BlackBerry Classic full review
BlackBerry Classic review: what it is
The BlackBerry Classic is a smartphone that is, depending on your viewpoint, another sign of BlackBerry's renaissance, or the final nail in an already doomed BlackBerry's coffin. A sign of a company that knows its strengths, or one that is doomed to repeat its mistakes ad infinitum. I'll get on with it.
The Classic is a new handset from BlackBerry. But unlike the BlackBerry Passport that was the company's most recent headline grabber, the Classic is quite literally a classic BlackBerry. A smartphone with a hardware qwerty keyboard. A squat black slab with 'BlackBerry' at the top and a keyboard at the bottom.
Working on the basis that those who use BlackBerry tend to love BlackBerry, the company has created a smartphone so 'BlackBerry' that it is almost a pastiche. But is it any good? Let's find out.
BlackBerry Classic review: UK price, availability, value
The BlackBerry Classic is widely available, and costs £349 inc VAT when purchased direct from BlackBerry. Or you can save a few quid and buy it for £329 inc VAT from Carphone warehouse, with SIMs from EE, O2 and Vodafone.
Pay Monthly deals on the BlackBerry Classic start at £17 per month with an £109 upfront cost and 500GB data. If you want to pay nothing up front the cheapest deal seems to be £22 a month. Both deals are for 24 months.
Either way that puts the Classic in the lower middle class of modern smartphones, which means it offers reasonable value for its dual-core chip specification, and limited to the Amazon App Store feature set. You won't buy the Classic because it is staggeringly good value. But if you want a BlackBerry it offers a decent deal. Better deals can be had, though: Cheapest smartphones and Best budget smartphones.
BlackBerry Classic review: design and build
No BlackBerry Passport or BlackBerry Z10, the Classic looks exactly like you remember every BlackBerry looking. It is both shorter, thicker, heavier and more rounded than you expect from a modern smartphone. We measured it at 131 x 72 x 10 mm, and it weighed in at 182 g on the PC Advisor scales. (BlackBerry claims 178 g, and we are not going to fall out about 4 measly grammes.)
Compared to flagships such as the Galaxy S6 Edge, the HTC One M9 or - yes - the iPhone 6, the BlackBerry Classic is not blessed with conventional good looks. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and those looking for a BlackBerry will have truly met their match.
In the hand this feels like a sturdy and well balanced device. You need the relative bulk to make use of the qwerty keyboard, and it has to be said that having never been a BlackBerry fan I quickly got to grips with typing on the BlackBerry Classic. If you type a lot of text, and you want to do so one-handed, the BlackBerry Classic will be good for you. That thick 10 mm mid-rift feels thicker than it ought, but it adds to the pleasing heft and solidity of the device. Around the side we see a silver metallic strip, which features volume and power buttons on the top righthand side, and speakers and a USB port at the bottom.
On the left as you look are SIM and SD Card slots, and at the very top is the 3.5mm audio jack and a power/home button. The back of the BlackBerry Classic has a curved and textured plastic finish. The centre is set a silver BlackBerry logo. At the top we find a thin reflective strip which features the word 'Classic', and to the left the camera lens and flash.
But the front of the Classic is what you will spend your time looking at. This features the classic BlackBerry fascia. The screen takes up around 60 percent of the front, the keyboard sits beneath it. Above the screen is a thick bezel which contains the word 'BlackBerry', a speaker grille, and the front-facing camera aperture.
Overall the effect is of black and silver - black, plastic and metallic finish. The Classic looks smart if a little staid. It feels sturdy if bulky, and will certainly stand up to a life on the road. And it is most recognisably a BlackBerry. And unlike the BlackBerry Passport it feels perfectly balanced in the hand. So much for looks and build: let's get into the important stuff. (See also: Best phones.)
BlackBerry Classic review: display and keyboard
So there's a keyboard. And on a relatively low-slung smartphone, that means you lost some screen real-estate. As with much that is interesting about the BlackBerry Classic, this will either repel or intrigue you.
