Introduction and design
BlackBerry has launched not one, but two flagships products this year and the BlackBerry Classic takes a bold step into the Canadian firm’s past in the hope of reigniting the success of its former glories.
The Classic forms the third phone in BlackBerry’s trio of devices with it and the Passport joining the fully touch BlackBerry Z30.
Anyone familiar with the brand’s past handsets will notice the striking similarities the BlackBerry Classic shares with the incredibly popular BlackBerry Bold 9900 – and it’s some of the key features fron that device which users have been begging the firm to bring back.
The main one is the touch-sensitive square trackpad, allowing you to quickly thumb around the operating system without the need to adjust your grip to manipulate the touchscreen.
BlackBerry isn’t trying to masquerade the Classic as a return to the consumer market, it has explicitly said this, along with the Passport, are aimed at businesses.
Die-hard BB fans needn’t fear though, as the Classic will be available in a number of markets around the world including the US and Canada from December 17, while in the UK BlackBerry has confirmed that all the major networks are signed up, but we’re still waiting on a release date.
In terms of the BlackBerry Classic price it’s been confirmed as $449 (around £300, AU$550) in the US and $499 in Canada, which is cheaper than expected considering the high price of the Q10 (which the Classic is replacing) when it first launched.
Glance at the Classic and there’s no mistaking this is a BlackBerry smartphone. The distinctive QWERTY keyboard with its uniquely angled, patented keys and metal frets dividing the rows is an iconic sight.
Then you glance up and instead of getting hit directly by screen as you did on the Q10 and Q5 you’ll spot the return of BlackBerry’s utility belt – a main stay in the old Bold and Curve ranges.
The centralised trackpad is the main attraction here, but it’s joined by call and end keys on either end and then the BlackBerry menu key and the rather handy back button too.
There’s another blast from the past when it comes to dimensions, with the Classic sporting a rather portly midriff at 10.2mm, although a height and width of 131mm x 72.4mm still makes it manageable in one hand.
There is a stainless steel frame which runs round the circumference of the handset which makes up part of the weight, but the back of the Classic is still a textured plastic providing a little bit of grip. There’s no sign of the more premium glass weave finish from the Q10 and Z30.
You can’t remove the back cover, instead there are nanoSIM and microSD trays on the left side of the device, the latter of which allows you to build on the 16GB of internal space by up to 128GB.
Up top there’s the power/lock key which can reset the device if held for 5 seconds, while on the right the volume buttons fall nicely under the thumb (or finger when held in your left hand) and they are split by a third key.
Give this button a single press and it will toggle mute, hold it down and it launches BlackBerry Assistant – a rival to Siri, Google Now and Cortana.
Interface, performance and early verdict
Under the hood of the BlackBerry Classic you get a rather pedestrian 1.5GHz dual-core processor which isn’t a match for the quad-core power houses we’re seeing even at the bottom end of the market now, but with 2GB of RAM the Classic still manages to run smoothly.
That’s partly thanks to the fact this is a device centered around low-key activities such as messaging and web browsing – you’re not going to be consuming a lot of HD content or playing graphically intensive games here.
The BlackBerry World app store is still very limited compared to its rivals, and while it is possible to side-load Android apps the square 4:3 aspect ratio of the 3.5-inch display can cause issues, not to mention the hassle required just to get a few well known applications.
In fact the Classic also comes with the Amazon App Store pre-installed, giving you access to a range of Android apps – once again highlighting the failings of its own store. This does make it easier to get apps onto the Classic, but the selection is still smaller than Android and iOS.
In day to day use the Classic performs well, and you’ll be able to bash out messages and check your emails with ease. BlackBerry’s messaging hub is my favourite feature of BB 10 – making it really easy to keep track of emails, texts, social networks and BBMs.
When BlackBerry 10 first launched the reception it got was a bit hit and miss. Since then it has been updated and the Classic rocks up sporting the very latest version – BlackBerry 10.3.1.
BB 10 has been accused of being a little unintuitive, so the fact BlackBerry has reinstated the navigation bar complete with trackpad on the Classic suggests to me that perhaps users weren’t too happy with the current set up.
BlackBerry has assured me that this wasn’t the case, and that those who have used the Bold and Curve devices in the past simply just preferred the trackpad over a touch interface. Hmm.
The trackpad works well – in fact it’s basically identical to that on previous devices so if you’ve used one in the past you’ll feel right at home here.
I’ve always been impressed with the speed of the web browsing on BlackBerry 10 and the slick operation continues on the Classic with the HTML 5 browsing serving up websites in next to no time.
Anyone upgrading from a BBOS 7 device will definitely notice the increase, not to mention enjoy the experience of a usable browser.
Core apps have also had a redesign in terms of navigation, making them easier to use with a large centralised button at the bottom of the screen housing the main function for the app – be it “new message” in the hub or “your location” in maps.
There’s an 8MP camera round the back which includes features such as HDR, burst, panorama and BlackBerry’s own TimeShift functionality. It’s a quick, capable snapper and while you’re not going to get stunning shots it will certainly suffice for business use at least.
The 2MP front facing camera is arguably more important, especially as BBM now supports free video calls in a similar way to Apple’s FaceTime – plus it can take a half decent selfie. Phew.
The BlackBerry Classic will appeal to a particular audience, and anyone currently using another handset from the Canadian firm will want to seriously consider upgrading.
As well as retaining current users, BlackBerry is also hopeful the Classic will win back those who have defected to other brands over the past few years – although I think that’s less likely.
Android and Apple boast a much larger library of apps, a better range of more powerful handsets and stronger operating systems. Unless your company forces you into owning a Classic you’ll be unlikely to switch.
If you love BlackBerry and the physical QWERTY keyboard though, the Classic could just be the perfect smartphone for you.
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