BlackBerry Classic Review

An upgraded, yet modernized BlackBerry experience for all

At a device launch in the immense Cipriani venue on Manhattan’s south end, BlackBerry threw a firm nod to the past that is now behind them. It’s called the BlackBerry Classic – a quizzical, if not necessitous, throwback to a time when BlackBerry was popular, pulling their iconic QWERTY into the modern age with a fluid mobile OS and the same hard keys and tool belt that changed the paradigm for users the world over.

The Classic sports solid specifications along with the highly optimized 10.3.1 BlackBerry 10 OS. It is the first device to launch with the latest OS iteration from the Canadian outfit. For those familiar with the first BlackBerry 10 QWERTY, the Q10, or perhaps jumped to the innovative Passport, the BlackBerry Classic offers an unparalleled input experience tailored to mobile professionals who love their legacy Bold BlackBerry devices. Before you laugh, there are arguably over 35 million users out there who still use older BlackBerry devices. In part, the Classic is aimed squarely at those users.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen admits, when meeting with top CEOs, that he got the response, “Don’t mess with the keyboard, don’t mess with the navigation keys…” Chen continues, “Some people told me, why are you going back to the future, or rehashing… that is absolutely not true [Regarding Classic].”

DESIGN:

The build quality and overall design of the Classic is iconic. The return of the tool belt sees it thinner and sleeker than ever. This device was designed by BlackBerry and manufactured by Foxconn. That being said, the device feels and looks great. The Classic branding on the camera band is gorgeous. The keyboard sports sculpted keys separated by stainless steel frets. The 4 rows of 35 keys below the tool belt look balanced and inviting. It reeks of a serious business device . The back is similar to that of the Z3 and Z10, a dimpled soft touch finish with good grip. The non-removable back curves elegantly into the brushed stainless steel silver band that wraps the device. This band is also fingerprint resistant – a design facet adored on the Bold 9900. The keyboard has straight frets and larger keys over its predecessor (Q10) and when compared, the changes on the BlackBerry Classic make it feel like a refreshed, yet timeless device. This design is desired specially for its proficiency and familiarity. Toward that end, the Classic is a highly durable, well built phone — and a form factor which we will be talking about for years to come.

DISPLAY:

The BlackBerry Classic has a 3.5″ IPS LCD panel that sits right above the tool belt. This display comes in at a 720×720 resolution. It has good color reproduction and decent viewing angles. Compared with a Q10, outdoor readability is vastly improved over the OLED screen. As well, the screen has a lauded 60% more real estate than the Bold 9900. Arguably, you have more screen here for editing and text manipulation than you would on an iPhone 6, with its virtual keyboard eating up the screen. While less pixel dense than the Q10, it is bright and crisp enough for text. There are no visible pixels and overall the panel works really well for the OS gestures and general viewing of videos and articles. If you hadn’t grasped already, this is a square screen with a 1:1 ratio. This may not be great for playing games, but it’s great for Instagram and Pinterest. Personally, I find the square screen really nice to use. It makes for wider viewing of content as well as minimizes the reach needed to hit the top of the screen.

CAMERA:

With an 8MP rear facing camera and a 2MP front facing camera, the Classic is not only great at selfies but also fairly proficient at taking solid photos in various lighting. I was genuinely surprised by low light performance. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s much better than other cameras I’ve tested recently, such as the HTC One. There are burst modes, panorama, night, beach, snow, time shift, timer, HDR and more listed among the options. Despite the square screen, the camera can also take landscape images at 4:3 and 16:9, as well as the default 1:1. The Classic also can do HD 1080p video at 30FPS and, using the native editor, you can even create slow motion videos. The camera is smarter with 10.3.1 and suggests shooting modes based on face detection and lighting. As well, you can now save your time shift photos and edit them post-capture which is awesome to say the least. Now you can start shooting a video and also take photos while the video records. You can even reply to instant action messages while videos are being recorded. The camera isn’t necessarily the strongest area for the Classic, but that’s probably not a big deal for end users.

RECEPTION & CALL QUALITY:

Unlike a lot of phones out there that prioritize media and consumption over the basics of what a smartphone must accomplish, the BlackBerry Classic holds true to much of what BlackBerry has always done well. With Paratek technology embedded and software that supports BlackBerry Natural Sound, the Classic has great call quality (especially over BBM Voice or Video). The Paratek antenna technology dynamically tunes itself for better performance in low coverage areas and also improves overall battery drain from the cellular radio. Calls sound crisp and even in some of the subways of New York, I was still getting coverage where I justifiably shouldn’t have. In speed tests on AT&T in North Florida, I was able to pull 50mbps down. As well, I have yet to experience any Wi-Fi dropouts or dropped calls when in transit. The speaker quality is nice and loud as well, making Classic ideal for small conference calls.

Familiar Design. Faster Results.

