BlackBerry Classic hands-on


BlackBerry smartphones popularized several things, like those old-school track wheels and track balls on BlackBerries past, which made the company’s devices so iconic. Recently, they’ve tried to sell us on a brand new keyboard with the BlackBerry Passport, but even with all the new tech behind it, we weren’t necessarily sold by it. To make matters worse, we found it tedious to use at times. Well, they’ve certainly listened to the complaints, as they’ve gone back to a familiar layout and style with the BlackBerry Classic. As its name so happens to imply, this brand new smartphone harkens back to some of the company’s ground-breaking devices – like the BlackBerry Bold 9900, which was arguably the epitome of a perfect QWERTY smartphone.

Design


Flaunting that classic design, one that’s recognizably BlackBerry from afar, the Classic’s design really reminds us of the BlackBerry Bold 9900 from a few years back – though, it’s a step behind that phone in terms of premium craftsmanship. Nevertheless, its design language is a stark contrast from the Passport. Instead of having an industrial design of sorts, the Classic instead favors a contemporary look – one that has a curvier edge to it.

What’s most apparent here, though, is BlackBerry’s decision to outfit it with an iconic keyboard. And with that, we’re ecstatic to find the classic BlackBerry Bold keyboard back in the mix with this phone. No longer are we struggling to type on a BlackBerry, seeing that the layout and feel of the QWERTY is something we’re familiar with. From its sculpted keys, to the stainless steel bands separating the rows, and also the feedback, this keyboard is so enjoyable to use with great speed and accuracy.

Overall, we’ll certainly agree that the keyboard is by far the standout here. However, considering that it’s sporting a classic design, we really wonder why the company in the first place invested so much research, time, and development in some of the BlackBerry smartphones we’ve seen in the last couple of years – more so when they decided to go back to a design like this.

Display


On deck with the BlackBerry Classic is a 3.5-inch 720 x 720 display, which produces a pixel density count of 294 ppi. Indeed, it’s not the same high-resolution screen we see in the Passport, but it’s still sharp and detailed enough for us to accept – more so when it’s sporting a smaller sized screen. In standard fashion, it’s touch enabled to make good use of the various gestures with BlackBerry 10. For the most part, it’s a pleasant looking screen with its wide viewing angles, potent brightness, and neutral color reproduction. At the end of the day, however, we really wish it pushed the boundaries further, seeing that its resolution is only marginally better than the 2011 BlackBerry Bold 9900.

Interface


If you’re versed in what the BlackBerry Passport offered with its software experience, then you’ll fit right at home with the BlackBerry Classic. From the platform’s tried and true BlackBerry Hub, to newer features like BlackBerry Assistant, the Classic is outfitted with all of the essentials to make it a productivity beast. Additionally, BlackBerry has brought back some staple controls with the Classic for navigation – like the trackpad and the set of physical buttons below the display (send, end, back, and menus keys). Therefore, not only can we rely on BlackBerry 10.3.1’s handful of touch navigation controls, but we can also go back to the classic navigation with the trackpad.

In all fairness, the nostalgia that comes along with the navigational controls with the trackpad is nice, but at the end of the day, we can’t escape the undeniable reality that the experience is targeting those hardcore BlackBerry users. Trying to expand its reach, BlackBerry 10.3.1 offers users access to BlackBerry World for all of the platform’s latest apps, which are optimized to make great use of the platform’s strengths – and the Amazon Appstore as well for Android apps.

Processor and Memory


Certainly, it’s far from being the most formidable thing, but the handset’s dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 processor, coupled with 2GB of RAM and the Adreno 225 GPU, is still an effective enough piece of silicon to power the phone through all sorts of operations. Navigating through BlackBerry 10 is accompanied with silky results, but we’re curious to see how it contends with more processor intensive tasks – such as gaming.

Armed with 16GB of internal storage, it has enough memory to accommodate various content – plus, it can be supplemented by its microSD card slot.

Camera


By now, it’s evident that the BlackBerry Classic isn’t meant to be the company’s most premium offering – made obvious by the 8-megapixel sensor in the back of the phone. Actually, it’s a step down from the Passport’s beefier 13-megapixel snapper, but as we all know, numbers don’t have any bearing to a camera’s overall quality. It's strapped along with a 5-element f/2.2 aperture lens, as well as an LED flash. Naturally, we’re curious to see how it fares with real-world usage. However, from a specs sheet point, it’s not pushing any new ground with its 1080p recording.

Expectations


BlackBerry is introducing a brand new phone here with the Classic. Yes, it’s running the latest BlackBerry 10.3.1 experience and has some upgraded specs, but the physical design of the phone isn’t necessarily new. Rather, it’s remarkably similar to the 2011-made BlackBerry Bold 9900, which is a strange revelation to tell you the truth. On one hand, it’s rewarding to once again type away with ease on what’s arguable the best physical keyboard around, but it begs the question about why BlackBerry in the first place decided to experiment differently with the Passport’s keyboard.

Normally, we expect smartphones to receive evolutionary designs to make them refreshing from previous devices. With this, however, BlackBerry opts to go back to a style we’ve seen before, instead of going in a different, more evolutionary direction. To be fair, we can see that new direction with the BlackBerry Passport, as it sports an industrial design for the times – as opposed to the Classic’s contemporary look. Attached with a price point of $450 outright here in the US ($500 in Canada), the BlackBerry Classic is no doubt a costly thing to pick up for a phone with a 2011 design, but for those hardcore Bold lovers out there, it’s a price they’ll happily fork over. For everyone else, it’s going to be a hard sell.

Ultimately, the question that remains is if this phone is regarded as a step forward, or a rewind to yesterday?

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Classic
  • Display 3.5 inches 720 x 720 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP (Single camera) 2 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 2GB RAM
  • Storage 16GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 2515 mAh
  • OS BlackBerry 10.3

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