Pretty much. The BlackBerry Classic is a throwback to when QWERTY keyboards ruled the mobile land.
Why the “retro” looks? Good question.
A couple of years ago, BlackBerry tried to take on the iPhone and Android head-on with the all-touchscreen Blackberry Z10. That plan failed so miserably it nearly bankrupted the company.
BlackBerry’s new master plan, under current CEO John Chen, is to return back to its QWERTY keyboard rootsBlackBerry’s new master plan, under current CEO John Chen, is to return back to its QWERTY keyboard roots. Last year the company released the oddly shaped keyboard-rocking Passport to disappointing reviews.The Classic, a $499.99-unlocked blast from the past, may be one of the best typing experiences on a phone out there, but it still comes with all the flaws of being a BlackBerry. (AT&T will have it for $49.99 with two-year contract and Verizon is also getting it soon.)
The Classic is unmistakably a BlackBerry. BlackBerry borrowed and updated the design of the Bold 9900, a smartphone from 2011, even going as far as bringing back the “belt” — the strip of buttons and trackpad below the screen. Longtime BlackBerry users will love its return, but BlackBerry 10’s touchscreen gestures make the buttons redundant and unnecessary.
If there’s one thing BlackBerry phones get right, it’s durability. The Classic’s built like a tank; I accidentally dropped it a few times and it bounced back without any bruises. (Note to self: stop tossing phones onto the sofa thinking they won’t bounce off.) The Classic also has a nice weight to it and the textured back is nice and grippy.
The Classic’s specs are unspectacular. It’s got a 3.5-inch square touchscreen with 750 x 750 resolution, a 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage (expandable with a microSD card up to 128GB). It hums along fine, but not what I consider fast. I always seemed to be waiting for something to load.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise at all.
The Classic is to an iPhone what a business laptop is to a MacBookThe Classic is to an iPhone what a business laptop is to a MacBook; it’s powerful enough to do low-power stuff like sending email and Googling things, but not the greatest for rich entertainment experiences like watching videos and playing games.
Battery life from the 2,515 milliampere-hour (mAh) battery is also better than I expected; good for about a day and a half using it mostly for email, texting and updating Twitter and Facebook (basically as a work phone).
On the back is an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash, but image quality is pretty average and the shutter and autofocus system are sloooooow. Keep your point-and-shoot around or carry an iPhone if you want great pictures.
QWERTY keyboard’s still got it
BlackBerry perfected the mobile QWERTY keyboard. And then the iPhone changed everything.
With onscreen keyboards, pounding out lengthy emails became slower for a while, but we got used to them. We got smarter autocorrect, souped-up virtual keyboards like Swype and SwiftKey, and powerful, accurate voice dictation.
Most people I know can now type on a touchscreen keyboard as fast as they did on a BlackBerry keyboard. We’ve all adapted to touchscreen typing.
That said, BlackBerry still knows how to make a damn good physical keyboard. The Classic’s keys are a little larger, but they’re still perfectly shaped as they were on the old Bolds. And unlike on the Passport, the space bar is on its own row, and the symbol and period buttons are present.
Heck, the keyboard is so superb, I typed 75 percent of this review on it. That’s how solid it is. If the majority of your day consists of cranking out emails on the go, the Classic’s keyboard is tops.
Confusing OS now more confusing
BlackBerry 10 is far more confusing than it should be. The Classic ships with BlackBerry 10.3. It’s more refined and feature-packed than previous versions, but it’s far from the slickest mobile operating system around.
New additions like the BlackBerry Assistant (its own version of Siri/Google Now/Cortana), accessible by pressing the Mute button on the right side of the phone, and the universal search (just start typing from the home screen) are neat, but they feel like catch-up features with little edge over the other big players.
There are too many shortcuts for launching apps and way too many ways to do the same things, like minimizing apps. Seriously, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen, press the back button or press the End call button.
Likewise, BlackBerry Hub, the central command center for all your calls, texts, emails, and Twitter and Facebook notifications, is too busy — it feels overwhelming to even open it.
But there’s BBM, BlackBerry’s fast and awesome messaging service, you say! It’s been updated with stickers, but I don’t know anyone who still uses it. Everyone’s moved on to WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger or Line.
When BlackBerry 10 isn’t slow, it’s freezing upWhen BlackBerry 10 isn’t slow, it’s freezing up. Sometimes apps just hang and never open, forever stuck loading. The Maps app works, but it’s bare-bones and not even close to being as sophisticated as Google Maps — maps render slowly when you zoom in and out. The same goes for opening the BlackBerry World app store; it’s painfully slow.
Apps are still a problem
A weeny-sized app store is still one of BlackBerry’s biggest problems. Essential apps like Facebook and Twitter are already pre-installed, but you won’t find other big apps like Instagram or Flipboard or Uber. A business phone with no Uber (it’s only supported on older BlackBerry phones like the Pearl and the Pearl Flip) — imagine that.
To make up for the puny selection of apps in its own BlackBerry World app store, BlackBerry has shoehorned in the Amazon Appstore’s library. The grass is greener with Android apps — there’s Spotify and Crossy Road! — but I’d be lying if I said the situation was double rainbows.
Android apps aren’t designed to run on a square screen; they’re made for rectangular displays. You can adjust the screen to run apps in rectangle mode, but you’ll get letter-boxing on both sides and you’ll also find yourself pecking at smaller buttons and looking at tiny, fuzzier text.
Android apps also don’t work with any of the hardware buttons on the Classic; they’re touchscreen only. On top of that, Android apps run slower since they’re not native. I experienced a handful of crashes and freeze-ups while browsing news on Feedly and playing Temple Run 2.
Anyone looking for Google’s Play Services apps like Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Music, etc. will also be left in tears. The Amazon Appstore doesn’t have them. Tough luck!
Pining for the good ol’ days
BlackBerry (formerly called Research In Motion) had good times. Those keyboard-tapping days were wonderful. They liberated us from typing with numeric keypads and helped get everyone texting more than ever before.
But those days are over. Progress doesn’t work by going backwards. The future is high-res touchscreen smartphones with sizable app stores that let us enjoy work and play on the same device with virtually no compromise. That future is iPhones and Androids, not BlackBerries with physical keyboards, square displays and dedicated Call and Call End buttons (really, LOLing at them).
The BlackBerry Classic might have the great QWERTY keyboard that made BlackBerry a titan back in the day, but the increasingly convoluted BlackBerry 10 and depressing BlackBerry World app store hold it back from being a device worth using, let alone buying.
Sure, it’s super secure for the enterprise, but who, outside of old suits, is clamoring for a BlackBerry and BBM? Sorry, but even Drake can’t make the Classic a hot toy with the new kids. Don’t be tempted by the “low” $50 (with two-year contract) pricing. Your money is better off spent towards an Android or iPhone.
Excellent QWERTY keyboard • Extremely durable
BlackBerry 10 is a mess • Small, square-shaped screen • App store situation is lousy
The Bottom Line
The BlackBerry Classic is for the QWERTY keyboard faithful and email workaholic only. BlackBerry 10 is still as confusing as ever and essential apps like Instagram and Google’s own suite of apps are nowhere to found.