[alert type=alert-blue]Technical details[/alert]
OS BlackBerry OS 10.3
Processor 1.5GHz dual-core
Screen 3.5 inches
Resolution 720 x 720 pixels
Memory 2GB RAM
MicroSD compatible? Yes, up to 128GB
Rear camera 8MP rear-facing, 2MP front-facing
Dimensions 131 x 72.4 x 10.2mm
Ah, BlackBerry. No mobile maker has risen so high yet fallen so far. For more than a decade, the keyboard-toting BlackBerry has been a status symbol in society – but it’s changed from representing the ‘highflying go-getter’ to the ‘technological Luddite who can’t operate a touchscreen’ (or, in some cases, ‘middle manager who has been lumped with it by the company’).
Following the embarrassing launch of the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen phone and its ludicrously overdue BlackBerry 10 operating system two years ago, the company changed direction once more, and under a new CEO has given up trying to woo average shoppers. Now, it’s all about business, security and getting things done. Oh, and QWERTY keyboards – an otherwise extinct feature on smartphones in 2015.
So, here we have the BlackBerry Classic, arguably the purest BlackBerry handset the company has ever made.
It’s a BlackBerry Bold updated for the modern age (sort of), with the trappings of the legendary BlackBerry Bold 9000 and a touchscreen operating system to boot.
This all sounds like a nice idea on paper, but unless you’re one of the few remaining BlackBerry addicts out there, it’s the same old story. BlackBerry’s new regime won’t attract any new customers with this approach.
That’s a pity, because not many manufacturers these days can make a handset as robust as BlackBerry. The Classic is thick, but that’s fine: it’s rock solid, with no give under the back panel at all. That’s what you need when you’re typing away with two thumbs, though we will say that the mottled texture on the plastic back is not especially premium-looking or comfortable.
The good news is that most of the phone is incredibly durable and feels like it can survive many a drop (whether the large touchscreen would is another matter).
The display is extremely sharp: 720 almost undetectable pixels each way make for a display that’s very easy to read long emails on and browse the web (in some ways, it’s arguably better for browsing than narrow touchscreens, giving you a more desktop-like experience).
You could quite easily read an e-book on it with no trouble. That square aspect ratio is quite limiting for some other uses, though: you don’t want to watch letterboxed movies on this, or play games.
You might be willing to put up with this – especially if you’re still using a BlackBerry – for what’s beneath.
Below the screen is the classic BlackBerry control row, with the familiar call and reject, menu and back buttons, and the optical trackpad for scrolling when swiping on a touchscreen just won’t cut it. These buttons are certainly inelegant compared with how streamlined iPhone controls are in 2015 (one physical button, as opposed to five), but they’re undeniably fast.
As is the keyboard below. It’s a four-line QWERTY set up, a welcome return after the BlackBerry Passport’s odd and ineffective three-line pad, and clearly inspired by the legendary BlackBerry Bold’s keypad, with square, rubber buttons that seem to be perfectly tactile, with just enough give to type quickly with two thumbs blazing. While the rows are no longer slightly curved, the keyboard is every bit as fast as you will remember, which is excellent.
Typing out epic screeds is frustrationfree, and popping in someone’s name remains the quickest way anyone’s come up with for pulling up a phone number on any smartphone.
But, and this is important, we must also emphasise that the BlackBerry keyboard is no longer peerless. Once upon a time, this would have been a unique selling point, a reason to stick with the tried and tested for diehard CrackBerry addicts, but frankly, the gap has been closed.
Physical keyboards have stayed exactly the same, while their virtual counterparts have advanced dramatically. Virtual keyboards like SwiftKey, Swype and even the default Android and Windows Phone QWERTYs don’t just predict the next word you type before you’ve started, they even let you drag your finger across the board, letting you type one-handed as quickly as you could two-handed with a BlackBerry.
[alert type=alert-blue]Security and software[/alert]
Still, the BlackBerry has always been about security as much as convenience and productivity, and we can’t fault the BlackBerry Classic in this regard. BlackBerry’s excellent behind-the-scenes email service is still as effective as it ever was, instantly pushing email to you. If you’re using the Classic on a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (at your workplace), you can even download BlackBerry Blend for your desktop or tablet, letting you use BlackBerry Messenger and other services away from your phone.
Then there’s the inbox, which is far more than just an email repository nowadays. We’re still taken with the BlackBerry Hub, arguably the best example of a unified inbox (competitors like HTC abandoned trying to do something similar on Android years ago): notifications from popular services like Twitter and LinkedIn drop right in alongside your regular messages.
That’s probably the nicest thing we have to say about the software, as even with two years to fix things, BlackBerry 10 is still mediocre. The launcher, a collection of most recently used apps, does not make a great deal of sense: just because you used BBM last, it does not follow that it will also be the next app you open.
There’s a perfectly adequate Siri-esque voicecontrol service on board, activated by a key next to the space bar. But it’s not as powerful or as convenient as Google Now on more modern handsets, which is always listening out for your command. And yes, it’s true that BlackBerry has gone some way to solving the app gap by allowing you to install Android apps from the Amazon Appstore. But this is an ugly, brute-force solution, and performance is inevitably slow.
The problems aren’t so obvious in less taxing apps – shopping or music streaming services, for instance, work okay. But more demanding games? Load times shoot up, and titles can chug along on unplayable framerates. It doesn’t help that the BlackBerry’s display is just not meant for certain apps: games and videos are letterboxed or crushed – or simply unavailable. You can get Spotify up and running on the BlackBerry Classic, for instance, but not Netflix.
Perhaps more disappointing, the BlackBerry Classic’s battery life is hardly classic. One of the BlackBerry’s key selling points a few years ago was its excellent stamina, with standby times measured in days rather than hours. The Classic behaves very much in line with today’s iPhones and Android handsets (save for phablets armed with massive batteries, and the astounding Sony Xperia Z3 Compact), with typical usage requiring charging every night. You can get a day and a half out of it, but its seemingly sudden dips will take you by surprise – until you consider that a phone that runs Android apps uses power like an Android phone, too. It’s also not replaceable – an unusual decision for BlackBerry, especially when the phone is so thick.
We’ve better things to report on the camera front. Almost always an afterthought on all previous BlackBerry handsets, the 8-megapixel sensor here is perfectly respectable for a phone in the mid-range price band. It’ll let you down as soon as the sun sets, but in daylight, images are crisp and we’re quite taken by the HDR mode, which captures a bit more contrast. It’s just a shame Instagram is such a pain to install.
It’s these caveats, these many, many caveats, that make the BlackBerry Classic difficult to recommend. The company’s shortcut to app support is messy, and by going back to what worked before, it’s brought back all the old issues, from a square screen to the chunky build and space-hogging QWERTY keyboard. BlackBerry Antiquity might have been a better name for it.
BlackBerry diehards will love the modern touchscreen and keyboard – and even some actual apps, just like a proper smartphone. There are certainly worse handsets you could be issued at work. But there’s nothing here to tempt an iPhone, Android or Windows user. For almost everyone other than BlackBerry fans, this phone is just a reminder of how far we’ve moved on in recent years.