BlackBerry Classic review: Back to the past is not how to get to the future

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What’s Old Is New Again

The BlackBerry Classic is a return to BlackBerry’s
QWERTY keyboard success. The $499.99 (unlocked) smartphone is basically
an updated BlackBerry Bold 9900, but running the newest BlackBerry 10
operating system.
Image: Mashable, Luke Leonard

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BlackBerry is still alive, and it’s making smartphones designed for… 2008?

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 roots

BlackBerry’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.)

(B)old-school design

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.

BlackBerry Classic review

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 MacBook

The 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 up

When 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.

BlackBerry Classic review

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.

BlackBerry Classic

The Good

Excellent QWERTY keyboard Extremely durable

The Bad

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.

BlackBerry Classic review: Back to the past is not how to get to the future

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