BQ Aquaris M5 full review

The BQ Aquaris M5 is a budget smartphone which offers premium features at no extra cost. The Aquaris M5 offers a pleasant stock Android experience, plus fantastic sound quality and an impressive camera. Read next: Best budget smartphones 2016.

BQ Aquaris M5 review: UK price and availability - Where to buy the BQ Aquaris M5, best BQ Aquaris M5 deals

The BQ Aquaris M5 comes in three variants. You’ll find it with 16GB internal storage and 2GB RAM for £209.90, or with a 16GB or 32GB of storage with 3GB RAM for £229.90 and £239.90 respectively. The phones can be purchased from various resellers in the UK, including BQ’s very own site and the likes of Amazon UK, which also stocks the phone. We received the 32GB version with 3GB RAM.

The phone is not currently available on contract, but does come with an impressive five-year warranty. This can be upgraded through BQ Plus for £23.90 a year to cover screen damage, moisture damage, impact, falls and even theft. Read next: Best SIM-only deals 2016.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Phone Design

The Aquaris M5 faces stiff competition from various phone manufacturers across the world that also offer similarly priced and specced phones. Smartphones such as the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua can now be found for £148.99, the Honor 5X for around £169.99, the Samsung Galaxy A5 for £210 and the Honor 6 at £249.99.

There are two other models in the line-up. The BQ Aquaris M5.5 has a bigger 5.5in screen, but also features a higher-capacity battery and a different rear camera (Samsung S5K3M2 as opposed to the M5’s Sony IMX214). As for the Aquaris M4.5, it’s an entirely different phone that’s aimed at the lower-end of the market. Read next: Cheapest 4G smartphones of 2016.

BQ Aquaris M5 review: Design and build quality

The Aquaris M5 comes with a 5in full-HD (1920x1080) display that has an impressive 440ppi, which means for sharpness it rivals the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 (431ppi) and even the iPhone 6 Plus (401ppi); text is clear and images are well refined. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Text Image

The phone’s overall brightness levels are impressive, and in sunny conditions it is able to produce a bright image that isn't washed out or hard to see. However, if you’re looking for a dim screen in lowlight conditions, you might need to install a third-party app such as Lux Auto Brightness.

With an IPS display, colours are accurate. With the help of Quantum Color + technology the screen achieves an impressive 90% NTSC colour gamut, which allows the phone to produce a wider array of colours than traditional IPS screens.

In real-world applications, we found the screen vivid and able to produce vibrant colours, without being over saturated. When viewing photos, movies and even playing games we were happy with the overall screen reproduction and contrast ratio, which made images pop. However, we found the BQ Aquaris M5 has a slightly reddish screen.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Viewing Angle

The phone’s viewing angles are impressive, and we didn’t have any problems viewing it at even the most extreme angles.

The screen is protected by Asahi Dragontrail Glass, which is scratch-resistant; however, it's not fingerprint-resistant. We found ourselves regularly cleaning the Aquaris M5 of fingerprints after short periods of usage.

The screen itself is flat and covers a good portion of the phone; we think the top bezel could be reduced to bring down the overall size of the phone.

We found this 8.4mm-thick phone slightly chunky in our hands and the accentuated sides could have been rounded off, to make it feel more comfortable in-hand. In comparison to the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua and the Honor 5X, the Aquaris M5 felt less premium as it is entirely made out of plastic. It should also be noted that the phone isn’t waterproof.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Build Quality

On the plus side, at the back of the phone there is solar UV protection and anti-fingerprint coating, which prevents the phone attracting fingerprints and from heating up in sunny conditions. There is also a dual-LED flash alongside a 13Mp main camera, which sits flush to the case. The rear panel is non-removable, leaving the battery inaccessible.

A micro SD card slot on the right edge accepts up to 64GB of additional storage. Under this is a volume rocker and power button, which are located slightly lower than on most smartphones. This design element aids one-handed operation, especially for those with small hands.

On the left hand-side, BQ has added two 4G micro-SIM slots, which operate in dual-standby mode. At the top of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and at the bottom a micro USB slot and a single downward-firing right-sided speaker. Also see our dual-SIM buying advice.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Front Camera

Around the front is a 5Mp camera, which also has an LED flash that is useful for taking selfies in low-light conditions. There is also a speaker grille for calls, and capacitive buttons (back, home and the multi-task button). 

BQ Aquaris M5 review: Core hardware and performance - How fast is the BQ Aquaris M5?

