BlackBerry Classic Review: Back in Business

2015 seems to be the year that the downtrodden former leaders of the mobile phone handset sector make their comeback plays. While Nokia has been populating an impressive range of Lumia smartphones under the umbrella of Microsoft for some time now, other brands have struggled against the Apple and Samsung dominance of the market.

We recently reviewed the Motorola Moto X,  which has been well received by both tech writers and early adopters. Now it is the turn of BlackBerry.

Fans of BlackBerry will argue that it was the first truly “smart” phone. And they would have a valid point, with the Canadian device maker the first to really show users that they could do more with their phones than just call, text and maybe play the occasional game of snake.


The Former Edge

The unique selling point of the BlackBerry was that it gave users a full QWERTY keyboard to type with, rather than the standard 1-9 key model which meant that letters had to be shared between keys.

In addition, it’s wide (for the time) screen and scroll button meant that reading and responding to emails on your phone was possible for the first time. These two features meant that business users especially embraced the BlackBerry range with open arms.

But with the advent of touch screen phones both of these competitive advantages disappeared. Where the physical keyboard was once seen as a positive, it now became a clunky alternative to a vanishing touchscreen keyboard which allowed the full screen to be utilised much more efficiently.

Users deserted the company in droves and the sales plummeted.


The Comeback

To reinvigorate their sales and deliver a phone that their former fans would actually buy, BlackBerry designers went back to their users. The found that despite the dominance of touch screens, their core users still preferred the physical keyboard as it was less error-prone.

The BlackBerry Classic delivers the satisfying to use physical keyboard that users demanded. But accompanying and complementing it, is a strong suite of upgrades.


Upgrades to Software

The BlackBerry Classic sports the new proprietary BlackBerry 10.3.1 operating system. The major talking point for this new software is that it supports apps that were designed for Android phones, meaning a whole range of productivity and lifestyle apps are available to BlackBerry Classic users.

This will complement the BlackBerry World app store, where the company is aiming to cater for their core business user market by building a strong range of tailored enterprise and business focussed apps.

BlackBerry Assistant is the company’s answer to Siri and Cortana, and has the added benefit of being able to take commands via text input, meaning that you can set your calendar or organise your emails without disrupting others in a meeting or on your commute.

BlackBerry Blend is also included in the core package. This features allows almost full control over your phone from any Mac or PC which has the app downloaded on it, which can be incredibly useful in a wide range of situations.

Design and Hardware

BlackBerry have taken special care with their flagship feature: the keyboard. Each key is produced with a hard ridged edge, so you can clearly feel when your fingers transition between keys. This means that touch-typing is easy, a feat that is almost impossible to achieve with any accuracy on a touch-screen keyboard.

Physical utility keys are also present, including call, a back button and end button. A touch pad is the other fantastic addition, as it means that you can pinpoint a line of text or highlight easily, which is another key failing of touch screens.

The only drawback of the BlackBerry Classic design is the adherence to the signature square aspect ratio screen. In a world where web pages and apps are optimised for rectangular screens, this can render viewing pages from these sources somewhat awkward.

However, for composing and reading emails, the square aspect has a much more natural “desktop” feel, which is absent from those same rectangular screens.


The Takeaway

The BlackBerry Classic is unlikely to convert masses of iPhone and Galaxy users. But that is not the point. BlackBerry was always a niche brand with a loyal following of primarily business users.

Those users who have left the BlackBerry family could well be lured back by the flexibility that has been added to the BlackBerry Classic. The device manages to deliver this additional flexibility while retaining and improving those features that their core users valued the most, which is an impressive feat that could pay off handsomely for the company.