 2013, and whilst it was great then, it’s starting to feel a little lacklustre now.
GPU is another blow here, the Adreno 306 is just okay here, playing simple or light 3D games was easy and even some slightly more taxing games like Man At Arms: Forged in Battle were playable, but anything more than that is just asking too much of a GPU that essentially hasn’t changed since 2013. Monument Valley, Badlands, Aa,2048, Leo’s Fortune and Pot Farm: Grass roots all play, just don’t expect console levels of performance here.
On the upside, there are very few times when I’ve made the X5 grind to a near complete halt. I’ve made it unbearably slow twice, but it wasn’t recreatable, and a reboot fixed the issue. Should the end user have to reboot their phone to get performance back to normal? Of course not, but it’s something that I found work. The real problem with the BQ Aquaris X5 as I’ve reiterated over and over is it’s hesitancy. The X5 reminds me of a phone that’s been ragged for a few years and the eMMC is wearing out, despite being brand new. As I said it’s not slow, and most of the time it’s perfectly fine, but there are more than a few times, pressing the home button for example, that takes a beat longer than it should, and that extra beat is noticeable.
The BQ Aquaris X5 got hot, period. I wish I had one of those Flir smartphone thermal cameras to test exactly how hot it got, but when the X5 was on charge at night, I could literally (and I mean literally in the traditional sense, not the new updated sense) feel the heat radiating from the top right of the device without touching it.
On more than one occasion the device has gotten so hot that I have had to take it out of my pocket and place it down on the table because it was getting increasingly uncomfortable having that not only on my legs, but so close to my gentleman’s area. I wear skinny jeans a lot, so this is probably my own fault, but that much heat in that specific area is something I don’t particularly want.
The Heat for the most part is localised to the top right (if you’re looking at it from the front). I’d assume this is where the SoC is or where the major thermal pipe starts at the very least. The heat problems are often made worse by the metal, but it’s just odd to me that the Snapdragon 412 is the one with the thermal issues this time round. Qualcomm really haven’t had a great time moving to the 64Bit cores have they.
In one word? Phenomenal, especially for its size. I think all but the first day, I was able to comfortably get nearly 2 days out of the BQ Aquaris X5 and it’s 2900mAh Battery. The non-removable 2900mAh Lithium-Polymer cell is something I didn’t expect to wow me all that much, especially seeing as the screen and internals are so close to the Moto G or the Wileyfox Swift I tested with a battery marginally bigger, but at the end of the first day after charging I often got close to 50% of my battery left. On a heavy day, maybe closer to 40%, but apart from the first day, I wasn’t able to kill the X5 in a day. I have a pretty heavy work flow with 3 e-mail accounts, about 5 social media accounts, 5 instant messaging apps and a lot of internet browsing, the X5 really surprised me in this regard.
Battery rundown tests aren’t all that useful but I still like to run them, I use the Geekbench Battery benchmark which I run twice, once with the screen allowed to dim, and another where it stays at a fixed brightness. The Geekbench tests simulates an intense workload that never gives up, stressing the internal hardware to its max, again I know this isn’t indicative of real world usage, not even my usage, but the numbers are ones that people ask for, so here they are.
Once again, I was astounded at the battery performance from this. The only device that’s been able to get even relatively close to this was the Moto X Play, with it’s massive 3630mAh battery, but that was noticeable heavier and thicker than this, and even then ,it’s longevity wasn’t quite as good as this is. I Don’t know what BQ have done to make a 2900mAh battery last this long, but I like it. It could just be a very power efficient display, and the SD412 could be more efficient than it’s SD410 brothers (I doubt it’d make this much difference) or whether they took some of Tinkerbell’s magic fairy dust, whatever they have done here, is seriously impressive. Good job, BQ.
Charging is a similar story, with its MicroUSB port. It uses all the cables you already own and works just as well. My only gripe with the MicroUSB port on the X5 is its orientation, it’s flipped. It’s a small petty thing, but design is one of the big selling points of the X5, and they’ve nailed so much of it, that having a flipped port isn’t functionally wrong, but aesthetically it’s annoying me. Luckily I have a reversible MicroUSB cable So it’s not too much of a hassle, but I see little reason for the change, it’s just inconvenient when I realise that i’m using a normal MicroUSB cable and that’s why it’s not going into the port properly. Other than that, the port itself is perfectly fine, it isn’t ridiculously recessed like some other devices and thanks to the reinforced port and metal frame, there is no wiggle and no give, this port isn’t going anywhere.