The Aquaris M5 is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 Octa Core A53 64-bit processor (quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 and quad-core 1.0GHz Cortex-A53). Powering its graphics is the Qualcomm Adreno 405, which is clocked up to 550MHz. The BQ uses the same processor as many of its competitors, such as the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua.

We found overall performance fluid, with no noticeable stutters or visual problems, even with light-gaming and fast-paced videos. The only noticeable lag came when we took multiple photos at a time. The M5 wasn’t able to quickly process the image before moving onto the next one. This is the sort of thing that could potentially be fixed with a software update.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Multi-Tasking

In our benchmarks the Aquaris M5 beat the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua and Samsung Galaxy A5 in Geekbench 3, and outperformed the Samsung in GFXbench. Performance is about right for a mid-range phone. Read next: What's the fastest phone.

Browser performance is also good; we tested in Chrome using Jetstream.

The BQ Aquaris M5 has two storage options, with 16GB or 32GB, which have 11.8GB and 27.8GB of usable storage out of the box. If you require more storage, you’ll be able to add a microSD card, which can offer you an additional 64GB. At this price point, we feel the option to expand the storage is a great addition to the BQ’s features. Read next: How to get more storage in Android.

Battery life through its 3120mAh battery is adequate, and we didn’t run into any problems using the phone for a full day with medium usage. But, in Geekbench 3 the phone lasted 6:02hrs. In comparison, the Honor 5X lasted 5:12hrs. The BQ is slow to charge, able to accept only 1A, and has no support for Quick Charge or wireless charging. Read next: Best power banks 2016 UK.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Battery Life

BQ Aquaris M5 review: Audio

Speaker quality

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Audio

The Aquaris M5 has great overall sound quality through its speaker, which is a single downward-firing right-hand speaker. Its lows are reasonably well extended, with an emphasis on the mid-bass slam, while its mids and highs are extremely impressive, delivering a clear and very minor V-shaped sound signature.

However, we did find the speaker’s volume to be low in comparison to other smartphones, at least until we enabled Dolby Atmos, which boosts volume and sound. We found the speaker volume to go up by 15-20 percent, while also adding a wider and more engaging soundstage. Unlike normal Dolby technology, which is often used to recreate a faux surround sound, we found the Atmos inclusion to be hugely beneficial. Read next: Best sounding phone 2016.

When the speaker was boosted through Dolby Atmos, we found it to distort very slightly at maximum volume, and we also felt slight vibrations through its plastic back panel. 

Internal sound quality

The Aquaris M5 houses the Wolfson WM8281 audio chipset, which enables it to produce some of the best sound we’ve heard from a smartphone. In fact, the Marshall London (rated as one of the best sounding phones in our group test comparison) which also houses the same audio chipset, ranks as the best sounding phone of 2016.

We performed all our tests without Dolby Atmos enabled, and found the lows extended quite well, with a slight cut-off in the sub-bass region. The mid-bass is well presented, providing a healthy slam to music and not overly influencing the mids. We found the mids to be slightly recessed due to the mid-bass slam, but they were generally well presented and forward-sounding. The highs do roll off a very slight amount at the top frequencies, but provide a sparkle that adds life and soul to music and movies.

The BQ's soundstage representation is a mixed bag. It has decent width, but lacks depth. Instrument separation could have been better, but the imaging and positioning well presented.

There is no distortion at maximum volume, but there is an extremely hard-to-notice hiss when used with an amplifier. We found the phone to be loud enough through its 3.5mm jack, with us requiring only around 55-60 percent overall volume to perform our tests. In comparison to other phones, such as the flagship Google Nexus 6P which requires 90-95 percent for the same volume output volume.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Dolby Atmos

The Dolby Atmos technology positively impacts the internal audio sound too, adding realism and soundstage to our music. We weren’t able to use Dolby Atmos alongside the popular music player Poweramp, but with Google Music the app worked flawlessly. 

BQ Aquaris M5 review: Connectivity and extras

The Aquaris M5 comes with dual micro-SIM slots, which operate in dual-standby mode, in effect giving you two separate lines. Read next: Best dual-SIM smartphones 2016.

Both SIM slots can connect to 4G (LTE) networks, and support all three UK bands (B3/7/20). Read next: How to tell whether a phone is supported by your network.

You also get 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and GLONASS. We would have liked to see the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but it's not standard at this price .

