BlackBerry Classic review: Teaching an old dog new tricks

Everyone loves the classics, right?

BlackBerry Classic
  • BlackBerry Classic
  • BlackBerry Classic
  • BlackBerry Classic
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Excellent communications hub
  • BlackBerry Blend virtualisation software for computers and tablets
  • Focus on security

Cons

  • Awkward form-factor
  • Fractured software support

Would you buy this?

Physical keyboards are an integral part of BlackBerry's history and now the design trait is back with the Classic. The question remains: is an old-school BlackBerry still relevant today?

When is retro dated?

Parts of the Classic’s design feel dated. It borrows an optical trackpad from its ancestry. Five years ago, before capacitive touchscreens were a hallmark of the smartphone, the optical trackpad was a godsend. BlackBerry’s implementation of it remains one of the best to date.

There is a ‘but’ and it’s a big one. Touchscreens deem trackpads redundant, and having both of them on the Classic makes little sense. Other parts too feel out of place on a modern smartphone.

A QWERTY keyboard was a big draw for the BlackBerrys of yesteryear. Feature phones asked you to enter text using a keyboard comprised of nine buttons. Having the letters of the alphabet ergonomically arranged made BlackBerry phones the must-have tool for productivity nuts.

All modern smartphones have a virtual QWERTY keyboard. It’s there when needed and generously disappears when it’s not. The Classic’s physical keyboard taxes the multimedia experience because it takes up space that could have been used for a larger screen. Making matters worse is how harsh the keyboard is on fingers. The keys require force and writing anything takes more time than the virtual alternative.

Third party applications shine a light at the Classic’s out-of-date form factor. A pop-up warning appears when a non-BlackBerry app is launched for the first time. It warns the application may not support the Classic’s QWERTY form factor. Most of them don’t.

Application support in general is a sore point for BlackBerry smartphones. The Classic runs BlackBerry’s proprietary BB10 operating system, and it belongs to an application ecosystem that is relatively immature. Not finding an application on Google or Apple’s replete stores is a rarity nowadays. It happens more often with BlackBerry smartphones.

BlackBerry has partnered with Amazon in an effort to boost the application support for its smartphones, and its support for Android installation files (.apks) helps flesh out the ecosystem.

Unfortunately the frayed application support hurts BlackBerry. Inevitably owners of the Classic — and other devices in the company’s ecosystem — will have to search three different app stores before they find the right one.

A tool of productivity

Persevere though and the BlackBerry Classic begins to make a lot of sense for people who have more work than time. BlackBerry’s Hub remains a one-stop interface for all notifications. The touchscreen has been implemented well here by making it possible to hide read emails, texts, BBM messages and social network updates, all with the simple pinch of two fingers. An outwards pinch brings the hidden messages back.

1. Accounts linked to BlackBerry Hub; 2. An overview of incoming notifications; 3. Apps appear as live widgets in the task manager
1. Accounts linked to BlackBerry Hub; 2. An overview of incoming notifications; 3. Apps appear as live widgets in the task manager

1. The menu; 2. A settings blind; 3. The dialer
1. The menu; 2. A settings blind; 3. The dialer

Then there’s the ace up BlackBerry’s sleeve. The Classic makes it possible to reply to all notifications from one work device; not the smartphone, but your work computer.

Firmware called BlackBerry Blend extends the functionality of BlackBerry’s Hub to a computer, iPad or Android tablet. Texts can be viewed on a work monitor and replied to with a full sized QWERTY keyboard.

When a work session is finished and it is time to call it a day, simply disconnect the smartphone. The secure virtualisation software will automatically delete any session’s history.

Blend is the kind of feature that seals the deal. It is unique to BlackBerry and the ability to seamlessly handle all of your communications from one device is a sure way of being more productive.

BlackBerry Blend as seen on a Nexus 9. The software works best with multiple devices over your Wi-Fi network.
BlackBerry Blend as seen on a Nexus 9. The software works best with multiple devices over your Wi-Fi network.

A capable mid-range alternative

Anyone considering the Classic should have security and productivity as their primary focus. Otherwise this smartphone will underwhelm.

The screen is a comparatively tiny 3.5-inches. It is in the shape of a square and this means anything in the typical 16:9 widescreen ratio, such as videos and photos, are radically letterboxed.

Photos can be taken at a 1:1 ratio with the rear 8 megapixel camera, and although they will fill the BlackBerry’s display, they will look out of place on televisions, tablets and computers. The photos themselves are let down by image noise and a lack of detail in high contrast situations.

Detail is flushed out of the background
Detail is flushed out of the background

A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent
A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent

Things don’t get much better on the inside. A 1.5GHz dual-core CPU is joined by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, although a microSD slot makes it possible to add up to 128GB of memory. The hardware then isn’t cutting edge, but it is enough to deliver a smooth experience on the Classic.

Another saving grace is a price significantly less than that or rivalling flagships. Telstra is exclusively selling the BlackBerry Classic in Australia for $504 outright. The only real competition in the low price bracket is from Nokia’s Lumia 830.

Outstanding battery life has long been the hallmark of BlackBerry smartphones, and although the Classic is meant to be a throwback to the company’s glory days, extraordinary battery performance is missing.

We used the BlackBerry Classic heavily over a three week period, not just for calls and to actively sync with six different accounts, but also for multimedia, such as using the camera, browsing the web, playing music or streaming videos. That’s a lot to demand from a 2515 milliamp-hour battery.

Good Gear Guide found the Classic would hold battery for little over 24 hours. This remains a strong result when you consider the smartphone is constantly synchronising a multitude of accounts.

Final Thought

The BlackBerry Classic is both the best and worst of smartphones. It has a serious case of tunnel-vision with only work in mind. People who wake up to a myriad of work emails and texts will find BlackBerry’s Hub and Blend software invaluable.

Only one thing costs more than money and that’s time, and the Classic may be able to save enough of it to make the investment worthwhile.

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Read more on these topics: Blackberry, Android, amazon, bb10, Classic
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