Though I feel like I need to reiterate the thermal issues I encountered whilst charging the X5. It got hot, very hot. Hot enough that whilst not even touching it I could feel it was hot. Doesn’t matter if I used a 2.4a charger, 1a or even a 0.5a charger, this thing got hot and It was a little worrying at times, It’s just something to keep in mind.
At this point in time, the Sony IMX214 is a known quantity, and the quality of an IMX214 is pretty much known as well, but there are multiple factors in image quality, there is the lens, the ISP and post processing from the OEM themselves. The X5 is actually relatively good, as long as your subject isn’t fast moving. Still shots (like flowers or landscapes) can come out beautifully, but for the quick “snap and run” the BQ Aquaris X5 often disappoints or leaves me with a “meh, that’ll do” feeling. It’s not bad by any means, but we’ve come to expect a certain quality from smartphone cameras, even budget ones, and for me, this falls a little short.
The story is almost flipped on the front camera though, the 5mp unit with it’s own LED flash is pretty damn great, and the 1080p video it records is really nice as well, with quick exposure compensation (good for vlogging) and focusing doesn’t seem to be an issue for it.
Colours on the rear camera can be awesome, bright, punchy, and any other word to describe something that looks like you might see it in a rave. I need to really drive home the point though that anything with fast motion or super low light, you’re not going to want to use the X5, even with it’s dual LED flashes, the night time images are slightly underwhelming and so is the image quality from rooms with warm white bulbs, as is the case with my office, the auto exposure seemed to favor basking everything in an orange hue, making my wood desk look like Donald Trump’s face.
The main problem I have is just the speed of the whole setup. Whilst focus is relatively fast, there is some noticeable shutter lag on the BQ Aquaris X5, and I don’t think this is a BQ problem but more of a “The ISP on the Snapdragon 400 series is old” problem. One thing I found odd, by default the BQ Aquaris X5 has 2 camera applications, the BQ one, which is very reminiscent of the iPhone camera UI, but with a little more control, and the other is the Cyanogen Camera app which… just no, don’t use it.
Here are some sample images from the rear of the Camera, as well as a 1080p video sample.
I have much more positive things to say about the front camera of the X5 though. Whilst I don’t tend to take very many selfies, I have started to Vlog more,which requires a few things, It requires a good, bright screen, it requires a nice front facing camera, it requires good software you back that camera up, and the X5 seems to have all of that. The bright vivid screen, helps you see outdoors, the great exposure compensation helps with the raw sunlight and everything just works really nicely, whether you’re “hand vlogging” or vlogging with a selfie stick, the X5 seems to work really well.
If you are a selfie fiend however, you’ll find a fair bit to like about the X5 as well. It’s not the widest angle lens on the front, but it could be a lot worse, it could have better low light performance, but they are kind of compensating for that with the LED flash on the front, overall, I really enjoy the front Camera on the X5, here are some selfies, and my Vlog from the X5.
Here is a short 1080p video test from the rear camera. The Shakes, the lockups and the wind noise are unfortunately par for the course on the BQ Aquaris X5 C.E, and which just firther points toards this phone needing more optimisation and more love and care.
Now we come to the relatively interesting part about this review, That there is actually two versions of the phone, one is running on BQ’s lightly customised build of Android, the other, which i’m reviewing, runs on CyanogenOS and it’s pretty great.
CyanogenOS is no longer the novelty it once was, and I’ll come clean, I never expected to have so many CyanogenOS devices on the market let alone having reviewed 3 of them. CyanogenOS is the commercial arm of the CyanogenMod custom Android ROM, It has a few differentiating features compared to the open source CyanogenMod ROM, things like TrueCaller’s dialler system which is essentially a hive mind spam number blocking, or Boxer’s fantastic email client. CyanogenOS also has it’s own browser (based off of AOSP’s browser), a File manager built in, and lastly, a built in screen recorder tool.
Usually when i’m speaking about CyanogenMod or CyanogenOS I can go on for days about how fast it is because it’s so close to stock Android, but unfortunately with the BQ Aquaris X5 C.E, that just isn’t the case, go back to the performance part of this review to read more on the relatively sore subject.
The Good parts of CyanogenOS haven’t changed though, It’s still nice and close to stock Android, with beautifully designed stock applications (besides the horrid camera app) and has without a shadow of a doubt, the best Theme system on any device, because it’s been built up for years by the community as well as the corporations making great themes that cover everything. Themes are a cornerstone of Cyanogen and not an afterthought, there are ugly themes just as there are with any theme system, but the amount of high quality themes, is much much higher.
