Classic design bridges the path to BlackBerry's future: hands-on with the BlackBerry Mercury


Fortunes rise and fall in the smartphone game, and even for giants of the industry, whose handsets seem to dominate the public's interest, the future is rarely assured. For every Apple or Samsung there's a Nokia or Palm, but no company's struggle to stay aloft in a rapidly evolving market is arguably as interesting as BlackBerry's. Here from nearly the beginning, the company's managed to keep on delivering phones even as it's faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles in recent years, switching software platforms and recognizing shifting user tastes in phone hardware.

But while BlackBerry may still be kicking, the BlackBerry of today is very different than the company we knew just a few years back, and its mission continues to transform. Most recently, we've seen BlackBerry offload its hardware manufacturing to the Chinese company TCL, the parent company also behind Alcatel phones. That's already brought us the BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60, and this year at CES we're getting an early look at the company's next handset, a keyboard-equipped model codenamed Mercury.

Design


The BlackBerry brand is one utterly steeped in tradition and its users are among the most passionate you'll find. Nine times out of ten, the target of that passion is a good-old-fashioned hardware QWERTY keyboard. And while last year's pair of TCL-made DTEK models lacked such an input mode, it's making its triumphant return on Mercury.

The look here is classic BlackBerry all the way, and rather than a sliding keyboard arrangement like on the Priv, Mercury's keyboard is a permanent fixture of the handset's face. TCL takes full advantage of its presence there by implementing the same sort of capacitive touch input we know from BlackBerry-made handsets – so you can swipe for gesture control, and likely interact with an on-screen keyboard, as well.

Mercury's design is a mix of assertive straight lines and graceful curves, and the result is a modern handset that stays relatively true to BlackBerry's history. Up top, the metal bezel evokes memories of the BlackBerry Passport in silver, but this is also a phone that's very much living in the present, as we see down below with the presence of a USB Type-C port. Around back, a textured rear surface both helps with grip and gives the handset a premium (to say nothing of smudge-resistant) look.


Hardware


It's worth taking a moment to talk about exactly what we're getting to see here – and what we aren't. Externally, this is the Mercury we'll be seeing formally launch later this year – even if under a different name. And while TCL was happy to share this advanced peek at the phone with us, its full component breakdown and capabilities still aren't public. While leaks have already attempted to nail down some of the phone's specs, nothing's confirmed for the moment.

Some of the rumors need less support than others. Take what we've heard about a fingerprint scanner embedded in the keyboard's space bar, for instance: there's clearly a conspicuous depression in the key that aligns quite nicely with this rumor, but TCL stopped short of directly confirming the feature.

Others, like the screen's unusual 1620 x 1080 resolution aren't details we were able to conclusively verify, but the shape of the display appears to correspond with that aspect ratio.

User experience


While so many hardware questions remained unanswered, our hands-on time with the BlackBerry Mercury was able to begin verifying some software details, and the big one there is the presence of Android 7.0 Nougat. We also saw the return of features we got to know on the Priv, like BlackBerry's unique grid-based app switcher. But much like the phone's internal components, the software is also a picture we've yet to see fully reveal itself to us, and we likely won't have a full sense of what to expect until much closer to Mercury's official launch.

Expectations


While TCL's DTEK BlackBerrys were basically rehashes of Alcatel Idol hardware with a BlackBerry-branding twist, Mercury represents a whole different kind of vision, and has the potential to be the first real step in the next chapter of the BlackBerry story: rekindling classic BlackBerry design while embracing new strategies for hardware and software alike.

One consideration critical to BlackBerry's future is the enterprise story, and if Mercury is to really succeed, getting it into the hands of corporate IT departments is practically a requirement. That's made all the easier for a phone when it enjoys strong support from a major carrier. Rumors have pointed to Verizon as a possible partner in the US – and like all the other whispers we've heard about this phone, it's one that currently eludes confirmation. That said, our conversations with TCL sure indicate that the company appreciates the importance of getting on board with a carrier, and if it's one as big as Verizon, all the better for Mercury's shot at success.

We eagerly await getting the rest of the official story on the arrival of this exciting new addition to the BlackBerry family. Until Mercury's read to share all its secrets, check out our early first-look hands-on and image galley:

FEATURED VIDEO

51 Comments

1. keithtae

Posts: 564; Member since: Mar 25, 2015

Not a fan of the top part of the phone tho. But for the first time after Passport, i might get a bb device again just to see how it works.

4. SYSTEM_LORD

Posts: 1168; Member since: Oct 05, 2015

Yeah, the top needs to be rounded just like the bottom. Also, I think the ambient light/proximity sensor area needs to be made smaller or more discreet. Otherwise, this phone is hot stuff!

28. Jango

Posts: 376; Member since: Oct 24, 2014

Looks hideous and cheap. Amateurish even. Bad move BB. I believe the passport was their best Qwerty designed phone. A very handsome device, that was.

18. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Doesn't have ffs and isn't universally unlocked. I can see this won't be a device for me. If you ask me, I think the Nexus 6P still has it beat.