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Camera

The BQ also has NFC (HCE) capabilities, which is great for quickly pairing your phone or eventually using it to pay for purchases.

Unlike the Honor 5X there’s no fingerprint scanner included which would have made this phone a little more secure against thieves looking to steal your data. Read next: Best Android phones 2016

BQ Aquaris M5 review: Camera performance

The M5 is equipped with a Sony IMX214 1/3.06in sensor, which is able to take 13Mp photos at a ƒ/2.0 aperture with an aspect ratio of 4:3. You’ll also be able to take 16:9 photos, but you’ll be limited to a 10Mp maximum resolution.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Standard Image

The camera app offers various settings, such as the ability to enable dual-LED flashes, ZSL (zero-shutter-lag) and HDR (High Dynamic Range) modes. The BQ also lets you adjust its flash, timer, white balance, ISO, exposure time, metering mode, and even enable black and white mode, which is great for taking vintage-looking photos. Without using ZSL we found the camera shutter sluggish, but with it enabled we were able to snap away (do bear in mind that the automatic focus may need macro shots with ZSL enabled.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Macro Image

The BQ’s picture quality, both with HDR (pictured below) and in standard mode is impressive. Both modes presented us with accurate-looking photos, which were neither overly saturated nor lacking colour. We were further impressed by its macro ability, which made the Aquaris M5 great for taking close-up photos of objects. The depth of field is eye catching, and we could focus on close objects while the background was out-of-focus.

The dual-LED flash is very bright and produced a good flash tone, but we found the camera’s ability to take low-light pictures remarkable. We found ourselves turning off the flash as even in low-light conditions, the camera took bright images. Read next: Best phone camera 2016.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - HDR Image

Flipping the camera to take selfies revealed the 5Mp camera which, paired with its own flash, allowed us to take pictures even at night. This feature might be overlooked by some, but we like to have the ability to take photos of ourselves in low-light conditions.

The phone’s video capabilities are also good, albeit not flawless. You’ll be able to record full-HD (1920x1080), HD (1280x720) and 480p, all of which are recorded at 30fps. Unfortunately, there’s no option to record at 60fps or in 4K, so you’ll have to hold back on your fluid dance videos!

We found that video taken with ‘image-stabilizer’ enabled produced slightly choppy video which looked to replicate frames being stitched together. With the option disabled the slightest hand movements created shaky videos, but on the plus side we didn’t notice any choppy frames. If you’re looking to take videos, you would be advised to enable ‘image-stabilizer’ and focus the camera in one direction and not pann the phone from left to right.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Panorama

Also, within the camera app, is a set of camera and video modes, such as panorama mode, slow motion (60, 90 and 120fps) and time-lapse, all of which provide you with additional tools to capture memories. 

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Camera App

We also liked the ability to edit our images through the gallery app, in which we could add different image filters, borders and even adjust the orientation of our images. The ability to edit and personalise our images without additional editing apps is fantastic and allowed us to manipulate photos before sharing them online with our friends and families. Read next: Best phones 2016.

BQ Aquaris M5 review: Software

A vanilla version of Android Lollipop 5.1.1 comes pre-installed. In use the Aquaris M5 is refreshing, and the only pre-installed system apps, aside from the stock Google apps, are BQ Plus and Dolby Audio, which means there’s no bloatware to slow you down. Read next: Android Lollipop review.

Android 5.1.1, includes Google Now and lets you customise the toggles on your notification panel (including the notification light colour), set up users, enable features such as battery saver and even unlock your OEM bootloader if you wish to flash another Android ROM. Speaking of which, flashing the phone to another ROM such as CyanogenMod is permitted and according to BQ’s head of technical, Christian Fernández, does not void the warranty. Read next: Android 6.0 Marshmallow review.

BQ Aquaris M5 review - Pre-installed Apps

Specs

BQ Aquaris M5: Specs

  • Android Lollipop v5.1.1
  • 5in 1920x1080 IPS touchscreen, 441ppi
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 Octa Core A53 processor up to 1.5 GHz
  • Qualcomm Adreno 405 up to 550 MHz
  • 2/3GB RAM
  • 16/32GB storage (expandable Micro-SD card offers additional 64GB)
  • 13Mp main camera, dual-LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera, LED flash
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 4G LTE
  • Micro-SIM
  • GPS
  • NFC (HCE)
  • 3120mAh non-removable battery
  • 69.4x143x8.4mm
  • 144g
  • 5 year warranty