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Jenneth Orantia
Smarter Writer

Jenneth Orantia is a journalist who has been reporting on tech developments and trends for the last decade

Jenneth Orantia
Smarter Writer

Jenneth Orantia is a journalist who has been reporting on tech developments and trends for the last decade

Remember when BlackBerry was the king of the smartphones? Times have changed since then but the Canadian manufacturer is hoping to gain some of its former business-friendly mojo back with the launch of the BlackBerry Classic. Has the top must-have mobility tool for business users returned to its throne?

BlackBerry Classic

Is nostalgia enough?

The square screen is slightly bigger than the Bold 9900’s at 3.5-inch, the display resolution has been boosted from 640 x 480 to 720 x 720, and the engine room has beefed up to support the greater demands of the latest BlackBerry 10.3 operating system. But does an old-fashioned design tweaked with a few modern improvements make for a worthwhile handset in 2015?

The keyboard is a clear improvement over BlackBerry’s flagship Passport, with a good-sized space bar, the same alternate keys we remember from older BlackBerry keyboards (for quickly accessing numbers and punctuation symbols), and prominent ridges on each keycap for easily ‘feeling’ for each letter. There’s something invariably satisfying about being able to press each key in over simply tapping your fingers over a flat, unyielding touchscreen.

We’re in two minds about whether the physical keyboard actually amounts to a better typing experience, however. On-screen keyboards on ‘phablets’ like the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 match the BlackBerry Classic’s keyboard for size, and while you can’t feel each key on the former style of keyboard, excellent auto correction and predictive text technologies have made them far more user-friendly for typing. 

Screen real estate disappoints

Besides the retro looks and physical keyboard, the rest of the BlackBerry Classic’s hardware was disappointing. Now that 5-inch displays are considered average for a smartphone, the Classic’s 3.5-inch screen felt claustrophobic to use on a regular basis. It worked fine whenever we needed to enter text, but for non-text entry tasks like web browsing or watching a video, the screen is far too small for our liking. Performance was also uninspiring, with jerky scrolling through web pages and social feeds, and apps that were frequently unresponsive. This isn’t a huge surprise, given it uses a three-year old 1.5GHz dual-core processor.

On the software side, the latest BlackBerry 10.3 offers plenty of productivity perks, between the all-in-one BlackBerry Hub that groups all of your emails, messages and notifications together for easy management, the Siri-like BlackBerry Assistant, and the BlackBerry Balance feature for keeping your work and personal data separate. 

An app a day keeps the user at play

The most significant change, however, is native support for Android apps, opening up a massive library of software that BlackBerry users could only dream of previously. The pre-installed Amazon Appstore portal offers roughly 300,000 Android apps, along with regular promotions like a free paid app per day. It’s a far cry from the estimated 1.43 million apps in the Google Play store, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can install almost any Android app from other online app repositories. The notable exception is any of the official Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps, although there are various complicated workarounds you can employ to get those working on the BlackBerry Classic.

Verdict

We had high hopes for the BlackBerry Classic, but we were let down by the too-small display and pokey performance.

Ultimately, we prefer the larger 4.5-inch square display and smoother quad-core performance of the BlackBerry Passport, even though it’s too wide to use one-handed and the keyboard design isn’t as good as the Classic’s. If BlackBerry were able to take the best attributes from the Passport and Classic and combine them into a single device, we think they’d have a definite winner.

As it stands, the BlackBerry Classic’s excellent physical keyboard – easily its most desirable attribute – isn’t useful enough to make up for its shortcomings. 

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