2. meanestgenius

Posts: 22043; Member since: May 28, 2014

Such a sexy phone....sort of a mesh between the BlackBerry Passport Silver Edition and the BlackBerry PRIV....my next BlackBerry device for sure! Eagerly looking forward to MWC to get all of the info on this sexy pkb device!

20. JC557

Posts: 1919; Member since: Dec 07, 2011

I like that they kept the blackberry black and didn't opt for other colors like they did with the BB Pearl or Passport.

22. meanestgenius

Posts: 22043; Member since: May 28, 2014

Totally agree. Black is my favorite color, lol.

3. meanestgenius

Posts: 22043; Member since: May 28, 2014

It's also great to see that the BlackBerry Mercury is running Nougat, and I'm eager to learn which version of Nougat will be on the final product.

5. aegislash

Posts: 1495; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

This is by far one of the most sleek, gorgeous phones I have seen in a long while. Everything about it screams classic BlackBerry, aside from the fact that it's running Nougat instead of BB OS. I'll have to play with one once they launch, but I could easily see this being a phone that I use alongside my main device.

6. megathaszrul89

Posts: 203; Member since: Jan 08, 2015

I really appreciate how BlackBerry taking the risk,building this phone.the design really standout,as what others said,it really screams BB.just waiting for the benefit of the thick design language,hoping that it will incorporate larger battery capacity.

7. Subie

Posts: 2363; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

I'm liking this device more and more each time I see pics of it. Great job Blackberry and I hope TCL continues your legacy going forward with design in the future.

8. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2361; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

While there are certainly going to be those out there that are going to be writing this off if it doesn't come with the latest specs, I'm more concerned with the end usability, reliability, and that it takes decent photos. I would guess this phone may debut in the $400 range. That's about the cost that the Blackberry Classic was when it was introduced. I do hope in the future Blackberry is able to somehow find a way to make their keyboards water-resistant. That would be a big plus for future devices.

9. meanestgenius

Posts: 22043; Member since: May 28, 2014

Quite true. Hell, there are those that will write this off because it has a physical keyboard alone, ignorant of the fact that physical keyboards still have a place in the market, whether it's niche or not. If they didn't, you wouldn't see so many physical keyboard attachment accessories for iPads, two-in-one/hybrids like the Surface wouldn't sell so well, and Samsung, the worlds largest smartphone manufacturer by volume wouldn't have created a physical keyboard attachment for its latest flagship, the Galaxy S7.

11. jplightning

Posts: 312; Member since: Nov 04, 2016

You and the homie MG nailed it! But ya'll know, haters just gotta hate, and never congratulate! It's their fate, and it ain't up for debate. Hey, I'm a poet, and ya know it! ;)

12. MDCHO

Posts: 769; Member since: Jul 28, 2016

I agree with all of you. It is nice to read level headed honest post from true BlackBerry user like all of you. Too many hater who don't use BB10 or BlackDroid phone like to make troll comment and hide behind "opinion" and play victim when called out for being troll.

29. Mxyzptlk unregistered

"hide behind "opinion"" That's double standards. " play victim when called out for being troll." That's projecting. You're pretty much doing the same thing you're complaining about in your comment.

34. MDCHO

Posts: 769; Member since: Jul 28, 2016

"That's double standard" You are king of double standard here. That's why no one take you serious. "That's projecting". You are projecting. Finally, you admit truth. Funny how you take offense to my post and no one else did. I can see I hit your nerve with truth.

39. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Oh it's not because I took offense. It's just that I felt like putting your comment down. The troll I usually pwn tries the same, cheap tactic when called out.

46. MDCHO

Posts: 769; Member since: Jul 28, 2016

You lie. You offended because I speak the truth and you take it to heart because you know it apply to you. You the only troll here. It shows because we both know who you trying to take cheapshot at because you not man enough to confront him directly. Coward.

17. Mxyzptlk unregistered

I'm probably one of the ones who will write it off. Just being honest, but I can see how this will be a device for the niche market crowd and the ones who just want a blackberry keyboard style phone.

27. roldefol

Posts: 4744; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

And that's fine. I wouldn't expect iPhone/Galaxy/Nexus/Pixel owners to suddenly rediscover the keyboard. I don't see why BlackBerry can't still offer a device that combines Android

30. Mxyzptlk unregistered

I don't care about the PKB. My main focal points are dual ffs, a clean and uncluttered UI, universally unlocked, and an overall total package that just works.

10. jplightning

Posts: 312; Member since: Nov 04, 2016

This phone is bae! I'm coppin' one as soon as it gets released!

16. Mxyzptlk unregistered

You're coppin one? I assume you meant buy?

19. jplightning

Posts: 312; Member since: Nov 04, 2016

Maaan, I don't give a flyin' fcuk what you assume.

26. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Neither of us could care less about whatever Mxy assumes, when it comes to Android devices.

40. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Yet you cared enough to respond.

31. Mxyzptlk unregistered

I wasn't assuming anything.

36. jplightning

Posts: 312; Member since: Nov 04, 2016

You just said "I assume you meant buy", so how's that not you assumin' anything? Your tag is Pinocchio from now on, fr fr.

42. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Ok alphageek.

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