PERFORMANCE:

With the latest BlackBerry 10 offering, 10.3.1, the BlackBerry Classic is highly optimized to offer a totally new and upgraded experience, especially for users who may be interested in upgrading from a Bold 9900. The OS is refined with productivity enhancements and added back in some legacy features users were begging for. When it comes to the Classic, BlackBerry took the time to make sure the OS did not leave much to be desired for those who want to transition up. The Classic runs games well. Even with 8 applications running, the OS transitions and maneuvers stay fluid with very little noticeable lag. Downloads are fast in the 30% faster web browser. The device sports over twice the RAM as the Bold 9900. I find the Android Runtime environment much more stable than 10.2.1, and while it’s far from perfect, it’s a lot more reliable for general purposes.

SOFTWARE:

The BB10 software is the real star here. It makes sense of all the hardware additives that make the Classic such a refined experience. With the 9900, we had a version 7 OS on very mature hardware. With 10.3.1 3 OS versions in, BlackBerry has somehow remastered their own heritage by upgrading that quintessential BlackBerry experience for the modern day user. 10.3.1 is backed with throwbacks: keyboard shortcuts, customized LEDs, refined toolbelt copy and paste features, and of course the software side of good trackpad integration. The OS feels like it’s maturing with more solidity and focus than previous iterations. With the ability to merge folders, the unified communication Hub, signature action and other small considerations, BlackBerry has really leveled out what they’re offering. Classic also fully supports the BlackBerry Blend desktop/tablet software to keep you productive, regardless of device.

BATTERY LIFE:

Adding to the compact heft of the BlackBerry Classic is a big 2515 mAh battery. This battery is designed to offer a full days power with an average of 22 hours in mixed use. Coming from a BlackBerry Passport with a whopping 3450 mAh battery, I was not at all displeased with the Classic’s battery life averages. In my uses, I was able to get 20 hours of use with ease. This makes the battery life one of the device’s strongest points. It sports very modest specifications overall, yet the OS is aimed to reduce battery consumption by up to 15%. The phone software also supports a Battery Saving mode to aid in squeezing out even more juice from the handheld. Most nights I’m plugging in the phone so that around 6pm the next day, my phone isn’t dead. That means that when I’m putting it on the charger, it still probably has around 30% battery from moderate day to day use. The battery here is non-removable, a change from both the 9900 and the Q10, but I feel the device is well powered and runs efficiently enough that this isn’t a drawback.

ECOSYSTEM:

BlackBerry 10.3.1 is newly introduced to the market with the Classic. BlackBerry has partnered with Amazon to have their Appstore with nearly 240,000 applications preloaded with the BlackBerry 10 OS. This mitigates a huge ecosystem hole for BlackBerry.  Amazon brings popular titles like Spotify, Candy Crush, Pinterest, etc. but that’s not the story. The larger story is that nearly 98% of all Android applications work with BlackBerry 10 (those that utilize Google Play Services do not yet have full compatibility) and account for a slim margin overall. Amazon aids to fill the ecosystem, and smart focus of BlackBerry World on business apps will allow both tracks to be happy. With BlackBerry Blend, your phone’s data is never far away from your other devices, which expands the Classic in almost every sense.  The ecosystem is not cloud driven, but connected. Even the native File Manager gives you access to your computer, OneDrive, Box or Dropbox cloud services right out of the box. Without even touching an app store, the OS is wholly capable.

The BlackBerry Classic is not a device for everyone, but it is a device that offers an unparalleled work experience with many consumer qualms firmly plugged.

Reward your thumbs with the classic navigation buttons and precision crafted BlackBerry Keyboard.

Key Associated App Action:
A | Address Book — Launch Address Book/Contacts
B | Browser — Launch Browser
C | Compose — Launch Hub > Compose sheet open
D | Notes / Memo — Launch Remember > Notes Compose sheet
H | Help — Launch Help
K | Lock — Lock Device
L | Calendar — Launch Calendar
M | Mail / Messages — Launch unfiltered Hub
N | BBM — Launch BBM
O | Options — Launch Settings
P | Calls / Phone — Launch Phone
T | Task — Launch Remember with Task Compose sheet open
U | Calculator — Launch Calculator
W | Voice Mail — Speed Dial for Voice Mail

TRACKPAD:

The trackpad has been thoughtfully integrated across the BlackBerry 10 OS. Many of the input styles from legacy have been brought over on Classic. It’s positive to see they left no stone unturned when refining the 10.3.1 OS for the added hardware keys. Zoom and Pan modes enabled by the trackpad within the BlackBerry 10 Maps application are simple and intuitive. You get a direct cursor in the browser for text selection and clicking links. Within the OS, you get subtle blue highlights to indicate selection of items. You can move applications in and out of folders, rearrange active frames, adjust screen brightness and much more. With the trackpad, you really need not reach up to the touchscreen for anything at all. And let’s face it, how many phones in late 2014 offer similar one handed usability? None. Whether modifying trackpad sensitivity, or sliding across glass with the gesture based OS, the trackpad remains reliably planted, ready at a moment’s notice.

