Yes, we finally came around to releasing our review of the BlackBerry Classic. Sorry for the delays on my part, but I did actually take the time to use the device for almost a month before reviewing and so obviously my views and perspective changed throughout on some of the device features. Also, BlackBerry did send this out to us a little later after everyone else got them, so I really can’t control that. Nonetheless, big thanks to BlackBerry for sending us the device to review! So back to the device, it’s the BlackBerry Classic. The name says it all – it’s bringing everything back you missed from your former BlackBerry experiences way back when before the Z10 took the stage.
The BlackBerry Classic seems to be the answer to all those who miss that “iconic” BlackBerry experience, both existing users and those who left BlackBerry for other platforms. At a glance you’ll notice the similarities from older and more familiar BlackBerry devices and of course the new BlackBerry 10 OS on it. Maybe you were on the BlackBerry Q10 and missed the trackpad with menu keys. Or was it the Bold 9900? Let’s take a closer look.
The design is quite familiar as mentioned previously, yet still unique with the finishing touches of today’s BlackBerry devices. The BlackBerry Classic brings the former experience back to life, but with the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. The brought back layout includes the trackpad for navigation, send/end keys for phone calls, back button, and menu button. The keyboard layout is indeed the “classic” style in terms of its keys, but it is no longer curved as it was in the older devices such as the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and Bold 9930. Instead the keys are straight across as they are on the BlackBerry Q10. So far the feedback has been positive with the keyboard orientation and to me it feels just right.
You’ll notice that the sim card slot and micro SD card slot can be found on the left side of the device. The sim card slot depicts iPhone’s similar design, in that you have to poke a needle in the hole to get the sim card try to slide right out. The micro SD card slot is a simple flap you have to open and click in the SD from there. Just like the BlackBerry Passport, you’ll find the charging port present on the bottom with a speaker on each side (two in total) – this also similar to what the BlackBerry Passport is equipped with.
The metallic finish all around the borders of the device is quite nice, and definitely feels classy in the hand. Putting this up against the Bold 9900 series, this one definitely holds up as being a scaled up build.
My favorite part of the design is definitely the back. It’s a grid pattern plastic that feels secure and comfortable in the hand. Some may argue with me but I kind of wish the Passport had that same similar backside – only to assist when you really need to go one handed on the device (even though it’s intended for two hands). The word “Classic” is seen in all caps to the right of the 8MP camera and rear facing flash.
The Classic is round on the edges and on the back. In comparison the Bold 9900 series did have a rounded back (somewhat) and then the flat battery panel that falls right in the center. While we’re still comparing, we can also take not some similarities and differences in the design:
- Curved keyboard vs Straight keyboard
- Taking the keyboard design back, we were always used to a curved style keyboard for the most part, even on the Curve series. With the first release of BlackBerry 10 where the Z10 was announced alongside of the Q10, we were definitely quick to notice that the keyboard was straight edge
- Screen size
- This one’s a no brainer. The screen is obviously larger here. We won’t get deep into specs in this section, but as BlackBerry has advertised, the Classic has 60% more screen space than the Bold 9900
- Another no brainer – the BlackBerry Classic sports a front face camera for video chat and selfie capability 🙂
As mentioned, at a glance, we quickly notice that the BlackBerry Classic does have that overall look/feel/taste of the older BlackBerry devices, obviously with a twist. Some things we noticed offhand being in line with each other:
- Navigation Keys
- I’m one of many who missed the old school navigation keys when the BlackBerry Q10 launched. I get it – we’re in a touchscreen era, and BlackBerry was trying to gear the audience in that direction too, while preserving the keyboard. Even so, the navigation keys were missed. It’s nice to see they’re back in the BlackBerry Classic, with the same exact design layout as it was on the older devices such as the Bold 9900 series we keep referencing back to.
- This falls right in the center of the navigation keys and it works just as expected which we’ll dive into later on in this review. I’m definitely glad to see the trackpad is back!
