Early this year we were in a bit of a nostalgic mood when the Blackberry Classic became available and we decided to test it.
The Classic features BlackBerry's classic physical QWERTY keyboard but is also equipped with a touch screen. In terms of specifications, you should also think of a 3.5 inch screen with 720 x 720 pixel resolution, a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus at 1.5 GHz and an 8 megapixel camera. These are not spectacular specifications these days, but they don't come at a very high price tag.
Identifying competition for the BlackBerry Classic is not easy because of its idiosyncratic characteristics. At the same time, it is questionable whether the Classic can make things difficult for other smartphones in, for example, the Android segment. Perhaps its biggest competitor is another BlackBerry. For example the Q10 or the Passport. This review copy of the BlackBerry Classic was made available by Belsimpel.
What's with the device?
The extremely compact, black box holds directly underneath the device a pricker needed to insert the SIM card and microSD card. After unfolding another lid, we find a microUSB cable with adapter for the socket and in a special box a very neat in-ear headset with flat cables and rubber sleeves in different sizes. Finally, at the very bottom is the necessary documentation. In our case in English, Romanian and Russian. ? ?????????!
Chronologically, the Classic is the successor to the Q10 but because the physical control buttons and trackpad have returned below the screen, the device may have more in common with the four year old Bold 9900. That's the model BlackBerry compares it to. With its keyboard and physical controls, the Classic is a bit of an odd duck in today's smartphone landscape. Above the touchscreen, besides the ear loudspeaker and a secondary camera, there is also an LED notification light.
The Classic has a metal edge with rounded corners. On the left side of the device there is space for two metal slides in which the SIM card and microSD card can be inserted. On the right side of the device there are two volume buttons with in between them the button to activate BlackBerry Assistant.
At the top we find the headset jack and the power button. At the bottom there are two grids on either side of the microUSB connection; one for the microphone and the other for the loudspeaker. At the back, the part that holds the camera sticks out a little bit. The backcover is made entirely of plastic and has a grid motif for extra grip. The back can't be removed and the battery can't be replaced by itself.
As we have come to expect from BlackBerry, the build quality is excellent. A little bit of light is leaking between the option key and the screen but that is not disturbing. Because of the metal rim and the fact that the backcover can't come off, it feels very solid. The Classic is not a little boy. This is mainly because there is a lot of empty space around the screen and under the keyboard. Also its weight is considerable. Nevertheless, the device lies by its curves and convex back in the hand.
A phone that focuses on the business segment has to cope with a long day of busy calling, emailing and updating the calendar. During our trial period, we had the synchronization of two email accounts, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp constantly on. We also made occasional calls and sometimes surfed the internet. This resulted in an average battery time of about 40 hours. This is solid but not spectacular.
To increase endurance, there is the familiar energy saving mode. It can automatically turn on a self-set battery percentage and changes some of the settings of the device. During normal use of the device there is also the possibility to save power by placing the device with the screen facing down. The phone then switches to sleep mode.
The phone application consists of three tabs. One for phone calls, one for contacts and one for the numeric keypad. The first tab may speak for itself. In the contact list, an existing contact can be quickly found by typing a number of letters. Next, not only names of contacts are searched, but also their work, if available. The dialpad on the third tab is really only for entering numbers. We've had no problems when it comes to call quality.
The screen of the Classic measures diagonally 3.5 inches and is an exact square with a resolution of 720 x 720 pixels. The technique used is Super AMOLED and all in all this results in a sufficiently detailed and pleasantly usable image. The screen can be activated by swiping from bottom to top.
Clearly, the screen is not really spacious. Especially when you're used to a Full touch phone with a 5 inch or bigger screen, you sometimes feel like you're running out of space. This can be slightly improved by reducing the font size. There is no automatic mode for the screen brightness. Besides font size and brightness, the white balance of the screen can also be adjusted. This is not really necessary and the image soon becomes too blue or too yellow.
BlackBerry OS 10 had some teething problems in the beginning, but in version 10.3.1 they should be out for the Classic. In a way, the user has five start screens at his disposal. These are visualized with five icons at the bottom of the screen. On the far left is the BlackBerry Hub, which will be discussed in more detail in the messaging section of this review. To the right of the Hub is the primary home screen. This is basically a multi-task screen with up to eight thumbnails of active apps. Another step to the right starts the application menu with 15 icons per page.
Opened applications can be reduced to the multi-task screen by swiping upwards from below the screen. It may happen that you accidentally touch the optical trackpad but generally the app shrinks neatly.
By swiping the screen from top to bottom, the quick settings window appears. Up to 16 shortcuts to settings can be displayed on three tabs. Unfortunately, this window is only available from the home screen and not elsewhere in the interface.
On the lock screen notifications of all kinds of messaging services and applications are neatly grouped by type. Pressing the icon of an app opens previews of the messages and after tapping again you can open the relevant app. In the interface, a line for touch-input buttons is often visible at the bottom of an image. This takes up quite a bit of screen space, which is a pity because the presence of physical control buttons directly below the screen means that this line is not really necessary. So you could say that OS 10.3.1 is not completely optimally tuned to the Classic.