PERSONAL ASSISTANT:

To feature parity against the likes of Siri, Cortana and Google Now, BlackBerry has enlisted the nuance libraries of the powerful processing engine, Maluuba. On 10.3+, the Personal Assistant is integrated into the keyboard for QWERTY devices. It’s accessible with a long press on the pause/play button, and when it loads up, it loads very quickly. The results in my uses have been very good. Ask for what movies are playing, and it’ll show the nearest theaters and showtimes. And yes, it even tells lame jokes. My favorite use comes when typing. The personal assistant is fully built with support for the QWERTY keypad, meaning you can type out requests silently in meetings, or on the subway. Also, you can use the assistant to remote search the device: Files, pictures, documents, emails, BBMs, texts – you name it.

BLACKBERRY BLEND:

The BlackBerry Classic comes with full out of the box support for the desktop and tablet companion applications. Blend works on PC/MAC and Android and iOS tablets. It brings you unified communications like Email, BBM and SMS. As well, you get access to video, pictures and music across all blend connected devices. Blend gives you a hardware cloud that you can access via direct connections with supported devices, without the communication leaving your handheld… you still have a portal to it across your other devices. The beefy battery on the Classic comes as a big benefit here so you can keep wirelessly connected for longer. Due to the small screen on the Classic, Blend is the perfect additive to allow for consumption of emails, pictures and video on your desktop or tablets. For enterprise, this allows you to access work files on personal devices without the need for IT oversight on those personal devices. Everything stays secure and connected via Blend.

PHOTO GALLERY:

The Good:

BlackBerry’s Classic is the ultimate business device. Tailored for top professionals who appreciate the utility and one handed ease of use that is offered by this specific form factor. Blend support, a large battery and a well implemented toolbelt along with the highly optimized 10.3.1 OS platform makes this one of the best BlackBerry devices to date. At a price of $450 outright and larger carrier support in 2015, BlackBerry has finally come full circle with its device offering.

The Bad:

The Classic isn’t the best phone for media consumption. The small screen and fair camera software leaves much to be desired for general consumers. Getting some apps like Instagram or SnapChat are cumbersome and some Android apps still just don’t work.

Design

85%

Display

75%

Camera

70%

Reception & Call Quality

90%

Performance

90%

Software

90%

Battery Life

90%

Ecosystem

85%

RATING

CLASSIC SCORES 84/100

FIN //

Review by James Nieves
Edited by Alex Smith
Spec Slides by The World of Pootermobile

  • Good evening,

    After years of being an iPhone-fan I bought my first BB. A Classic. And I must say : it is awesome. I did not regret my choice for the Classic for one second. Only BB Blend is one big disaster. I just does not work. But nevertheless ,the Classic does what is should do : the calling is perfect, the hub is more than perfect and the battery-life is more,more, more than perfect. So, it has become my perfect phone.
    Apologizes for any language-mistakes. English is not my mothertongue.
    Greetings from Veghel, The Netherlands.
    Evert Sonneveld

    • I did forget the most important thing : the physical keybord. Marvellous

  • rudi

    just through away my iphone 5 and moved to BBCalssic now, its nice and faster compared to my BBbold back to 5 yr ago

  • Raja’basa

  • I must say, a rather impressive and detailed review. Nicely done. I do wish BlackBerry did better with the cameras on their devices. Although, I do also understand that a camera isn’t their primary focus. It’s all about productivity…

  • Puru Agrawal

    The review and website is fantastic, infact even better than the BlackBerry official page for the Classic.

    • AmirHossein

      +1

  • Puru Agrawal

    One question that is bothering me… The frets (those shiny bars between two rows of the keyboard), are those made of stainless steel, like the one found on q10 and passport or made of plastic with some shiny color coating on top like we had them in Bold 9900.
    The later had problems as that shiny material peeled off after few days of usage and then left some pretty ugly black spots.(also visible on your Bold)

  • Richard

    Loved the review, think I will upgrade to the Classic from my Z10! Thanks very the info.

    • Jatt Sardar

      Steel

  • kjvella

    Very professionally done! Keep up the great work!

  • Jon raymonds

    It’s like almost the Q 10 but a bigger screen I like my Q 10 great phone

  • Jorge

    Great review James. Keep up the great work. Still undecided between the Passport or the Classic myself, this overview makes that decision even harder.

    • Peter

      I guess i found the perfect one for to upgrade my bold 9900 :D ( Currently using a bold 9900 and a Z10 )

  • xBURK

    Really enjoyed reading and watching this review. Very well done. Thank You