Customisation and control over the system is another part of CyanogenOS that is important, though in the more consumer friendly package. Under “About Phone” in the settings, you can find a toggle for “Advanced Settings” as you can probably guess, toggling this on gives you control over some slightly more advanced features of your phone. Cyanogen Inc. have done well to hide these features because they’re still there if you want to change them, but the normal end user isn’t going to accidentally change something and forget how to change it back, and lest not forget, CyanogenOS devices can be had for as low as £99, they’re going all out for the end consumer, and not necessarily techies. It’s nice to know that if you want the extra control you can have it, but it’s not forced upon you and cluttering up the settings menu.
Hopping into the settings menu with the Advanced settings toggled on, we have new options showing up, such as the “Performance” section, allowing us to set “Per app profiles” for examples, you don’t need your note taking app to be pegging the SoC to its highest power, but games, you probably want to go full throttle, this lets you do that. It’s impossible to go through all the advanced features of this phone without making this review 10,000 words, and I promised Craig that wouldn’t happen (again), so let’s just say that if you enjoy tinkering with your phone, out of the box this has nice tinker-able things, but if not, this is still a nice and consumer friendly OS to use, something that wasn’t easy to say about CyanogenOS devices of the past.
Something that is extremely upsetting to me is that we are almost 6 months into 2016 and the BQ Aquaris X5 C.E is running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. Android 6.0.1 is out and Android N’s 3rd preview image has been released. Other CyanogenOS devices are Running CyanogenOS 13 (Android 6.0) and the BQ Aquaris X5 is still running CyanogenOS 12.1 or Android 5.1.1, this is deeply disheartening to me, I’ve asked why the X5 is running an older build of Android and got no reply that would be useful to the review. Android Central had a great piece about Drawing a line in the sand about new devices launching with lollipop, this was in december of 2015, we are in May of 2016 and a new phone has launched with 5.1.1 Lollipop. I’m upset and there seems to be no good reason why the BQ Aquaris X5 is still on Lollipop.
Lollipop isn’t bad, but the Marshmallow updates brings a lot to Android that needed to be brought in, whilst the BQ Aquaris X5 won’t benefit from the Fingerprint API (seeing as it doesn’t have a fingerprint reader) but it will benefit from the enhanced and more efficient encryption algorithms, because as it stands, you cannot seriously use the X5 encrypted, it turned to arthritic dog slow, I’ve seen tectonic plates move faster than doing something on this encrypted phone. Marshmallow is a bigger update than people gave it credit for, and because a lot didn’t physically change in the UI people didn’t think it was all that, they were wrong, and the Marshmallow update did a lot for phones like the Moto X Play to make them more usable, i’d love to check out the X5 once it has a Marshmallow software update.
The BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition is a phone I was so excited to get for a number of reasons, It looks really nice, had really quite decent cameras and speaker, had nice software and it wasn’t made wholly out of plastic, but the reality is that, at least on the CyanogenOS version, it isn’t properly optimised for the relatively normal hardware platform, it is running a thermal profile that might be acceptable on Mars, but not on Earth, and it is heavy, or at least the weight distribution on the phone makes it seem a lot heavier than it is. Whilst the X5 is only 4g heavier than the Huawei P9 I just reviewed, it feels between 10 and 15g heavier, just because of the poorer weight distribution.
I Still like the BQ Aquaris X5, it’s mostly awesome hardware, and with a few software updates, I feel that the X5 could be a contender. The problem is when it comes to price. The X5 Cyanogen Edition costs £180, which is nice and relatively cheap, but when you consider that there are devices at a similar cost that have much higher end specifications to the X5, the bang for the buck meter goes down significantly. If the X5 had onscreen only buttons, or at least much smaller bezels around the display, had a newer, more optimised version of CyanogenOS, and had proper thermal management, the X5 could be a contender, even at the £180 price tag, I mean, the Moto G 3rd generation is the same price with similar specs, but it has much worse build quality, but it is on marshmallow instead. BQ did a lot right with the X5, but I don’t think it is quite there for the mass market yet.
With a few CyanogenOS updates, im sure the BQ Aquaris X5 could be a perfectly acceptable phone, but until then, I’d be wary of recommending the phone to people purely on the thermal behavior of it, but there are other reasons to consider this phone, such as it’s stellar battery life, or really nice build Quality. BQ is 75% of the way to making a great device, but that last 25% is important, and luckily it’s mostly fixable after market.
BQ Aquaris X5 Cyanogen Edition£180
- Display is awesome
- Battery life is stellar
- Build Quality is top notch
- Camera's can be awesome
- Performance is often disappointing
- This thing gets *Hot*
- Camera shutter speed
- Old version of Android
- Did I mention how hot this thing gets?