Although the interface of OS 10 can now be called mature, there is also a generation difference compared to iOS and Android. The whole thing looks a bit boring or outdated and occasionally we came across some strange or inadequate translations.
Opening applications goes smoothly but not exactly smoothly. After tapping an icon, the image first jumps back to the home screen with the thumbnails before the app is actually opened.
So although there is a contact list in the phone application, there is also a separate application for contacts. In this application all contacts are listed together, but they can also be displayed separately per group or source type. The list of all contacts is very long, since e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and phone contacts are mixed up here. Linking contact details of the same person is possible but has to be done completely manually.
Of course the Classic has an SMS application and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) but fortunately WhatsApp can also be installed. There is no separate email application available on the Classic. Instead there is the BlackBerry Hub. This is a kind of combined inbox, but not only for e-mail. It also receives notifications of calls, messenger and text messages, social media, the phone, etc. As far as we are concerned, this is a very nice and clear application. Should the list become too long then the messages can also be displayed separately per service or a special priority group can be created. By clicking on a message, the message will be opened in the corresponding app.
BlackBerry's have been known for their excellent physical QWERTY keyboard since time immemorial and the Classic also lives up to this reputation. Even for an inveterate touchscreen user, the keyboard is pleasant to use after a short period of getting used to it. Especially typing with two thumbs at the same time works very well. For capital letters there is the shift key and for punctuation and other symbols there is the alt key. If you still miss certain characters, you can press the 'Sym' button.
Multiple input languages can be enabled and the device will automatically detect which language is being typed in. Manual switching between languages can be done by pressing alt + enter in a text field. There is also spell check and correction available, but both are not very strict. This is not really necessary because miraculously you type most letters correctly.
In addition to old-fashioned connections using WiFi, Bluetooth and USB, the Classic can also connect via VPN, NFC, mobile hotspot and internet tethering. Installing BlackBerry software on the PC can be done by pairing the device via USB, but connecting in mass storage mode unfortunately didn't work out. We have tried this on multiple computers, without success.
With BlackBerry Link and BlackBerry Blend, the content on your phone can be displayed on other devices. For example, Link allows you to sync media files to your PC. Blend makes it possible to view and reply to messages, your calendar, notifications and much more from your phone or on an Android tablet or iPad. This is especially useful for those who spend a lot of time behind a PC or Mac every day. You can control your phone almost entirely from your computer, provided you're connected to the same WiFi network. Otherwise, you'll have to connect it via a USB cable. One drawback: the software could be installed on one computer without any problems and not at all on other machines. Whatever we tried. According to various internet forums a known problem. BlackBerry really needs to do something about this because the software is very useful.
BlackBerry's browser is basic but works properly. Although this application is also rather slow and zooming goes berserk. Pages can be opened in multiple tabs at the same time and bookmarks can be attached to the application menu.
The Classic is equipped with an 8 megapixel camera that can be operated via a clear and simple interface. At the bottom of the screen, five buttons are visible for the gallery, secondary camera, taking photos, recording video and settings. Starting up the camera but especially printing a photo is rather slow. Shot photos are in most cases just sharp and of good quality.
Settings include scene, flash, aspect ratio, timer and HDR. The available shooting modes are normal, time shift, burst and panorama. Occasionally the camera itself will give tips on how to adjust a setting or mode. A picture can be taken at the same time during filming. It is also possible to turn the flash on or off.
The Classic takes very reasonable pictures, provided there is sufficient ambient light and the subject of the picture is stationary. Contrast is not its strongest point, but colours are reproduced well. When the exposure is not as good, noise and blurring quickly occur. The fact is that the camera in the Classic is much better than in the Z10.
In addition to the applications already covered, the Classic is also equipped with calendar, docs to go, maps, remember, music, videos, story maker, clock, blackberry blend, weather, Twitter, calculator, file manager, Adobe Reader, YouTube, password management, info labels, compass, Box, Evernote, Facebook, LinkedIn, setup, tutorials, help, assistant, Foursquare, connect to Dropbox and device switch.
To overcome the shortage of available apps in BlackBerry World, OS 10 also allows you to install Android apps on a BlackBerry. To access these apps the Amazon appstore is installed on the Classic. But even then, the offer is limited to say the least. Not all Android apps are available and not all of them are able to handle the screen format equally well. The most essential apps can be found, but the die-hard app-junkie won't be satisfied with the offer in a hurry.
Retro is a constantly recurring trend for all kinds of things or products but we strongly doubt that this is also true for mobile phones. Without a retro trend in mobile phones, the number of people potentially interested in a BlackBerry will remain very limited. A switch from an iPhone or Android device will not happen quickly. Despite its appearance of a real workhorse, the Classic feels dated in many ways.
Yet there is a target group for the Classic. If you want to be able to email, WhatsAppen, Facebook and Twitter on your mobile using an excellent physical QWERTY keyboard and not much more then the BlackBerry Classic is a good option. The Classic is mainly focused on productivity and not on entertainment during free moments while waiting for the train or an appointment. In its own niche for business users, the BlackBerry Classic is an excellent BlackBerry.
Finally, we would like to thank Belsimpel.nl for making this copy available. They have the Classic in stock and deliver it in combination with various subscriptions.