We have spent some time with the BlackBerry Classic, and must confess that we have been besieged by questions about it. So we decided to do our review in a Q&A format. Feel free to point out the questions we have failed to answer.
The Passport was called so because its shaped resembled that of a US Passport. Why is the Classic called a Classic? Why not the Q20, for instance!
Well, mainly because it goes back to what BlackBerry calls its classic design – a relatively small display with a QWERTY keyboard below it.
Wait, but the Q10 and Q5 and also had that. Why weren’t they called Classic?
We were coming to that. While the Q10 and Q5 featured the well-known BlackBerry combination of a display and a QWERTY keyboard, their keyboards came without navigation keys – they did not have call receiving and ending keys, a touchpad, a back key or a menu key (the key with the BB icon). The Classic has those. So, you can say that it is the first device running the BlackBerry 10 OS which comes with the ‘older’ BlackBerry keyboard that you saw in the BlackBerry OS7 devices like the Bold.
Navigation keys, touchpad…are those a big deal? I mean, the Classic has a 3.5 inch touchscreen, right? Why not navigate using that!?
Yes, indeed it has a 3.5 inch touchscreen of 720 x 720 resolution. And yes, you can navigate using the touchscreen as well. That said, we do think that the navigation buttons and D-Pad ARE a big deal, especially for long-term BlackBerry users who seldom ever used a touchscreen. In BB 10 devices, you even had to use the touchscreen to make and receive calls – routine, if you are accustomed to touchscreens, but not if you were a BlackBerry Boy. So yes, we think it is a big deal.
All in all, it looks like a typical BlackBerry, right?
Well, largely yes – you have the display and below it you have the five row keyboard. But on closer inspection, you will notice the phone’s size, which is bigger than most BlackBerry devices we have used. The 3.5 inch display is the biggest we have seen on a QWERTY BlackBerry, the Passport excepted, and at 177 grammes, this is not exactly featherlight.
Will it turn heads, like the Passport did?
That’s quite a benchmark, actually. The Passport has been perhaps the most attention grabbing we used last year (along with the Vibe X2) because of its unique design. The Classic is quietly elegant. You are not going to have people asking you about it when you place it on a table, but it is by no means bad looking, with its dotted finish back, steel frame and steel accents right across the keyboard. We also like the “Classic” written next to the 8.0-megapixel camera on the back. To answer your question directly – no, it won’t get the attention that the Passport did. But you are not going to feel like hiding it at all. (you can read more about the Classic’s appearance in our first impressions of the device)
Right, but does it have the kind of hardware that the Passport did?
Straight off, no, it does not. But then, you have to consider that this is a much lower priced device (the Classic retails at Rs 31,990, which is more than a third lesser than the Rs 49,990 of the Passport).
Fine. For Rs 31,990, does it have hardware that justifies its price tag? I could get something like the very high end Vibe Z2 Pro for just a little more or the OnePlus One for much lesser.
There are two ways of looking at the hardware onboard – in Android terms and in BlackBerry terms. We would not recommend looking at it in Android terms simply because, hey, this is not an Android device, and we have never been big fans of the comparing peaches and oranges club. So if you are the type that wants an octa core processor, stacks of RAM, and double digit megapixel cameras, this is not the phone for you.
On the other hand, BlackBerry devices have NEVER really been known for their hardware, but for their performance. In hardware terms, from a BB perspective, the Classic delivers a reasonably powerful device: the 3.5 mm display is Corning Gorilla Glass and has a 720x 720 p resolution. It is powered by a Qualcomm MSM 8960 Snapdragon dual core processor, and comes with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage, which is expandable to 128 GB. In connectivity terms, it has 4G, Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi and GPS. There’s a 8.0-megapixel camera at the rear and a 2.0-megapixel front facing one above the display.
Wait! A dual core processor, in this day and age?
It is not fair to evaluate a BlackBerry based on Android spec sheets (the iPhone too has a dual core processor, remember?). The fact is that thus far, only one BlackBerry phone, the Passport, has been on a quad core processor. The remaining BB 10 devices have managed quite well with dual core processors.
But does it perform well, with those specs?
If you are a typical BlackBerry user, the answer is an unequivocal YES. The device runs on the latest version of BB 10 (10.3.1) and comes with BlackBerry’s typical messaging muscle. The browser is very good and at 3.5 inches, the display is big enough for some reasonably serious browsing as well. The BlackBerry Hub gathers and presents all messages from mail accounts and social networks at one place, although you can access them from separate apps too. Social networking is very good as well, although we are still waiting for an official Instagram app for the platform. And yes, BlackBerry Blend works beautifully with tablets and notebooks, letting you access content on your device from them.
And of course, we need to talk about the keyboard. The keyboard is very good for typing, and we really like the fact that BlackBerry has worked to ensure that you can actually use the device without having to touch the typescreen – for instance, hitting the back key once minimises the app, while hitting it twice closes an app, and you can use the touchpad to scroll between different screens. We actually found we could use the phone one-handed quite often, although the best typing still comes when you use both thumbs. Battery life is very good by modern standards – we saw through a day and a half of use with mails and social networks buzzing and call quality is top notch.