Let’s start off by listing out all the specs of the BlackBerry Classic:
- Size: (LxWxD) 131mm x 72.4mm x 10.2mm
- Display: 3.5″ LCD 24 bit color, 720 x 720 resolution with 1:1 aspect ratio
- Keyboard: 35 key backlit physical keyboard
- User Interface: BlackBerry® 10 OS 10.3.1 and gesture based UI, QWERTY keypad, Capacitive Multi Touch Display, Navigation keys
- Software: Launches with BlackBerry® 10.3.1 OS
- Memory: 2 GB DDR2 RAM, 16 GB eMMC, Hot-swappable MicroSD slot (up to 128 GB additional storage)
- Processor: Dual-Core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm 8960
- Battery Life:* Talk Time – GSM: up to 11.7 hours, UMTS: up to 17.2 hours, Standby Time – GSM: up to 14.5 days, UMTS: up to 15.2 days, Audio Playback: up to 70 hours, Video Playback: up to 13.7 hours
- Camera: 8 MP auto-focus rear facing camera, 5x digital zoom, Flash, continuous & touch to focus, image stabilization, 1080p HD video recording, 2MP fixed-focus front facing camera, Image & video stabilization, 3x digital zoom, 720p HD video recording
- GPS: Assisted, Autonomous and Simultaneous GPS preloaded with BlackBerry® Maps application
- Connectivity: USB 2.0 compatible, Works with SlimPort® accessories, Bluetooth® Bluetooth 4.0 and EDR
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n enabled, 4G Mobile Hotspot
- Network: LTE 1,2,3,5,7,8,20 (2100/1900/1800/850/2600/900/800 MHz), HSPA+ 1,2,5/6,8 (2100/1900/850/900 MHz), Quad band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz), Network support listed is for SQC100-1
Advanced Sensors: Accelerometer, Magnetometer, Gyroscope, Proximity,
Hall Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor
Now it’s definitely subjective in terms of how you see the specs play out after using the device. In my opinion, it pretty much depends what device you’re upgrading from here. For me, I was of course on the BlackBerry Passport first and have been since September, so there are some things on the spec side that I was not too thrilled about.
The Trackpad Experience:
What a nice refresher this has been. To be honest, I was not sure how the Classic trackpad was going to play out only because BlackBerry stopped implementing them since OS 7, and we’re obviously on BlackBerry 10, which is touchscreen friendly. The trackpad let’s you do everything you want it to. Navigate anywhere on your home screen, in between apps, within apps (most, and limited on Android applications obviously). It does take a little acquainting to though thanks to the Hub. BlackBerry Hub is to the very far left of your OS, and sure enough you can get there by swiping the trackpad in that direction. Naturally, I wanted to swipe on the screen, but quickly reminded myself that the trackpad is there and can get things done.
Web browsing brings back an experience I remember back on my BlackBerry Pearl 8100 and BlackBerry Curve 8320. I don’t remember the exact OS update, but at one point it brought an actual mouse to the web browser and you could move it around with the trackball. This of course lived on to the rest of the QWERTY BlackBerry devices with trackpads. Back to the Classic, we get that same mouse which makes it real easy to click links, scroll or even navigate out to the address bar. Once touching the screen in the web browser, the mouse disappears since you’re no longer using it – comes back when you swipe the trackpad again. The BlackBerry Classic trackpad reintroduces one handed productivity for me once again. Let’s face it, the Passport is a two handed device and I can’t really swipe and navigate as much as I’d like to, let alone type much of anything with one hand free on the subway.
The OS and trackpad and device are of course all exciting for me, but it’s all about these navigation keys. I just mentioned how productive I am on the device thanks to the device being one handed, and more importantly the trackpad. Definitely have to also give credit to the navigation keys which surround the centered trackpad.
Making phone calls is not my most frequent activity, but using actual keys to call, answer, and end is a breeze and feel BlackBerry-natural once again. Where ever you are in the OS, you can hit the Send key to bring the Phone screen for recent calls, dialer and all the good stuff there. The End button does exactly what you think, takes you back to home screen when you push it within an application. Other than that, it’ll just end the call. The BlackBerry menu button (located left of the trackpad, right of the Send button) will bring up menus within applications. For example, in the web browser, you’ll get the menu coming out of the right side which by default on BlackBerry 10 you would just click the 3 dots.