The Classic has a 3.5in display, but it is a screen unlike any other (apart from the BlackBerry Passport). That is because - like BlackBerry's phablet with keyboard - the Classic's display has a 1:1 aspect ratio. That's right, it is perfectly square. Next to virtually every other display on every other smartphone that may seem like a bad thing. But the BlackBerry Classic is unashamedly a productivity tool. Indeed, its main function is as an email and messenger tool.
Thus that square screen makes sense. Once you get over the initial surprise at seeing something different this is great for some things, and poor for others. And those things give us a clue into the purpose of this device.
That squre screen is brilliant for reading- and responding to email, pretty good for browsing websites. Because it isn't as big as is the Passport the Classic's screen is not as good for reading and editing spreadsheets, but it offers a passable experience. Just don't watch movies, play games, or look at photos. Not if you have an aversion to seeing two thirds of the screen taken up by black borders, anyway. In terms of consumer entertainment we live in a widescreen world.
The display isn't as high-end as is the Passport's, either. A resolution of 720 x 720 pixels offers a now-upper-middle-class pixel density of 294 ppi. I couldn't honestly say that I found the sharpness to be lacking when using the Passport, in part perhaps because I wasn't going to watch video or look at photos anyway. The shape of the display somewhat precludes that.
Colours are plenty strong enough without being over powering, and software looks bright and clear. We should also point out that the BlackBerry Classic has a touchscreen. BlackBerry mavens may prefer to use the hardware controls offered, but you can swipe around BlackBerry 10 without having recourse to the keyboard. There is also a trackpad, should you desire it.
Ah, the keyboard. Since the iPhone appeared in 2007 the very idea of a hardware keyboard on your smartphone has seemed passe. Really, who needs one? But I personally praise BlackBerry for returning to its strengths: it may be that very few people want a keyboard on their phone, but those that do will want the BlackBerry Classic.
And it is a good keyboard. The keys are aligned in four rows, with a thin silver line inbetween each. The keys are each textured in such a way that very quickly you can type without looking. To the uninitiated BlackBerry typist having to hit Alt in order to type numbers and symbols is a pain, but a pain that you quickly get over. The keys give pleasant and useful feedback, and feel robust enough to last.
As I say: it is a good keyboard. If you want a big-screen phone, STOP READING THIS STORY. Insteat, click here: Best phablets.
BlackBerry Classic review: specs and performance
Let's talk numbers. The Classic is built around a dual-core chip. A Qualcomm MSM 8960 running at 1.5GHz. This feels relatively underpowered in a quad-core world, but it is paired with a healthy 2 GB RAM. And we can't honestly say that the BlackBerry Classic is a slow or underpowered smartphone. Far from it. In use the Classic feels responsive and zippy. We wouldn't rely on it to play powerful games, but that is not why you would purchase a BlackBerry.
We tend to take synthetic benchmarks with a synthetic pinch of salt, but it is nice when they back up our user experience. That wasn't really the case here, as the BlackBerry Classic turned in a series of flat performances. Running GeekBench 3 on the Classic straight out of the box we found a single core average score of exactly 500, and a multicore score of 928. To put that in context, the Moto E 4G gets around 450 and around 600, so the Classic out powers one of the better budget phones. (The Moto G has a much worse single core score, and a much better dual-core.) But it is hardly stirring stuff.
Perhaps the BlackBerry 10 software is well coded and mitigates for this low power. The BlackBerry Classic is not a power rig to take on the flagship Androids and iPhones, but it is perfectly well specced as a communiations device. And the performance feels okay for the price.
(Incidentally, we couldn't get our usual graphics benchmark to run. There is nothing sinister in this although with the Classic's spec we wouldn't expect it to be a great gaming device. Probably just as well given the display.)
Overall then: could do better. But don't think that the BlackBerry Classic is an iredeemably underpowered device. It isn't.
BlackBerry Classic review: connectivity and storage
The Classic comes with 16 GB of onboard storage, which can be added to with a MicroSD memory card of up to a further 128 GB. In our BlackBerry Classic, however, with nothing installed we had use of only 10 GB of storage. This is not appalling or even unusual, just something of which to be aware.
It charges and connects via a micro USB 2.0 port and, as with Androids and Windows Phones, you can mount your BlackBerry Classic as external storage via your PC or Mac.
