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BlackBerry Classic review

 Review: January 2015  
 

Rating: 4 stars

In a nutshell: The BlackBerry Classic combines a physical keyboard with the power of the BB10 touchscreen operating system. It allows limited Android apps too, and is a very competent business smartphone. But the small screen and dated processor won't make it a good choice for multimedia fans.



 

Review

It's been nearly 4 years since BlackBerry released the Bold 9900. Since then we've had BB10, but nothing to match the success of the Bold series. Now BlackBerry is heading back to the future - resurrecting the Bold concept, with the best that BB10 has to offer. Say hello to the BlackBerry Classic!

Design

The BlackBerry Classic is a much larger phone than the Bold series. And that's a good thing, because in 2015 we're all completely happy with big phones, and the increased size allows for a slightly bigger keyboard and a much bigger screen. The phone is wider than an iPhone 6, but not as long, making it feel quite chunky and purposeful. With a depth of 10mm, it's quite a thick phone, and it's really heavy too, at 178g.

The device feels rock solid and premium, with a stainless steel outer frame and the attention to detail that we remember well from BlackBerry's past. In addition to ringtones and vibration alert, there's also a user-configurable LED alert. A range of dedicated leather pockets and holsters complement the device perfectly.

The full QWERTY backlit keyboard isn't curved like the Bolds of old, but is straight, like the Q10. In practice that isn't a problem, and the Classic keyboard has the advantage over the Q10 of including the trackpad and an extra layer of navigation keys. This will be a reassuring touch for any Bold user considering upgrading to the Classic. The keyboard is superb, and if texting, emailing, or other text-based activities are central to your phone use, you'll very quickly appreciate the power of the physical keyboard. The word prediction & correction features and the various shortcuts available make the Classic perhaps the fastest and most effective phone on the market for typing - second only to the BlackBerry Passport.

The Classic has a much larger screen than earlier BlackBerry phones. It's square, and measures 3.5" by 3.5". That's 60% more screen space than the Bold 9900, and it's very welcome indeed. The square format isn't ideal for watching videos or playing games - get over it, that's not what it's for - but is ideal for other apps, when you consider that on a touchscreen phone the bottom half of the screen is often taken up by a virtual keyboard. The 720 x 720 pixel resolution isn't far off the iPhone 6, with a 294 ppi pixel density, compared with 326 ppi on a Retina HD display. It's very bright too, so there are no problems with visibility. It's a great screen, and the size and aspect ratio are ideal for this type of phone.

BlackBerry 10

The BlackBerry Classic marries the touchscreen-based BB10 operating system with a physical keyboard, and restores an optical trackpad and an extra layer of navigation keys that were missing from the BlackBerry Q10. These keys are the familiar send / end call keys, the menu key and the back key. Their return is a welcome move, and a smart one on the part of BlackBerry. Not only do they restore familiarity, but they acknowledge that not everything about BB10 was an improvement.

One of the key components of BB10 is the hub. Here you can access email, text, BBM, phone calls, and social media.

 

The OS supports full multi-tasking, with split screen views. You can easily swipe between applications, although after a while it can become a bit confusing what's actually running.

The new BlackBerry Assistant is a personal assistant activated by voice and text commands. You can use this to place calls, search, send messages, etc.

BlackBerry World gives you access to a range of business and communication apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, LinkedIn, etc. You can also download popular Android apps from the Amazon Appstore. This is not the full range of Android apps, but includes many of the most popular apps and games.

Security is up to the usual BlackBerry standards, with device password protection and a screen lock.

Hardware & performance

The Classic isn't intended as a multimedia powerhouse. It uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, which is a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and nearly three years old now. In practice, it's adequate for the job that it's been assigned to do and will only show signs of lag if you start installing games from the Amazon Appstore.

The available RAM is 2GB, which is a lot more than the old Bold series, and there's 16GB of flash memory onboard. This can be increased substantially by adding up to 128GB more with a microSD memory card.

Voice quality is particularly good, as you'd expect from a business-oriented device. There are 3 microphones supporting noise cancellation.

Camera performance

Having a high-quality camera in a smartphone is perhaps more important now than ever, even in a business-focussed phone like the BlackBerry. We're pleased to report that the camera in the Classic doesn't let us down.

The main camera has an 8 megapixel sensor with backside illumination (BSI) for low-light performance. It's equipped with image stabilisation and continuous autofocus, and has a flash and 5x digital zoom. Photo quality is excellent, although it perhaps lacks the finesse of some rival smartphones.

Video performance is also good, and the main camera is capable of recording at full 1080p HD resolution, with video stabilisation and effective low-light performance.

The front-facing camera is a 2 megapixel fixed-focus camera - OK for selfies - and can handle 720p HD video for Skype calls and BBM video.

Connectivity

The Classic includes most of the connectivity options you'd expect from a modern smartphone. It's a 4G phone with support for LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 20. It also supports 3G HSPA+ and quad-band GSM.

The phone has Wi-Fi support (both 802.11 bgn 2.4GHz and 802.11 an 5GHz standards) and can act as a 4G mobile hotspot. It also has Bluetooth 4.0 and support for simultaneous GPS and GLONASS location. It has a micro USB 2.0 connection, although interestingly it supports video output by the SlimPort standard, instead of the more familiar MHL. NFC is also here.

Battery life

The biggest shortcoming of the Bold 9900 was its under-sized battery. We're glad to see that the battery of the Classic is twice as large. Rated at 2515 mAh, it might still seem small in comparison to Android phones, but it performs well enough, delivering 11+ hours of continuous use. To be honest, we would have preferred an even larger battery, especially when you consider the hefty size and weight of the device.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Classic is the result of a complex evolutionary process. It keeps the best of the old-school BlackBerry Bold series, with its physical QWERTY keyboard, and brings in the power and functionality of the BB10 operating system. All that is good. The screen size is compromised as a result of the physical keyboard, but in practice we don't find that to be a problem at all.

What does give us some concern is the physical size and weight of the device. Also, while the battery size is much larger than on older BlackBerry phones, we'd still like it to be bigger. And we do have concerns about the dated processor and small onboard memory.

The Classic is a step up for those Bold users who didn't want to jump to the Q10, and is also a useful upgrade for those who did. It may even tempt back a few who switched to Android, thanks to its ability to run some Android apps. But if you're thinking of returning to BlackBerry, we'd recommend that you seriously consider the ground-breaking BlackBerry Passport instead, which is a truly spectacular device.


BlackBerry Classic features include:

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