The speed and performance of the device is pretty decent and I’ll leave it at that. I won’t say excellent only due to the fact of Android application performance, as I definitely notice it slower here than on the BlackBerry Passport which I keep referencing back to. Surely, we don’t have the same ram or quad-core processor the Passport sports, but it is noticeable if you’re coming from the device. Other than that, native applications and using the Classic in a “classic manner” – in that you are messaging constantly on emails and BBM, and web browsing is fluid and there’s no performance complaints there at all actually.
As mentioned in the design comparison above, the screen is indeed bigger than the Bold 9900 but how does it play out for things we like to do on our mobile smartphones today? Here’s some of my own impressions of some day to day activity.
Like any other BlackBerry with physical QWERTY keyboard, the device was clearly not made for movie streaming. While you can pick up Netflix officially through the preloaded Amazon Appstore, the screen is just too small for today’s widescreen formatted videos. Nonetheless, it is fully capable of playing videos as much as you want – and even nicer if you’re watching old sitcoms which fill the 1:1 ratio display.
The Music Player is my everyday go-to application. Nothing has changed much in the UI here as it’s the same on the Passport. The template equalizer is great and it was only recently that I noticed how impacting it is if you have the right headphones. After making my first Dre Beats purchase, I decided to revisit the Bass boost on the BlackBerry Classic native music player and then I could actually hear and feel the difference. Creating and managing playlists is easy through the user friendly cascades-style UI. One thing I want BlackBerry to fix on these QWERTY devices with 1:1 displays – find a way to fit album colors on the screen better. For the most part they are cut off, and are just too big stretching out. Make it smaller and centered in the screen – not AIM buddy icon small but maybe something along the lines of how iGrann displays Instagram 1:1 photos on the Classic and Passport (best way to describe it and I hope you guys get what I’m trying to say here).
So BlackBerry is automatically creating stories out of my photos and I can scroll through them when browsing through my albums. Pretty cool! But one thing not so cool about it is that some of the stories don’t make sense or tie in together. For example, I came across one automated story which included some photos I had taken that day, including a screenshot from BlackBerry World or something which I may have tweeted or written a post about. Not a big deal here, but I can live without the automated story making so not going to bash that, just putting it out there. Browsing through pictures hasn’t changed really, the up/down scroll and tiled out photos. Click to view in full, swipe left and right to switch between the pictures. Through all of BlackBerry 10, I’m really happy to see that in 10.3.x that the Recent tab has been added, so you can see any recent photos that were recently added to your collection, no matter where they are on your phone (camera, photos, downloads, media card, device, etc.).
The struggle is real here. I know there’s reviewers and BlackBerry loyalists out there who will continue raving about the BlackBerry camera and how great it is with its high megapixels. I’m going to be real here – there has been a huge decline from the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and onward. The 9900 completely was missing autofocus, and with BlackBerry 10 we do kind of/sort of have it again, but it’s weak sauce. Image stabilization is barely there and auto focus works sort of. Believe me, I love the device and obviously BlackBerry devices, but the camera situation does need to be addressed eventually. On the positive side, with proper lighting, and a steady hand, I have been able to take some really good pictures with the Classic. To weed out the bells and whistles – and just to keep it real, I won’t be showing example photos of Mount Rushmore, or Capital Hill with complimentary lighting to enhance the photo. So to be completely realistic on camera quality, here are 3 simple images taken indoor at a Dunkin Donuts of a nice Latte with with 2% milk and no sugar. I have it in all three ratios which are 1:1, 4:3 and 16:9. The fourth image is 1:1 but with HDR enabled.
Like the trackpad, the keyboard takes you back as well to the same iconic experience you once remembered. If you’re still on the BlackBerry Q10, then nothing has changed here really in terms of the keyboard. Coming from the Bold 9900 or 9930 series, you’ll be a bit in shock with the straight keyboard, which once used to be in a curved shape. Believe it or not (and I can’t explain or justify why), the keyboard feels great, and there is no learning curve from the older Bold or any other legacy BlackBerry device. As soon as you pick it up, you’ll know how to use it – and that’s what BlackBerry wants most when you pick up the Classic.