You get 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless, as well as Bluetooth 4.0 and BlackBerry's own flavour of NFC. Cellular connectivity comprises LTE, HSPA+ and Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE. Sensors include accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope. It is a well-connected handset.
BlackBerry Classic review: camera
As I may have mentioned, the BlackBerry Classic is no-one's idea of a multimedia powerhouse, and this is certainly true of the cameras. For a start you have to get used to taking square photos. It is a strange sensation, although not without its own merits when photographing people, animals or still lives.
Around the back you have an 8 Mp camera with auto-focus, a five element F2.2 lens, and a mere five times digital zoom that isn't really worth your brainspace. There is a flash, and image stabilisation. You can capture 1080p HD video at 30 fps. Around the front we find a true webcam: a 2 Mp fixed-focus camera that offers 720p HD video recording and another, pointless, 3x digital zoom. (Just stand closer.)
These are not the specs of a serious cameraphone, and nor is the BlackBerry Classic that. But on the basis that the best camera is the camera you have to hand, you will be able to capture the odd moment with the BlackBerry Classic without feeling that you are wasting your time. It is an okay phone camera, and that is it.
BlackBerry Classic review: test shots, test video
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BlackBerry Classic review: software
Let's take a look at the software on which the BlackBerry Classic runs: BlackBerry 10.3.1. The traditional review of BlackBerry 10 is to say it has unusual swipe navigation, no apps, and great server side support for system admins. Well the first element is true: it takes a bit of getting used to but in time it feels intuitive to swipe from the sides, or the top and bottom, to get to the home page or the BlackBerry Hub. And despite pressure from Windows Phone, BlackBerry remains the gold standard for running a fleet of devices for a business. Data can be secured and deleted, software updates pushed out remotely. Your system admin will always thank you for choosing a BlackBerry.
The apps thing has definitely improved since BlackBerry started including the Amazon App Store. Spotify is there, for instance, as are native apps for all the major social networks. We could even install GeekBench and benchmark the Classic (which BlackBerry may live to regret). But you will find odd misses - I couldn't see a YouTube app that was made by Google, for example. If you are purchasing a phone for app support BlackBerry is not the way to go. In general, however, BlackBerry 10.3 is good to look at and easy to use. It is very similar to recent Android and iOS. And this is not the phone to buy if you are looking for loads of apps and media. Clearly not.
Things we like about BlackBerry 10.3 - in-window email notifications let you read and either dismiss or click to respond to messages as they come in, regardless of what you are looking at. True multitasking is possible because of that big screen and the fact that a simple swipe lets you see all open apps in an array of nine windows. Indeed swipe gestures that work on the touchscreen and keyboard are pretty cool, and the typing issues we had with the hardware keyboard are mitigated to an extent by the fact that if you attempt to move the cursor via touch you get a little circle with arrows that you can nudge to get the correct spot between two characters.
We have also grown to love BlackBerry Blend, the desktop-side software that allows you access information from your BlackBerry Classic. So you can hit the road with your laptop and the Classic, and use your laptop as your email client by hooking up the Classic. It's old school, but hugely effective and productive. And secure!
BlackBerry Classic review: battery life
I found I could comfortably eek the BlackBerry Classic through a day and a half or even two days of use. It has a relatively large for this spec 2,515 mAh battery, a relatively small screen, and being principally a communications device I wasn't tempted to drain the battery with games or video.
The Battery Saving Profile feature will automatically lower the display brightness and make other battery saving changes if you get close to the end. By default this is set to 20 percent, but you can adjust this number. In our unofficial testing, then, the BlackBerry Classic does well on battery life. (See also: Best phones.)
BlackBerry Classic: Specs
- Dual-core Qualcomm MSM 8960 running at 1.5GHz
- 2GB RAM
- BlackBerry 10.3.1
- 16GB storage (SD card up to 128GB)
- 3.5in display, 1:1, 720 x 720, 294 ppi
- full qwerty keyboard, touchscreen, trackerpad
- 8 MP and 2 Mp cameras
- USB 2.0, 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, LTE, HSPA+, Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE
- 131 x 72 x 10 mm
- 182 g