Just a couple of years back it seemed that BlackBerry’s days in the smartphone business were over. They tried re-shuffling their boardroom. But it wasn’t until John Chen came in at the back end of 2013 that the old giants of the industry started showing real signs of life again.
And it all sort of feels like it was leading up to one phone: The BlackBerry Classic. It’s giving BlackBerry fans everything they want in an up-to-date and relatively affordable package.
Design-wise, this is about as typical a BlackBerry you can get without re-launching the Bold. Its metal chassis and frame give it a feeling of sturdiness and class, although they do add some weight. At 6 and 1/4 ounces, it’s heavier than a Galaxy Note 4, even though it’s much smaller. But despite its obvious heft, it’s a very comfortable phone to hold. Its rear is curved from the edges and covered in a grippy, textured plastic making it one of the most ergonomic phones BlackBerry has released.
On the front, the traditional physical QWERTY keyboard take up four rows - each separated by stylish and practical metal frets. It makes for an easy typing experience. Especially given the fact that all the function and symbol keys are in the right places. For those who were virtually touch-typing on old BlackBerries, this should be a piece of cake.
It’s the row above the keyboard that may confuse some legacy BlackBerry fans. With BlackBerry OS 10 working completely differently to the previous versions of software, some of the keys don’t do what you think they will. And functions aren’t consistent. The “BlackBerry” menu button opens up the settings drop-down menu from the home screen. Press it again, and it selects whatever is highlighted. In the Hub it opens the side menu. The back buttons takes you back, but can also be used to close running app windows on the home screen.
And then there’s the trackpad which works well. For old-schoolers who want to avoid touch screen use, you can get around almost the entire system using just the optical trackpad. Call and end call buttons do what you expect they will. In and of themselves, all the buttons work really well, but they do have a downside. They slightly intrude on the touch sensitive portion of the screen’s frame. It can be hard to perform the swiping-up gesture without hitting one of the buttons.
Overall, the hardware looks and feels high-end. Which is surprising given how cheap it is compared to the Passport. While the flagship costs $700 to buy outright, the Classic costs $449.
Moving up the device, and we get to the display. Like the Passport’s display, it is square. It’s a 3.5-inch, 720x720 resolution LCD panel with a pixel density of 294ppi. It’s clear then, that this is a mid-range device. Saying that, it’s not a terrible display. It’s bright and has great viewing angles. Whites don’t tend to change when viewing the phone from different angles. Colors are natural too. Text is fairly sharp, but if you look closely, curves on lettering and numbers aren’t tremendously smooth.
What’s more, because the screen is square, what you can do with it is limited. If you’re really in to watching movies or gaming you should just give the Classic a miss. Unless all you want to play is the new Brick Breaker game. The same goes for photographs. But, for emails, messaging, web browsing and calendar management it’s fantastic. And because there’s no keyboard taking up space on the screen, you can see much more of the text than you might on another smartphone.
For the most part, BlackBerry OS 10.3 looks well optimized for the square displays. But on the smaller screen of the Classic, there are times when it doesn’t look quite right. Like when the drop down menu takes up almost the entire screen, or the notification icons and clock look huge on the lock screen. But these are unimportant issues. More noticeable problems arise when we look at performance.
Performance and Battery Life
First thing I noticed, having used a number of flagships for the past few months is that there’s a delay in touch screen responsive-ness. Gestures don’t result in instant action. Granted, it’s not a huge delay, in fact, it’s a split-second, but I noticed it nonetheless. For the most part, moving through the user interface is a pleasing experience, but open an app and the experience changes. Performance can be sluggish at times. That said, browser speed is very quick, even if the touchscreen response time isn’t quite up to scratch.
Thanks to BlackBerry 10’s intuitive gesture-based system, moving around the phone is as slick and easy as ever. Even if it’s not as instantaneously responsive as its bigger brother, the Passport.
Battery life is decent too. The Classic easily got me through a full day on a 100% charge, with some juice left over normally after light to moderate use. As with many individual features, the Classic isn’t as impressive as the Passport. But it’s still good overall, even if it is only 2,515mAh.
Speaking about cameras on a BlackBerry has always, historically been a side-issue. As long as it had one, and you could take the odd snap to upload to Facebook, the world is all rosy. Things have changed, but not as much as I would have liked.
The 8MP camera on the back of the Classic is capable of taking pretty good shots. Items in focus and in good light are sharp, and colors are pretty accurate too. Even depth of field is passable. But overall, pictures can be fuzzy. And there is the odd occasion when colors are lifeless. If light is anything below brilliantly bright, the camera does struggle to create a good image. And that’s without the issues that arise trying to take a photo on a square screen. It’s not the biggest viewfinder.
Overall then, the BlackBerry Classic is everything that BlackBerry users need it to be. It’s a current, up-to-date phone with great build quality and an almost perfect physical keyboard and control system. It’s not the best performer in every category, but it’s still solid device and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgia trip it took me on.