But what if you are NOT a typical BlackBerry user?
Then, we will have to be brutally blunt, this phone is not for you. The Classic is made for the BlackBerry loyalist. Android and iOS users will not find browsing in the same class as their devices and while the typing experience is definitely superior, those two platforms have a vast edge over BB when it comes to apps, user interface, and multimedia.
Did not getting Android app capability help BlackBerry?
Well, to an extent it did. But we would like to point out that only to an extent. For, while you can install Android apps on devices like the Classic, they have not been designed for it. So an app like Flipboard will lose the formatting on its cover pages, a game optimised for touch controls will not respond as well to the touchpad and so on. Yes, the Classic comes packed with pretty much what a BlackBerry fan would want out of the box: the mail client, the social network apps, good old BBM and even an office suite. But we still would fight very shy of recommending it to heavy app users – the display’s odd resolution condemns a lot of apps to running in a less than optimal manner.
What about camera performance? You had claimed that the Passport had a very good camera. What about the Classic?
The performance of the 13.0-megapixel camera on the Passport had been a massive, if pleasant, surprise to us. With the Classic, however, BlackBerry reverts to what can be called type – the 8.0-megapixel camera is good enough for daytime shots, but we would not recommend using it once the light starts fading. Frankly, it does not seem to be too much of a step ahead from the camera of the Q10, which had been good for a BlackBerry but not really in the league of similar priced devices on other platforms. The front facing camera too is just about adequate for the odd selfie. In terms of the Passport, this is definitely a step back, we are sad to say.
One of the claims made about the Passport was that you could take it and leave your laptop or notebook behind. Can this be extended to the Classic?
Not to the same extent, we feel. We have heard of people who have written whole articles on their BlackBerry Bold and Curve devices, and we are sure that those ladies and gentlemen will feel more than adequately equipped with a Classic even if they leave their notebooks or tablets behind. However, those who are not BlackBerry addicts will have greater difficulty. The reason for this is simple: unlike the Passport, which thanks to its magnificent display was great for both reading and writing (it displayed as many characters in a single line as a Kindle did), the Classic, notwithstanding its-larger-than-usual-display for a BlackBerry is very much a writing device.
At Rs 31,990, would you call the Classic an expensive proposition, as some have?
Compared to a similarly priced Android device in terms of sheer hardware, the Classic will strike people as expensive. As we pointed out, you can get devices with better processors, displays and cameras for a lower price – the most notable being perhaps the OnePlus One and the Moto X (2nd Generation). But then, BlackBerry has always been about the whole messaging and Internet experience and not the hardware. So if you are looking at a very good device with a good QWERTY keyboard on the lines of the older BlackBerry layout, then the price of the Classic does not strike us as exorbitant. The older Q10 had been launched at a much higher price, after all. It is all about that keyboard really. No one other than BlackBerry has it in the higher priced segment. Which makes comparisons difficult.
So should I consider purchasing the Classic?
We wish there was a straight answer to this one. We will need to split it into different categories
- If you have been a regular BlackBerry user from the days of BB 7, then the answer is yes.
- If you want a high-end smartphone with top of the line hardware, then the answer is ‘no’ – you can find better alternatives in the Android and Windows Phone segments
- If you are looking for a phone which will let you type a lot, the answer is ‘yes.’ The Classic is very much in a zone of one when it comes to that keyboard.
- If multimedia and camera quality play a major role in your decision, the answer is ‘no.’
- If you are looking for a phone for classic enterprise work – handling mails, MS Office files and the like – the answer is ‘yes.’ The BlackBerry Classic will slot in smoothly with your work.
- If you are looking for a phone for lots of app use and game play, sorry, try another.
Which delivers the better BB experience: the Passport or the Classic?
The answer is going to depend on your past with BlackBerry. We liked what we saw of the Passport, but we have seen diehard BlackBerry fans complaining about its size and the absence of the touchpad and navigation keys. If you happen to be a BlackBerry user for over two years or so, it is a fair chance that you will prefer the Classic with its more familiar keyboard layout and compact design. However, if you are looking at barnstorming performance in all departments, the Passport’s vastly superior display and camera work in its favour. Those who have been using a BlackBerry for a while will prefer the Classic with its messaging muscle, but the Passport will do something that the Classic cannot: it will make users of other platforms also stop and think.
What’s your conclusion about the device?
Honestly, we think this is what the Q10 should have been in terms of both keyboard layout and price. As of now, the Classic is going to appeal to BlackBerry fans who did not like the touchscreen based navigation that previous BB 10 devices forced on them. But if the Classic represents a return to good old BlackBerry strengths (messaging, typing, battery life, enterprise friendliness), it also retains the old BlackBerry’s Achilles Heel – apps and multimedia. The Passport got away with a lot because of its larger display and excellent camera, and we even saw Android and iOS users being impressed with the device. They might not be as forgiving with the Classic. This is a chip off the old BB Block. One for the BlackBerry Boys in the real sense of the word. It is no attempt to convert users from other platforms, but one to reassure its existing flock that they have not been forgotten. A Classic cut, this. Pun intended.