Coming from the BlackBerry Passport, I hesitate at times to try to press on screen keys for numbers or caps, so it was a bit of getting re-acquainted to again. I’m not sure how many will be actually going from Passport to Classic, but either way you’ll get used to the new key orientation (which is actually the old key orientations technically speaking). All in all, you’ll be typing fast in no time – like i said there’s practically no learning curve.
The screen resolution:
Jumping around to my next piece, it’s the screen resolution – moreover the screen real estate here. Before I get into that, one point I’d like to make is why I went for the BlackBerry Passport and that is because of the screen size and high resolution of 1440 x 1440. Going back to the BlackBerry Classic, it’s cut by a lot at 720 x 720 so you may think it’s hard to get acquainted to if you’ve been spoiled.
In my first usage, I thought I would feel limited with the screen size, but just like applications, a lot of things just adjust well in the resolution. Moving away from applications, take email and BBM for example. Surely if your font size is large enough, you’re going to see less on your screen. As a personal preference, I like using a size 6 or 7 font maximum which generally is smaller than the stock font (size 8 I believe). You won’t get as much content in the screen as something else bigger like the Passport, but you can get more with little tweaks like this.
One area that just can’t be improved is watching movies as I went over earlier in the review. It’s a 1:1 resolution, so it’s not really the best movie watching experience – but can be done! This is all subjective, so it depends on your personal preference.
The Bottom Line:
There’s a lot I love about the BlackBerry Classic as I continue using it. To wrap this up, here are my device favorites after using it over the last several weeks.
- Size – The BlackBerry Classic feels great not just in the hand when typing away an email, but in your pocket. It’s a thin profile, and I definitely love being out for the day with light, non-bulgy pockets.
- OS – Since the for launch of OS 10, this build (10.3.1) brings so many great improvements to the OS, and it is indeed more than just a shrunken down version of what’s on other devices. BlackBerry clearly optimized this for the Classic specifically and brings support for the trackpad to do everything in the operating system. Definitely a thumbs up here.
- The back – Earlier I gave lots of praise to the back cover of the Classic. It gives a great grip in the hand and looks real sleek. Its rounded on the edges and has a grid design to help you securely hold it in your hands leaving minimal chance of slipping. The branding of the word “CLASSIC” is real elegant too on the very top, right to the camera and flash.
- Android apps – Like all other BlackBerry 10 devices, the BlackBerry Classic is Android-app ready and comes preloaded with the Amazon Appstore (in addition to BlackBerry World) giving you access to lots of Android games and apps. The zoom in/out and scaling to rectangle feature is essential and extremely useful so you don’t have to miss out on any application experiences, regardless of the resolution.
- Typing – This goes without saying but worth the mention. It’s the same BlackBerry keyboard we all know and love – and it’s back.
- Navigation keys and trackpad – Another obvious point, but it really makes a difference when you have a physical button to perform an action over a swipe/gesture on the screen. The navigation keys are close by your fingers at all times to press, and as an avid BlackBerry user, your fingers will know which button does what without even looking. The trackpad is real convenient for it all – navigating between apps, scrolling through emails and web browsing through newsfeeds of any kind.
Is this device for you? It may or may not be and that depends on what you look for in a smartphone. The powerhouse texting productive user would appreciate this more than a gamer or one who likes to watch movies on their phone all day. For the corporates and business users coming from legacy devices such as the Bold 9900 series, this is an awesome switch and you’ll definitely appreciate what BlackBerry has packed here, without sacrificing any of the core functionality you love and are already acquainted to. For me personally, I see myself switching between the Classic and Passport – not for any particular reason but because I do love both devices. When I am on the Classic, I may miss the large screen the Passport rocks and battery life, while vice versa I’ll miss the navigation keys and smaller proportion device when back on the Passport. Hope you guys enjoyed my review – I know it’s been a while and I promise we’ll keep this going and be sure to review more devices as they continue to release moving forward. Below are some images to check out of the device if you haven’t seen it in person yet.